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Thoughts on the latest Final Fantasy

Posted by Doug on April 17, 2009

A hour-long playable demo of Final Fantasy XIII will be released in March, it seems, and having been a Final Fantasy fanboy since forever (well, at least since Final Fantasy II on the SNES…which was really Final Fantasy IV, but nevermind that right now…) I have been awaiting more information on this next installment of Squenix’s flagship series.

But not in the same way I might have a decade ago.

I can recall awaiting the release of each new FF game, counting the days until I could get my hands on a copy, absolutely certain that the game would be awesome.  Awesome beyond words.  Nevermind that the upcoming games had never been played by anyone anywhere, if you even suggested a Final Fantasy might be less than divine, you were at best ignorant and at worst a heretic deserved of being burned at the stake…or at least forced to play E.T. the Extraterrestrial on the Atari 2600.  Final Fantasy was my religion; Sakaguchi Hironobu was my god.  However, this is not the case anymore (I’ve converted to Secular Haruhiism, and besides, the Gooch hasn’t been involved with FF since FF IX, I think).  I still count myself as a FF fanboy, but I don’t love it without reservation.  I’ve played other console RPGs, many of which have innovated on the genre in truly impressive ways, and at least one—Tales of Symphonia—is just simply a better game than my most-favorite FF, Final Fantasy X.  I’ve played one of Sakaguchi’s more-recent works, Lost Odyssey, and found it…lacking.

So, I am not certain that FF XIII will be awesome.  I’m reasonably confident that it will be a well-crafted game, full of scene and splendor, but that I am most looking forward to finding out is whether  FF XIII will be worthy of a place in the pantheon of the Great Console RPGs, or if it will serve as proof that the series has irrevocably jumped the Shāku.  I will play it, but I will wait until I have played the game from start to finish, until I have seen both the start of the beginning and the end of the finale, before I decide its merit.

It’s going to look pretty; that’s the easiest thing to do, with the power of the current-generation systems like the PlayStation 3 and the XBox 360 (last I heard it’s going to be multi-platform.  I’ll get the PS3 version…disk-swapping sucks, and the demo that’s going to be released in March checks in at 5 GB).  The questions I have boil down to Will the gameplay be addictive? and Will the story be interesting? For a Final Fantasy game, both are crucial.  Reading blurbs about it online won’t help answer either.  Playing a demo will likely only answer the first question partially.  Square put group-control RPGs* on the map; they have produced many truly great games before.

But will they again?  This is what I’m looking forward to.

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*Lacking a better term for the concept I’m thinking of, here I use the term “group-control RPGs” to refer to RPGs where you have a level of control over multiple characters during a single battle, either by giving direct instructions to each character turn-by-turn, or by directly controlling one character while giving the AI general instructions for the other characters that are executed more-or-less autonomously.  Final Fantasy X is an example of the former; Tales of Symphonia is an example of the latter.  Group-based RPGs contrast with “single-character RPGs” where you only control one character during any given battle, such as Legend of Zelda or Vagrant Story.

Needless to say, the dividing line between these categories as I describe them (group-control RPGs and single-character RPGs) is admittedly not clearly defined—is a game a group-control RPG where you can only control the secondary characters minimally, or is it a single-character RPG where you can control secondary characters, albeit minimally?  The quality of the AI might also factor into this…  I know I tend to be a little picky with my terminology, but as humans think in language, using the most optimal  language to describe things is important to what, and how, we think.

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