final fantasy xiii

a review of Final Fantasy XIII
a videogame developed by square-enix
and published by square-enix
for the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by tim rogers

2 stars

Bottom line: Final Fantasy XIII is “often as exciting as finding an email from a real human being in your spam folder.”




(~if you lack the patience to read 18,000 words about this game, feel free to read the 80% shorter “short version” of this review~)

The hero of Final Fantasy XIII is a woman who, out of desire to protect her little sister from the evils of the world, abandoned her given name to adopt the name “Lightning” — then she goes ahead and tells everyone she converses with for more than five minutes to just call her “Light”. At the end of the day, that’s all you really need to know about the story, and all we’ll bother telling you in too much detail. Final Fantasy XIII is a Eurobeat cover album of Final Fantasy VII. It isn’t about anything. It’s big and pretty and has more than enough giant incomprehensible monster-boss battles to satisfy fans who only crave portentous doom and heroic, vacuous soliloquies.

We wish the hero’s name was “Heavy”. That’d be hot. It’d suit her. She is hot. We want to eat her hair. It looks delicious. She is liquid-hotrogen. (We kind of wish her name was Nitrogen.) She is heavy as hell. It’d also invite a reference to “Back to the Future”, where Doc Brown confronts Marty McFly’s slang usage of the word “Heavy” to express disbelief and / or awe-ful disappointment by asking “Is there a gravity problem in the future?”

Final Fantasy XIII presents us a future that does have “a gravity problem”. Wow! What a perfect segue. We’re going to be direct with this review — open with a joke, segue into talking about the battle system — because we realize that a lot of first-time visitors have wandered into Action Button Dot Net thanks to this review, and we sincerely hope that you’ll stick around about as much as we hope they’ll you stay quiet and never make your presence known (that’s a joke (no it’s not (no, it is (no, it’s not (no, it is (no, it’s not)))))).

Final Fantasy XIII‘s battle system revolves around the core concepts of

1. Suppressing the Tango
2. Breaking the Tango

and, finally,

3. Elevating the Tango.

Enemies in Final Fantasy XIII have literally hundreds of thousands of “hit points”. For the uninitiated, “hit points” are a key element of role-playing games: they represent an enemy’s life force as a numerical value. When the number reaches zero, the enemy is dead (“terminated”, “neutralized”). In Final Fantasy XIII, you will never see the total number of an enemy’s hit points, though you sure as hell will see the shit out of the amounts being subtracted from that hidden number.

The best way to get the numbers flying out of a monster is simple: get him in the air. Just before launching an enemy in the air, we like to adopt a tone of voice like we’re chomping a cigar: “Commander, you have clearance to Elevate the Tango”. If you’ve experienced the bullet-pointed list just above the paragraph just above this one, you will know that you can’t Elevate the Tango until you Suppress and then Break the Tango.

It used to be, in these role-playing games, that you’d choose “fight” and then your dude would jump forward, swing his sword in a monster’s direction, and then mystifyingly jump back to his original position. You know, rather than continue swinging away at the deadly threat. Now, the science is too silky — the graphics are so nice, at this point, that someone would notice, and maybe throw up in their mouth a little bit, if characters behaved exactly the way they did in the old games. That doesn’t stop people from complaining! Final Fantasy fans (hereafter referred to as “These People”) could complain their way all the way up a fucking sequoia tree on the energy provided by a single sunflower seed. We don’t even know what the hell that means! You don’t, either! And why the shit would you care?

Final Fantasy XIII isn’t exactly like Final Fantasy VII in the “game play” department, though it is a lot more like it than Final Fantasy XII was. That game was so different. It played itself. You slapped together little artificial intelligence scripts to tell your guys what to do. It was really neat. We thought it was neat, and cute. It was neat-cute. “Nute”. (Yes, we’ve used that word before.) They called these little scripts “Gambits”. A “Gambit” consists of three elements: an action, a target, and a target specification. You then sort them by priority. The most important Gambit goes at the top. Say your top priority is staying alive: make your top Gambit “Cast heal –> ally –> less than 80% max HP”. With one slick menu, you can tell the game what you yourself would do if you had to press the buttons yourself. Then you watch the game play itself. You control the lead character, navigating dungeons or scenic outdoor environments. Every once in a while, there’s a tough enemy, and you have to rethink your Gambits, or pause the action to select commands yourself. The fun is in seeing how the game designers present (or don’t) situations that are immune to the average human’s ability to forethink.

Lots of people hated Final Fantasy XII! Or maybe they didn’t — maybe it was the same four Final Fantasy VII-remake-wanting jerks ballot-stuffing the reviews page. Some of them said some awful things, like how they play Final Fantasy games to unwind, or relax, and that this “Gambit system” made the game feel “unfinished”. “Why should I have to do the programming work?” These people failed to realize that, really, in an RPG, all you’re ever doing is “programming”. We think they were just sorely disappointed to find out that the game didn’t star their favorite X-man from Louisiana.

Many fans complained that Square-Enix didn’t reveal enough pertinent information about the Final Fantasy XII battle system before the game was released; many people claimed that they had been “cheated”, that they wouldn’t have been interested if they had known Final Fantasy XII was “that kind of game”. Somehow, having team members that acted on a set of rules of engagement that you decide yourself made the game resemble an “offline MMORPG”. It got called that a lot. Really, the Gambit system is a lot nicer than a massively multiplayer online RPG: you don’t have to chat with and be nice to people for several on-the-clock real-world months before they generally start to trust your ideas. You just open the menu and bark the orders.

Square-Enix fucked the hell up with Final Fantasy XII — not the game itself, of course. We loved the game. They fucked up the marketing. They drove the genius director away by generally being assholes (source: hearsay); they alienated the fans by feeding them tiny scraps of cut-scenes in which no one said anything deeper than “Let’s go!” No one knew what the story was about, and the nature of the playable part of the game was, like, G-14 classified. So up-fucked was the marketing that the first man in line to buy the game at the Tsutaya store in Shibuya, when offered a photo opportunity with Yoichi “President of Square-Enix” Wada, accepted Wada’s “Thank you for your years of service patronage, honorable consumer” with a breathless “Please remake Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation 3 as soon as possible thank you very much”. (Source: we were there.) The man hadn’t even played Final Fantasy XII; he knew nothing about it; he had already decided that he liked Final Fantasy VII better. This is a terrifying case of “Damned if you do / you can’t not do“. You’re walking right straight at being damned!

It’d be straight-up retarded if Square-Enix weren’t remaking Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation 3. The people have transcended wanting it and now officially want-need it. It’s sad; you know, they could just look at what made Final Fantasy VII popular, you know, really look at it, and they could come up with something.

Well, they must have been predicting that kid’s sentiment; they must have been tasting it in the drinking water for years, because Final Fantasy XIII was already in development for the PlayStation 3 megaconsole. The idea of the game is that the characters all look like people who someone would want to cosplay; they all act like characters who would be someone’s favorite character. Lately, in Japan, some comic fans have expressed genuine suicidal rage when female characters in their favorite comics are shown to, like, hold hands with a male character. This is serious: some guy, like, burned his house down because a little girl in a comic he read admitted to having liked some guy in the past. You know, that’s kind of sick. The characters in Final Fantasy XIII are all more afraid of fan outrage than they are probably afraid of the impending end of the world.

Anyway, we said we weren’t going to talk about the story. Our heads would all dry up and crack in half like dehydrated footballs, more sand pouring out than could possibly fit inside said football, if we started analyzing the story on any level deeper than “lol”. So let’s talk about the battle system.

No! Let’s talk about Dragon Quest IX. Just for a second: when Square-Enix announced Dragon Quest IX, they said it would be a multiplayer-action-based RPG-like-thing for the Nintendo DS. They said the game was done development and would be out by the end of the year. A group of human hemorrhoids flared up on, squealing that they are no good at action games and that this announcement is the worst news they have ever received in their life. Some people — again, this is serious (maybe) — actually threatened suicide. This was right before Monster Hunter Portable 2nd was released and became certifiably more of a megahit than the first Monster Hunter Portable, causing all the number-grinding completionist jerks to go, “oh maybe we like action games too lol”. To summarize this paragraph, Square-Enix were so convinced that their risk would pay off in the long run that they developed a game in which they had confidence. Then a couple of jerks complained and they delayed the game for two fucking years so they could shoehorn the same old menu system back into it. To be perfectly honest, we like the menus in Dragon Quest. We like them a lot. They don’t fuck around. However — and this is crucial — we are open to something new. We would love to play a game the length and size of Dragon Quest, grinding and all, which played more or less just like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

While developing Final Fantasy XIII, Square-Enix had many point-blank decisions to make: do they announce the Final Fantasy VII remake before or after releasing Final Fantasy XIII? And do they make Final Fantasy XIII play exactly like Final Fantasy VII?

Square-Enix gets four silver effort stars (a unit of currency we just made up) for daring to recognize the philosophical implosion that would occur if they were to even seriously mention a Final Fantasy VII remake before Final Fantasy XIII had a release date listed. They get an additional two silver effort stars for retaining a few elements of Final Fantasy XII in their otherwise Classic Final Fantasy [VII]-pining battle system.

Anyway, The Gravity Problem:

To recap: Enemies have hundreds of thousands of hit points in Final Fantasy XIII. “Hit points” represent the enemies’ life force. When an enemy’s number of hit points reaches zero, it dies. It is terminated, neutralized, extinguished, exterminated, et cetera. You will never see the total number of an enemy’s hit points. You will, however, see the shit out of the number of hit points being subtracted by any given attack.

What you want to do is Suppress, Break, and then Elevate each individual Tango.

So let’s talk about how you do this. First of all, you can forget thinking “Oh, enemies have hit points. Let’s just hit them until they die.” That’s not going to work, jackass! If you believe that, you might as well believe Fable 2 when it tells you all you need to do to get a crowd of fifty women begging you to marry them is stand in town square flashing a thumbs-up for thirty minutes!

Hitting enemies isn’t going to accomplish jack shit in Final Fantasy XIII. If you want to kill enemies, you have to think with your Real World Brains. They’re located just behind your Fantasy World Brains. Locate them now, with the point of a #2 pencil. Yes, that’s them.

Enemies in Final Fantasy XIII have a much more important number attached to them than the mortal concept of “hit points”. The number is, uhh, well, there’s really no snappy little name for it. There’s a meter beneath an enemy’s name and life gauge (crucial: enemies have long, horizontal green life gauges; remember this (we are going to get back to it later)) with the word “BREAK” in big, shiny, italic capital letters. It starts out completely empty. Your goal is to fill it up. Whoa! That’s like the exact opposite of what you have to do to an enemy’s life gauge! Yeah, this game is really going to shift the hell out of your paradigm.

As you hit an enemy, his break meter fills. As your party concentrates on an enemy, his break meter detaches from his life meter and glides up to the upper-right corner of the screen. This shows you that it’s not just important, it’s more important than all of the other bullshit on the screen, even the enemy and character graphical models themselves. If you hit an enemy with physical attacks, the break meter doesn’t fill up so well. If you hit him with magic attacks, the break meter fills up quickly — and then recovers just as quickly! What you need to do is, you get one of your characters attacking the enemy with magic, and another one attacking it with physical attacks. Why? Well, because physical attacks slow the rate of break recovery. Duh! Don’t you know anything? (lol)

The fact that the break-meter-filling attacks are “magic” is irrelevant: they don’t even use magic points. There are no magic points in Final Fantasy XIII. Magic is free. Like regular physical attacks, they simply use one “ATB” (“Active Time Battle”) bar. Your characters all start out with three ATB bars, so you can perform three actions per turn. After completing a round of actions, the bars switch back into filling-back-up mode. You only control one character at a time (this is important enough to revisit later), so it’s most convenient if you plan your next set of actions while waiting for the bars to fill up. When the bars fill up, your character acts immediately — whether it’s a magic attack, a physical attack, or some support action.

They might as well call physical attacks and magic attacks “Column A Attacks” and “Column B Attacks”. You need a little from both columns to keep an enemy’s break meter from recovering. You sandblast the tango with magic and physical attacks until his break meter fills. Maybe, during the process of filling the enemy’s break meter, your dudes take heavy damage. Uh-oh! It’s time to heal!

What a perfect opportunity to explain the Optima Change system. It’s called the “Paradigm Shift” system in English, which is actually kind of cool. Well, we’re going to call it the Optima Change system, because it makes it look like we played the Japanese version (we did), which makes us look really cool (so lonely). An “Optima” is an array of “Roles”. A “Role” is a one-word descriptor of both what a character is Capable of Doing and (thus) what the character is Prone to Do.

Attackers [are able / prone to] attack physically.
Blasters [are able / prone to] attack with magic.
Defenders [are able / prone to] defend themselves or other party members.
Healers [are able / prone to] use healing magic.
Enhancers [are able / prone to] cast ally-enhancing magic.
Jammers [are able / prone to] cast enemy-weakening magic.

(In English, the roles are Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Medic, Synergist, and Saboteur. It’s like, they’re trying to make sure that the FPS-subsisting fratkids who somehow stumble past the twelve-year-old whiny little-boy hero-“more-like-QUEER-oh” ultimately go, “oh, hey, look, the arbitrary names for describing what a character’s AI is prone to do in a combat situation kinda resemble words people would use in Call of Duty, so this game must actually not be gay”. We’re going to use the Japanese names, both for the great reason we listed a few paragraphs up and because part of the appeal of the role names is that they all start with different letters, which makes it easier to pick your Optimas at a glance during battle. In English, three roles start with “S”! How dumb is that?)

We understand that, thanks to fucking World of Warcraft, you’re now supposed to use words like “Aggro”, “Tank”, “Buff” and “Debuff” to describe what, say, Attackers, Defenders, Enhancers, or Jammers (respectively) do. We also understand that you can’t say “grind” anymore — you have to say “farm” or “mine”, or something, or else it’s the Supreme Court: Your Ass v. the FCC. So we’ll try — really, really try — to use those words in the coming paragraphs.

Okay, so, you’ve got Attackers and Blasters attacking with Column A- and Column B-type attacks. All the other roles support the task of Suppressing, Breaking, and Elevating the Tango. Healers will heal your dudes. Enhancers will buff their physical or magical defense, or shield them from pertinent elements, buff their weapons with relevant elements so as to better drill an enemy’s weak point, or (our favorite) speed your dudes up so the battle goes faster (this assists the goal of finishing the game before all of your friends are able to walk into a store and buy it). Jammers will debuff enemies’ weak points, decrease their physical and magical defenses or even slow them down.

There are six roles, each with specific skill-sets explored and obtained in something called the Crystarium, which is, if nothing else, the world’s most advanced picking-through-the-neighbors’-garbage simulator yet devised. We’ll get to it later — and how.

Six roles — and six characters. Every cut scene, there your dudes are. All six of them, pumping their fists and talking about how “We can do it, guys!” “Let’s not give up!” “This is our fight!” “And we’re going to fight it!” “For everyone!” “Let’s do it!”

Then, in battle, you only control the three you like the most, and even then, you only control one of them directly (the other two react to combat situations entirely based on the role they’re playing at the time). Oh! Oh! We can’t wait for the comments about this part: why can you only control three characters, when all six characters are journeying (and earning experience points) together? Some will say, “That’s how Final Fantasy battle systems are!” People who say things like that should get a job, work their way up the corporate ladder until they live in a penthouse, and then jump, because if it’s not a penthouse, there wouldn’t be enough gravity for the pavement to crack their skull. These people are the Death of Everything. They can eat dirt and like it, for all we care (and god knows they would like it (after using the internet to make sure they’re liking it the same way everyone else likes it)).

Also: Final Fantasy IV let you use five characters at once. So there.

The simple answer to “Why can’t you just control everyone at once?” is because “Someone on the development team spent Brain Points by the dozens to devise the Optima Change battle system!” If you can have six characters, each one playing one role, you wouldn’t have much need of “changing” your “optimas”. Maybe you could just open a menu and change what one character was doing. Like, maybe your guys are significantly buffed, so you can change your enhancer to an attacker, or whatever.

So you walk into a Boss Room, and your six dudes are there, talking about how “You can’t do this to us!” “Let’s get him!” “Yeah, let’s do it!” And then the fight starts: and you’re just the three dudes you had picked previously on the menu. Then the battle ends, and there’s all six characters, some of them wounded, others just winded. “We did it!” Uh, okay. What were the other three characters doing during the fight? Were they fighting some other boss that the artists didn’t care to draw? (They were probably off in the corner smoking a bowl and talking about what it’d be like to get a blow job in space.)

Well, we’ve got three characters at a time. You’ve got six roles. You’ve got combat situations that involve three characters, and require all six roles working together. This is what you’re given. You need to set up Optimas. You configure them in the menu screen. You open the menu and you choose Optima and you choose “Make Optimas”. You see your three characters’ faces. The high-resolution character portraits take up literally three-quarters of the screen (crucial information). You tinker around, choosing who is going to do what in any given battle. So let’s say you have Lightning, Fang, and Sazh. You choose to make your default Optima so that Lightning is a Blaster, Fang is an Attacker, and Sazh is an Enhancer. Once you’ve gotten all your guys sped up and buffed against physical attacks, you can switch to an Optima where Lightning is an Attacker, Fang is a Jammer, and Sazh is a Blaster. The reason you don’t have someone else be a Jammer is because Fang is a better Jammer than other people. Like all modern RPGs, Final Fantasy XIII lets you make anyone able to do anything if you really want it that way, though they make the cost steep enough to discourage just mastering every role for everyone. So you have Fang Jam the dudes while Sazh and Lightning work on building up that Break meter.

You get far enough in the game, and, eventually, every battle is a contest to see if you can buff your dudes and debuff the enemies before the enemies kill all of your dudes. Sometimes, you have to stop buffing and start healing. Sometimes, you have to stop debuffing so that two guys can be healing. In the above example, we only have one character (Lightning) with an innate healing role, so we have to shove a square peg into a round hole to get Sazh able to cast “Cure” in battle. It’s easy enough to do. So you can have Sazh and Lightning healing while Fang attacks with her physical attacks, which nicely reset the break meter and keep it from decreasing to zero. They do not, however, push it toward the goal. You need Blasters to do that. This is where the enemies say, “Hope they don’t have Blasters!” (“Star Wars” reference (so lonely).)

Important: as you inch an enemy’s break meter up to full, a large numeral with a percentage sign on the end of it goes up. This is what you paid for: it usually starts at 100%, meaning that your attacks are doing 100% damage. 100% of what? Why, “100% of the normal“. We will spare you the “Which came first, the Dr Pepper or the Diet Dr Pepper, which tastes more like regular Dr Pepper”? debate. (Note: the exclusion of a period from the end of “Dr” is intentional: such is the Dr Pepper trademark.) As you push an enemy to break, the number goes up, and so does the amount of damage you’re dealing. Usually this means either precisely jack or approximately shit, though once you get close enough to the red line, you can possibly be doing like 300% damage, which isn’t anything to sneeze at. This is when you go “Hmmm”, and wonder if the game is ever going to introduce enemies that you don’t want to push all the way to break, so you lay off on the Blasting and switch to only Attacking. Spoiler: yes. This was only natural, of course: jerking off for the first time was probably the closest any of the jiggly-puffs developing Final Fantasy XIII came to feeling Real Danger in their entire lives, so the memory of that time when one realizes one can make the stroking good times last a whole lot longer is permanently slotted into the “Real World Experience” blank in the spreadsheet of the mind.

So you back and forth with the enemy freakbeast bastard motherfuckers long enough, and Oh Snap! You just totally broke that Behemoth, dude! With a flash of graphics, we zoom in, we twirl, we bloom: the big, gold, italicized word “BREAK!” appears in the middle of the screen. We can almost hear Gears of War‘s cheery chap Marcus Fenix exclaim “Noice!” The Damage Percentage Numerical Representation explodes in a flash of napalm and stardust: what was once 300% is now 400%. Holy fuck, dude! You just gained a whole hundred percents in like a microsecond! That’s, like, a whole one full thing of something!

Now the break meter starts to slide down to zero real slow. Nothing you do can slow it down, and nothing can speed it up. Commander, you are clear to Elevate the Tango. Hit the L1 button, open the Optima Change menu, and choose your Bastard Master Optima. Or whatever it’s called. In Japanese, they call Two Blasters and an Attacker “Furious”. Two Attackers and a Blaster is “Rush Assault”. Three attackers is “Cerberus”. Two Healers and a Defender is “Phoenix”. Et cetera. We bet the English names are hella dumb. We hope that two Attackers and a Blaster is “Bastard Blaster” and three Attackers is “Bastard Master”. So yeah, you break a dude and then you just put everyone onto Attacker, and here’s where THE GRAVITY PROBLEM occurs:

Maybe the first attack dealt on the typical enemy sends that enemy flying literally a hundred feet into the air. That’s the height of a decent condo building. Just like that, there he is, way up there in the sky. We hope you’re reading this part very carefully, because this is the most important part of the entire review, and the only part we actually thought about for more than seven seconds beforehand: All of your guys jump up into the air. They just rocket up there without a sound, a grunt, or a graphical effect. It’s like they’re in ballet class and the instructor is like “Now turn, and twirl, and jump a hundred feet in the air” and they’re like “Oh okay”. The story doesn’t explain this. We don’t really need the story to explain this, really, though when the cookie-cutter strategy for winning any given battle revolves around getting an enemy into the air, and when the only thing you ever do in the game aside from fighting (lots (and lots)) of monsters is walk for several hours at a time in a straight line, you start to feel the opposite of the “Whoa Cool Cut-scenes” sickness, you know, where you see Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 4 river-dance-duelling a gay vampire and go, “Man, they should make a video game about this!” In Final Fantasy XIII, it’s more like, if your guys can do that, and so effortlessly, and all the time, why can’t we just fly over all this boring terrain at a terrifying speed until we ram headfirst into the final boss?

It’s far more than that, though. It looks fucking ridiculous. Your three guys don’t just rocket off the ground without a sound: they rocket up and then proceed to perch in mid-air as though they’re still standing on solid terrain. They swing their weapons until the attacks they’ve selected have been expunged. Then, with the same grace they used to float instantly up, they flutter at sound-speed right back to the earth. Once their ATB bars charge again precious seconds later, they flit right back up into the sky. It looks weird, to say the least.

What looks weirder is the way the enemy twitches repeatedly between his “flying” animation and his “oh shit” animation. It brings up memories of Tekken. You remember Tekken? Maybe not. Maybe you played Tekken 6 — that’s okay. It’s the same game. (Burn!) Scamco-Bandbuy must have mistook “ropey animations” for a “reason people loved Tekken” because the evidence holds that “People loved Tekken” and “Tekken had ropey animations when a guy was being juggled in the air”. You thrust forward and punch a guy, gliding on air. A man who had been standing upright, fists raised, a sixth of an eye-blink earlier, is now perfectly horizontal, facing the moon, toes pointed just about level with your character’s eyes. You lunge forward, punch him one more time. He snaps back so he’s upright again, then snaps back to horizontal and elevated. They didn’t know that everyone loved this. They thought that someone did. That’s how an “element” becomes a “feature” in the world of Japanese game development.

So, since around Tekken 3, we’ve had games placing the whole “juggling” thing on a pedestal at the expense of ropey animation. In a fighting game like Tekken, however (all insults aside), juggling an opponent comes down to exhibiting your supreme skills over said opponent. You catch him off-guard and elevate him. More often than not, your opponent is a real human being with his own emotional involvement level, adding an extra edge to the accomplishment. In Final Fantasy XIII, on the other hand, juggling:

1. Leaves the enemy harmless in the air

Actually, that didn’t really work as a list. Let’s make another list, making sure not to precede it with a sentence-fragment that ends in a comma. Let’s not make promises we can’t keep!

1. Juggling leaves enemies harmless and helpless in the air
2. That means that juggled enemies cannot attack your party members while they are in the air
3. Enemies can only be juggled when they are broken
4. If juggled enemies are allowed to touch the ground again, they can attack
5. If juggled enemies are allowed to touch the ground, you should hope that one of your dudes inflicts some physical damage on him ASAP
6. It does something like ten or eleven damage whenever a juggled enemy falls back to the ground; in the grand scheme of things, this means pretty much nothing, because enemies tend to have at least 50,000 hit points each. They should give you a trophy if you manage to kill an enemy with that ten or eleven damage. Actually, a friend of ours claims to have killed an enemy with that ten damage once. We forgot to ask him if he got a trophy for it, though seeing as he wasn’t glowing like a radioactive schoolgirl and beaming with self-confidence when he made his claim, we’re guessing he didn’t get a trophy for it.

Many enemies in Final Fantasy XIII are so intensely powerful that fighting them without breaking them is like trying to climb the Empire State Building using neither an elevator nor suction-cup hands. So juggling the enemy is, in short:

1. Something you are more or less required to do more or less most of the time (more or less)

You’re meant to fist-pump, grit your teeth, and exclaim something like “Fuck yeah! Fuck you, you stupid monster!” every time you elevate a monster. We’re not going to lie. They got us a couple times. They really did get us.

It’s just, look, man. It’s just so fuckin’ weird, man. Final Fantasy X had a whole character whose specialty was hitting enemies who are in the air. He threw a ball at them. It was great. Final Fantasy XIII gives physical attacking characters a “magic” spell called “Ruin”, which can be used to inflict physical damage on an enemy from a distance. You don’t need it, though, because if an enemy is naturally flying, your dude can just jump straight up into the air and hover whenever. Still, man, what the hell is “Ruin”? Why is it sometimes automatically selected for our attackers? Why can’t we at least see our dudes hitting other dudes with their weapons? What the hell is this little generic magic-ball thing? Are weapons out of fashion? It looks about as threatening or exciting as emailing the enemy. You might as well give us a tutorial teaching us how to press buttons on the controller while holding q-tips with a pair of tweezers in each hand (Protip: set the controller on a soft carpet).

So anyway. This is the important part (maybe (maybe not)): The enemy is broken, and you’re up the air, and you’re lambasting the shit out of it this giant, defenseless, lopsided monster-thing. And man, there are numbers just fucking flying out of this thing. All editors and writers at Action Button Dot Net grew up as near-retarded idiot savants with regard to mathematics; as toddlers, our mothers used to have to blindfold us whenever we went “Bye-byes”, or else the information overload from rapidly memorizing license plate numbers would give us the gorilla equivalent of an ice-cream headache. So the following drove us considerably bonkers, made us slobber like cartoon coyotes: you’re in the air, and let’s say you’re blade-raping a King Behemoth, who has something like a million hit points. When an enemy is broken, while his break meter is sliding back to zero, the damage percent continues to climb. So you can get it up to like 999% if you’re fast enough. So these gradually increasing numbers are bursting out of the King Behemoth as your three guys execute six hits at a time. The visual impact of the battle system is thus rendered:

A blue sky

Three sick warriors standing in place a hundred feet from the ground, flailing out with their weapons

A giant, lopsided monster with spikes and teeth and claws, upside-down, glowing radioactive-like (because he’s broken), flinching like a dog carcass caught in an electric fence


. . . Why do we need all these numbers? We are asking this question with an honest motive. Why does it have to be numbers? Final Fantasy XIII already went so far as to give the enemies life meters — those horizontal green bars representing enemies’ health, which we mentioned earlier. Why can’t we ditch the numbers, and just use the Life Meter and the Break Meter? Why does it have to represent the degree of the damage with numbers? Why can’t it be something else? Hey, Capcom, who is occasionally ballless enough to do things like dig up every single fucking character from Street Fighter II and put them in a game and call it Street Fighter IV, after explaining that it’s set between Street Fighter II and Street Fighter IV, kind of got it right with Monster Hunter. When you’re hitting an enemy in the right place in Monster Hunter, blood comes out. If you’re hitting the enemy in the wrong place, no blood comes out. If you’re hitting them in the super-right place, lots of blood comes out. Of course, Capcom censored Monster Hunter in the USA because the monsters look kind of like someone might call them “animals”, and depicting animals that bleed would be kind of like cruelty to animals, even though they’ve got plenty of games the player can freely decapitate zombies, which are reanimated human beings, et cetera. Thanks to reasons like this, not enough people — Japanese or Western — sang the precise praises of Monster Hunter‘s sly exclusion of numbers from the moment-to-moment minutiae of the combat.

We remember Final Fantasy IV back when it was called Final Fantasy II in the US. God, we love telling this story: a friend who had been a huge fan of Final Fantasy on the NES saw a screenshot of the status menu of Final Fantasy II in Nintendo Power, and had the ten-year-old-boy equivalent of an orgasm: “Dude, Cecil [note: he was already using the character’s name the first time he saw him] is only on level five and he has two hundred hit points!” In the first Final Fantasy, you had to work like a dog to get a character to have even one hundred hit points. We should have seen this coming, way back when: the whole “numbers go up” thing was going to apply to every single god damn aspect of the RPG experience; the Final Boss of Final Fantasy had 2,000 hit points: we should have known that Average Enemy Grunt in Final Fantasy XIII would have at least 100,000.

Listen: we’re not saying that all RPGs should just be action games already. That would be nice, though. Why can’t Square-Enix put this level of polish and, uhh, (must think of kind word for “obsessive fan-coddling”) care into, say, an action game? Why is this placeholder-ridden nonsense the “safe” game to develop? Isn’t Final Fantasy about radically changing every core element of the game every single time? It is! Then why aren’t they just nutting up and rolling with it already? Yasumi Matsuno tried to change everything in Final Fantasy XII, and the poor bastard got killed for it (maybe (*this is just a rumor (**pretty sure it’s true though 🙁 )).

Okay, listen again: why can’t we represent damage in some way other than with numbers? Maybe there’s this hot, shimmery golden fluid that represents the Life Force of All Life on the Planet or whatever-the-fuck. Make big splashes of that fly out of the enemy. It’s like, we’ve already got it so that, if you’re healing a character, the number of “good points” is colored green; if you’re hurting the enemy, the numbers are white; if the enemy is hurting you, it’s red; if you’re hitting the enemy really hard, the numbers are bigger, yellow, or maybe gold and glowing. Eventually they’re so huge they can’t be ignored. What we have here is a confession on the part of the visual designers that Using Graphics is a tidy solution for conveying the effectiveness of an attack. We in the Game Development Business call that “Visual Language”! (winking smiley face) Why does Final Fantasy XIII presume we need to know the exact numbers? Is it violating the Chief Video Game Commandment? “Thou shalt not presume the player has nothing better to do than play your fucking game”.

Or hey: Final Fantasy XIII gives us the option to turn the mini-map off in the field screen. Why can’t we just turn the numbers off during the battles?

And then, a battle ends. The game displays the amount of time it took you to clean your plate. They show you the “average time” and then show you your time. “Time” seems to be the only criteria they judge you on. Maybe the “average time” is two minutes and forty seconds, and you beat the battle in thirty seconds. You get five big, shining, gold stars, which you can do all of five huge zero-sized nothings with. You also get a “score” of, say, 10,800 “points”. One scary thing: we consider ourselves pretty decently intelligent human beings, and we have no idea what the points are for. Just above the points is the “Battle Rate”, which is displayed in a very teeny font. It’s usually a two or three-digit number. What it means, who the hell knows? Battles also award you “Crystal Points”, which are how you level your dudes up. Then we flick over the “item” screen. Crucial info: even if you don’t get any items from a fight, you have to view the item acquisition screen. It stares you right there in the eye, the word “ITEMS” and then a big empty spreadsheet with a circle button icon and the word “Next” at the bottom of the screen. Even more crucial: your battle points / star ranking have no effect on the items you receive, if any, or the amount of Crystal Points (CP) you’re awarded. The numbers are there just to stroke you, softly.

We don’t really understand the rankings, sometimes: you can undercut the “target time” by over a minute and still get four out of five stars. If speed is so important, then what the hell? Sometimes, it seems like you’re awarded for not Optima Changing too much; sometimes, it feels like you’re rewarded for knowing your precise limits and actually letting one of your teammates die, so that you can coast right up to the end of the battle with one guy alive and in critical condition. Don’t worry: everyone comes back to life at the end of a battle, and if you lose, you have the choice to restart, immediately, right in front of the enemy that killed you. At the end of the day, it really does start to look like speed is the only goal. Lord knows, if you’re anything like us, you’ll want the battles over as soon as possible, because someone told you “the story gets really good later, dude” or “the game really opens up later on”. Good luck with that! The battles will sometimes envelop you in sometimes ten entire minutes of grueling uphill climbing, forcing you to know that you’re doing something wrong. You pray for a zero-star ranking, for there to be some obvious “right way” to do this. Then the game gives you a five-star ranking, and your heart sinks: oh god, you are doing it the right way.

Every regular encounter is so much like a boss that the bosses feel cheap or dumb or at least not challenging enough to live up to their (sometimes incredibly) fantastic appearances (not that you can tell what they are (or even what the hell they’re Supposed to Be) 99% of the time). So, more often than not, boss fights have a “trick”. Remember how in Shenmue 2 they give you an “RPG” with the “battle system” being “Virtua Fighter 4‘s fighting engine”, and then, because “some people find fighting games, like, kinda hard”, they made all the battles these tiny little puzzles? Like, in order to beat that one guy, you need to dodge him ten times? That’s some lame shit, man.

Well, here’s another sad fact: man, nothing in this game fuckin’ looks like anything. What the hell are any of the enemies supposed to be? We had a friend in sixth grade who would doodle real neat-looking stuff on his notebook in class. He was into fantasy novels. Hell if that kid didn’t say that everything he was drawing was a “sword”. We’d like to think he got a job as a monster designer on Final Fantasy XIII (however, he probably was arrested at age nineteen for cruelty to animals). Some of these things are just unbelievable — because you can’t even start to know what they are so that you can then tackle the question of whether or not you should believe them. If you, dear reader, decide to take it upon yourself to play Final Fantasy XIII from start to finish, expect to ask some permutation of the question “What the Christ are these things?” during a random battle no less than sixteen times an hour. The “that’s just the way [these games] are” crowd would likely reply to your rhetorical question by reading you the name of the monster from the enemy roster menu. As the game grinds on and the enemies get harder and harder, their misshapenness begins to nearly offend you. You get into the final dungeon, which is your typical twisted Hyper Dimension Satanic altar kind of place, and you’re fighting enemy parties consisting big, shapeless, hairless, faceless failed blown-glass sculptures and lopsided ghost motorcycles that float quizzically (or at least the faceless equivalent of quizzically) letting you hit them a couple of times until they decide to go “o btw i win” and just slam you so hard you shit teeth. Like so much about this slog of a game, it’s a penis-measuring contest (or the faceless, blown-glass-sculpture-equivalent-of-penis-measuring contest), the enemies simply serving as yardsticks: do you have enough HP? Have you ground enough? Do you really hate the game enough yet to want it over with? (All these statements apply in some way or another to the plot, as well.)

It took us maybe forty hours or so before, in one sleep-deprived instant, the blinders suddenly and viciously fell off: we noticed how utterly ridiculous it is that the words “OPTIMA CHANGE” appear on the screen literally and irremovably from start to finish, in every battle. Sitting next to the words “OPTIMA CHANGE” is a little L1 button logo. You can’t turn these off. We hate stuff like this. We’re not even going to begin to criticize it. Instead, we’re going to criticize this: every time you press L1, highlight an Optima, and then choose it, the action in the battle grinds to a quick halt while the words “OPTIMA CHANGE!” scream, silver, italicized, in the center of the screen. It’s like, “Yay! You just reconfigured your ally AI patterns and skill-sets!” We felt very weird at this precise moment, not quite like a Cub Scout who’d just been invited to a secret meeting with the scout leader in a truck stop restroom — more like a baby who just had his candy taken, and replaced with a less delicious type of candy which is also conveniently harder to accidentally swallow. In short, graphically celebrating the act of changing your characters’ AI patterns is pretty much the same thing as getting a personal phone call from the President of the United States because you were super-great enough to remember to file your income taxes.

People throw the word “chess” around whenever they play an RPG and like the battle system because it makes them feel smart. When will we ever see an RPG battle system that rewards, you know, something “real”, the way that a highly skilled chess player can beat a less-skilled player in as few as five moves? “Risk and Reward” are words thrown around often in game design meetings — which are something we’re sure didn’t occur during the development of Final Fantasy XIII (we’ll get to that in a minute). Why do you reward the player? For taking a risk? How do you reward them? By letting them continue to play the game? And what do they get for continuing the play the game? They get to See More Cool Stuff. Okay. Well, why does Final Fantasy XIII reward players? It rewards players for playing the battle system the way it’s meant to be played: blasting and attacking monsters, while enhancing and jamming, until the enemy reaches break, healing in the interim if necessary. Then, once the enemy is broken, you slam the shit out of him. Official Japanese marketing copy for the game makes liberal use of the words “Refreshing Feeling”, which is also plastered all over the place whenever a Dynasty Warriors game is released. What’s refreshing about lambasting a defenseless enemy? Well, for one thing, you get to see huge numbers flying out. The enemy, most of the time, doesn’t look like anything remotely related to anything in the real world, so it’s mostly like seeing numbers flying out of some well-lit piece of ornately detailed jet-plane wreckage which is somehow suspended in the sky. So, in short, the “refreshing feeling” arises out of the situation of dominating a defenseless thing. In Dynasty Warriors, the enemies all have weapons which they are decidedly choosing not to use. They want to die. In Final Fantasy XIII, you have to employ “strategy” (by which we mean you have to jump through the arbitrary hoops the game designers erected in the name of making you feel smart) to induce the enemy’s state of helplessness. You want to kill the enemy because you want to win. You know what, though? Actually killing the monsters is boring. And it’s not boring because you feel sorry for the monster, nor is it boring because you have no fucking clue what the monster is supposed to be (it’s hard to feel sorry for a lopsided phantom self-driven motorcycle which is large enough for King Kong to ride): it’s boring because the anticipation is everything: the struggle to break the enemy is infinitely — hell, maybe even quantifiably — more fun than plugging in the commands to kill it. We have, in the past, insinuated and even believed that seeing a girl naked for the first time is a feeling far more powerful even than having intercourse with her, though we would in no way push that belief on others. Some of our best friends are married, et cetera. However, in Final Fantasy XIII, where neither naked breasts nor the removal panties are ever involved, we can say that we kindly hope you’d feel the same way we do about breaking enemies being more fun than killing them.

Alfred Hitchcock said, about writing, that writing a movie screenplay was, to him, better than shooting a movie, because in his head, it’s already perfect, and that “in shooting it you lose perhaps 40 per cent of your original conception”. We feel the same way about games; when will a game be as fun for the average man as writing a screenplay was for Alfred Hitchcock?

Here’s the cosmos-sized rub, though: where would we have the battle stop? If we ask the battle to stop at “Break”, that’s basically like we’re pining for a game where you hit the enemies and it hurts them and kills them. Right?

Actually, that’s what a friend said yesterday, when we explained our theory that battles should stop at “Break”. We were confounded — dumbfounded, even, that he would say such a thing. Then we thought about it, and realized that most NGPs (Non-Genius Persons) think this way, so we’re going to step down to your level for a second, dear reader. Before we get there, no, we’re not hungry; you can keep that thing you call food for yourself: we just had some genius food a minute ago and it was delicious (and no, you can’t have any).

See, the Break meter recovers when you’re not hitting the enemy. You need to do physical attacks to slow the recovery of the Break meter just as surely as you need to do magic attacks to push it closer to the edge. You can heal to stay alive; you can jam to weaken the enemy; you can enhance to strengthen yourself. Your characters have Break meters, too, by the way, though they seldom break. When they break, all that happens is they, too, get juggled into the air, only when they do, the enemies don’t lambaste them. The only thing is,


You cannot Optima Change in the air.

Breaking is an integral “strategy” to the game. We put “strategy” in quotes because the word strategy usually implies that it’s some kind of option, and that there are many more like it. In Final Fantasy XIII you’d have to have the brains of a chimpanzee not to Always Be Breaking (ABB) the enemy.

(There’s only one group of regular enemies we can think of in the story part of the game who are best beaten with a creative tactic: they’re things that look like robots, and might actually be robots, who become terribly paralyzed if you break them. They attack in groups of five, and are very powerful. Your best bet is to break them one at a time, until they’re all broken, then kill them. That particular enemy encounter felt fun, compared to all the others.)

Similar mechanics have existed in RPGs before. The easiest one to think of off-hand is the “Rolling HP” system of Mother 2 / 3 / Earthbound: when an enemy hits you, your HP display starts to roll down. It looks like a slot machine spinning slowly. Sometimes, enemies can deal more damage than you have hit points. If you heal before the damage finishes being counted off, you can cheat death. That’s kind of neat! Final Fantasy XIII could be elegant and streamlined like that, by making the enemies “always recovering HP” — instead of counting down, their HP is constantly counting up, so you just need to keep hitting them. We don’t even need to put those words into it. Just have that Break meter, let the player figure out what triggers it for any given monster, and then break the enemy to kill him.

In Final Fantasy XIII, you sometimes encounter an enemy who has to be lambasted in a state of Break more than once in order to be killed. If they were to implement the idea we presented above, wouldn’t that make these fights less fun? No, it wouldn’t. Not if the fights were planned better from the start. Suppressing is a key strategy that has served well in many, say, action games. It forces the player — even the female player — to be a man, get out there, be bold, and hit the enemy with everything you got.

Here, we remember another Mother battle system quirk: the instant-win battle. If you approach an party consisting of monsters well below your current level, you can kill them instantly, and receive their experience points. In Final Fantasy XIII, breaking a monster when he’s the Last Monster Standing always feels like checkmate; telling your guys to elevate and execute him is like taking the bishop that checkmated the king and batter-upping all of the chess pieces off the board with it. It’s overkill. Hey, why don’t we make at least this kind of “refreshing feeling”: when you break the last enemy standing and it’s possible for him to be elevated and executed, just put a command on the screen that says “checkmate”, and let us choose it and then be treated to an intense graphical display showing all three of our characters jumping up and beating the shit out of the dude. That would be great! That would be almost as good as our idea for a Super Mario Bros. mod that recognizes the Point of No Return — when you’ve attempted a jump that you are not going to make, as soon as Mario passes the point of plausible survival, the screen viciously blacks out and the words “YOU SUCK” appear hugely in the center of the screen.

Actually, maybe the “Checkmate” idea for an RPG is even better than the “YOU SUCK” idea. Hmm. If possible, it’d be neat to see a game that implemented both. In a perfect world, all games would implement both, and never feel cheap. Final Fantasy XIII almost could have been that game. Oh, well.

Instead, your “risk” is “die and you can start the battle over”. Your reward is “Yay, you get five stars.”



Why are we still talking about this game? Why aren’t we talking about some inane shit yet? Who knows! Maybe it’s because the battle system is interesting, or maybe it’s because we know people are going to be reading this and we love attention.

The battle system is clearly the most important part of Final Fantasy XIII, and clearly the one part that’s easiest to talk about without “spoiling” the “story”. What’s weird is how RPGs these days drip-feed battle system elements as though they were story developments. If you visit any internet forums about videogames, you’ll see lots of people discussing what’s “more important” in an RPG, the story or the battle system. We sigh a little bit whenever such questions are asked. Really, the “battle system” should be transparent, or else little more than an interface element. The “battle system” should be “what happens when you press which button”.

Square-Enix knows that these kinds of debates actually occur on the internet, as surely as they know that World of Warcraft is an ugly, clunky game which happens to generate more than a billion dollars yearly. “Battle systems” are, in addition to a placeholder in a form of entertainment whose children are being raised by substitute teachers, a hot commodity that earns at least enough money for everyone in the company to make a one-yen yearly profit. Square-Enix probably didn’t spend as much money on Final Fantasy XIII‘s battle system as they did on its fatuous, psychotic computer-animated cut-scenes, though they’re willing to be aw-shucks cute enough about acknowledging the people who might love the simple act of throwing numbers at the wall.

One of the ways they pander to the “no, the battle system is the best part” crowd is by dipping you very, very slowly into the battle system. Remember how, in Final Fantasy XII, you had to purchase the right to program a character to target an “Ally” with less than 20% of his total HP? Wasn’t that weird? Well, in Final Fantasy XIII, you start the game with just a bunch of dudes choosing “fight” and killing the enemies for a couple of hours before they endow the characters with Mystical Powers — which, in addition to making them Mystically Powerful, also rob them of the ability to just choose “fight” on the menu. You will spend many, many hours of Final Fantasy XIII using just two characters at a time, one of them unable to physically attack an enemy. The game feeds you the battle system in little astronaut-pellet-sized portions, until, two dozen hours in, it sighs and says, “Okay, you can have fun now”. And “have fun” means, for the most part, “engage in extracurricular conflicts proving that you have learned this unwieldy game-enjoying method better than your friends have”. “You have put in the time and paid the dues necessary to be able to brag about accomplishing something your friends might not have”. Since when is enjoying a game about paying your dues?

It is for the scruffiest of the kleptomaniacs in the audience that Final Fantasy XIII‘s game designers contrived The Grinding Place, a great, large, revisitable environment in which the player is free to wander about fighting monsters and taking up “missions”. The mission description is invariably a wall of text in which some person talks about being sad and needing to have some monster killed. The monster then shows up as a star on your radar. You go find it (translation: run for several minutes in the direction indicated on the mini-map), and kill it. The mission monsters range from hard as nails to sister-fucking ridiculous. (We almost typed “nun-fucking ridiculous”, though we didn’t want to condone the act of fucking a nun. That’d be like dripping Meat Juice into a vegetarian’s coffee. (Fucking someone’s sister is okay, of course, as long as she likes you about as much as you like her.))

Square-Enix says that the play-time of Final Fantasy XIII is “about 50 hours”. We can corroborate this. It took us exactly 52 hours to get to the end of the story, though we beat the final boss with a five-gold-star ranking, which means we might have ground a bit more than was necessary. We can also claim that most of the 52 hours was spent fighting. If we had to guess, we’d say you spend about 35 hours of the total “story” experience Optima Changing, et cetera.

Square-Enix goes on to say that Final Fantasy will take you “upward of 100 hours” if you complete all the missions. Okay — the missions would require literally solid fighting, with some walking back and forth to get to the monsters, and some menu-tweaking between fights, so that’s 48 hours of fighting. In total, we have a game that is approximately 83% fighting.

The thing about these mission monsters, though, is that if you can devise the strategy for killing them, what would possess you to actually do it? It used to be, we had enemies like Ruby Weapon in Final Fantasy VII, where the enemy was so incomprehensibly powerful that you might actually scream the first time he killed you. You have to kill Ruby Weapon with just one of your three party members, who can have a maximum of 9,999 hit points. Ruby Weapon has a million hit points. In order to beat Ruby Weapon, you need to be a detective of menus; you need to pore over the detailed facts of the game’s battle system and come up with some Rube-Goldberged solution: you need to level up your “Materia” so that you can revive yourself automatically every time you’re killed, so that you have 9,999 magic points instead of 999, so that you have the strongest summon on the highest level. Emerald Weapon poses a similar threat, except you can use all three party members, though must kill him in fifteen minutes. Once you devise a solution, actualizing it is only a matter of time: you need to pour so many hours into leveling up your materia before you can kill Ruby and Emerald Weapon that no save file in which the player has killed them ever has a playtime clock that isn’t stuck at “99:59”.

Final Fantasy XIII gives you monsters that gently escalate toward hit points represented by numbers typically only ever seen by astronomers. In order to beat these monsters, you need to apply the same tried-and-true strategy of breaking the enemy and then getting him in the air. Sometimes, the enemies have friends. Sometimes, it’s a real pain. However, solving the case never involves any actual detective work that makes you feel smart. The amount of strength needed to break an enemy directly correlates to how strong your weapons are. This is how they planned to keep people from selling the game back to used shops within a week of its release (it didn’t work: the new price was around $100, and it can now be had used for around $70). Your road from Here to Sidequest Heaven will be fraught with busywork, not challenge. Instead of menu-detective work, it’s more like, you open up the “weapon upgrade” menu and just start throwing a bunch of seemingly useless shit at your weapon until it levels up.

That’s how you level up weapons in Final Fantasy XIII — you throw useless shit at them. Remember Final Fantasy XII, how enemies gave you stuff, and you sold the stuff for money? People hated that, for some reason. We didn’t mind it. It seemed more plausible than getting money from the enemies outright. Why would the monsters be carrying human money? Because they killed an adventurer and found the money shiny and pretty? Okay, maybe. Anyway, in Final Fantasy XII, that Random Stuff was always for the selling. In Final Fantasy XIII, you have shops, and you have the Weapon Upgrade Menu. You go into the shop and see how much something sells for. Don’t sell it, though! Just wait a minute. Go into the Weapon Upgrade Menu, choose a weapon that you want to level up, and then choose the Seemingly Useless Item you just looked at in the shop. See how many experience points it offers your weapon. Now, divide the number of experience points by the number of Gil (Final Fantasy world currency) the item sells for. There are two or three items in the game that you can buy in the shops in unlimited quantities and which have pretty excellent experience points per gil, so you should just use those to level up your weapons and sell the rest of the shit. When a weapon is leveled up to its maximum level, you have to use a special item to evolve it into another weapon. Thankfully, these special items are all sold in one specific store, which sells nothing else.

All shops in Final Fantasy XIII are accessible from the save menu. Final Fantasy XIII presents us with a future where all shopping is online shopping — and online shopping is instantaneous.

Leveling up your weapons in Final Fantasy XIII is about as fun as looking for your car keys. Seriously, this is part of their grand scheme for making money on the game: put this busywork shit in there so that people waste more time with the game than they had planned to, until, oops! The local used shop’s buyback price has dipped below the amount of money you’d hoped to earn back. Might as well keep it, now! Man, why can’t they do something like, who knows, make downloadable content? Have some kind of online multiplayer mode, or something?

Leveling up the characters themselves is about as fun as picking through the neighbors’ garbage. Leveling up your characters requires use of a thing called the “Crystarium”, which is a terrifying thing to call anything. It looks like a big crystal flower studded with shrapnel from a board game that exploded. The background is something like you’d expect to be projected onto a bed sheet tacked to a wall in some accountant’s basement on a Friday night when he tries to host a party and no one shows up. (We might have used this description before.)

With the Crystarium, you choose which character you want to level up. Then you choose the particular role you want to level up. Say we want to level up Lightning’s Blaster role. You select it. Okay, now it’s like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, except without as many choices. You are moving a cursor down a track. A line of white light represents your character’s progress. You hold down the circle button and press a direction on the D-pad to expand the line of white light in the direction of the next upgrade. Okay. Expanding the line uses “Crystal Points”, or “CP”, which you earn at the end of every battle. Even dead or inactive characters earn CP at the end of every battle (important). Let’s say Lightning’s next upgrade is +20 to her maximum HP, and it costs 200 CP. You purchase it. Now you can continue down the line (around the circle, as it were) toward more upgrades, such as +5 to physical attack or +5 to magic attack, and eventually to a new battle command: the Fire spell. However, you don’t feel like Lightning needs the Fire spell yet, because you don’t use her as much as you use other magic users, and the enemies in the area you’re in right now don’t seem all that particularly excited about Fire magic, anyway. You deem that the two more “+20 max HP” nodes down the offshoot path from the current +20 max HP node are more important at the moment. So you buy them instead.

It’s worth noting that the Crystarium for every role for every character consists mainly of max HP, physical attack and magic attack upgrades. Eventually, the game is going to let you use every role for every character. However, once it’s done this, you start to wonder about the whole thing. Sazh isn’t supposed to be a healer — he’s primarily an Enhancer, Blaster and Attacker. If you choose to level up his Healer Crystarium, you’ll notice that the first few upgrades are near-prohibitively expensive. Also, that there are very, very few of them — usually just two or three per level. You’ll need to learn at least one ability in a role before you can assign a character to that role. It’s obvious that the game wants you to use certain characters: you can be near the end of the game, and Hope will have literally double the magic power of Sazh. No two Crystariums are equal. At the end of the day, it’s like the “freedom” of “choice” is just a weird illusion: they’re just not going to let you make Sazh a better blaster than Hope.

What’s weirdest is that the Crystarium starts out quite small, and then expands as you defeat specific bosses. It starts at level 1, and ends up eventually at level 10. Each new level of the Crystarium contains numerous new nodes for you to access. You will notice, however, that the nodes on each new level of the Crystarium cost considerably more CP than the nodes on the previous level. It’s like, why are they keeping you from the upper levels of the Crystarium? If a player wants to spend 45 hours grinding at the very beginning of the game to access all the HP upgrades, why should you stop them? The way the game is officially set up, you can only grind so much before you’ve maxxed out everything in the Crystarium, then you have to beat the next boss so the Crystarium will expand. Why do they do it this way? The only answer to this riddle is that the game must not want you to win too easily. Well, then, why the fuck do you have a leveling-up mechanic in the first place?

Oh? What’s that? Because you have been doing the same fucking thing for twenty years and you have no fucking idea how to just, you know, design a game that’s compelling and rewarding to play, so you instead fall back on the “illusion of progress” thing?

Some might say, “People like seeing numbers go up”. Yeah, so do we — especially when those numbers are in our checking account. Enough about numbers. You know what else people like? Cupcakes. Why don’t games give people cupcakes, too, while they’re in the business of giving people what they like?

At best, that is, at the times when a character rejoins a party after a long absence and has stored up tens of thousands of Crystal Points for you to spend in a spree, the Crystarium is as satisfying as a half-decent bowel movement. At worst — like, say, when you backtrack to find the one little nodule you’d neglected earlier in favor of something more immediately useful, it resembles a picking-through-the-garbage simulator. Oh, so many times, we saved the game, ready to do something like sleep, or shower, and then decided to spend our Crystal Points. We spend them all, and then save the game again, because we wouldn’t want to go through the soulless, joyless spending process again. Like battling, after you’ve battled more than a hundred times in a day and just want to proverbially go home, it’s just another Undesirable Experience to Endure. Like everything else in that roadkill of a videogame, it’s busywork; it’s something to do while waiting for your funeral, and it has no shame about itself.

You know what this shit is? It’s disingenuous. (Our dads would be proud of us to see us using that word (maybe correctly).) This whole video-game operation is fuckin’ disingenuous, man. Sure, entertainment is all about lying to the experiencer in the name of amusing him, though there’s a fuckin’ ocean of difference in the lies Uncharted 2 tells and the lies Final Fantasy XIII tells. Uncharted 2 lies by telling us we have to climb a mountain so that we can get to the top and kill some dudes (“shh! the mountain isn’t real! this is just a game!”); Final Fantasy XIII tells us, “Hey, you got some fun experience points! Now you can level up your dudes! Oh, look! You leveled up to the max! You’re great! No, no, you can’t level up any further! Go fight that boss, and we’ll let you see a neat cut scene, then let you see a neat new area with neat new enemies, and we’ll also let you level up some more!” Bad entertainment makes all entertainment look bad; lies as abstractly depressing as those of Final Fantasy XIII make the more bizarre members of the audience once again consider life as a Zen monk, and you know, if you get a lot of people thinking like that, you might see decreased profits industry-wide.

Once you think about the Crystarium for a bit, once you’ve seen the graphical “OPTIMA CHANGE” celebration enough times, Final Fantasy XIII really begins to evolve as a farce with seemingly global implications. Getting past a certain point in this game requires a learning of the mental resolve required of a backstabbing politician. You will hate the public by the end of this game, and you will hate the politicians as well; you will have hired and fired a lawyer and a half by the end of this game.

What are we doing, again? You wonder. You only control one party member per battle. Wait, why? Because there’s Too Much Shit happening in any given battle. “That’s just what they want you to think, man”, your weed-smoking, bathrobe-clad roommate played by Brad Pitt drawls, before disappearing into smoke: oh fuck! Now you’re seeing things.

Skies of Arcadia did a thing where, when you’re making menu choices during battle, all of the characters not currently being controlled were standing around in the background with enemies in front of them, trading blows. Many reviews heralded this as something of a great innovation. Really, all it was was a neat graphical flourish. In Final Fantasy XIII, your other dudes are trading blows with enemies while you make choices, only they’re actually doing and taking damage. Okay, maybe that’s kind of cool. Then you consider that it’s only this way because the Fatuity Machine started from “graphical flourish” and worked backwards: “What is the thing?” begat “Why do you care about the thing?” which begat “What is the purpose of the thing?” Shouldn’t we be fielding problems before talking about how sparkly to make the solution? Who the hell knows, man.

Final Fantasy XIII‘s battles lack in self-discovery. Like, enemies have weak points, right? You can use a “TP ability” to scan an enemy and learn his weak point. “TP” are like magic points, only you earn them by winning battles. Well, fuck that. All you need to do is have a Blaster who knows all the element spells. Then, when the battle starts, he’ll automatically fill his ATB bars with one of each type of spell. Then he’ll let loose on the first enemy. If a spell is absorbed, or ineffective, the computer will note it. If your blaster hits on the enemy weak point, all you have to do is open the enemy info menu (R1 button) and there you have it: you can now see exactly what spell did enough damage to be registered as a “weak point”. Now, if the player-controlled character is a blaster, you can just choose the weak point spell yourself. Or, um, you can choose “auto” and the computer will pick it for you. That’s probably the best idea. This raises a couple of beautiful questions, one of which isn’t even a question:

1. Doesn’t the computer already know the weak points of every enemy, anyway?
2. Is it possible that the game lets you only “control” one character at a time because making all the menu choices is a chore and you’d hate the game if you had to control everyone in the party?

The poison seeps deeper into the brain. You have just obtained concrete evidence of a computer pretending. The computer is pretending to not know something that, of course, it does know. How does an AI blaster go about choosing the order of elemental spells to use against an enemy? Does it choose them in alphabetical order? (Yes. (Kind of. (Technically the stronger ice spell comes immediately after “blizzard”, though the AI won’t choose two ice spells, it’ll move on to the next element.))) Then there are situations, like, where you have a party of robots. Aren’t robots always weak to lightning? Why can’t the AI-controlled blasters just know that? If it’s a new type of robot, they are compelled to run through the list of potential weaknesses all over again. How weird.

We could try to be optimistic, and say that the computer-controlled characters “learn” the way we would learn, if we were playing the game ourselves for the first time, and didn’t realize that water magic killed fire slimes. If we even started to do this, we’d end up feeling horrible, and we’d probably ultimately remember The Secret, which our doctor says we must never commit to print.

So, in short, we have a game where the most exciting element is in swapping arrays of AI scripts which are linked directly to exclusive skill-sets, and the computer pretends to not know things. It’s a role-playing game where you play a role, and the computer plays one, too. How cute. You have a buddy, and he’s a robot.

Also, the summon monsters are all capable of transforming into motorcycles, fighter jets, or hot rods. You know, just because. Some guy on the development team, with a terrible hat, must have thought of that. He must have written it up in a spreadsheet (it’s always a spreadsheet) and submitted it to the section head maybe thirty-five times, each time making this puppy-dog expression, genuinely forgetting each time that he had submitted the idea before. Eventually, because Japanese law apparently prohibits any company ever firing anyone, they started developing the guy’s idea. What the fuck is going on in the summon vehicle segments, we have no idea. You have to fight all the summon monsters before you can use them, and each fight is of the “battle-puzzle” type, where you have to do one stupid thing over and over again, like use “defend” to withstand the enemy’s attack. Then, after a while, a square-button icon appears on the screen: “Press the Square Button for Driving Mode”. You press the square button, and the Shiva Twins latch their hands together, spin around, and turn into a motorcycle. Snow jumps on, thumbs-ups the camera, and “YOU WIN”. After this point, you can use that character’s summon in battle.

This feels more like a spoiler than anything else we’ve written in this review: there’s a scene where a character fights his summon battle, initiates Driving Mode, and wins, and then we’re immediately treated to a cut-scene where his summon-vehicle is completely absent, and he . . . dies. Wait, what? Of course he’s not dead. He wouldn’t actually be dead, after the game just introduced us to a summon monster that some graphic artist spent a hundred hours rendering. They wouldn’t lavish that kind of time on any one polygon model if they weren’t going to give you the option to use it whenever you want in the game. More often than not, this is how Final Fantasy XIII flows as a game — by presenting you with plot points that lead to flawless predictions of the next plot point based on your experience understanding how the game plays as a game.




Eventually, as the game drones on and as pedestrian after pedestrian strolls through your living room, glances at the screen, and makes some sound like they’d just swallowed a golf ball that had been moving at the speed of sound, the battle system convinces you that you are the only person on earth who probably understands it in full. By this point, Final Fantasy XIII has got you, the way it is possible for a corporation to get somebody just by paying them and/or providing dental benefits; you were once a kid with dreams: now you are a man who sneers pridefully as he insinuates, silently, to himself, that he is better at inserting data into these here cells in this here spreadsheet right here than probably anyone else in this office. It is not uncommon for games which simulate seemingly maybe-real experiences to feel, occasionally, like work. It is often the case that games in which button presses (or wand waggles) equate immediately to on-screen actions will seldom feel like films; they feel like games. Final Fantasy XIII does feel like work. You feel as proud of yourself for remembering which role you were leveling up last in which character’s Crystarium as you feel proud of yourself when, post-barbecue party, you successfully pick all of the discarded beer bottles out of the garbage bin and deposit them in the recycling bin. You feel as proud of yourself when you finish a battle with a five-gold-star ranking as you might feel proud of yourself when you finish reorganizing that spreadsheet that was due tomorrow night by the end of the day today. At a job, we don’t mind the menial tasks because they all feel in service of a greater good: most of the time, that means a paycheck. Final Fantasy XIII asks you to work overtime every night for a month, and on day 29, it tells you the company is shutting down, and you’re all fired, so go find an adequate-sized broom closet in which to cry about your money while you fuck yourself.

Then again, don’t all the cool real-world jobs feel like work, anyway, to the people who are working them? Even rock-star helicopter pilots’ tasks concern point A and point B. Momentary conclusion: we really don’t need video games reminding us of these futile coincidences of living.

Our experience with Final Fantasy XIII was primarily one of fighting monsters and moving forward while pondering the most futile coincidences of living near-constantly. The experience of moving forward in this game is hardly ever fun. The game is a bad liar. Sometimes, you’ll be walking along, and there’ll be a cut-scene, and an explosion will cause a ceiling to cave in. Oops! Now you can’t go backwards! LOL! The game is about twenty-five straight hours of that, then a brief break, then twenty more hours of that. Sometimes, early in the game, a cut-scene might not show a ceiling cave in. Just try going backward in a situation like that. You might run into an absolutely brazen invisible wall. That’s what we call a bad liar.

It’s like Uncharted: The Universal Studios Ride. Your character runs and jumps and climbs automatically. Some scenes feature terrain as interesting as Uncharted, only your characters all jump so quickly and without gravity that you might as well be pointing a mouse and clicking on your destination. It’s jarring, especially, that the early hours of the game put such dramatic weight on Sazh being afraid of heights, then, once the game decides to make you climb a mountain, that dude is jumping twenty feet in the air like he don’t give a shit. It’s weird for a couple of reasons. The other reason is: if they’re going to put enemies on the map, and make avoiding battle a key game mechanic, complete with its own tutorial and a whole set of hard-to-find items exclusively intended to help you avoid battles, then why can’t they at least give us a jump button?

The game is also without towns — you find no friendly areas to kill time in. It’s all business, all the time, which isn’t bad in and of itself. It helps set a tone of immediacy for the story. Unfortunately, the story also blows, and you might actually wish so fiercely that some of the characters would die that you really can’t get behind the immediacy of survival. We could have done without towns, really. We wouldn’t mind a Final Fantasy game where you do all your shopping online. We just would have appreciated some more interesting areas. As in, you know, some areas that aren’t straight fucking lines. Seriously, the first twenty hours of the game are a geometry lesson. Every once in a while, you’ll be able to see offshoots from the path on your mini-map. You will always be able to recognize them as offshoots, because they are always short enough to terminate within range of the mini-map. The offshoots invariably contain a monster, a treasure, or (later in the game) a switch needed to open a gate further down the main path. This is real lazy level design; it makes the mazes on the back of Denny’s kids’ menus look sophisticated. Sometimes, the game sees fit to “show” you the path by having your other characters rush out ahead of the leader. They say something like “I think it’s this way”. Of course it’s that way, jackass — that’s the only way we can go; it’s also the way the arrow on the mini-map is pointing.

Later in the game, as the backgrounds outside each racetrack of level design become increasingly incomprehensible, as you find yourself sometimes walking in circles to avoid a battle, before opening the menu screen to level up your dudes, you might actually get lost. The levels also stop being straight lines and start being really bendy lines with no forks. The big yellow arrow might say your goal is due north, though the only route there might involve going west a lot, south a bit, and then some east, before you hit the road north. It’s funny and cute how you sometimes start to doubt you’re going the right way. It’s like watching a spider monkey pretend to read a mystery novel. One weird thing is how the area map, accessible from the status screen, rotates depending on the direction you’re facing in the field. That’s bizarre, especially because they go through the trouble of making the marker that represents your character an arrow, always pointing straight up. They’re probably afraid that, if the map didn’t rotate, the game’s level design would appear unsophisticated even to the untrained eye. In all seriousness (maybe not), the game would probably have no challenge at all if that map didn’t rotate.

Were it not for the whispered promise of “it gets better”, we really don’t know what we would have done with ourselves. Did the game get better? We can’t tell you — that’d be a spoiler. We did play it straight to the end, though, and even beyond. We fought optional monsters for twenty-five hours, obtained two (2) Ultimate Weapons, uttered such seemingly human expressions as “For God’s sake, keep Hope alive!”, exclaimed such neighbor-frightening sentences as “Don’t cast Haste on Fang! Cast Haste on Lightning, Sazh!” and muttered such self-confidence destroying schemes as “Bet we can surprise these robots!” Eventually, the ridiculous sight of a monster disintegrating into black smoke precisely as it begins to levitate into the air after a strong attack at the moment after a break became hilarious and triumphant enough to celebrate with a fist-pump and a scream, an animal sound like we’d just won the high-school football game.

“Crunch” occurs in a video game when you “feel like you’re doing something”. In Final Fantasy XIII, we didn’t always feel like we were doing something, though many times we felt like we knew what we would be doing if we were doing something. We guess we enjoyed ourselves, about as much as you can enjoy triumphing over an inanimate object that never did anything wrong (aside from being a boring videogame). Our final verdict was that the game is “God of War: The Collectible Trading Card Game: The Video Game” (which actually looks a whole lot meaner typed out). If you choose to participate in the post-endgame, you’ll find an experience about as interesting as pissing with an erection. We understand that women might not understand exactly how difficult this is. Here, watch us labor to produce an female-friendly equivalent: imagine you’re wearing an ankle-length, thin skirt and have to piss straight-legged, flat-footed, and with locked knees; your goal is to allow urine to touch neither leg nor fabric (nor ankle nor shoes). That’s about how much concentration it (and Final Fantasy XIII‘s battle system) involves.


We have an idea where Final Fantasy XIII came from. It came not from videogame designers; it came from businessmen and artists. We respect the inclusion of businessmen and artists into any videogame development team — usually. The “usually” means we respect businessmen and artists if they are included not at the expense of game designers and level designers. Without art, a game isn’t a game. With great art and no game design, a game is a lifeless husk. Final Fantasy XIII is, by virtue of the hard work of many businessmen, at least the most entertaining lifeless husk of the year. It is by no means a worthwhile entertainment experience for any real human person we can imagine.

The ensuing paragraph is best represented by the emoticon designated “colon, hyphen, numeral three”: we think that even the game design elements of Final Fantasy XIII are near-entirely the product of artists: it was they who concocted the Reasons To Fly: “Like, it would be . . . cool if the characters flew . . . like, all the time”. The enemies don’t look like anything that would strike a chord with any of the real-world-experience-having blue-collar game-playing peons in the audience. The “level design” is invariably “walk forward”, a goal nearly unmentionable in its plainness compared to the indecipherable spectacle of the background wallpapers. What is any of that shit out there? What is this road we are walking on made of? We imagine that, most of the time, an artist would draw a picture of a monster, and hand it to a planner, who would then decide which scenic acid-tripping racetrack stage this thing was doomed to wander. Every planner had been forced to sign a contract in the pre-development phase promising to “Always believe the artists: Tetsuya Nomura was once just a lowly sprite artist, and now he’s defining world fashion / hairstyle trends left and right; he’s the closest thing we have, for better or for worse, to a world-class talent; however, seeing as salaries are pretty level across the board over here, we are not legally permitted to assume that he’s actually any better than any of our other countless artists, because if we did that, we would face an ethical crisis that would probably implode our company”. The funny thing is, most of the artists working on Final Fantasy XIII seem to be of the awesome and correct variety of human being who much prefers Yoshitaka Amano to Tetsuya Nomura.

The characters are more or less all Nomura creations. As we mentioned earlier, they’re all virtually designed from the ground up to look exactly like Someone‘s Favorite Character. Lightning is what Cloud would look like if Cloud were a hot girl. Fang is what Cloud would look like if Cloud were a hot girl with a different hair color, and used spears instead of swords. Vanille is like what would happen if you based a video game character on one of the many real-world girls who uses the video game character Aeris as fashion inspiration. Sazh is like Barrett — he’s black, he has a beard, he attacks with guns, he has a child. Snow is a big, dumb, cheerful oaf who you’ll like if you loved Wakka and Tidus. And Hope is a kid, if you like, uhh, kids. He’s the Classic RPG protagonist: dumb kid with a “troubled past”.

Hope is particularly interesting because he’s both a child and a dirtbag, a combination we might have never actually seen in a game before. He whines and moans his way through the entire story, before turning on a dime and becoming The Optimistic One. Duh. Of course that was going to happen. We haven’t hated children this much since the last time we went to an American supermarket.

We’re ninety-percent certain that these characters all started as completely unsolicited sketches. Tetsuya Nomura drew up a character, and went, “Yeah, here’s a character”, and gave it to his assistant. His assistant took the sketch to the character modelers. “Who is this?” the 3D artist asked. “What’s his job? What’s his motivation? How tall is he, about? Do we have a drawing of what the back of his outfit looks like? Does he have a name?” The assistant delivered these questions to Mr. Nomura, who was in the middle of ironing his favorite (and only) T-shirt (the one with a gothic crucifix and maybe fourteen-thousand words of gibberish script all over it (oh god, someone make him a T-shirt out of the text of this review!)), and thus buck-naked from the waist up. Covering his man-boobies in shame, he heard the question and then promptly fired his assistant and hired another random member from his fan community on Mixi. Maybe a week later, he told his new assistant, “Oh, yeah, this guy isn’t one of the heroes; he’s just a guy; just, like, a guy”. “This guy, though”, the missive continued, four days later, “he might be a main character”.

A recent story on supports our hypothesis. You don’t have to click: we’ll explain it. A producer of Final Fantasy XIII explains that there was “enough discarded content” from Final Fantasy XIII to make a whole other game. The “content” in question is mainly levels — game-play areas. That’s a real, huge red flag, right there. Seeing as the “levels” or “areas” in Final Fantasy XIII are first and foremost venues for monsters to appear, and seeing as how monsters are selected for how niftily they clash against the background graphics — seeing as how the majority of the minor in-game cut-scene dialogue consists of main characters discussing things no more detailed than “What are we going to do?” “We have to survive.” “We have to fight.” “We have to fight . . . them.” it’s quite pitifully obvious that none of the scripted dialogue or level events had anything to do with the player characters’ current location.

This is the kind of thing that we, as a marketing / PR person, always tell game companies to never, ever, ever say in interviews. Like, there’s enough levels to make another game? That means that they spent huge amounts of time making levels that they weren’t going to use. That’s because (believe us on this one) the overall arc / scope of the story wasn’t fixed early enough in the development: the areas that were eventually actualized as levels by artists (judging by our complete playthrough of the game, we’re going to say there weren’t actually any “level designers”) were originally conceived by checklists drawn up during regularly scheduled brainstorming meetings. “Fire level”, “Ice level”, et cetera.

Seeing as most of the levels in the finished game lack any kind of sense of common sense, or even one-word-summaryable background art gimmicks, we can surmise that the artists themselves were in charge of thinking of the “themes” for the backgrounds, and then actualizing them via a series of rough drafts and object asset requests.

In short: they had no idea what the game was about. Tetsuya Nomura designed characters, some other artists designed some other characters, some other artists still designed huge amounts of enemy-like robot-ish machine-things, some other artists flung together lavish architecture inspired by lifetimes of playing Final Fantasy VII and longing desperately to work on a Final Fantasy game — though, of course, if they did, they’d do something kind of different. Then someone came in and was like “btw dudes, the game is about this”. Then someone was like, “Oh, i guess we don’t need that dinosaur island part, or that part on the moon.” Owning up to “enough cut-out levels to make another game” is pretty much admitting “yeah, we lacked focus from the very start; we had close to no idea what we were doing.”

Our conclusion is that throwing artists at something doesn’t make a game. You need some actual honest-to-god directorial control. We’ve played all of this game, and then some, and we realize that it had no directorial control. The story makes no sense. The characters talk in nonsense nonsentences. They can’t speak ten words without three of them being some made up thing. You know how, when you say “Ballerina” over and over again the meaning of the word totally evaporates and you’re left giggling for a second, forgetting your age, your name, your birthday, your phone number? That’s what all of Final Fantasy XIII is like, as a narrative experience. It’s a euphoria compounded by the dread of, even for a second, having no identity.

It’s so obvious what they’re doing that it’s scary: they’re building an audience: they’re “hooking” the “kids”, while simultaneously making the adults “remember” what they liked in the past. That’s why we have a kid, an older gentleman, two hot girls (probably the two hottest girls in any RPG ever: DISCUSS (don’t, really (no, do))), the big dumb guy (is he “hot”? his name is “Snow”; that’s kinda dumb), and the “cute” girl (Vanille) with all the personality depth and texture of “Dora the Explorer”, for people who would rather fight the supreme court for the right to marry a body pillow than pay a real hot-blooded stripper for a lap dance. And you know what? Many such men will play Final Fantasy XIII and actually like Vanille, and actually wish they could find a “real” girl like her. And the scary thing is, so many girls in Japan are just like her — innocent, optimistic, perhaps hiding deep secrets. And many of them aren’t like it by their nature alone. They’ve assembled their own selves from scraps pooped out by the Machine of New Literature, this speckled and fearsome, noisy thing we call an “entertainment industry”. We have a character like Hope in this game, a ten-year-old boy who hates everyone and is also very sad btw, because the game wants to speak straight to the ten-year-old boys in the audience. Who playing this game, really, is ten years old? What ten-year-old is strong enough to carry a PlayStation 3 home from the store (joke)? Sure, we first played Final Fantasy on the NES when we were ten, and we played and loved Final Fantasy IV when we were eleven, though you know what? Final Fantasy IV is a story about a man who is easily thirty years old. Being a child, in addition to being a despicable, self-loathing kind of existence, is also a period of looking up to adults, wanting to be one, and actually formulating dreams and plans for what we’re going to do when we’re adults. Why put a ten-year-old (don’t reply to this post with Hope’s real age plox) into Final Fantasy? Is it because the hero of Pokemon is always a kid, and those games sell loads? Did the marketers tell you that appealing directly to the young gamer bracket would make more people buy the game harder, and then get hooked on the games and buy them in the future?

Let’s cut through the bullshit, here. We like these games when they’re good. Final Fantasy IV was classy as hell; Final Fantasy VI was classy as fuck. Why don’t you just try to make an actual good game? We see what you’re doing here. You’re trying to be Disney. You’re going, oh, kids like these animated Disney films, and critics often sing the praises of the jokes that go over kids’ heads, so let’s just make something that appeals to kids and grown-ups and then talks over everyone‘s head with its flipping insane and psychotic nonsense. Why can’t you just make something for adults? As long as it is good and true and righteous and awesome, and as long as it’s not prohibitively sexual or violent or what-have-you, the best you can do is make something that eleven-year-olds will look up to, respect, and devour voraciously. People will accuse us of failing to admit that “this is what Final Fantasy games are about now, dude”. They will tell us that our generation is done, and that whiny bullshit is what the kids want. It’s not what they want! It’s what the Machine has determined will get their money. The kids don’t know what they want. We’re supposed to show them what’s good.

Or whatever.

At the end of the day, we have a game with a cute little battle system that reminds us of the futility of existence. We have good ideas rooted in the most compelling trends of action games, executed in a way that makes us realize every little molecule of the world is a hideous lie. We have really neat art, full of objects imaginative enough to be scary, pretty and shiny and clean and flawless as they are. Its first twenty hours are a Circle-Button-Pressing Simulator — we say “simulator” because though you are, in the real world, pressing a button with a circle on it, the effects are mostly imaginary. You need only press the circle button ten times to win the average fight; nonetheless, you will press it maybe two hundred in the course of a typical fight. You will never press the circle button so many useless times anywhere else in your life.

(We just realized that the English version’s confirm button is X. We will not rewrite the above paragraph.)

You come so close to almost enjoying this game, only to have your brain yanked out and dangled in front of your eyes every time you notice something like how Sazh’s two pistols transform needlessly into one rifle for maybe one out of every four rapid-fire physical attacks. Why the hell does that happen? Like, who would make a gun that does something like that? Did the planner who threw that idea out on the white-board even think about how something like that would work in the real world?

You spend nearly thirty hours walking a tightrope littered with tutorials. At one point, the game literally tells you via a pop-up menu that “You have to kill both of the enemies in this enclosed area in order for the laser fence to be deactivated”. At one point, you come across some monsters; a tutorial window says, “These monsters are very powerful. You should avoid them.” The characters are constantly talking to another another in the field screen; they only ever say things like “Oh, this way” or “I’m getting tired” or “Let’s keep going!” Why can’t they say “These guys look tough! We’d better avoid them!” and “Yeah, I don’t think we should fight these guys”? It’s frustrating to see so many missed opportunities. Here is a game where the experience of playing it and the goals of its creators exist in two very different, obsessed compartments. We shudder to think of what actual game-design tweaking would have entailed. Cleaning the bullshit out of this game would have been as mindless, tedious, and exciting as brushing your teeth eight hours a day. (Without the bleeding gums. (Or maybe not. (You know, breathing the same air as Tetsuya Nomura, etc.)))

Eventually, the game gives you the world, and it looks nice, like a game you’d like to play, if only you had the time. Waiting 28 hours to finally let you choose your party / leader / job is like dating a girl for nine years before trusting her with the key to your apartment. During the time you spend with this game, you will utter sentences like “Hm. He has a pretty uncomplicated Blaster Crystarium.”

At the end of the day, all that this game is is us enjoying looking at the pretty things, even if we don’t know what the christ anything is at any given time. None of the cinematic sequences show us anything really incredible that can also be defined in human words, though in their own self-contained little kleptomaniac compartments, they are without a doubt spectacular feats of computer animation: they must have been very difficult to imagine. It’s almost as difficult to articulate the way these things make the player feel.

Every once in a while, you duck into your spam mail folder, just to see if anyone real has emailed you and it accidentally got sorted there. the best bits of Final Fantasy XIII recall the feeling of seeing a mail from someone long-forgotten in your spam folder, and then you click it, and all they’re doing is asking for money. The only lucky feeling that washes over you is years later, when you run into the friend at a party, and he is a multi-millionaire, and he says “To think, years ago, I asked you for money!” and you say, “Did you? Via email, was it?” and he says “Yeah”, and you can say “It must have gotten into my spam folder” and not exactly be a liar.

Or, let’s say this: the gloryful CG of Final Fantasy XIII, coupled with the experience of actually playing the “game” portion, gives us a stunning glimpse of a future where there is no food: only vitamin-injected cotton candy that comes in three flavors: Sweet, Spicy, and Not Sweet.

By putting numbers on the end of the titles of these games you are inviting people to go back and play them years after they’re sequeled. How is this one going to look? We’re pretty sure that it’s possible to make a game that looks as good as Final Fantasy XIII: the proof is that they made Final Fantasy XIII. Here it is. Here’s hoping that another game — maybe even a Final Fantasy — will come along that bests it the way Final Fantasy VI did Final Fantasy. It is with hope that we give this game the score we are giving it: hope that, someday, we’ll be able to look back and laugh at it. Right now, today, however, it’s not quite hilarious.

The music, by the way, is nice, if sparse. The battle theme is great, in all its variations. It definitely sounds like a piece of music that one man worked on for literally three years. The lead is a blend of guitar, viola, synth, and maybe sixty other instruments, just warbling and squealing on the verge of dissonance. Some of the music is real Sonic Adventure-style bullshit, though. One “song” literally features a girl singing “take me to the rainbow / find another future”. God, that’s lame. That’s the chief problem in the music in this game, and in the everything in the rest of the game: just too much shit. Too much facade, like all they’re concerned with is appearing complicated, which is simple-people-speak for “sophisticated”. We need a Final Fantasy game with a battle system more suited to simple, hard, slamming, drum-heavy stoner rock fight themes (see “alternate review”, below). Japanese Internet People near-universally blasted the soundtrack for featuring not a single one of Nobuo Uematsu trademark themes, not even the battle victory fanfare. Like much of the rest of the game, we chalk this up to stylistic risk. Composer Masashi Hamauzu quit Square-Enix not a month after the release of this game. It made the usual game news outlets. We presume many of the art staff have departed as well. This isn’t because the game is terrible or a failure (we liked it enough to play it for over 70 hours, which we wouldn’t have done out of sense of “duty” to the “readers” of our “website” alone), or because the experience of developing it was terrible or awful. See, there’s this little oft-whispered idiom in the Japanese games industry: if you work on a Final Fantasy game, you can get any job you want in the industry — even work on a Final Fantasy game. So Final Fantasy XIII might be a game made by people with grander career goals, or it might be the first in a miraculous long series of equally heartbreaking failures.

–tim rogers



We need a Final Fantasy game that deserves battle music like this:


154 Responses to final fantasy xiii

  1. okay also typing the first real comment on my review, to say:

    this review was, like many other action button reviews, written (giving away big secret ahead) while actually playing the game. however, i wrote it mostly during the post-game segment, just grinding around and blasting mission monsters.

    you see, pausing the game, opening my laptop, tabbing over to google docs, and typing a few words about the game while i’m playing it has become an indispensable part of actually playing a game, for me.

    so, in short, its insane length is a direct result of:

    1. the amount of time i spent actually playing this game (a whopping 88 hours)

    2. the fact that i type about as fast as i can put together a thought with any degree of shape to it

    3. typing is about as fun as just plain thinking, for me

    . . . yay!

  2. I completely bought this game’s bullshit until I started hitting the level caps in the crystarium, only to notice that they are increased when I beat a boss or finished a chapter, and I came to the same conclusion:

    Why am I leveling up anyway? Why is this even a videogame (and not an anime)?

    Although I will admit that I really like fighting things, but at around 20 hours it starts to wear quite thin. I’ll probably finish if off when I’m done with Mass Effect 2, although I am absolutely loving that game, and am thinking I’ll play through it TWICE before I finish FFXIII ONCE.

  3. oh hah dude sup; i just mailed you re: my ffxiii review being aLIVE. i guess you already knew that lol

  4. the number-lists being ejected from enemy bodies is a kind of variant on the burnout-itis, isn’t it; like, here’s this massive overspilling of numerically quantified information — kaching, kaching, kaching — to let you know that you’re “doing something.” in the most detached way possible. look at the data go!!! that the numbers have swelled to such a large size reminds me of a pen & paper rpg i played ~a decade ago. this was when i was still obsessed with numbers-going-up, when i was still going into ff7’s submarine, morphing enemies into items, and using them on characters so that their stats would be 255. anyway, by the time i quit the p&p rpg, i was fighting things that had 1.2 billion hit-points. actually, that was the highest i got. by then, i was too bored with the whole process. the novelty of comparing how totally larger x boss’ hp was next to another’s fizzled out.

    also i know that i already mentioned this to you but it is dumb that everyone has “normal” (awful) names, but sazh — the “wacky non-white” person — is the only one with the “exotic” name.

  5. I feel like I don’t even need to play the game now. God, game design is so freaking horrible these days. I would kill for a Final Fantasy game that was actually well designed and didn’t feel like it was pandering to people’s need for a “refreshing feeling”.

  6. Tim, I am jealous of your skill with metaphors.

    This is my new favorite Action Button review. I am most fascinated by your opinions of the Entertainment Machine, and I hope you’ll write more about it.

  7. chris furniss: you should play lost odyssey!

    okay, well, it has some bullshit in it, too. though it’s definitely a much better story.

  8. Tim. Don’t go all quarter-life-crisis on us now. We *like* your long reviews. Further, the kotaku trolls who hate your long reviews won’t change their minds if you make up rationalizations, no matter how well thought-out. And we who like your reviews don’t *need* rationalizations.

    I think one generally does not commit commandments though? re «Is it committing the Chief Video Game Commandment?»

  9. So the Break system is basically Valkyrie Profile? Only instead of awesomely flashy ougi-moves you get Dragon Ball skyfights?

  10. Turning off numbers during battles reminds me of the way we’d paste electrical tape over the lifebar in Street Fighter II arcade machines. It instantly made the game so much more engaging. The way the soundtrack speeds up when someone’s about to die helped even more with the tense atmosphere.

    Today no 2D fighter that I know of has an option to disable lifebars. And they don’t speed up the music, either. Dear people who make 2D fighters: i am DISAPPOINTED

  11. man, hiding the life meters in street fighter is a great idea. no two players — or no observer, casual or not — would be surprised when any given round eventually ended.

    that’s why later fighting games had graphical cues — like pieces of clothing falling off. that shit was supposed to revolutionize the fighting genre. however, they never went all the way and didn’t completely away with life meters, because they’re “familiar”.

  12. Ok i am sleepy, and it’s late, and i’m enjoying this sentence by sentence, and i might or might not be somewhat drunk and/or caffeine-buzzed (hey earthbound reference (lol)). By the time i reach «AND NOW, THE GOOD PART» my vision is blurry and everything’s kind of glowing in afterimages and i swear the capital letters somehow look golden and shiny and they have a ghostly shimmering halo. I’m pretending these are exactly the same special effects of «OPTIMA CHANGE».

  13. > The hero of Final Fantasy XIII is a woman

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > She is heavy as hell.

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > “Commander, you have clearance to Elevate the Tango”

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > Like regular physical attacks, they simply use one “ATB” (”Active Time Battle”) bar.

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > You need a little from both columns to keep an enemy’s break meter from recovering.

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > It starts out completely empty. Your goal is to fill it up. Whoa! That’s like the exact opposite of what you have to do to an enemy’s life gauge!

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > when you break the last enemy standing and it’s possible for him to be elevated and executed, just put a command on the screen that says “checkmate”, and let us choose it and then be treated to an intense graphical display showing all three of our characters jumping up and beating the shit out of the dude. That would be great!

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > We wouldn’t mind a Final Fantasy game where you do all your shopping online. We just would have appreciated some more interesting areas. As in, you know, some areas that aren’t straight fucking lines.

    Valkyrie Profile.

    > We’ve played all of this game, and then some, and we realize that it had no directorial control.

    Now that’s unlike Valkyrie Profile.

  14. @108

    You’ve haven’t played a lot of sf4 have you? You’ll hit Gief for fucking minutes, and the asshole will still option-select you into oblivion.

  15. That music would be a solid replaement for the screamo track from Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.

    Pretty sure you reference a presidential phone call twice, in more or less the same circumstances.

    This made me giggle a lot.

  16. So, you’re saying this is Lost Odyssey if it were directed by seven monkeys, each dressed like they were attending different costume parties but were dressed as the same thing (King Kong, perhaps)?

    Fuck. And I’d hoped this would be the game where Squenix “figured it out”. It being the good parts of VII (the story, occasional challenge, the character design) and XII (the crunch behind it, the movement away from Fight – Magic – Item turn based battles). But I guess that’s a pipe dream to square away for the future.

  17. >You get five big, shining, gold stars, which you can do all of five huge zero-sized nothings with. You also get a “score” of, say, 10,800 “points”. One scary thing: we consider ourselves pretty decently intelligent human beings, and we have no idea what the points are for. Just above the points is the “Battle Rate”, which is displayed in a very teeny font. It’s usually a two or three-digit number. What it means, who the hell knows?

    I’ve come to learn that every Tim Rogers review contains one big total lie, so is this it? I can only imagine that these mystery numbers are used for some kind of online leaderboard. If they really are totally meaningless numbers, though, then I think that would mean that SQEX has finally crossed over into unintentional self-parody, and that is kind of scary because I don’t know what the company is going to start doing after that point.

  18. The more I read about the game, the less I like it. And it’s funny, they tried so hard to distance themselves from FFXII when really they seem to share the same problem: a lack of confidence and focus. XII had it til Matsuno quit, and once he did it’s like Square had no idea what the fuck to do with the game. And here you’ve got a game that didn’t even have someone with some sort of vision on the top making it all work. It didn’t have a Matsuno that Square could pressure until he rage-quit.
    Of course, I am going off hear-say. I haven’t played the game yet. But maybe I’ll just take your word on what the game is, cause I don’t have the time in my life for an 80 hour fun-in-the-way-work-is-fun game. Either way, I enjoyed the review, I think it’s one of your best so far.

  19. typo

    ” They didn’t know that everyone loved this. They though that someone did. “

  20. damn it, i fixed that!

    didn’t i?

    oh, there’s the tab over there, still grinding since this morning. fuck this internet problem over here :-/

  21. christ tim, I can’t read a novel when I’m supposed to be reading like four other novels. how do you do it.

  22. another one

    ” you can jam to weaken the enemy; you can enhance the strengthen yourself. ”

    haha, great article 🙂

    @Mike Dinosaur- do you mean the one that sounds like barking dogs, because that theme rules

  23. > they tried so hard to distance themselves from FFXII when really they seem to share the same problem: a lack of confidence and focus.

    That’s the real problem: philistines blamed the failure of FFXII on its GOOD parts i.e. its innovations, instead of the fact that the game gets tedious and uncreative about right after Matsuno left. And Square-Enix listens to these barbarians with no taste (aka their “fans”). Probably because they give Square-Enix lots of money.

  24. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Action Button Dot Net [] on

  25. now now, be gentle–I’m fairly certain neither philistines nor barbarians of any sort had access to FFXII

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  27. Leoboiko: Would swear to Fuck, most radiant of all deities, that one of the home versions of 3S does indeed feature a kill-the-bars option in a menu somewhere, because I recall me and a pal playing with it once or twice and it was nerve-tugging and unusual and splendid.

    Maybe there’s a way to ditch the relevant sprite layer with MAME/the emu GGPO uses too.

  28. “Why is this even a videogame (and not an anime)?”
    That’s precisely what I think about the entire JRPG genre.

    Also, awful or not, now I’m really interested in FF XIII’s plot. Could someone tell me? And maybe why it sucks?

  29. I dig on the double-review thing. Reading the short review first made the longer one much more interesting, sort of like watching Lord of the Rings twice but the second time was the extended edition.

    Saw the reference back to Mother coming when you lined up that big column of five-digit damage numbers which apparently come up on every battle. I thought you wrote something about that before, how the damage you do to Giygas eventually transcends the rational amounts in the realm of the game, but I can’t seem to find the exact phrase now so it might’ve been someone else. Still, I can’t help but wonder — where does the damage peak in FF13? Do the gold-plated numbers peak at 99,999, or is there a six-digit platinum level? Perhaps they’re saving that for FF14. (Yeah, I’m refusing to type roman numerals.) Anyway, it seems like it’s “everybody reference EB” week around the general internets, so I’ll add yours to the pile.

  30. Pretty sure Matsuno is alright. He wrote the script for the Wii game “MadWorld”.

    Okay, as alright as someone working with the studio behind “Bayonetta” can be.

  31. Yeah, poor guy, he has to work with Shinji Mikami and the other guys who made GodHand. And Hideki Kamiya, one of the guys who made that game possible. Because all the other studios in Japan are just blazing the trails left and right.

  32. Bayonetta is actually a game I’d like to see you review, Tim. You’re definitely a champion of gameplay analysis and I’ve been hearing a lot that Bayonetta has the best action gameplay ever made. I haven’t had the opportunity to play it myself but I’d sure like to see what you think.

  33. The fact that you shun the story so succinctly makes it apparent to me that it provides absolutely nothing compelling or noteworthy and, in fact, evidences your accusations of the entire project being an unorganized and directionless mess.

    If things are as you say, and Final Fantasy now shamelessly draws its creative inspiration not from people’s knowledge, but from the salescharts and the things people buy, then I think I am formally finished with the series. I know Square Enix doesn’t give a hoot about my opinion, and the game will still sell a million copies, but this shopper has no patience for a story so bankrupt that a dude on a blog can’t even point to one interesting part to tell about, or even hint at while honoring spoilers. I’m guessing that all two of those stars, whatever value you ascribe to them, went to that battle system in which you found such promise. It would explain the lopsided exposure within the review.

  34. And now I’m really missing Valkyrie Profile. I wuv Valkyrie Profile.

    Hearing about all this sort-of-action gameplay makes me miss Kingdom Hearts 2 even more. At least there Nomura didn’t have to bother to design new ‘characters that everybody likes,’ they were already pre-selected. And formless monsters being fought in crazy ways in crazy town with only life bars and shiny stuff popping everywhere makes sense when you’re a cipher fighting metaphors with an essential heuristic. As long as your entire story is based on abstract concepts, you can make the concrete as over-the-top as you like.

    (Which is why complaining about KH2’s ‘lack of a physics engine’ is rather completely missing the point. It has Cave Story’s physics engine, silly. But I digress…)

    I mean, FFVII was supposed to be sort of…what was that…sci-fi? And so’s this one…maybe, but any non-fantasy game that has lunar jumps should immediately lose the ‘sci-fi’ label for completely ignoring the first half of the abbreviation. Unless they, too, have gone the way of the ‘Syfy’ channel, and subbed fantastic supernaturalist bullshit aimed at women for anything resembling science fiction.

    (Survey says YES!)

    It’s just really bad when Mario has more restraint and common-sense jumping in his RPGs than FF characters.

  35. @Calvinball

    The best? Bayonetta ain’t that.

    Very fucking good? Yep.

  36. Yeah, this site needs a Bayonetta review. Though I’d rather like Ario to write it.

  37. >> “Why is this even a videogame (and not an anime)?”

    > That’s precisely what I think about the entire JRPG genre.

    I will not repeat this entire discussion again, but short version: because they would suck (completely, I mean). Even the best story-oriented RPGs —Chrono Trigger, Persona, FF7, VP— have actually pretty crappy plots (with the sole exception of Mother). Their only redeeming feature is that the videogame trappings are able to convince you that you are the hero. In other words, they are narratives told in the second person. Remove that, and there’s no point. It would be like Avatar without 3D —just pure crap.

  38. If I wouldn’t respect this site so much leoboiko, I’d flame you to hell and back.

    Though I think some JRPG’s would make for at least semi- decent anime. Hell, stuff like Suikoden would be downright epic.

  39. Hey now, Chrono Trigger’s story was damn good. It’s tough to put yourself in the shoes of someone playing it for the first time, but the way it evolves from “Whoops! My teleporter turned into a time machine!” to “Save the kingdom!” to “Avert the MFing apocalypse!!!!” with all the twists and turns in between. That’s a thing of beauty.

    As for FF13, I really don’t know if I’ll be able to stomach it. I love Lightning, but the way Tim talks about the other characters sounds like they’ll cause me actually physical pain to endure. Maybe I’ll just play Chrono Trigger again instead! ha!

  40. I think this is the longest T.R. article I have ever read. Took me 1 hr 15 minutes (with some time here and there dealing with interruptions).

    I have only this to say. I agree that seeing a woman naked for the first time is better than anything you ever do with her.

  41. I dunno. Wasn’t Xenogears inspired by Evangelion and stuff? That game seemed like it wanted to be a book or an anime BAD. Anything other than a videogame.

    Side note: It began to snow as I walked back from class this morning, and here I find that Action Button has turned all white. How odd. But it’s pretty.

  42. I want to suggest a wonderful accompaniment to this article. It’s the recent “goodbye” post of a long-time member of a large jRPG-translating scene. Why’s it interesting?

    “Why should I waste 50 hours of my time on some totally generic JRPG then? That genre is so fucking dead it’s not even funny anymore. Tired old battle systems consisting of nothing but pressing A on the attack option until the random enemies are dead, spice it up with a spell or item for boss battles, then move on. Level grind for 2 hours to overcome any lame artificial barrier the game puts in front of you. Click through completely pointless dialogue without even a shred of substance, getting my brain liquidified by tired animu stereotype characters without any depth. JRPGs suck.”

    Perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of the end for jRPGs (maybe RPGs in general). People are really starting to condemn them, and I recall reading somewhere that their sales went down a lot last year.

    I always felt like if the indy scene (or game developers in general) ever succeeded in making gameplay so interesting as to be emotional, it’d spell the end for RPGs, so reliant on cinematic appeal.

    Interesting question if this is true: would a remake of FF7 speed this up or slow it down?

  43. Tim, you mention a couple times in the review that the level design consists entirely of racetracks, and that the esperbots can transform into vehicles or whatever. Do you ever get to ride these vehicles on these racetracks? I’m just wondering because somehow I honestly wouldn’t be surprised by Square if the answer is no.

    Anyways, the impression I get from this review is that my time would be better spent playing some other RPG game, like that FF Light Warriors Gaiden Four thingy on the DS.

    Or replaying Mystic Quest (man that game had nice battle music).

    Or making that Mystic Quest fan-sequel that exists only In My Head (maybe you (Tim) could even write the music! (or not)).

  44. RT-55J: good question!

    you would think, with all the summons being vehicles, that riding them would figure into the game. it never, never, never fucking does, which is pretty depressing given how straight-line all of the dungeons are.

    man, i wish i would have thought of that idea, myself (riding the summons as game-play).

    the actual “riding” of the summons during battle is about the most lifeless fucking thing you could think of. you summon the monster and it fights alongside you for a couple of minutes. it looks like a giant robot from a progressive anime, which is kinda cool. then you can press the square button whenever to initiate “driving mode”, and now your character is riding the thing. and you press button combinations (mercifully spelled out right there on the side of screen) to do these attacks which all look the same and don’t seem to have any real unique effect. there’s no love or care put into it.

    that said, (MILD SPOILER) there is ONE vehicle segment (not counting chocobos) in the game. it has nothing to do with summon monsters.

    it’s . . . probably the worst vehicle segment i’ve ever played in a next-gen videogame. a thousand billion times worse than any half-life 2 shit, or any jet-ski shit in uncharted, or that UV lightmobile shit in gears of war (which i almost didn’t dislike). all that shit is poetry compared to this shit. that shit is a shakespearean sonnet; this shit is some man’s phone number written by revenge on a truck stop toilet wall compared to that shit.

  45. I thought the final fight in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 with the car and the Striders was really cool 🙁

  46. Reading the whole review filled my BREAK meter.

    Please be gentle while I am flailing about up here thinking about my pre-order.

  47. buy buy buy buy buy!

    it’s a stupid, though harmless experience. you might hate it, or you might hate it and still kind of enjoy yourself.

    it’s just, for me — i think i’m done with these things. at least, until they make another one that looks like it’s doing something right.

  48. Tim, we all know that you are going to buy FFXV. We know it, because it always looks like they did something right.

  49. JRPGs are NOT dead! They’re just….hmm….let me think…

    Semi-recent jRPGs where I could actually be enraptured by the story:

    Grandia. Lunar. Anything by Game Arts, for that matter. Occasionally their stories take a turn into fugly left field, but when I’m playing Grandia 2, hit the first town, and try to talk to everyone possible because this dialogue is way better than anything Bioware, Blizzard, or even Valve ever dreamed of, I’m kind of reminded of the niche that jRPGs are SUPPOSED to fill. These games were not meant to be popular, dammit! They were supposed to tell metaphorical stories you couldn’t tell in any other format!

    The Tales games are SUPPOSED to have a good battle system to complement the occasionally hoary story. Outside of Tales of Phantasia, they never really seem to have succeeded.

    And the less said about the horrible turn the Seiken Densetsu series has taken ever since number 3, the better.

    Actually, the only game I remember playing that fit the Seiken Densetsu mold was…Odin Sphere.

    And the only game that actually managed to DO what the Tales games seemed to WANT to do was…Kingdom Hearts 2. Goddamn.

    So Atlus does what Square can’t, and Square does what Namco can’t? Weird.

  50. You believe it’s a good thing you can do all your shopping ‘on-line’ in Final Fantasy XIII, but buying-things-straight-from-the-menu was one of the reasons you seemed to dislike Metal Gear Solid 4. I haven’t played none of these games yet. What makes the apparently similar feature good in one and bad in the other?

  51. Arghh!! My EYES! What’s the dillio with this white background?! Please tell me this is only temporary…please?

    I enjoyed the review by the way. Not as brilliantly devastating as when you called the FF series “middle-class high-fashion,” but incisive and devastating nonetheless.

  52. To be quite frank, ario, there was absolutely nothing wrong with KH2’s battle system. It was, quite literally, a 3-D version of what ToP actually accomplished-your other party members act automatically according to preset routines, your whole focus is on the main character mashing the X button and comboing the shit out of whoever’s near you at the time, (with, again, presets for what the X and other buttons actually DO all throughout the combo,) and while most battles will be fought the same way, whenever something slightly unexpected happens or a boss c-c-c-combo breaks you, it doesn’t feel too weird to immediately change tactics. And there’s adjustable difficulty for people depending on how bad they feel about getting hit all the time, which changes the game from ‘blunder through oohing and ahhing’ to ‘actually think about switching spells and physical combos up occasionally.’

    And half the moves and the last set of spells never really prove their usefulness except in endgame sidequests, but given the general audience, I guess that’s expected.

    Basically, the entire feel of KH2 is so eerily similar to ToP that it might as well be the proper spiritual successor. It’s at least the type of game where you can let Nomura’s shtick run wild without it feeling too out of place.

    In other words, it really doesn’t deserve half the criticism it gets.

  53. I haven’t played none of these games yet. What makes the apparently similar feature good in one and bad in the other?

    well, for starters, metal gear solid 4 is a real-time action game, with “ingenious” set-pieces that hinge on their incorporation of logistics. it’s more jarring to be able to open the menu and buy things.

    also, in final fantasy xiii, you can only shop at save points. in metal gear solid 4, you can open the pause menu and shop for bullets when you run out of ammo while you’re pinned down under a truck ten minutes into an epic boss fight. that’s a pretty big difference.

    the RPG equivalent of this would be to allow you to pause the game during a boss battle, go into a shop menu, buy potions AND THEN use them to heal everyone up completely before un-pausing the game.

  54. “the RPG equivalent of this would be to allow you to pause the game during a boss battle, go into a shop menu, buy potions AND THEN use them to heal everyone up completely before un-pausing the game.”

    Odin Sphere let you MIX healing potions out of grape stems and fruit in the middle of a boss battle. Does that count?

    (In any case, that game, like Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3, LIVES by the stop action, open ring menu, ponder tactic, find tactic, use tactic, pause again half a second later to either spam another tactic or heal, latherrinserepeat mechanic. I guess adding a shop into the mix wouldn’t seem too jarring once you’re used to pausing so often.)

  55. use “blockquote” tags, dozer.

    …there was absolutely nothing wrong with KH2’s battle system. […] your whole focus is on the main character mashing the X button and comboing the shit out of whoever’s near you at the time

    i was going to say something. then, i didn’t need to!
    btw: hard-modes do not rectify enemies’ erratic, flailing a.i.

  56. “n metal gear solid 4, you can open the pause menu and shop for bullets when you run out of ammo while you’re pinned down under a truck ten minutes into an epic boss fight”

    Well… When you put it like that… It does sound much worse. The game – with a straight face – pretty much lets us cheat. Changing subjects, I loved FF VI. It is quite obvious a great deal of attention and work went into it, those people back then were *actually* trying to tell a story, give the audience (Damn it, there is even a taste of opera in it!) a good game to play. Real people. Real ideas, for better or worse. Years later, the very same franchise is trying to accomplish… what, again? Nothing more than being cool (as in [kʊʊʊʊəl]). Okay, then, everyone likes money (Maybe not hippies?). Everyone likes charging naive, attention-seeking, identity-by means-of-specific-comsumption teenagers for little more than thin air, a lie, or an illusion. But can’t they also, on the side, beside it, also try an make a good game? With all the graphic whores (no offense to the ladies in the businnes) out there, it may become difficult to show younger generations how nice games can (could) be even without polygons, cell-shading and whatnot. Or that a good game isn’t *just* about those things. And with all those comments like ‘this is sooo 2007′? Can that kind of mindset even tolerate the hypothesis of playing something from 1995, 1994, and earlier? I quite obviously can’t seem to understand games in your expert, coinosseur (confusing? obscure?) level, so I’m just sayin’ …

  57. my god, why is there a shortage of new barzan reviews?!?

  58. I haven’t felt like playing this since I read the review, Tim. Thanks for saving me the time!

    (it doesn’t help that I’ve got that Mass Effect 2 fever)

  59. “Odin Sphere let you MIX healing potions out of grape stems and fruit in the middle of a boss battle. Does that count?”
    Definitely not the same, because in OS you had to be already carrying anything you wanted to put together, which given the game’s tiny inventory, isn’t so painfully simple.

    Also, during the last boss there’s no ground for the potions to land on so you lose anything you try to make (though it can still be useful for the Phozons).
    “I haven’t felt like playing this since I read the review, Tim. Thanks for saving me the time!

    (it doesn’t help that I’ve got that Mass Effect 2 fever)”
    Yeah, I generally don’t care about Final Fantasy anyway, but it’s nice to hear solid confirmation that this game won’t appeal to me.

    I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about how Mass Effect 2 is “too little of an RPG,” and I can only feel like that means that it has insufficient amounts of bullshit. I don’t really want a whole bunch of meaningless numbers or a bloated skillset I only use half of because the other half already makes the game too easy.

    Unless it’s in Valkyrie Profile. That is a good damn game.

  60. I read this review while smoking my Cuban Montecristo mini cigarritos (just imagine cigarillos) and laughing — very, very often — in an aloof, if not arrogant way.

    Every once in a while I read ABDN to get my fill of saying “haha videogames are so ridiculous” to myself. This review fulfilled that purpose nicely! As I am writing this my chat window in gmail is aflash with messages such as “babe… “pin” me if you come online… ok?? i want to kiss my master´s cock… ;-)” and “Hey….I have just arrived at […]. Just to tel you I am safe. I love you. :-*” from several different women that I have never met in person and that, for the most part, don’t even live on the same continet as I. The absolute last action I took before reading this review was to receive and read a confirmation email from an online store telling me that my order was paid for and my €400 worth of Ed Hardy clothes are on their way. I didn’t pay for that… the girl who wants to kiss my cock did. She’s from Brazil. Carnival’s soon. That wild, loud, gaudy and sambunctious spectacle. Yup, I’ll be there.

    Haha, videogames, huh? I remember when I used to play those…! [puff, puff, smoke circles] Times of innocence… Remember Final Fantasy VII? Ha! Those were the days, man. Those were the days… [puff, puff, cough :D]

    In closing: every time I start to feel like my life’s pretty ridiculous I read something like this, figure that at least I’ve got low levels of LDL ridiculol and high levels of HDL ridiculol, and rest easy.

    Man, Ed Hardy clothes, really? Why did I order those again?!?

    *Ding!* Just finished downloading Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”! Gonna get a load of some Visual fucking Language, now!

    p.s.: Hi Tim, Hi p1, Hi nedge, Hi Rude, Hi Everybody

    p.p.s.: mentioning suspended-in-the-air, “broken” women here is a comment on “‘breaking’ enemies” that I’m too lazy to formulate out completely (in addition to being The Hilarious Truth.) Needless to say though that, yeah, not just all battles should end when the enemy’s broken, relationships should end too, after the most satisfying.. uhm, “break”?, and the next relationship be engaged. Say, seeing that girl naked for the first time, or having that earth-shattering first orgasm with her, or getting a dominant woman to do something really, really submissive, etc. — Whatever the breaking/turning point may be (you’ll feel it). That is to say IF it weren’t for the fact that people are most easily “mined” (btw, good job on avoiding the WoW-speak after all, Tim ;)) from then on…. so, it makes sense to keep them helplessly afloat for as long as possible, so that you can keep on juicing them at near-maximum efficiency.

    Honestly, I’m not waiting for a videogame anymore that makes sense of natural systems like I’m hinting at with this… I’ve given up on waiting for the great, big allegoric revolution that will sweep the medium off its feet and carry it to a better place, where it can stand with dignity… somehow videogames didn’t turn out to be the vehicles for self-betterment that I — and many others — expected them to be. Turns out that simulating the real world in an artistic way to make its functions more readily apparent to the player isn’t the way to go for the medium. Doesn’t seem to be graspable as a concept for game designers or for the audience. Perhaps it’s just not as profitable as the masturbatory, escapism. Who the hell knows. It’s understood that the sloppily mass-produced crap will always be more profitable than the carefully crafted product that surpasses all standards for artistic excellence, so that’s not the surprising part. It’s just that there simply is no artistic excellence in videogame design. That was kind of beyond my foresight… Even the Rogers-approved games like GoW, Uncharted, etc. just dish out made up bullshit worlds. There’s no personal introspection to be found anywhere, no clues about psychology (I’ll do it myself: “hidden room in Psychonauts; Silent Hill 2.”) nor the mysteries of “nature”. Hell, not even the mysteries of mathematics, which is quite ironic. They’re just alternate worlds into which we cram our Biggest Losers, because we don’t really have anything else for them to do in this one.

    There is only one meaningful thing that videogames gave me for my life, and that’s a perspective on the depth of man’s failure to create a meaningful world for himself. It’s all a mess. All his systems, all his attempts to piece shit together to make something worth living in… it’s all crap. I live in a pretty nice house. Soon I’ll fly in a pretty nice plane and enjoy pretty nicely staged festivities. All very comfortable, practical, enjoyable. Yet also very basic and low-level. And that’s not where the problems lie. It’s the high-level concepts, the way our minds organize themselves… the communism, the capitalism, the nationalism, the altruism, the law system, the trade system, the money system, the banking system, the believe systems — whatever, you name it — these things we fuck up. They never work out satisfactory in the end. They constantly break. The altruistic tribes get fucked up the ass by the gun-toting empirialists, empires are broken up by democracy, etc. It’s an endless rock paper scissors game of a power struggle, ever changing. It all breaks (of course that’s an intentionally negative viewpoint, as it could also be said that it all carries us for a while before it breaks). All these systems, all these philosophies, all mathematical ideas, all scientific models and simulations, they are all incomplete and must be replaced or improved on again and again. And in a way that’s all you can expect from videogames. That you will find flaws with them. That they’re as full of fucking stupid ideas as communism and christianity and stoicism and nihilism and whatever else. As full of nonsensical rules as our laws. People have never managed to combine logical rules with a satisfying narrative…

    Can’t say I’m any better. Can’t say that making women fall in love with me, exploiting their emotions, bank accounts and bodies for my own pleasure, and finally purposefully breaking their hearts out of some sadistic need for vengeance/punishment/justice is not a gigantic waste of time, pointless and unreasonable. I feel like I’m wasting my time when I’m playing videogames and I feel like I’m wasting my time when I’m not. So, I guess it’s not about that. Perhaps it’s just about the size of the challenge, the complexity of the algorithms. One can’t really speak of “sophistication” here, as people’s algorithms are random and volatile. Everybody knows that playing against people, or with people, is more fun than playing against the computer. Guess I prefer playing people. Directly. (Playing myself or with my perception of “the world” would also be a valid viewpoint, and one that takes us full circle back to masturbatory escapism) Guess it’s more compelling to substitute the button presses for actual jumps of skipping rope, watching the Visual Language of body composition changes and people’s reaction to them. Or telling actual lies instead of having a videogame lie to me. Tell lies about my job, my income, my feelings, and seeing what that does to people. Hn. Waste of time, either way. Can’t say I can make sense of my existence, make all my decisions and actions be logical and top it all off by having everything I do be upbeat wish-fulfillment. Can’t say that I’ll tell that story with my life. If I could see it simulated in a videogame though then I might yet have hope.

    Be that as it may, I’m glad that Tim’s here to point out all the flaws in the videogames I’ve never played. That’s all I wanted to say, actually.

    • I’d like to kiss your cock too once that Brazilian lady and Wild Bull are through :] I’m just throwing that out there; do with it what you will lalala

      On a less sexy note, I don’t think your pessimism about the gaming industry is justified. While I agree that gaming devs don’t exploit the potential of the medium fully, there are still many games out there, including some relatively recent ones, that live up to the expectations of gamers who are looking for a more artistically engaging experience. Most of this output comes from smaller studios, which isn’t really surprising when you consider the commercial imperative that companies in this business, or any business, have to consider – balancing the need for profit alongside genuinely artistic aspirations is something that larger corps. are inherently bad at. More idealistic artists tend to go for smaller, more flexible companies for that reason: it’s always the indie music labels, film studios, publishers, etc. who are coming out with the most experimental art-house stuff. So what I’m saying is that you ought to check-out the games being released by third party devs more often, and then maybe you’ll feel less inclined to condemn the entire industry for failing to produce anything more than ‘masturbatory escapism’ or whatever :]

      I shall make suggestions! (for anyone interested in artsy games, or just too snobby/hip for mainstream stuff)

      -Papo and Yo: this is the first game that came to mind when I was thinking about ‘allegorical’ games. It’s pretty straightforward as far as the story, and the hidden story, goes, but that doesn’t keep this game from being a fun and touching game experience imo. Made by a co. called ‘Minority’.

      -Catherine: seamlessly combines mature real-life themes of love vs. lust along with sheep and moving blocks. Symbolism? Symbolism. Plus it’s a lot of fun. This is from Atlus. And if you are into JRPGs, give Persona 3 & 4 a try; by far the best games in that genre story-wise that I know of.

      -Tokyo Jungle: a game so indie, I couldn’t buy it at gamestop. Idk if it’s even a regular game or a psn download or what….but it’s certainly a novel, artsy creation with plenty of metaphor in it (I’ve watched bits of a playthrough on Youtube).

      -Bioshock: is there anyone who doesn’t know about this yet? I actually haven’t played it, but apparently it incorporates the philosophy of Ayn Rand (yayyy) and some other pretentious stuff.

      Those are just the relatively recent games that I can think of off the top of my head that are possibly ambitious enough to satisfy the need of all you haute-gamers out there. But seriously, if you’re willing to go as old school as Silent Hill 2, you can find dozens upon dozens more.

      The industry, unless some happy accident occurs whereby suddenly ~90% of consumers are transformed into art-craving sophisticates, will always be dominated by low brow games that are loaded full of cliches and unoriginality because that’s what will make the big companies the most money for the least amount of risk. BUT there are still plenty of games out there for those of us who feel like we’re a cut above the hopelessly-mediocre-knuckle-dragging-philistine-troglodytes that apparently populate the world outside of ABDN(;p)

  61. So… Is it going to be you-suck-I-suck-everything-sucks, then? Where exacly does that lead us, so it could be said it was worthwhile saying (wrtting) it out loud? You probably had no intention of making any points. You may just have wanted to say it and that’s it. But still… One can only wonder.

    By the way, I don’t know you, but good old carnival might be a little too warm and a little too loud for your sensibilities. God speed.

  62. @Wild_Bull: Good day, good sir! Don’t know what this will do to your sense of wonderment: you basically had the fine pleasure of observing an artistic expression of sentiments that may or may not be exactly 100% those of the author, 100% of the time or less. It was indeed just something that was there to be said and, hopefully, to be enjoyed and read as a sort-of meta review of/comment on a Tim Rogers Mega Review by a longtime Tim Rogers Fanboy. I’m in the habit of writing things like that sometimes, and under the impression that the much respected ABDN public tolerates it (also, “sometimes”).

    So, no, if I had any interest in making points I’d play videogames instead! (Zing!! :D)

    I’m just interested in writing (sometimes). Although not as part of ABDN proper 😉

    I’d say “you-suck-I-suck-everything-sucks” can lead one everywhere and nowhere, just as any other philosophy, mindset or attitude. It’s certainly my mindset at times and yet it doesn’t keep me from working out daily, having several romantic relationships with varying degrees of involvement/committment and running a profitable little business. So, I guess… it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things? After all, the man whose thoughts are in perfect sync with his actions must be the exception rather than the rule. Say one thing, do another — sound familiar, no?

    Being quite an exuberant fella myself (to wit: gaudy Ed Hard clothes lol) I do enjoy hot and blaring spectacles immensely (sometimes). Especially when they somehow manage to incorporate the godly/godessly round asses of mocha-skinned cariocas. Also, contrary to popular belief, carnaval in Rio is a rather organized affair and not just hooliganism in the streets. It’s pretty neat and — well, — the participants are scored. In part on the tightness of their performances. That… sets a certain tone.

    Either way, I’d expect even the grumpiest of men to have nothing against a bit of joie de vivre during Mardi Gras. As they say: a time for everything.

    Extending warm greetings to you!

  63. This review seems fairly spot on. My friend is going to buy this game entirely on the basis of its “prettiness”. I don’t know how he puts up with the bullshit (he knows it’s there; he isn’t an idiot), but hey, I guess you did, seeing as you finished the game.

  64. @sn: You are polite, articulate and seem to have very good insights on human nature and experience, not to mention outstanding cognitive capacities overall and a certain charming flair to your words and ideas. You even open and close your comments with greetings, as if it were and old-timey, hand-written, mail-sent letter! I had lost hope of ever finding anyone like that in the internet. Damn, I was growing hopeless of them actual flesh and bloodreal people. But you make me fell better about it. I may not agree with your views, but I cannot help but admire your mental clarity about it all. Here was I wondering if you would happen to have any blog or something like it so I could more regularly partake of your amusing reflections. If you don’t, here is my email: magni.nombris.umbra@gmail. com. By all means, please share your thoughts with me whenever you fell the need of a pair of attentive eyes. I hope, as they said in that lovely moving picture, that this is the beggining of a beautiful friendship.

  65. @Simon Roberts: I’m fairly certain that you’re thinking of Tim’s Large Prime Numbers review of Earthbound/Mother 2. I remember because it was the first of Tim’s reviews that I’ve ever read, and it mentioned the Itoi quote about how video games should be like prostitutes.

    So, to wrap this back around, what kind of prostitute is Final Fantasy 13?

  66. final fantasy xiii is the kind of prostitute that gets you into her hotel room, takes you by the hand, and immediately marches you to the shower. you think for a second that it’s kind of cute how earnestly she is going about bathing you, and it doesn’t even occur to you until you’re dried off on the bed getting a careful hand-job that the whole shower thing is probably a rule because of the general belief that any person paying a prostitute for intercourse is probably filthy. in short, it’s the kind of prostitute to make you think that maybe the people who have sex with prostitutes are worse in every way imaginable than the prostitutes themselves.

  67. This is exactly what I expected.

    You know, I watched the original FFXIII trailer, and I followed along with the development releases for a short while after it was announced, and I kept trying to convince myself that it had the potential to be good.

    And you know, from everything you said, it had every potential to be good, if they’d only had somebody who had any idea what he was doing with a real vote on the project.

    I kept trying to convince myself because Final Fantasy XII (and XI, and X) was bollocks, but XII especially, because it built on the utter abomination of horror that Final Fantasy Tactics Advance had built on top of the original Tactics and Vagrant Story.

    Yes, I’m familiar with your feelings about XII. I’m actually more inclined to give it a real shot now that I’ve heard those feelings (and read a couple of reviews) than I ever was before, but believe me, I doubt that there’s anything that you, or Yasumi Matsuno, or Akihiko Yoshida, or even Hitoshi Sakimoto could do to redeem that game entirely for me.

    But I was a Final Fantasy man once upon a time—VIII was the game that made me love video games. It, VII, VI, and IX are still among my favorite games. Are they the best games I’ve ever played? No. Vagrant Story is, easily. And I wanted to have faith that, in the sudden absence of MonolithSoft, maybe—just maybe—somebody would have the sense to continue making JRPGs of that nature for me.

    Then I went out and found Megaten, and that helped me let go a bit.

    Then I saw one of the most recent trailers of Final Fantasy XIII, and I formed basically the exact impression of it that you appear to have gotten playing through the thing. Your review (though it may have significantly worsened my eyesight (damn you)) has helped confirm that impression for me, an impression that I seem to be forcing on other people whenever the topic of Final Fantasy XIII happens to come up.

    The announcement of Monado/Xenoblade/MONOLITHSOFT-ISN’T-ACTUALLY-DEAD (lolwut?) has helped me let go a bit.

    And basically I wanted to let you know that I appreciate that there’s somebody who can review games without the “it’s new and pretty and is a sequel and must therefore be good” bias. I appreciate that it’s somebody who has opinions about games similar enough to my own that I can actually impulse buy (or as close to impulse buy as I ever get) something that guy likes and like it (Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G, or, as I have to call it, Freedom Unite). And I appreciate that there’s somebody out there who can help redefine my own preconceptions of video games, even if just a tiny little bit.

    But—and I say this with no offence intended—I do think you’re completely off your rocker. And I still don’t understand the whole Canabalt (or Noby-Noby Boy, or a few other things) Thing you’ve got. Don’t take that the wrong way. There are plenty of Things I’ve got that I don’t get.

    But I really don’t get the Canabalt Thing.

  68. hi sn, good to see life is grand for you.

    Holy shit, lots of new people.

    Read the archives new people! They’re very good!

  69. @Diablo Manuel: My interpretation of the “Canabalt Thing” is that today, in the Year of our Lord two Thousand and ten, there is currently no way of reducing Super Mario Bros. to a liquid essence and consuming it intravenously. Canabalt is the temporary alternative. Maybe someday…

  70. That analogy would have helped more if I weren’t such a firmly entrenched Sonic man that I still have trouble with the whole Mario Thing.

    Oh, well. I’m okay with there being things in the world I don’t understand. Even Things, on occasion.

  71. I have to say, I appreciated the tutorial before the first battle on how to select attack when my only option was attack and item.

    Then 30 minutes later there’s a tutorial on how to use item.

    10 minutes before that it teaches you about Breaking the enemy, but you can’t even use anything other than attack yet, so what’s the point?

  72. @108
    I don’t know about you, but I’m surprised that in 80+ comments, none of them are blatant trolling. Maybe people just haven’t had time yet to define themselves by their love/hate for the game (or at least what they expected it to be).

    Maybe it was rationalizing, maybe not, but I found Tim describing his writing method pretty… informative. I’d never quite fathomed how he managed to reach such lengths, but now I get it. I feel like a ponce even invoking it, but it’s a vaguely Kerouac approach. Which makes me think about editing, which makes me want to say I’m with Simon Roberts—his analogy comparing the dual reviews to theatrical vs. extended movies seems spot on.

    @Wild_Bull @sn
    Man, I’ve been saying that for ages too whenever I’ve seen sn’s comments crop up here on ABDN—”I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.” sn, feel free to add me to the list if you indulge Bull.

  73. jayvilnius@gmail. com, since there’s no mailto link off my comment. 🙁

  74. What the fuck is with this white background bullshit?

    My eyes hurt.

  75. Just pretend it’s like Ikaruga. The background color had to be changed so as to protect us from death-by-laser-column.

  76. I can only read these reviews on Macs, on which I ctrl+command+apple+8 to invert the color. This makes it so I don’t have to perform the doctor-recommended “staring at something far away to readjust one’s eyes.”

    I’m just kidding! I’m reading the reviews to games I have never heard of right now!

  77. Dozer: It’s probably too late now, but in case you see this, feel free to send your hellish flames to I’m actually interested in your opinion and won’t flame you back.

    Mm: Don’t get me wrong, Chrono Trigger was the best time of my life¹. But it was the best time of my life because _I was there_. It wouldn’t work nearly as well in the third person. Suppose it was never released as a game, only as an anime or light novel – would you really go to the trouble of buying and watching or reading it? I wouldn’t…

    [1] This is me plagiarizing The Gamer’s Quarter.

  78. Despite my own doubts about the whole thing (since I’m not really a fan of the series overall) and this bitingly hilarious review, which I first read and thought, “man, that sounds so true!”, I decided to at least try this damn game. I rented it, beat it, liked it, and am sorry about the degree of existential anguish it seems to have caused you, Tim. (Not that I am in any way responsible for it. I just think it’s kind of a shame.)

    I certainly won’t dispute the demerits of the story, although I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t entertained on modestly frequent basis. Obviously, I don’t doubt anyone who wasn’t, because it tends to be pretty dumb, if not really any more so than the average other anime-inspired RPG. I realize I’m just easily amused. (I am pretty happy with what the main character’s name “actually” is, but unfortunately I currently stop myself from actually using it because the game treats it as if it were some massive spoiler)

    I *did* love that Final Fantasy XII stopped pretending that picking “Fight” a hundred thousand times over the course of the game was meaningful. I did *not* love how the solution they implemented featured the game picking “Fight” a hundred thousand times instead for me. I honestly think this solution, which seems to be the opposite (i.e. there’s actually reason to use all the moves you have, but 5/6 of them are implemented just like attacks) is better.

    And I really like it when an RPG basically just boils down to killing things. I don’t want minigames, and I don’t miss huge towns or world maps, though the first half of the game certainly makes it feel that they didn’t think for a second about including any sense of geography in Cocoon. Shit, I can’t even tell if anything or everything is on the outside or the inside, though I’m kind of inclined toward the former except maybe as regards those giant airships. Pulse isn’t so bad though, and I thought its last area was *really good,* though I’m biased toward the “ghost town” feel of being deserted and old, but not ancient and ruined, in general. Structurally, the game feels like Dragon Quarter to me, minus the restarting ability, but not actually as good. Well, considering I’ve never actually replayed that game and its battles enough on the same file to reach Korkon Horay even though I consider it probably my favorite game “Of All Time” maybe I wouldn’t even say that’s true. It certainly takes longer to reach than the part of this game where you stop walking forward.

    I’m also not convinced that the game would be improved if they simultaneously removed all of the following, though I don’t think it would ruin it either:
    – Damage numbers
    – Enemy life bars
    – Enemies surviving after being broken
    – All other abilities relating to break status
    – The buff and debuff classes (since all they do is increase the numbers that we just took out)
    – Stat increases and weapon upgrades (likewise)
    – The large number of battles in the game for which the only purpose is earning items and crystal points (since they in turn only factor into the previous element)

    That’s a lot of stuff! Suddenly you just have a game where you hit large enemies with two different kinds of attacks and try not to die. Which, as it has been previously pointed out, is basically Valkyrie Profile except with the timing relocated from the individual attacks to the overall flow of battles.

    However, I’d say that the numbers don’t only exist because people like to see large numbers, though certainly it’s not a turn-off either. In Japanese RPGs, the numbers can eventually reach a point where the player becomes basically mathematically unstoppable. I respect that this is a significant demographic of buyers, but for me, the opposite is true. I want my guys to be weak. I want to feel like it’s my planning and playing that lets my team of PATHETIC HUMANS overcome enemies who are, in that same mathematical sense, almost impossible. Sadly, it did reach the point where “almost” became “totally,” but after a few hours of working at the missions, things went back to the way I wanted for the rest of the game. (Though a few of those later bosses do have just too much health) That’s about all I can ask, and it’s the first RPG I’ve played in years that has made me feel that way. Which it wouldn’t, if those stupid numbers were out of the picture.

    I can’t really argue with the “hoops the designers make you jump through to make you feel smart” bit, but I also can’t figure out what makes that such a sin in this game next to Puzzle Games or Games That Have Puzzles. Shit, you walk into a room in Zelda and there’s exactly one thing the designers mean for you to do. Even though the battles do each comprise a fairly specific combination of buff casting, healing and attacking with only a little wiggle room, I don’t feel like the illusion of choice is any worse, except in the idiotic summon battles.

    As for the slowly increasing caps on how far you can progress characters through the ability trees at a given point, I’m not sure it’s so much about not letting people become “overleveled” so much as an encouragement not to focus solely on one of them at the expense of the other two. Stat-wise, even though the top tier you have in the final dungeon has spots like “HP +100!”, you actually get less bang for your buck the higher you go, so encouraging people to take as many lower ones as possible first is actually better for progression, not to mention that since the game itself tends to force you to use all three of a character’s classes it makes sense to make sure that none of them get too far behind.

    I think my last major disagreement is with the assertion that the Retry feature is a dumb idea. Okay, it encourages recklessness, but the only thing having to go back to a save point would add is frustration. Though, since most deaths are going to be against bosses, which invariably come after a sequence of skippable cutscenes following a save point, it wouldn’t get that bad in this game except at the last boss. Still, when a game is basically focused on only one thing, and has a feature so that when you don’t succeed at that one thing, you get to try it again almost immediately with no hassle, I’m just not seeing that as a problem.

    Uhh, fuck, so that was a lot of words. I’m just going to stop writing this now.

  79. Long time reader, first time caller…decided to dust off my PS3 for something besides Netflix streaming, and picked up this and Yakuza 3 this week.

    Between the bashing from critics like Tim who’s tastes/criticism I generally agree with across the board (this is a whole other matter, the Tim Rogers school of criticism NEEDS to be adapted to all other mediums for the good og the world, but we’ll talk about that later), and the incessant whines of “Those People” who’s complaints about linearity, a lack of towns, a lack of NPC’s, mini games, etc. could probably be measured on the richter scale, I was fully prepared to be completely disappointed, or just flat out HATE this game.

    Truth be told…call me phony…I just bought it for the pretty pictures.

    Maybe it turns to shit sometime between the 6-7 hours I’m in and the 25 hour threshold where the game supposedly opens up, but so far I’m *gasp* loving this game.

    The “linearity” most people are complaining about isn’t bothering me in the slightest. Doing away with the whole phony illusion of freedom these games have always tried to convey and failed miserably at is a huge plus in my book.

    I tried playing through FFVII again about 6 months ago for the first time since I beat it way back in college (’97-98 or so), and despite my largely positive impression of it back then, trying to play through it now was akin to having flaming bamboo shoots shoved under my fingernails. Anyone complaining about linearity NEEDS to play FFVII again, a game where you’re led by the hand for 4-6 hours until you get out of Midgar. Then you get to wander around an empty world map that you can only go a couple places on, and then to talk to 17,000 villagers (most of whom say highly important things like “I’m scared…” or “are you SOLDIER?”), until you talk to the one who triggers moving the game’s scripting forward.

    Are people really still impressed by/demanding that sort of padding? Dunno, I’m really digging the supposedly “brave” design decision to cut out all that filler, and actually just make the battles engaging, because in the end, these games boil down to little more than strategy games with pretty window dressing.

    Not having to enter 3 different shops all right next to each other to get new items? Awesome.

    No more inns or just using potions/spells to recharge between battles, ’cause you’re gonna do it every time anyways? Awesome.

    No more wandering around listening to people saying things like “I like swords!” or being sent on a side “quest” where you have to walk back and forth 17 times to carry on a pointless conversation with Billy Villager who ran away from his mom because he hates chocobo cookies, and is hiding 2 steps outside the door behind a bush? Really awesome.

    I literally squealed with glee the first time the game really turns you loose on a boss, got it down to maybe 10% of it’s health the first time before I bit the dust, then decided to be a bit riskier on offense on the 2nd go round (since I “KNEW” what I was doing), then got my ass handed to me in 2 turns. Was I pissed? No. Irritated? No. Overcome with a supreme feeling of “I’m gonna git you this time, sucka!” Yes.

    I completely agree the developers went a bit overboard on ‘number porn’ and over the top glitz during battles, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love the battle system in this. Rather than just hoping you’re at a high enough level and just hammering X mindlessly to move on to the next random encounter, then occasionally summoning/healing like nearly every other FF game, quick thinking and actual strategy will win out over brute force from grinding every time*.

    Yes, the story is typical anime masturbatory BS, yes the environments are pretty much just there to funnel you from one conflict to the next, but man…that battle system. I’m amazed Tim finds it lacking in that all important “crunch,” because this is the first RPG I’ve played where the battles actually feel like I’m doing ‘something’ rather than hoping my numbers crunch against the opposition’s properly (and this goes for both JRPG’s and garbage like Oblivion/Fallout, where any illusion of realism goes out the window when you can sit there and hack/shoot something point blank and ‘miss’ because your numbers aren’t where they should be).

    Dunno, I’m absolutely loving the fact that the game has been paired down to the bone; that it’s about nothing more than killing monsters and pretty graphics. No one can honestly tell me wandering around empty towns talking to NPC’s that have nothing to say, or moving between 2 icons on a world map is actually entertaining because it’s “non-linear.” If they do, they need to get out more.

    Also, I’m wondering if anyone is actually playing the game “right,” i.e. turning the auto-battle system off and switching to “abilities” in the options menu.

    *again, this is based on my observations 6-7 hours in, and may be totally off base.

  80. see, i look at that post you made just now, and i’m like, “why the hell is this guy even playing the game?”

    the game employs many pavlovian tricks to keep you excited on a moment-to-moment basis. eventually, when you’ve been playing twenty hours and the story hasn’t revealed anything remotely interesting (because it has nothing interesting to reveal), once you cross the invisible threshold and realize how brain-dead the battle system really is, maybe you’ll know what i am talking about.

    i enjoyed the game at first, as well!

    also, i hope it doesn’t come across in this review that i disliked this game because it was “linear”. that’s definitely not the case. i got a lot of emails about that. i like the straightforwardness, and the honesty. i just wish it had a better story, and a battle system that wasn’t as scarily disingenuous.

    also, “crunch” would be more applicable in this game if it weren’t for the huge fucking numerals. you are not nearly far enough in the game for the numerals to mean anything. trust me. when you get to the point where you’ve got three guys doing eight attacks per second and all you see are these enormous golden five-digit numbers flying out of everything, you might start to feel it. i would rather the bigness of the damage be conveyed with gorgeousness of graphics. that! would be a crunch worthy of crunching!

    what i mean is, like, the battle system details are being seriously bottlenecked right at you, dude. they are trickling them down at you. it takes about twenty hours or so for them to give you everything. at that point, you’ve got about half a game left. and man, when you have everything, it’s like . . . you’d have to be a fuckin’ tard to think that any single element of any battle was anything resembling challenging.

    if you manage to go forward and actually finish the game still in love with it, i’d be interested in hearing why. i mean, i would seriously, actually be interested. i’m not trying to be condescending.

  81. Haha, not condescending at all. I was out last night talking to my friend who was bartending (all my bartender friends are secretly nerds who use those wee hours after work to do things like top the SFIV rankings while illegally gambling and listening to Maserati, so one of us should probably consider writing for AB), who’s a bit further than I am, and I’m still wary of this ‘epic bait and switch’ that’s coming.

    I’m starting to get the sense that the numbers/levels are meaningless right now, and really all that’s needed is the stagger bar/life bar. I mean, when I go up against a scalebeast, and I’m *barely* chipping away at it’s life, and one misstep opens up enough of a window to deplete my stagger bar, it should be obvious to anyone with half a brain you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, despite the lack of Huge Fucking Numbers. If there is actually any math/calculation behind the number vomit that has any real-time bearing on what’s happening onscreen, Square needs to re-focus their efforts on either unraveling time travel or inventing some hair product that allows babes in real life to have physics defying Lightning/Vanille hair, rather than wasting this colossal collective of intelligence on making games who’s only contribution to society outside of the game itself is spawning things like lame fan-fiction, artists who’s only goal is to draw Tifa boobs on deviantart, and *shudder* cos-play.

    Anyways, I didn’t think you hated the linearity or any such thing. I guess my point was as someone who personally hates the trappings of JRPG’s and finds them archaic relics of pixellized torture (sorry, I just can’t bear to go back and play even ‘masterpieces’ like Chrono Trigger, the fake wandering and lametarded “town interaction” kills me), FFXIII’s decision to eschew them all and dump me straight into the business of killing monsters, then killing more monsters, all tied together with a threadbare plot I can easily skip about “hey we better kill some more monsters ’cause we’re doomed anyways” immediately raises this game above the level of “typical Final Fantasy game “Those People” like” in my book. Which is probably a roundabout way of saying it’s above average for a FF game, which means it’s about average compared to anything else, so it’s not really a question of arguing about 2 stars.

    I just think I’m really enjoying the fact the game makes no pretense towards being this “vast world where you can do anything” like games before (in this series and otherwise) it have done.

    I’m OK with boundaries in games, I mean, you really can’t play chess outside the board, but I’m increasingly tired of being able to see *seams* in games. For example, those green hills in the background of the Green Hill Zone look all nice and everything from a distance, but I know anything I can possibly think up as to what could possibly be going on over there is infinitely cooler than the square corners and flat texture maps the designers of yet another retarded Sonic game would use to box me in when I wonder “what’s over there?” as any normal human being would, which is then brought into sharp focus when I effectively “break” the game by wandering off the path the designers intended; being able to go “over there” to find some sharp corners covered in low res textures, or a townsperson that talks in ellipses is a constant reminder of poor design.

    That world map promises all sorts of possibility when it finally opens up 5 hours into FFVII, but the seams become immediately apparent and thus the illusion of freedom/choice is shattered when there’s only one place you can possibly go (or later in the game places you can never go back to). By “regressing,” and offering no illusion of freedom or choice, no pointless townspeople interaction to pad the game clock, etc. FFXIII lacks seams.

    As a designer (the physical/print kind, not the game kind), good design is effectively a process of *simplification*. Whether by accident or intent, the designers of FFXIII have refined an increasingly (pointlessly) unwieldily beast of a genre in to something well designed, which I think needs to be applauded, at least in the hopes that it will wake someone at Square-Enix up and give us more Einhanders and Bushido Blades…things that were simple and well designed.

    I think I’m enjoying the game for what it’s NOT, rather than objectively what it IS in this review. Again, I’ll let you know once the game pulls the proverbial wool off if I feel horribly cheated.

  82. i haven’t played ff13 yet, and i probably will never, though i’m wary of the claim that “doing away with the whole phony illusion of freedom these games have always tried to convey and failed miserably at” is commendable. video games are inherently illusory (no need for the “phony” :wink:); a good game can pretty much come down to how well the thing can lie to you. so i’m not sure that honesty is always the best policy. similarly, it sounds like too easy of a move, too much of a quick-fix. sort of like bioware being incompetent level designers for the first mass effect, and effectively shutting down planet exploration for the sequel because they had no idea how to improve. the result is something more streamlined. is it better than what would’ve happened if they’d tried to improve planet design and exploration, though?

    ff7’s midgar segment is linear as hell, but the city is actually structured as a series of distinct places and routes. i don’t even need a “but” after the “linear as hell,” there. every reviewer today will use “linear” as a dirty word — like they can just drop it into a write-up and have it be self-explanatorily horrid. a lot of my favorite games are linear. in fact, i’m pretty sure that there are as many non-linear games in the world as there are fingers on my hands, or less. so i guess my question for ff13 is not “oh man is it as linear as people are saying”; rather, it’s “how good is the level design?” and it appears that a lot of the level design is comprised of absurd, treadmill-like techno-hallways. so the answer is probably, “not very good at all.”

    @spineshark: i think there’s an appreciable difference between the puzzles in a game like zelda and the puzzles in a game like braid. there’s only one way to accomplish tasks in either, but one has “hoops the designers make you jump through to make you feel smart,” while the other has “hoops the designers make you jump through to make you be smart.”

  83. I see what you’re saying, but some of the best games don’t lie at all. What sort of illusion is something like Ms. Pac Man or Galaga trying to pull over on the player?

    Fulfillment comes from mastery, not from illusion.

    “Level design” connotates some sort of obstacle put in place by the designer that the player must overcome to advance. I’m not sure you can use “level design” and “RPG” in the same sentence; RPG’s don’t really have “levels,” they have “set pieces” that exist for the story, not the actual game itself.

    The challenge/obstacle in an RPG comes down to battle strategy, not navigating set pieces that are placed there to give the illusion of depth outside of the battle.

    Mass Effect is a game that stands out as a prime example of why the illusory school of design is ultimately a dead end for making better games. Schlepping back and forth in the giant rectangular hallway of the Wards for several hours to converse between characters to solve what amounted to verbal fetch quests to eventually trigger the story forward was the height of tedium. Moving back and forth from dialogue tree to dialogue tree isn’t level design. It’s busy work. It offers no sense of mastery (or a convincing illusion, for that matter) to anyone except those who can’t carry on conversations in real life.

  84. the illusion of ms. pac-man is that you are a yellow blob going through a maze, eating dots/fruit. the illusion of galaga is that you are a ship flying through space, shooting space bugs along the way. i’m not using “illusory” in the sense that i think these games are putting everyone into trances so that they believe they’re real. i’m saying that these games are not things that are actually happening, they’re abstractions, yet we’re still able to engage them as strings of “realistic” events. most media is illusory, though. it’s a simple point, but i guess it’s worth noting.

    of course rpgs don’t actually have “levels” in the way a mario game does. “level design” doesn’t connote anything except how an environment is built. an rpg doesn’t need to have platforming or periodically erupting pillars of fire for there to be level design. i would argue that the landscapes in dragon quest viii have excellent level design, even though the player cannot do anything within them except walk/run. on the other hand, i’d say that oblivion’s landscapes have poor level design, even though you can actually do more within them.

    the “challenge/obstacle in an rpg comes down to battle-strategy” only as much as as a given game within the genre allows it to come down to that. this seems to be getting into “what is an rpg”/setting down absolute rules, but i’m not really interested in discussing all that.

  85. I dunno Ario, to quote your God Hand review, “The game’s level are its goons”. Seems to me that “Level Design” is the specifics of the way the game implements its “mechanics”. The mechanics of RPGs are the buffs, debuffs, attacks, numbers, etc. The “level design” is therefore the baddies.

    Of course it’s a little stupid with RPGs. A large or even dominant aspect of them the fucking walking around. In most games, and some RPGs, the places that you walk around in can become, at any moment, a battle ground, which makes their layout meaningful. In most RPGs however, you’re basically in a different goddamn place for the battles*.

    To the illusion thing: it feels to me like some games are looking to construct an illusion, and some aren’t. People talk about “immersion” as the ultimate goal of a lot of games. I’m not exactly sure about it, but I think that “immersion” and “concentration” are different things. Some games are all about making you think their contents could actually happen. If they weren’t, why aren’t all games abstracted? I’m not going to say “abstract games are more fun”, but it should be obvious that abstract games have more to be fun with, because they’re not obliged to be believable.

    *Actually a lot of them avoid this, at least for some of the time. Final Fantasy X for example does this for the most part, but you’ll have the odd battle where some element of the scenery actually comes into the battle

  86. “I’m not exactly sure about it, but I think that “immersion” and “concentration” are different things.”

    Thank you, this is a much better/clearer way of condensing my point.

  87. yes. god hand’s enemies are a part of how the environments are built. enemy placement is a component of level design. i haven’t contradicted myself (yet).

    i don’t think it’s correct to say that level design is “the specifics of the way the game implements its ‘mechanics.'” if this were true, a fighting game’s level design would be its avatars. that’s actually kind of cool to consider. but, you’re going to have to explain to me how that isn’t stretching the definition for the sake of a previously decided upon point.

    you’ve already set down absolutes for what the mechanics in an rpg mean, so the debate is closed, unless you’re willing to allow some leeway. according to what you’ve stated (i think), a game like secret of evermore doesn’t actually have any sort of environmental level design because the mechanics are primarily centered around “buffs, debuffs, attacks, numbers.” ‘course, you might not think secret of evermore is an rpg. so.

    also: all games are an abstraction!

  88. Ario, I like how you put it in your Super Metroid review:

    “Each environment has its nouns, adjectives; the player, then, applies verbs and adverbs to give those structures particular weight.”

    It seems to me that “level design” is essentially a sentence whose blanks you fill with your available verbs. So in the context of an RPG, the level design could be both the encounters and enemy design (verbs being attack, defend, magic etc) the construction of the world (verbs being walk, investigate, talk) or even some hamfisted conversation simulator (vebs being obviously good response and obviously evil response.

    Another way you might phrase it is the game asking the player “what might one do with these given elements?” and the player answering with actions. “Level design” is the arrangement of those elements, whatever they might be, and the phrasing of the question.

  89. yeah. i was actually wondering if anybody’d use that quote to show a perceived contradiction (not suggesting that that’s what you’re doing). there’s a difference between saying that “level design is an engagement of an avatar’s mechanic(s)” and “level design engages an avatar’s mechanic(s).” even though the former sounds more specific in its phrasing, i think it allows too many advances into other territories of game design, so that the term “level design” becomes near-universal, and, in turn, useless in identification.

  90. I think it was GilbertSmith who said it would be better described as “challenge design”. I mean, would you define the various encounters in Monster Hunter as “levels”?

    I think it’s just ended up being called that by convention. At first a “level” was literally an arbitrary number that signified how many times you hadn’t died. “Reaching the next level” was literally just clearing out all the enemies and seeing them replaced identically, maybe with the tempo sped up.

    I remember at one point “levels” were being called “stages”, maybe because on 2D platformers they actually looked like stages. That actually seems to make a lot more sense, don’t you think? The word “level” really makes no sense the way we use it, but “stage” actually has some kind of real-world analog.

    I guess I’m kind of saying “level design” might’ve been somewhat nebulous to begin with.

  91. I stand by my definition of level design. There are a number of things a player is thinking about when playing a game, right? A bunch of stuff they know about a given thing that is thrown at them. They know what a medipack looks like, what a box of ammo looks like, that mutated ants have more health than glowing demons, etc. Learning stuff like this is kind of what the game is, and kind of isn’t.

    The player considers this stuff to be worth knowing because they are called upon to recall it and consider it in the context of strategic conflicts – they are called upon to use it by the level design, which is a _physical_(well, physically virtual) thing.

    It is worth drawing this distinction – if you introduce new mechanics without telling the player (e.g. in a puzzle that requires you to know that purple potions can destroy yellow walls), it’s unfair. One funny exception to this just occurred to me: it’s ok to do this provided those mechanics exist in real life, e.g. fire melts ice, being crushed under a crane will hurt, and getting a giant to step on one end of a seesaw will cause the other end to go up with a lot of force.

    I might still get some things blurring that line, but there are the extremes.

    So uhh… what was the question? Oh yeah, “do (j)RPGs have level design and if so, does it include the enemies themselves?” I say yes! But it is obscured by the fact that RPG’s mechanics are generally shallow.

    When you, Ario, said that “God Hand’s levels are its goons”, did you really just mean their _placement_? It’s much less profound that way. I had taken it to mean “a fight with one guy has as much weight and uniqueness as an entire level from another game.” Which is not to say that this is an accolade God Hand has won. It’s just that conventional game criticism gauges this thing called “level design” in terms of, basically, graphics, when they should be thinking about how the arrangement of the game’s elements allows you to explore it.

    Sorry this is so long, I suck at editing.

  92. “I mean, would you define the various encounters in Monster Hunter as “levels”?”

    Shadow Of The Colossus? That pretty much throws the concept of “level design” as being strictly environmental out the window.

    Anyways, I finally got to Gran Pulse after a couple solid evenings. Initial observations:

    A) yes, this is quite possibly the biggest cocktease/longest tutorial in the history of gaming.

    B) the sections where it forced me to have a certain party in some brief segments prior to this were excruciating in the sense that my characters from the Lightning/Fang/Hope sections were more developed than the others, and more importantly I had their paradigms worked out. Then the game suddenly decides to throw Vanille in for a series of battles and leaves me with these useless default ones the computer made up seconds prior.

    C) from talking to others playing the game, does anyone actually change their party from Lightning/Fang/Hope once things open up, seeing as how the penalty for upgrading other characters to fill their roles is substantial (i.e. 3000cp per space on level one items), thus rendering all these other characters pointless?

  93. The player considers this stuff to be worth knowing because they are called upon to recall it and consider it in the context of strategic conflicts – they are called upon to use it by the level design, which is a _physical_(well, physically virtual) thing.

    yeah, i understand what you’re saying. again, i’m waiting for you to completely justify that level design is “the specifics of the way the game implements its ‘mechanics.’” right now, it doesn’t hold up as a universal definition. if this is what you believe, the level design in street fighter is ryu, or guile, or cammy.

    and, yeah, i was ‘just’ speaking of god hand’s enemy placement (which also includes selection & combination of enemy types). this is not profound only if you don’t know how much introducing one new variable in a fight changes how you deal with it, and how much importance deciding which order you should tackle things in holds.

    Shadow Of The Colossus? That pretty much throws the concept of “level design” as being strictly environmental out the window.

    it would, if not for the fact that most of the colossi are large enough to function as environments unto themselves.

  94. Just like what you said about Dragon Quest 8, I’d say Shadow of the Colossus had some pretty boss level design even though you can only walk around. Personally I’d define level design as “where the goals go.” In God Hand, my goal is (obviously) to punch every dude, but in SotC I might just say to myself “wonder what’s down there” and check that beach out even though there’s no Colossus.

    And hey, nobody’s mentioned pinball games!

  95. Ah, well, I hope I don’t look like a revisionist but I guess I expressed myself badly in the second thing you quoted. So “level design” is _physical_, right? It’s what is _actually_ in the game, and without it mechanics just exist in your head. That’s how I meant “specific”. I didn’t mean it was just a sort of… extension of mechanics.

    But look, God Hand: the placement of enemies is not the extent of their meaning. Enemies in Kingdom Hearts or Super Mario Bros have a tremendously small amount to them – a goomba just walks back and forth, a Heartless just shimmies around and occasionally lashes out. Which is to say, their placement _is_ all there is to them. Whereas with God Hand, an enemy, in no context whatsoever, is a little level, kind of like a mini boss.

    In fact I’d say the specifics of _them_ is much more important that their placement. You like those environmental things more than I do: the weapons you can pick up, the throwable boxes, the cranes. They’re fun, and I’ve had a lot of interesting moments where I had to decide what to use where on whom. But the meat of the game is the punch ups – the internal self disciplining every time you miss an opportunity to land a better attack or use the wrong kind of dodge or take a hit and die.

    Obviously without arrangement enemies’d just be a queue, like in a fighting game. But I put it to you that they spent a smaller amount of time on that than on working out each enemy’s, uh, possibilities. I mean, is a lot of that arrangement really so deep anyway? Their not-so-raw materials were so honed that it seems to me like they just threw some combinations of enemy types and weapons together and kept them if they worked. My evidence for this observation? Well, most of them did work. Almost every two- and three- enemy combination is to be found somewhere in the game.

    Heh, even if you’re about to refute what I’ve just said, what would you say to my contributing one of those twenty five four star God Hand reviews? Writing this has kinda made me realise how much I like this game.

  96. Great review here.

    I first read it a few weeks before playing the game, and I thought, that’s a pretty well written review.

    Now, I played the game, and I think, that’s a frighteningly accurate review. Most of the points are spot on.

    Again, great job.

    On the “level design” debate, I might have some input. What’s usually called “level design” is, you know, the “maps” design, because, for better or worse, most video games are based around “maps”, something we sometimes call “levels”, sometimes “stages”.

    They’re just, you know, areas where you can wander at your own leisure (given its own limits) doing things (given its own limits, and those of the “game design”).

    You see, there’s a reason we talk about “game design”, “level design”, “encounter design”, even “audio” and “visual” design. It’s because, today, this is how games are, for the most part anyway.

    There are “levels”, there are “encounters”, and there is an overall set of rules that dictates what can be done at one point or another. “What can be done” is obviously meant “within the game world”.

    And given the game design, some things are somewhat meaningless. In a multi-player shooter, the encounter design is almost meaningless, and what’s left of it is linked to the level design anyway. Of course you have some sort of class design (even if it’s not class-based, weapons basically defines classes, classes you can change or not at some point, based on overall game design), but I don’t think that’s relevant here. In a single-player shooter, the encounter design is meaningful, and is strongly linked to the level design. This also applies in some RPGs.

    Back to FF13, in some RPGs, the level design can be almost meaningless (like in … FF13). But it does not mean it’s not there, or it has been relocated elsewhere, or the level design is actually something ele. It’s … just … there, mostly meaningless.

    Most of this game revolves around the encounters (thus encounter design) and the story segments (mostly via non-gameplay elements, aka cutscenes, which have its own design). Obviously, there are other gameplay elements like character and weapon customization/progression, but they’re mostly the result of the game design.

    And there, I realize I’m talking about game design without properly defining it. There are, basically, two definitions of “game design”. There’s the most obvious one, the design of the mechanics that rule the game (overall mechanics as well as more specifics ones). And there’s a second definition, it’s the “overall design”, like, “what the fuck do we (developers) want to make with that game”. It’s not about “we want to make a shooter because it sells”. It’s about “we want to build a strong narrative, using RPG pillars because we think they’re very effective”. But then again, it’s not sufficient. You need to know where you’re going, like “what kind of story ?”, “what kind of emotions do we try to convey ?”, “how do we design the game in order to do that ?”.

    Simply put, SQE failed at building a strong narrative, not because they used tried and true RPG pillars, but because there was, obviously, no kind of “overall game design”. There are interesting encounters, addictive game mechanics (if a bit simplistic), cool cutscenes, but none of these fit together. They’re just a bunch of shit thrown together, hoping it’ll make a good game.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

    Hey, I even talked about the game in the end !

    Thank you for reading.

  97. Another longtime reader posting his first comment;
    After having seen the majority of the game and played through the first six chapters or so I thought I’d just share my own thoughts.

    I think what Tim mean about the problems with the games linearity isn’t that you walk on a straight line (X is very much the same) but rather that the only thing you do is fight. Had the cutscenes been even remotely interesting to watch they could have been a nice break from the endless fighting but since the characters are all constantly spouting crap and there’s no story whatsoever it all collapses.

    Now in its defense few Final Fantasy games has a interesting story and/or characters (Though I very much like IX myself) but at least there is shit to do when you don’t feel like fighting or watching cutscenes.
    Stuff like sidequests, optional dungeons, minigames and so on aren’t just padding. If they’re wellmade (like Chocobo Hot’n’Cold) they make a nice distraction from the forced grinding that slugging through most dungeons kinda are.
    FFXIII has no distractions so the whole game rests on its story and battles. And as Tim has pointed out so well neither are terribly interesting.
    So in conclusion I must say that XIII could possibly be the worst Final Fantasy ever made.

  98. I’ve been thinking about this part of the review since I first read it:

    People throw the word “chess” around whenever they play an RPG and like the battle system because it makes them feel smart. When will we ever see an RPG battle system that rewards, you know, something “real”, the way that a highly skilled chess player can beat a less-skilled player in as few as five moves?

    Why just RPGs? Let’s ask that question of all games. Which is a question to which the answer might be “because of balance issues.”
    Can you defeat your enemies with extreme efficiency in single player? The game is “broken,” because there’s a technique or skill or character that is actually BETTER than the rest.
    Can you defeat your enemies with extreme efficiency in multiplayer? The game is “unbalanced,” because every scrub out there is getting his ass handed to him and screams for nerfs.

  99. There is stuff like that isn’t there. God Hand, Devil May Cry and Bayonetta can’t exactly be beaten by buttonmashing.
    RTS’s like Starcraft has effective techniques that crushes all the nubs, fighting games always have a tier and often extreme combos that can kill your opponent in seconds if he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
    In RPG’s theres Atlus games, especially Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga. If you don’t know what you’re doing in these you’ll die repeatedly in random fights.
    Of course there’s skillbased games, a rather odd question really. 😉

  100. My thesis looks like a sieve, skrotkanon, from all the holes you put in it. Curses! But you also offered up something that addresses Tim’s RPG battle system question…

    @108 Have you played many SMT (or MegaTen or whatever you want to call them) games? If you have, are there any that you think have a combat system that approaches what you’re personally looking for in rewarding skill?

  101. er, the “chess” comment is just, you know, an extension of that idea floating around this site that a good game should be able to pit an avatar (controlled by p1) against a copy of itself (controlled by p2) and be fun. a game of chess gives each player the same starting pieces and provides identical movesets with zero deviations, so victory isn’t some mario kart-ish “dude you’re so lucky you got that red shell cause i was totally kicking your ass, man!” bullshit.

    although i do enjoy bullshit like that – on either end! they make for amusing social moments.

    hey, this review was a lot of work for such a, you know, mediocre game!

  102. RPGs are built to be broken. The “game” is in gaming the system. We’ve actually gone backward from the abstraction of Dragon Quest.

  103. there are no fives in your example of the behemoth murder

    this isn’t a criticism, I just think maybe next time you’re coming up with some semi-random (i.e. ‘not at all random’) numbers you might want to throw a couple fives in

  104. @leoboiko
    >>Today no 2D fighter that I know of has an option to disable lifebars. And they don’t speed up the music, either. Dear people who make 2D fighters: i am DISAPPOINTED

    You could turn off the HUD in Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Battle 22 for the PSOne. My memory is hazy, but i think you could do this in some other early licensed fighting games as well. Alot of older anime based fighters were actually the first to implement things such as super moves, meters, charging your meter, practice mode, air recovery, training modes, 4 player simultaneous fighting etc (all of these things were first executed in various YuYu Hakusho games as far as I know).

  105. Today’s GameFAQs’ poll is “How linear do you like your games to be?” As always, they have pretty bad choices.

  106. Yeah, people really need to me more specific when they refer to “linearity” or the lack thereof. Linearity how? The storyline? Or “shit you can do?” GTA IV has lots of shit to do, and it’s “non-linear” in the sense that you can ignore the missions and just screw around, but the missions are still linear. Whereas something like Heavy Rain has a (allegedly (haven’t played it)) very branching, “non-linear” storyline, yet whichever path you choose to take, the levels themselves are short and restricted. That’s not really the best example, though…

    Tim, review Heavy Rain already! I think it’s, like, important or something! And it probably sucks!

  107. Heavy Rain? Pssh. Review I Wanna Be The Guy: The Movie: The Game…


  108. Who the fuck is “We”, Tim? Did you have a buddy help you with this? Was it you and an entire office of guys, sitting around your computer screen, nodding at the wisdom of your words? The byline just says “Text by Tim Rogers.”

    Is this the Royal We, then? Is Tim Rogers some sort of hive mind entity? What?

  109. I Wanna Be The Guy isn’t the end-all of difficult games.

  110. Hey, crazy vegetarian commentator guy. You still alive?

  111. The we is a comment on the absurdity of the tendency of the video game press to homogenize the words of their employees into some illiterate frankenstein, lest those Crusaders of Objectivity get wind of their favorite IGN article being written by a (half) living creature rather than the preferred AI subroutine (euphemized by the offenders into “template,” of course).

    (I don’t have an answer for claims that this site also operates under a template!)


  112. This is the most inaccurate and insincere Tim Rogers review I’ve ever read. How did that happen?

  113. I think games like this make a sad point for the games industry. Obviously its one thats been true for years, and its for my own personal reasons that i dont admit it to myself, i.e. it hurts me to think this way :

    People dont actually make games anymore.

    its an odd point to make, but im not being obtuse, im saying even in franchises like ff where it seems they actually like to think about what they are doing (see FFX’s comment on humanity or VII’s comment on loss) and echoing your own sentiment about cherry picking random series staples and boxing them, no one actually made this game. no one sat down and said fuck it, i’ve got a mind full of a story and a world to flesh out, today im gonna sit down and storyboard this fucker.

    no what they said is: investors need capital. as far as i can see they announced the game before they had even decided to make it.

    I expect this from activision, but what the fuck? where did all the good times go? wheres the vision? its not like squeenix really needs the capital, i mean otherwise we’d have kh3 already right? im kinda glad they havent already announced it, it leaves hope in my mind that theres still people in the company that know what they are doing.

    Im so tired of rpgs based in spectacle. ive had fun with this, but im in eden and im bored as fuck, because ive been doing the same thing for such a long time. You know why Final Fantasy VII was so good? because it was real, it was believable. it didnt need the trappings of extra dimensional beings and transformer pets to sell itself past the obvious use of allegory. It was a story about real people, about power, about loss. And what is this, hurp derp war. just leave it out. why not hold back on final fantasy 15 or vs or whatever shit your bringing out until you have some ideas.

  114. Been meaning to follow up on this, but a broken shoulder after a horrid bike wreck sort of occupied my time over the last month…

    Anyways…yeah, after the game pulls the proverbial ‘wool’ off, it’s pretty apparent how ‘blah’ the whole affair is up until that point. I’m not going to say it’s terrible for all the reasons most critics are bashing it (seriously, I read things like lengthy gripes about a lack of “romance mini-games,” jeebus game critics, get a friggin’ life), but especially since I effectively backed myself into a corner prior to the last summon battle where I was neither powerful enough to progress, nor powerful enough to backtrack to grind without an incredible amount of luck to beat the last crawl’s final set of monsters that should have trounced me, I started over.

    Going back through the beginning chapters of the game immediately after that strongly underlines how creaky the underlying structure is, that the game up until Gran Pulse is nothing more than a glorified tutorial, because goddamnit, those graphics wizards at Square made all this shit, and they’re going to be damned if they can’t cram all those flashy pixels and overwrought English theme songs down your gullet.

  115. Oh, and after reading your thesis on frictions over at Kotaku earlier, it really made me think about how un-enjoyable trying to start this game over was. Going back to the dumbed down “we’ll let you do this when we tell you it’s OK” battle system that makes up 90% of the game was like playing a version of Super Mario Bros where Mario would run through the game perfectly, automatically, as long as you just sat there and held down the A button, up until world 8-1, and the game relinquished control of the d-pad and B button.

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  117. Yeah, people really need to me more specific when they refer to “linearity” or the lack thereof. Linearity how? The storyline? Or “shit you can do?” GTA IV has lots of shit to do, and it’s “non-linear” in the sense that you can ignore the missions and just screw around, but the missions are still linear. Whereas something like Heavy Rain has a (allegedly (haven’t played it)) very branching, “non-linear” storyline, yet whichever path you choose to take, the levels themselves are short and restricted. That’s not really the best example, though…

    The term ‘linearity’, as it is generally used, is entirely inadequate for representing degrees of choice and their meaningfulness within a game. For example, a player can choose to never press a button upon starting, for example, Monster Hunter Tri, in which case, the game will continue to loop the opening movie and the title screen and music. The game is not forcing you to move past this screen, so we have choice, and not pressing a button is just one choice of many. Linearity, as currently in general use, seems to deal with the notion of specific choice (already deep within the context of the “core mechanics of the game”) only as it pertains to mutually exclusive content. In other words, two or more divisions of content, of which only one can be accessed, at the cost of experiencing the other(s), at least temporarily. This, to me, is a rather naive, although intuitive, way of looking at the role of choice in videogames. When you see the term ‘linearity’, you should really ask the same question in terms of ‘player choice’, and the meaningfulness thereof.

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  127. I have one thing to say: there are some games that are geometry lessons, which is actually cool. Final Fantasy XIII is not a geometry lesson.

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  131. I’ve decided that SN is the Yoh Asakura to icycalm’s Hao. In other words, there’s no ubermensch, ’cause that soul got split into the hungry-ego megalomaniac and the melancholic hedonist (someone insert a joke about Nietzsche and Baudrillard or Cioran here)

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