Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thoughts on Final Fantasy XIII, and why it makes me think of Resident Evil 5

Final Fantasy Lite - Making a game more "Cinematic," can sometimes have undesirable results.

As such, games that favor a more story driven, movie-like experience can suffer from a simplified, linear, and watered-down design. Resident Evil 5, and Final Fantasy XIII, are perfect examples of where the old formula wasn't good enough for developers, who redesigned their games to fit into a more hybrid action-oriented category, even if those games already had a successful formula established in previous installments.

Unfortunately for games focusing on cinematic design, players feel restricted to staying on the neatly scripted path, so that story elements and cutscenes can take effect, while moving on a forward progression without much, if any, backtracking. Whether you find this approach effective or not, it is a shame to see games losing the elements that made them appealing in the first place. RE5 and it's lack of horror, mystery, and problem solving. And FFXIII missing RPG adventure, and discovery. It's like tainting, a time-tested formula.

Are Japanese game developers giving into the pressure of keeping up with North American obsession with blockbuster games, or are they merely adapting to the trend (albeit unsuccessfully), and in the process altering their beloved games beyond the point of recognition? With a goal to reach a wider audience, a new generation of gamers unfamiliar with past titles in a franchise, but who desire bigger, bolder, and faster pacing, Square-Enix delivers a streamlined Final Fantasy.

In an excerpt from IGN's Square-Enix Defends Linear Design In Final Fantasy XIII, director Motomu Toriyama explains the linearity of FFXIII, but he fails to see why it could backfire.

"The game system itself actually changes between these two worlds, with the first half of the game taking place in Cocoon being a very story driven experience, whereas the second half in Gran Pulse is an open world design with a more free style of gameplay."

While I agree that Gran Pulse has more exploration involved, there isn't much to discover, nor much of an open-world adventure, since Gran Pulse still exists in a defined area with linear paths, and mob missions.

"In order to allow the player to become absorbed in the drama of the storytelling and the new and exciting world of Cocoon and be drawn to the characters without getting distracted or lost we have deliberately used a linear game design for the introduction sections so they can be enjoyed in the same manner as watching a film."

And I consider that to be the biggest fail with FFXIII, their intent on making a videogame, like a film, and actually subjecting the player to excessive, non-interactive cutscenes. The so-called drama of the storytelling, never absorbed me enough to care for the characters, or their epic fight. I think it is because these characters were never in any danger, with no real struggles, or problems the player has to help them get out of. They just talk too much, whine and pout.

"I make a promise that even if you have never played a Final Fantasy game, or even an RPG before then you will still be able to appreciate FFXIII with no difficulty," he added.

I definitely agree that even those who have never played FF, or an RPG will appreciate FFXIII with no difficulty, because the game was designed for people like that.

A game crossed with Phantasy Star Online, meets Star Wars, meets Japanese animation, I think Square-enix's obsession with style, has reached the point of annoyance. It would be one thing if this were strictly an animated film, but it's not, this is a videogame. Filling a game with cinematics does not make it a good game. Sure these are big budget animations, but I'm watching them, not playing them! So I guess they've succeeded in that respect.

(thank you 'skip' button)

In Square-Enix's efforts to please everyone from the gamers, to the anime fans, to the first time FF players. They might want to reconsider their "focus," if you will.

And while RE5 incorporated interactive action sequences, FFXIII is basically battle/cutscene/battle, with some walking between Point A to Point B. Long gone are the exploration and discovery aspects, the patient, and quiet immersion into a virtual world.

Some consider FFXIII a streamlined game experience. Others consider the game to be a step backwards in terms of battle mechanics to previous games in the series. Neither of those opinions would be off the mark, since the game is all of that.

Having recently played through Final Fantasy XIII (clocking-in 54+ hrs), I'm still conflicted with my game experience. The game looks good, and the battles play well, the lvling system is interesting, but other than that, there's not much else. It's an odd departure from my fond memories of classic Final Fantasy games, and the JRPG design that I was interested in. As a gamer my expectations were high, for my return to playing Final Fantasy, having skipped the entire Playstation FF generations. Waiting and reading little of FFXIII kept me curious to finally play the game upon release on the XBOX 360.

My exceptionally high hopes would be deflated. Being unable to manage each of my party members abilities, had me thinking I was playing RE5 all over again, having to depend on AI. And the focus on pretty cinematics, with overly designed (impractical) character design, amused me. Oh how Final Fantasy has changed since going 3D. It is as if catering to the cosplay obsessed fans, is the only reason they continue to make Final Fantasy games.

And with this game, I simply wasn't prepared for the amount of Final Fantasy-ness that has evolved overtime, and the culture that surrounds FF. Merging animation, J-Pop music, J-drama overkill, cheesy Japanese anime dynamic of a cast of characters, who play more like a team of Power Rangers. FFXIII is 100% Square-Enix, but they seem to have have overdone the style, before the substance.

Resident Evil 5, seemed like the beginning of this trend, a vague memory of what the RE used to be. It's like someone put these games through a filter, and out pops a game with the same brand name, but a "lite" attached to it.

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