Continued from Combat on Page 1. Skip to Story on Page 3.
Star rankings don’t really do much outside of restoring TP (used for Summoning and certain techniques), and after-battle item spoils. The ranking system isn’t all that in-depth either, compared to an action game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. However, the scoring system encourages players to battle for a “high score”, even if it is for no other purpose than personal satisfaction. The system pushes players to fight to the fullest and exploit and defeat enemies within the time limit, which is accentuated by the fact that characters are healed after every battle. This means every encounter is treated like a stand-alone battle, further encouraging players to give every enemy encounter a shot.
Of course, while it is great that FFXIII polishes many aspects of its game and automates and streamlines many of the more tedious elements in JRPGs, FFXIII makes no real improvements when it comes to its story and exploration. Unfortunately, these elements are so restrictive that the game actually suffers as a whole because of it.
A major complaint from reviewers and gamers after the Japanese release of FFXIII back in December was the games extremely restrictive approach to the story design, progression, and exploration. Areas were said to be very linear, with story scenes springing up much too often in between traveling and fighting segments.
Unfortunately, these early criticisms are spot-on, and 70% of the game consists of very long, rarely branching “rooms” where players move in a straight line towards the arrow on the map, fighting whatever enemies get in their way. The game does open up much later on, and allows for side-quests and free movement; this happens around Chapter 11 of the game. There are thirteen chapters in the game, to give you an idea of how long it is before you get a bit of freedom.
The environments are absolutely stunning, mind you. Traveling around these environments can take your breath away, so it is all the more disappointing to learn that you cannot fully explore them. The environments in FFXIII are little more than back-drops, merely places to encounter enemies in. While it could be argued that all Final Fantasy games allowed little environmental interaction, at least they provided players with a plethora of treasure chests, hidden enemies, secrets to find, etc. Final Fantasy XIII, in this regard, is too much like an action game; gone are the exploration elements of previous games, in exchange for combat, and combat oriented gameplay elements. Sneaking up on enemies is about the only thing you can do in the field, aside from actually fighting them directly or flipping the occasional switch. And, unfortunately, this mechanic is poorly implemented, meaning it is incredible difficult to actually ambush enemies.
Why does ambushing enemies even matter? Well, pre-emptive battles put every enemy participating in the fight at near-stagger point, meaning one blow will force it into stagger state. This is extremely advantageous, obviously, so players will want to trigger pre-emptive battles whenever possible. However, pre-emptive ambushes are difficult to pull off early on due to restrictions in the environment (as corridors are much too narrow to properly avoid and get behind enemies) and are extremely difficult in general because enemies are so unnaturally alert to player presence that they simply “know” when you try to sneak around them, even when you are directly behind them. Worse still, the game often cheats in the enemies favor, where groups of enemies will always have an individual that literally tracks your position (even if they aren’t technically alerted to your presence), or triggering a battle on an un-alert enemy outside of their designated “territory” will not give you the pre-emptive.
Outside of ambushing though, there is nothing to do in the game outside of story progression and fighting. There are no side-quests until Chapter 11, no real mini-games, and no towns or residences to explore or break-and-enter into. Even the leveling system is restrictive. Utilizing a system called the Crystarium, a system very much like a streamlined Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, players expend points called CP, which are earned after every battle, on abilities for battle. It looks like a complex system judging by the screen above, but it is incredibly easy too use. Simply press and hold a button to use up CP and earn abilities. That’s all there is to it. The game limits you in that the Crystarium cannot be leveled past a certain point without first “unlocking” the next part after certain boss fights or chapters. This means that players cannot “power level” and plow through enemies. If players fight every encounter they come across, they will have roughly the same stats and abilities as anyone else playing at the same time. Enemy encounters and boss fights are designed around this, so players cannot give themselves an advantage by leveling up. This isn’t a bad thing from a battle or challenge perspective, but unfortunately it’s restrictive in that players don’t even have choice as to when to strengthen their party, because for all intents and purposes, the game levels you up as you progress with the story.
Story continued on Page 3.
Return to Combat on Page 1.
NY Console Games Examiner articles ©2010 by Gabriel Zamora; reposts permitted with link back to original article. All other rights reserved.