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March 1, 2013

Final Fantasy 13-2: Good Morning, Kupo! (Part 6)

No.  I’m done.  I’m done with this game.

I hate it.  It makes me angry, sad, and tired all at once.  I’m tired of knowing that in its current state, the Final Fantasy brand is more likely to inspire misery than wonder.  I’m tired of seeing this company continuously stumble its way through releases.  I’m tired of being able to point out flaw after flaw after flaw in what should be an airtight, satisfying story.  And you know what?  I bet you readers are tired, too.  I read the comments, and I do my best to respond to all of them.  Time and time again, people have said things like “How could things get this bad?” and “You really need to take a break from this game.” 

Regarding how things could get this bad, consider this: it took about four or five years from the announcement of FF13 to its release, and the best Squeenix could put out was something that belonged in a dump truck.  In hindsight it’s almost silly to expect the company to put out a better product in half the time, even if they did outsource it, or at least worked in tandem with another company.  Just look at the old Serah model compared to the new.

Regarding “taking a break,” all of you are exactly right.  This game is going to be the death of me, and in more ways than one, if I keep playing it.  So I won’t.  As much as I hate to admit it, as much of a blow to my pride it is to say this…sigh…Final Fantasy 13-2 is unbeatable.  And even if it was -- even if I could grin and bear it, ignoring every single fault the game throws my way -- it’s not worth it.  There’s no reward awaiting me at the end of the final battle.  So screw it.  No more of me picking apart the story. 

As for the gameplay…

Part 6: The Battle System
(Or: Seriously, Squeenix -- What the Hell?)

I think that FF’s greatest strength is that it can put you in a trance.

A lot of people will probably point to FF8 as being a pretty dopey (if not outright bad) game -- and indeed, it probably is.  If I played it today, I’m almost certain I’d be making a series of posts about its failures week after week.  But you know what?  I honestly remember enjoying the game.  The junction system made sense to me, allowing you to give your characters supremely powerful setups before you even fought the first boss.  You could alter your party members so that they not only did high damage, but could simultaneously steal from enemies AND put them to sleep with the same stroke, allowing for some sort of perma-sleep status that left you free to snatch items and draw magic.  Looking back, it was a system designed to maximize wasted time, but if used correctly you didn’t even need to use the “OMG how long does this animation last” Guardian Forces; a well-built character could slay monsters with a single strike.

There’s an argument to be made that in any given JRPG, all you really need to do to win a fight is to mash the X button and dish out a flurry of attacks; the only magic you really need is Cure (or whatever spell heals you back up).  And while that’s an extreme generalization, I know that it is indeed possible to win with such a brainless strategy.  I watched my brother play through FF7 multiple times; the first time he started he made it as far as the final Jenova battle before realizing that he couldn’t brute-force his way to victory…that, and his team was woefully under-leveled.  On a later playthrough, his strategy hadn’t significantly evolved, outside of one or two setups; he just put on truckloads of HP Plus materia, to the point where he ignored all but Cure spells.  And it worked.

And frankly, I can’t remember any of my strategies from 7 OR 8.  I just breezed through the later because I’d created digital demigods, and didn’t need much else besides each character’s basic attacks, Meltdown, Revive, Recover, and Rinoa’s Invincible Moon limit break (which -- you guessed it -- made the party invincible).  Bear in mind that a drawback of the junction system is that using magic that boosts one of your stats lowers its stock, and as a result the stat in question.  I remember even less of my strategy from 7.  What magic did I use?  What bosses did I struggle against?  What secret combination did I call my own?  I don’t know…well, at the very least I remember a good number of the bosses from those games.  The Materia Keeper…that one big-armed robot boss from the submarine hangar…Airbuster…Aps…the Turks…Schizo…Lost Number…Proud Clod…and those are just the guys from 7.  I couldn’t tell you how I beat them, but…

Actually, I do remember a lot of cool stuff about those bosses.  Like how the big-armed boss would grab one of your party members and tug them skyward, and if you didn’t bust up the arm that party member was unusable.  Or how Lost Number would change into a physical-attack form or magical-attack form depending on what you hit it with more.  Or how Airbuster would turn around each time someone attacked it, exposing its weak point.  Or how the Proud Clod would jam your material and use all sorts of magic shenanigans as a result.  Man, I guess that game was actually better than I thought.

But let’s get back on topic.  I guess it goes back to what I’ve been saying a lot recently: there’s no such thing as a perfect story, or game, or whatever.  In a way, you can think of a creator as an illusionist: their product is trying to put a spell on you so you’ll notice all the sparkly bits instead of the smelly cracks.  And indeed, the Final Fantasy games DO put a spell on you.  Actually, plenty of games do.  I think Borderlands and its sequel are some of the most boring damn games I’ve ever played, but everyone else seems to love it.  Why?  If I had to guess I’d say it’s because they’re gathering loot, or playing with friends, or scoring head shots, or getting transparent positive reinforcement.  I guess in the long run, it’s a game you can just grab and play without much muss or fuss.  It’s “abnegation”, as Extra Credits might call it.  And in a way, there’s nothing (completely) wrong with that.  Enjoyment of a game -- or anything, really -- is hard to measure, so the exact means for going from “unsatisfied” to “satisfied” may vary immensely.

So what does that mean for FF?  Well, to be honest, I’m starting to wonder if it was ever good.

Now don’t go sharpening your pikes just yet.  Hear me out on this.  In terms of dominant strategy in battles, is there really a marked difference between one title and the next?  Take a healthy smattering of warriors, throw them onto a field with a bunch of monsters, and let them go at it by trading blows.  That’s the basic layout, isn’t it?  But to what extent are all the changes to that layout truly game-changers, and which are just variables to be discarded come the next release?  When does the experimentation in FF yield groundbreaking results, and when does it blow up in a puff of putrid smoke?  I only ask because I don’t know -- and the fact that its developers try to “reinvent” the franchise’s system with nearly every installment makes me wonder if they know the answer, either.

But here’s what I do know: whether it’s a full-on evolution or not, whether the gameplay is actually deep and profound or as deep as a saucer full of water, FF has (in the past) been able to put up a good trance.  It took YEARS for me to even begin questioning whether or not drawing magic from monsters and the junction system at large were garbage.  It took YEARS for me to have the veneer of 7 to wear off, and even then I can’t bring myself to say it’s terrible.  Hell, I think that 10 -- for all its faults -- actually had a pretty good battle system.  It was fast, it was flexible, and it was strategic, requiring adaption to situations and protecting/empowering your entire party for any situation.  And of course, the game was satisfying.  More than capable of putting its players into a trance, and driving them to slice the night away.  

And for a while, it seemed like FF13 would have me in a trance, too.  I started out the game optimistic, eager, and excited.  I remember playing the first boss and thinking to myself, “Yeah!  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Eat that, you no-good giant robot you!”  And I remember thinking that it was kind of cool, seeing Snow lob grenades around.  And I was more than willing to look past the fact that I was just mashing A to win my battles; it was the opening hours of a JRPG.  You can’t do much else besides mash.  No, what I would be looking forward to -- the elements that would make the game into something truly fantastic -- were the options…the toys to play with, as it were.  The Paradigm system.  The Eidolons.  The new and improved ATB combat.  Everything seemed primed and ready for maximum playtime.

Except it wasn’t.  It was all an illusion -- and one that didn’t even last through the whole game.  I couldn’t put my finger on it for the longest time (because the trance still had a hold on me, I bet), but it was a ways into the game when a friend came over and I offered him a quick demonstration.  Now, he hasn’t exactly been an avid follower of any JRPG besides FF7, and our tastes tend to differ on a lot of subjects.  But when he suddenly declared that the game “looked kind of boring”, I believed him.  And that was all it took for me to be freed from 13’s trance.  I wasn’t having fun.  Things weren’t going to get better.  No amount of arguing or justification would spare me from the truth.

I wasn’t having fun.  And I hadn’t for a few dozen hours.

Why is that, you ask?  Well, it’s obvious by now, isn’t it?  I don’t know what you think of it, fair reader, and I know that there is indeed some praise out there, but I just cannot bring myself to enjoy the battle system in 13…which is part of the reason why I (originally) had zero intention of ever playing 13-2.  There are some tweaks to the battle system, sure, but it’s so similar to the original game’s system that you’d be forgiven for not picking out the differences.  Now, if you’re one of those people who actually enjoys the battle system of these games, that’s all right.  I’m not about to devalue your opinion (and frankly, I wish I could share it).  But for the purpose of this post, I have to go on about why I personally find the battle system to be an affront to my senses.

Let’s start with a bit of context.  In case you weren’t aware, FF13 and 13-2 rely on an updated version of the ATB (Active Time Battle) system.  Basically, battles take place in real-time, and attacks can be executed once your gauge is full.  What makes this game different from the others, however, is that you don’t just pick one attack and let ‘er rip; rather, you choose commands from a list and then attack, with each action taking up one, two, three, or all of your stocked-up ATB meter.  So if your ATB meter is leveled-up enough to allow five actions, you can select a bunch of physical attacks, two physical attacks and three magic attacks, two area-of-effect attacks and one magic spell, or (if you’ve unlocked it) one big whompin’ ultimate attack.  Simple stuff, really.

It’s worth noting that, while you could control your entire party in earlier games, in these games you only control one character at a time; the AI will handle the rest.  But how can you reliably tell them what to do?  And by extension, how can you keep your options flowing freely and efficiently without having to scroll through massive ability lists?  Well, that’s where the Paradigms come in.  See, your characters have their AI patterns and ability lists strapped to one of six classes.  Commandos are your physical attackers.  Ravagers use magic.  Sentinels draw enemy fire and defend.  Saboteurs lower enemy stats.  Synergists raise party stats.  Medics summon harpies to fight on their behalf…nah, just kidding -- they’re your healers.  Anyway, if you tap one of the shoulder buttons you get a list of paradigms to choose from -- things that’ll change your entire party’s setup, on-hand abilities, and overall strategy.  So you start a fight with the Relentless Assault paradigm (one Commando, two Ravagers) to maximize damage, and when you’re anticipating a heavy attack you switch to Consolidation (two Sentinels, one Medic) to reduce the damage taken AND have a healer on hand to start reversing the damage.  Switching Paradigms at the right time is important.

But the most important element of battle is the Chain Bonus gauge.  Rapidly attacking an opponent with the proper techniques will boost the gauge in the upper right corner.  Fill it up, and enemies will enter a Stagger state.  That’s when the party gets crazy; they’ll not only take more damage, but the more you attack them, the more damage you do (IIRC it’s possible to do a good 700% more damage).  Plus, if you’ve got a Commando on hand, they can launch enemies Marvel vs. Capcom style, rendering them unable to counterattack and letting you slaughter them helplessly.  It’s a system that rewards strategic combat, proper ability to read a situation, and a smart offense.

At least, in theory.

Now, there may be some hidden depth and twists to the metagame that I have yet to comprehend…but having put in some seventy-ish hours into these two games, I seriously doubt it.  You can have up to six Paradigms in your “deck” at any time, but you really only need three.  And you really only need one for seventy-five to ninety percent of your fights: Relentless Assault.  That loadout not only does hefty damage, but builds huge amounts of points in the Chain Gauge at once.  It’s a lightning-fast way to take care of enemies and end battles, so much so that there’s virtually no need to use anything else unless you’re taking a beating.  And when you do, you just pop over to a paradigm that has a Medic.  Protection (Sentinel/Synergist/Medic) will have one character stand still and draw fire/absorb hits, another heal, and a third cast buffs.  Maybe you’ll have one more Paradigm for debuffs -- you know, to mix things up a little.  And that’s it.  I set up my Paradigms in 13-2 as soon as I was able, and outside of one instance, I haven’t had to change them since…which is a shame, because there are a ton of different combinations.

 “Oh, but surely there’s some strategy to be had in picking the right options at the right time, right?”  You’d think so, wouldn’t you?  But here’s the thing: the reason why I -- and plenty of others -- accuse these games of being button-mashers instead of tactical role-playing action is because of one simple little addition: the Auto-Battle option.

At the top of the battle menu is the Auto-Battle option.  Highlight it and press the confirm button, and you’ll automatically queue up a list of commands that your controlled character will execute once the ATB gauge is full.  It does prevent you from constantly having to input “Attack” five times in a row, but there’s a problem: Auto-Battle does everything for you.  Everything.  It chooses your target.  It chooses (what it thinks are) the best commands at the moment.  It removes your input for the sake of expediency.  It’s something that I’d assume is in place to speed up the process and prevent tedium, but the problem is that there is almost no incentive to care about the majority of what happens in a battle.  The only time you really need to get active is when your HP starts to dip, because only the player can switch Paradigms.  So it’s just a matter of hitting Auto-Battle (or more simply, the X button) to do damage, and if the screen starts to flash red you press L1, choose your healing Paradigm, hit X some more, and then switch back to Relentless Assault when you’re all green.  Hell, there’s a good chance that if your default Paradigm has a healer in it, you’ll be even less likely to need a switch unless you’re getting absolutely hammered. 

The focus here is on doing as much damage as fast as possible, and keeping that Chain Gauge full any way you can.  If you’re wasting time fumbling through the menus for the proper commands, you’re risking an empty gauge and significantly-longer battles.  So let’s say you’re like me and on a whim you decide, “Man, I’m tired of Relentless Assault -- plus I’ve put a lot of points into the Saboteur role.  Time to go all in!”  And so you put together your Saboteur Paradigm, debuffing enemies so that theoretically they’ll go down faster.  But they don’t.  In fact, you end up spending more time trying to make battles take less time; debuffs don’t always work, so if you’re trying to debilitate an enemy with a flurry of Poison spells, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t work.  So maybe you’ll try using Imperil to soften them up, and make them vulnerable to Ravager attacks.  And it works…maybe…and boosts the damage a tiny bit.  But the real reason to stick to Relentless Assault/Auto-Battle is because your performance is being graded.  The faster you kill an enemy mob, the more stars you’ll get and a chance at better items.  Mash your way to victory -- and don’t even bother healing -- and you’ll be one step closer to a five-star rank and better items (and I’m convinced that doing so significantly boosts your chance of getting new monsters in 13-2).  Spend even a moment trying to use…you know, strategy, and you can expect no better than a three-star rank.

You with me so far?  Good.  Because it only gets worse from here.  See, each of the six roles can only handle one task at a time.  That is to say outside of one command on one character in one game, Medics can heal and ONLY heal.  So if the party’s all filled up, Medics won’t switch to attacking or using offensive magic.  They’ll just stand around, and toss out a Cure if you take a meek slap.  I know that that’s what the Paradigm Shift is for, but…come on.  Why does the battle system have to work like this?  Why do I have to tell the AI exactly what to do to prevent them from standing around like lamp posts, especially considering that FF12 let you fine-tune your AI partners so that they’d be as active and supportive as you wanted?  Why do my party members cast strength-boosting buffs on characters that’ll never use physical attacks?  Why does Auto-Battle make the Commando who I’ve specifically designed to ignore the magic stat and prioritize physical attacks keep throwing out magic attacks?  Why does it make me mash the Attack command in the menu five or six times when that is the exact damn thing the Auto-Battle is supposed to try and prevent?

But that’s not all.  From the outset, 13-2 has failed to put me in the trance needed to get anything out of its combat -- and as such, I’m more likely to point out the faults than if I was being entertained.  And there are a good number of them that, while tiny in their own right, pile up and threaten to drag the whole experience down.  To paraphrase Mr. Plinkett of Red Letter Media, they’re things that “you might not have noticed, but your brain did.” 

 So.  In 13-2 I decided early that I was going to make Serah the chief tank/damage dealer of the duo, and Noel would be the magic-slinging support unit (because if the story isn’t going to make Serah more than a prized hen to be protected, then I sure as hell will).  And for the most part, I was successful.  But as I played, drifting in and out of consciousness as I hammered the X button to win my battles, I noticed something: all too often Serah would cast the non-elemental spell Ruin instead of sticking to the default attack and, presumably, the higher damage therein.  Why?  Her strength stat was at LEAST a hundred points higher than her magic stat, so why is she casting Ruin?  Does Ruin actually base its attack power on strength instead of magic?  I guess that’d make sense, since it’s a Commando skill…but even then it makes no sense.  Remember, Serah’s default weapon is a bow that transforms into a sword and back; if it’s a matter of firing at distant enemies, there’s absolutely no need for her to use Ruin besides a slightly different aesthetic.  So what’s the point?

But that’s not all.  The game seems to be really wishy-washy about whether Serah should attack with her bow or with her sword.  So sometimes she’ll fire off shots at a distant enemy, and sometimes she’ll rush at them for a few slashes.  Again, why?  What is the point besides dragging out the fight?  Likewise, why would Serah shoot her bow at a monster six inches away from her when she’d be better off using her sword?    Isn’t that what it’s for?  Why doesn’t Serah (and Noel by extension, and Lightning retroactively) get to choose which sort of attack she wants to use?

But that’s not all either.  See, the downside to having a shape-shifting weapon is that it shape-shifts to suit the matter at hand…and there isn’t one.  You have absolutely no control over the positioning of your character in the middle of a fight, which means there’s nothing to pay attention to but your filling bars and queued-up attacks.  It’s sacrificing a level of strategy and depth that could have been easily-added, especially in light of Xenoblade Chronicles and its fantastic battle system.  If positioning and range mattered, it could be the difference between getting in deep and doing tons of damage (at the cost of your defense) and staying far away to peck away safely but weakly at opponents.  Plus, does Serah really seem like the rushdown-and-stab type of fighter?  Assuming that you decide to go with her default squishy build, do you really want her running into the middle of a fight?  I ask this because even if you make her magic-oriented, the Ravager toolset will have her using things like Flamestrike and Sparkstrike, which are just regular attacks but with a different elemental/particle effect.  So in a way, Commandos and Ravagers are almost the exact same class, especially given that Commandos can learn the area-of-effect spell Ruinga that works almost identically to high-end Ravager spells.

But that’s not all, either.  The exact depth of previous FF games -- or any JRPG, really -- may have been debatable, but there’s an advantage they had that 13 and 13-2 don’t: speed.  In FF7, once your ATB gauge was full and you hit Attack, unless an enemy had already geared up a move Cloud would rush in, slash, and leap back into position.  Simple, easy stuff.  It kept the battle flowing.  In these new games, however, the menu will pop up, and you select Auto-Battle; even if you do, you still have to wait for the ATB gauge to top off, meaning that you’re still staring at a bar until it’s time for your character to spring into action.  And when they DO spring into action, they perform multiple actions -- they create a combo of sorts, hitting multiple times before leaping back into position. 

In theory, it’s something that makes battles visually dynamic; in reality, it drags the fight out for much longer than necessary.  Cloud rushes in and does his one big hit; Serah will stand in one place and fire shots several times, with the actual difference between one big hit and several tiny ones being negligible.  It would make a difference if we were actually in control of the action, but we’re not.  It’s a passive experience with little, if any, feedback.  You watch these people chip away at enemies (literally chip away against plenty of damage-sponge bosses), and the most control you have is telling the AI when it’s time to stop bashing and start healing.  Or at least, that’s the most convenient control; if you want five attacks, you just highlight Attack five times and mash X…then you wait…then you watch the attacks get carried out as “coolly” as possible…and then they get back into position so you can do it over again.  Because isn’t that a much more efficient system than just pressing Attack once and getting one attack?  Won’t your thumbs thank you for the repetitive stress you’ve induced?

Oh, but THAT’S not all, either.  I can understand why there’d be an Auto-Battle function if victory and death depended on split-second timing…but it doesn’t.  It’s bad enough that the menu defaults to Auto-Battle, but worse that the game actually makes that the dominant strategy.  The enemy AI is way too forgiving and lenient; the fact that you can auto-pilot your way through these battles is an absolute disgrace.  I’ve heard that players have been able to completely clock out of the game, mashing the X button while checking their email or looking at a YouTube video, and winning regardless.  I haven’t tried it myself, but I believe them.  This isn’t a game that’ll challenge you or test your skills or makes sure you’re familiar with every nuance of the system or lets you put your setups to the test.  No, no no no, this is a game where you can win a good ninety percent of your battles as long as you have two functioning buttons…maybe one if you sacrifice high damage output for eternal healing and aggro-management.  

But wait!  THAT’S not all either!  The reason why it’s so easy to just fire and forget with these games is because there’s no resource management.  None.  You (or the game, at least) can choose Firaga as many times as you want without worrying about MP or stocked magic, with the only cost being a portion of your ATB gauge and the wait time therein.  Compare that to a game like Persona 4, where managing your SP was EXTREMELY vital, and running out of it and the items needed to restore it meant the difference between winning a boss fight and making it there in the first place.  Or compare that to one of the Tales games, where your TP is directly-proportional to your damage output and healing ability.  Or again, compare that to the Xenoblade Chronicles (itself an attempt to “modernize” the JRPG), which not only axed traditional MP and items, but managed to require strategic use of cooldown-based skills and a tension meter that doubled as your sole means of resurrecting party members AND your best weapon for dishing out monster damage.  There’s no risk, no need to weigh one option more heavily than another, and no need to gamble on uncertainty; without any of those things, there’s almost no reason to pay attention to what’s going on. 

So what does all this lead up to?  Combat that’s more of an annoyance -- an unabashed time-sink -- than a revelation, delivering not an ounce of satisfaction but instead boredom and complacency.  The only way for me to enjoy the system is if I want to play a game where not a shred of thought is required.  Just mash the night away, and you’ve got little more than a therapeutic distraction.  Sights and sounds to marvel at…and even then, the sights and sounds aren’t all that impressive, especially when the flash and variety tops out well before the endgame.  A question for you, fair reader: if a JRPG’s battle system isn’t satisfying, engaging, rewarding, strategic, or exciting, then what is it?  What is its purpose?  Why is it there?  Why does it justify a game’s existence, and not just beckon for the release of a (terrible) movie?

I’m not just hating on the battle system because “that’s the cool thing to do”.  This is coming from someone who’s not only come within a flea’s hair of beating vanilla 13 and spent hours with 13-2, but someone who’s had plenty of time to mull over both.  And in my opinion, my honest and unfiltered opinion, the battle system is awful

Over the course of hours of 13-2, I’ve only gotten a game over three times.  Two of those were because I challenged enemies dozens of levels higher than me (though one of those was because I turned into an alley and into a hidden monster).  The other time was the first boss fight against Caius.  Everything was going swimmingly at first, but suddenly the big baddie decided to go into “Time To Wreck Your Shit Mode” and put on every buff known to man.  Suddenly it was as if he got three attacks for one of mine, and his offense was so relentless that I was forced to use items to try and keep up.  It didn’t help.  And as a result, I lost.  I could already identify the problem: I needed a Paradigm that had a debuffing Saboteur, but with a Medic offering backup -- and maybe a Ravager to keep the Chain Bonus gauge from emptying (and making the battle last longer than it had to).  So I set the Paradigm and tried again.  Of course, since this was a tweaked version of my original Saboteur Paradigm, if I wanted to debuff I’d also have to heal -- a fair tradeoff, since I DID have another standard damage-dealer flanking me.  So I told myself, “All right.  This is where the game starts ramping up the difficulty.  This is what I’ve been waiting for; I can’t just rely on Relentless Assault and Auto-Battle to win anymore.  I have to use some real strategy.”

Turns out I didn’t.  Caius went down FAST, even with one party member dedicated to healing.  I don’t think I even needed to use Relentless Assault…but I did anyway, just to make sure I thoroughly ruined his day. 

Are you guys seeing where I’m coming from here?  I’m not trying to be the conductor on the hate train; I’m just offering up my opinion based on my experiences.  And my experiences have consistently been terrible.  There’s no need for thought, no need for all but the basest strategies, no need for player input, no need for satisfaction, and no need for fun as far as the game’s concerned.  I could maybe get behind the game if the flash that Squeenix is famous for (and the only thing they can do competently these days, it seems) actually had an effect, but it’s all just as passive as the combat.  Flourishes and particle effects and different-colored explosions and boosh-boosh-boosh swordplay are on display, but what’s the point if those attacks aren’t remotely synchronized with your inputs?  Each button press in a Tales game corresponds to an attack carried out in real time with virtually no delay; in 13 and 13-2, you press the X button to queue up attacks, press it again to choose your target, and then watch as the actions are carried out over an overly-long sequence.  What’s happening on-screen doesn’t match with what you’re doing in the game, something that even earlier and “less evolved” FF games could boast about.  It may sound like nitpicking, but if you play for long enough you stand a chance of noticing these things.  Again, “You may not have noticed it, but your brain did.”

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that 13-2 is actually ashamed to have its battle system.  One of the new additions to the game is the Mog Clock.  It’s pretty much just a way for you to strike enemies first on the field to gain initiative and in-battle buffs (along with a way to introduce one of the most severely-annoying characters I’ve ever met in a video game, but I digress).   One of said buffs -- or at least the chief buff -- is Haste, allowing you to play with an ATB gauge that fills much faster than usual.  It’s a good idea in theory, but of course one that suffers in practice.  As long as you hit a monster on the field with Serah’s sword, you’ll get the bonus…even though the gauge makes it look as if you have just a limited time to get the bonus.  But I guess that’s all right, because Serah swings like a dope and can miss enemies if you aren’t properly aligned, sliding a good eight feet away; a little leeway is much-appreciated. 

But if you actually get the bonus (and you probably will), then battles are made even more trivial.  You don’t just get speed buffs, but you get the first attack that boosts the Chain Gauge on all enemies.  And if you start a battle with Relentless Assault -- and really, why would you start with anything else? -- you can bet you’ll be getting staggered enemies in a matter of seconds.  Basically, your reward for the first strike is the privilege to mash more against enemies that are helpless in the face of your brilliant tactics feathered hair.

Squeenix…uh…you know guys, maybe next time -- and this is just a polite suggestion -- you might want to try putting an actual GAME into your game.

If Lightning Returns is any indication, it looks like Squeenix is trying to jettison this battle system for another…which is really something they should have done for 13-2, but whatever.  It looks like they’re at least trying.  The problem is that I don’t want them to try.  I want them to do -- and do something good.  I’ve seen articles that have praised the upcoming game for being one of the most potent attempts of the company to make FF more modern, and embrace the trappings of this century rather than the last.  And to some extent, I agree.  There should be a bit of praise extended for trying something new.

Except there are still a lot of problems that need to be overcome -- and until proven otherwise, said problems will also make Lightning Returns a failure.  Let’s ignore the fact that 13 was supposed to be a turning point in the franchise, one that would streamline the genre and trim it so it would be the best it could be…and we all know how that turned out by now.  The problem here is that Squeenix assumes that if FF isn’t evolving, NO ONE is -- and as a result, their prized pig lives inside an increasingly-cluttered pen.  There might have been a time when FF was one of the few franchises worth anything (or the most notable, if nothing else), but that’s no longer the case. 

JRPGs have not only evolved, but are continuously evolving, managing to move forward as well as keep a firm grip on the traditions that made them so beloved in the first place.  On one hand, you’ve got the incredibly-simple yet tactically-diverse and ever-punishing Persona games, requiring you to think carefully about every turn you take.  On the other, you’ve got Xenoblade Chronicles, reconciling the old and the new to deliver a game that’s smart and satisfying without any chaff dragging it down.  And let’s not forget the dozens of JRPGs out there that have not only put forth their own unique systems, but succeeded in their own right.  Hell, even bad JRPGs might get some praise in reviews for having a good enough battle system (what’s up, Grandia III?).

If FF wants to evolve, that’s fine.  Preferable, even.  But the developers have to realize that the franchise doesn’t exist in a vacuum anymore, and hasn’t for a long time.  Removing all but the most token player interaction for one game, and then reinstating it for another, is not the way to stay relevant in a climate with so many options.  Engage the player, Squeenix.  Reward him.  Don’t treat him like an inconvenience.

Get your head out of your asses.  Do something useful.  Because if you don’t, then you’re just giving betrayed fans more ammo.

And here’s one bullet I’ve been saving just for you.      

...Not that I have anything against Cookie Monster.  I just needed a symbolic-yet-teasing picture to end on.

Back to Part 5.
Part 7 -- Life finds a way.


  1. Huh? tri-Ace really worked on this? For shame! I really liked Star Ocean: First Departure and Radiata Stories. And, from what I've seen by brother play, Resonance of Fate looked really nice, too. I'd expect better from them!

    On a somewhat more related note, I don't think I've heard your opinions on XIII-2's music. So the story is garbage, the gameplay is an afterthought, and the graphics lacking in comparison to it's lackluster predecessor. But what of the music? I don't remember much of it (not a good sign, admittedly), but I also don't remember it being too terrible.

  2. You know what time I think it is? I think it's Metal Gear Rising time. Let your memories of this awful experience be washed away by an ocean, an ocean of cutting stuff so bad it'll wish you never cut it so bad.

  3. Yeah, it surprised me too, hearing that tri-Ace had a hand in this game. I don't know exactly how much of a hand either company had in 13-2, but either way it's hard to think well of either company after...well, this. Especially if they were working together; two heads are better than one, and such. Though maybe the communication between the two -- or possible lack thereof -- is the source of so many of the game's problems.

    ...I still don't mind blaming Squeenix for everything, though.

    As for the music...I don't have much to say about it. (The same applies to the original 13, while I'm at it.) There are a couple of good tracks that I load up on YouTube every now and then, but the rest is completely forgettable. I don't know -- I think I'll add some thoughts about the music at the start of the next post, because there are things that I could say about it, but would be better-suited for a section of a post, rather than the comments here.

    All I can say for now is that there's one song nobody's about to forget:


    I...I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.

  4. Hell. Yes. I just finished Rising a couple of days ago, and I can honestly say that (compared to DmC, at least) it's everything I could ever want from an action game. EVERYTHING.

    I hate to keep harping on DmC, but it really is remarkable how Rising gets virtually everything right, and DmC -- note the tactical omission of its subtitle -- gets everything wrong. I intend to play one of those games again, and repeatedly. Guess which one.


    Also, you may not think it's much, coming from me, but I'm proud of you for putting up with this shit, man.

  6. No, man, it means a lot. Too few people are willing to lay into this game, so I feel like I have to...even if it means putting my life in danger. So many headaches. So many...

    Side note: if you want some Revengeance posts, you're in luck. They're going to start popping up over the next couple of days. First up is the gameplay, and next is the story -- and I can say with some confidence that both of them are more than satisfying, at least in my eyes.

    I also have to give props to the game for including a black character who DOESN'T make me want to punt a refrigerator. It's like a Christmas miracle.

  7. Voltech, while you may have pretty much concentrated on the bad design of the battle system (and in which I'm in complete agreement with you, and I miss the battle system of FF-10, which was my favorite), my unhappiness with the games the past few years has been with the storylines in general.. I swear the writer/s are all on suicide watch or in some kind of severe depression! I was downright pissed off with FF-10 when Auron turned out to be 'dead' already and Tidus was evidently not even real, but at least, some of the sadness was dissipated and questions answered with the happier ending of FF-10-2.. I must also admit here that I loved that game, loved the fact that 3 gals kicked butt all through it and I also loved the Garment Grid, while all the guys I talked to hated it.. I found it, as they say, gnarly!
    But back to my big beef about the FF games, the sad, depressing, everyone dies endings! You know I can understand the occasional need to 'do away with' a secondary character for the sake of the story, but give me a break, Square! When you kill off the MAIN characters with no warning, no compassion and obviously for shock value alone, then you go too damn far!! Killing Serah and, gee, the whole damn world, all for the sake of getting to make ONE DAMN MORE GAME is beyond cruel, it's stupid and unnecessary! I, for one, will NOT be buying Final Fantasy 13-3 or 14 or whatever you want to call it, I'm done, finis, finito! Let me know when you decide to go back to making games that, while they certainly don't HAVE to have joyous endings, they do have to make sense (which FF13-2 did anything BUT)! Time for some new writers, Squareenix!

  8. Oh, you don't need to worry -- I know for a fact (and have gone through great lengths to prove here on the blog) that FF13-2's story is an absolute...disgrace? Disaster? Train wreck? Embarrassment? Well, you could pretty much choose any word with a negative context...and yet it STILL wouldn't be enough to fully describe the amount of stupidity on display here.

    But back on topic. I'm in agreement with you, but that's partly because of my personal preferences. Life is a precious thing, both in a real-world and fictional context. ESPECIALLY in a fictional context; every life has (or should have) weight to it, and killing off even one of them is something that has to be done with extreme caution and preparation. It can't just be for shock value, and certainly not to give the flimsiest justification for one more game.

    Squeenix made a huge miscalculation with Serah -- her death, and her general presence in the game. The assumption was that we'd care about her because...because. But they didn't do nearly enough with her while she was alive, didn't even try to properly set up her impending death, and when all's said and done her actual death has all the impact of a deflating balloon. It's a waste.

    Then again, you could say the same about this so-called Lightning Saga at large. Wasted time, wasted money, wasted potential, wasted effort, wasted space. You say you have no intention of buying 13-3? Smart move. And I guarantee you you're not the only one making it.