Friday, 29 October 2010

First Impressions of a Ground-breaking RPG - Final Fantasy 13

Somehow I have loaned an Xbox 360 and a copy of Final Fantasy 13. I have heard a lot about the game and not a lot of what has been said about it is all that good. But after playing it for only an hour I am already forming the impression that the people who diss this game are complete and utter morons of the highest degree.

Why you ask? Well first off let's really ask ourselves what an RPG really is. It combines two active elements which are the 'role playing' and 'game' aspects and FFXIII excels in both areas, even by Square Enix's grand standards.

From the opening alone the storytelling is the best in any RPG I have ever seen or played. More importantly, I am truly engaged as a player character in this particular universe because the absurdly high production value cinematics make me feel the terror, elation and horror of the unthinkable situations I am thrown into very first minute. So far so awesome! Nobody can really complain about the story here and it only enhances the role playing experience. Need I even mention that somebody in Square's art studios finally thought it a swell idea to include a non-White character who isn't Barret since the 90s? Tip of the iceberg but I shan't spoil any more.

So surely the haters have a point with the 'linear corridor' gameplay?  In today's modern age of pick up and play gaming attitudes (see BW's excellent 'The Problem With Great Games' article) I think it is very forward thinking of Square Enix to release a very immersive episodic style of gameplay where players can play such a deep game very quickly at any time they choose and not feel lost in either gameplay or story even after a period of not playing. To top it off FFXIII has streamlined so much of the chore of RPG genre in the same way computer games removed a great deal of tedium from the tabletop era by fine-tuning the gameplay mechanics.

Every battle is fought independently of the result of the one before it! You don't need to access a stupid ends convoluted menu after every battle to restore your health (It is no coincidence that SE's excellent The World Ends With You for the DS used this idea too) and it appears that level-grinding has been discarded for pure strategy gaming which is phenomenal as this leads to a more strategic and therefore satisfying way of progressing through the game as opposed to the brute force EXP festivals of the past. Even the much loved Final Fantasy 7 can look sheepish in light of its sixth youngest cousin's bright ideas.

I will not pass complete judgement on the game until I have played it through but I just want to re-iterate to those who are still cowering in their Inn and Weapon Shop drudgery: Move on! This is the future of console role-play.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Problem with Great Games by Ben Winterton

The Problem with Great Games by Ben Winterton

Oftentimes, when I am bored and have only my mind to occupy myself, I get to thinking about my own mental top 10/20 lists; for novels, for films, for albums, and of course, for video games. We all have titles that we know would instantly make the cut (for me, “Timesplitters 2”, “Bioshock”, “Lylat Wars”, or “Starfox 64” outside of the UK, and “Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon”). I then realise that I have something of a penchant for fairly complex, convoluted and just plain long RPGs. In this bracket I usually think of games like “Final Fantasy X”, “Baiten Kaitos”, “Tales of Symphonia”, “Dragon Warrior Monsters” and the “Golden Sun” games.

Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon

Now, don’t get me wrong. These games are absolutely superb; each one is engaging, charming, dramatic and amazingly playable. But none of them have that “pick-up-and-play-and-dick-about-causing-the-biggest-explosion-you-can-preferably-involving-your-own-body aspect. And so I sometimes find myself in the very odd situation of not wanting to start playing a game I know is better and that I will get more enjoyment out of because all I’ve played of late is epic yarns of a similar style. Case in point; the last 3 games I’ve played through have been “Mass Effect 2”, “Deathspank” and “Dragon Age: Origins”. Very diverse games, yes, but all undeniably RPGs. Now, I have a bunch of games I’ve not/barely touched; “Nier”, “Oblivion” and “Final Fantasy XIII”. Are these games going to be awesome? Almost certainly. Do I want to play them? Not really.

Super Mario Kart

No, what I’ve been playing recently has been “Prototype” and, for my sins, “Overlord II”. The first of these is an enjoyable, but shallow, free-running hack-and-slash affair. The second is frankly a crap rip-off of “Pikmin”. So why am I playing it? The answer is simple; diversity.

Even back in the good ol’ days I had to occasionally take “Super Mario All-Stars” out of my SNES (if only to put “Super Mario Kart” in). It comes down to one very simple factor, and that is that you sometimes need to have soup; you can’t have steak every day. Unless you’re my mate Stu, who had steak for every meal for 4 days for a bet, until his digestive system started rebelling.