Thursday, February 18, 2010

FF13 and Weak Play

So, I pre-ordered FF13 yesterday. Because I buy almost every RPG in the desperate hope of finding one that has a spine. I know, I know, Final Fantasy: not the place to look.

When you pre-order, you get a little book right away. The main purpose of the manual is to sell you the strategy guide, but along the way it accidentally teaches you a bit about how to play the game. And I learned something interesting: it saves immediately before each battle, and completely restores all your health after each battle.

Not two weeks ago I was busy ragging on Mass Effect 2. Every encounter in ME2 is packaged up separate from the rest of the game, because every encounter is boolean win/lose: you are always restored to full before the next fight, and no fight has lasting consequences as a result of your actions. What I mean is this: if you can replace any fight with "press A to continue" without having any impact on the rest of the game, it may be that those fights are A BIT POINTLESS. This is made worse by the fact that the fights themselves are painfully boring, although I'm apparently the only person who thinks so.

ME1 was the same way, but at least it featured a complex system of leveling and inventory management that allowed your adventure to interact with your combat, if not the other way around. ME2 ditched that, so you end up with what is essentially a movie with four endings. A movie that often pauses itself and forces you to go find the remote before you can continue.

Now, I expect bad gameplay from FF13. It's a given: every FF game has worse gameplay than the last in their head-over-heels rush to become more MMORPG-like and less... interesting, fun, or deep. But to take it so far? To make it so that there is NO attrition in your adventure? NO worry about the future?

I sat down to think a bit more. The idea is inherently disgusting. It's like instead of letting you paint a beautiful picture, they are instead asking you to paint one line on ten thousand sheets of paper. But I must be more careful. If it's just one AAA game doing this, I can see it being a shortsighted mistake, or targeting a dumber breed of gamer, or something. But virtually EVERY AAA game on the market these days has this same "dumbed down" approach.

FF13 has a few details that are obviously a desperate attempt to reintroduce some kind of non-boolean result to the fight. You get a rank in stars depending on how well you do, although it's not clear what that rank earns you. And, of course, the recent FF games have started to rely extremely heavily on consumables (probably another MMORPG relic). So if you do badly and have to use a potion, then that's a potion you won't have for later. But I haven't seen an FF game in the past decade hard enough to make me use even a tenth of the potions I just randomly pick up off the floor, so that's not really much of a price to pay.

Also, you do, eventually, start getting various kinds of rewards from fights. According to the booklet, the first half (185,561,839 hours) of the game features NO statistical character development, though, so I'm not sure how well that is going to work. It seems like fights could be easily replaced by "press A to continue" with no effect on the larger game.

I have to ask myself: is it important that consequences cascade from your actions? Or is that a relic of my childhood?

ME2 has completely separated combat and adventure. While you can get adventure-side upgrades that affect your combat, they are extremely minor. Leveling up has almost no relationship to what you do in combat OR adventure, so while it is important, it doesn't descend from your actions much.

You could argue that they make your social interactions matter, but that's a lie that should be obvious to anyone. There is very little difference between choosing to be a pushover or an asshole. It's just minor flavor changes, nothing significant on any level.

Still, it gets exceedingly, insanely high scores. I don't hate it, either. It's just that the gameplay is about as deep as a square.

Perhaps my focus on gameplay has been too tight? I like my pretty graphics, I like my fun storylines, but... I just can't get excited about a game where the gameplay is literally just squatting behind a rock and occasionally popping your head out to automatically hit an enemy with a special attack. It's so... low-agency. Especially when it doesn't matter how well you did.

I always thought most people over the age of 15 felt the same way, but evidently not.

What do you think?


Christopher Weeks said...

I agree. Stuff needs to matter.

In a trad (gamist, in Forge jargon) RPG like any version of D&D, you need to chance to screw up and die. Die for real -- maybe you get lucky and get raised, but not as a matter of course.

In all but the most casual of video games -- *anything* with a narrative, what you do in one scene needs to constrain what you can do in the next.

If a board game is so luck-dependent that you might as well not strategize each turn then we call it broken.

I haven't played the games you're talking about, but yeah, that sounds pretty lame.

OTOH, I like the idea of persistent, MMO-type games and don't think the characteristics that you're railing against are necessarily an artifact of the MMO which seems to be a clear aside of yours.

Craig Perko said...

It's not a shared, persistent world that I dislike. I think those are great ideas.

It's the current implementation, which demands a static world, unimportant "heroes", and gameplay that centers around (A) time over skill and (B) lag-immune "real time" play. IE, shit mechanics.

Patrick said...

I think you should cancel your pre-order.

Craig Perko said...

Why? It can't be worse than FFXII.

Patrick said...

Why spend $60 on something that you know won't be good?

Craig Perko said...