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Final Fantasy XIII: staying focused

Over the past six months, I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in a few game-swaps with other bloggers. We’ll decide on a theme together, send each other a video game which matches the requirements, and then play the title received and share our thoughts on them.

Luke from Hundstrasse sent me a copy of Whiplash for ‘bizarre retro titles’, a PlayStation 2 platformer which caused some controversy when it was released. Then followed all the cutscenes and craziness that came with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty after sharing ‘favourite series’ with Athena from AmbiGaming. The most recent game-swap is with Nathan from Gaming Omnivore, and Pete and I are currently playing through Banjo-Kazooie for ‘genres we’re not experienced with’.

I’ve also been playing Final Fantasy XIII since the middle of August for a swap with Ellen from Ace Asunder. Anyone who knows this lovely lady will be aware just how much the title’s pink-haired protagonist means to her. In a post entitled Lightning Will Not Leave Me published on her blog last month, she wrote: “Lightning’s story taught me about myself, the person I know the least about, and that’s a precious gift I never thought a series of video games could give me.”

It’s therefore easy to assume that the basis of our game-swap was ‘favourite games’ or maybe even ‘most-loved protagonists’, but it was something completely different. This collaboration was going to one which challenged us to play releases which make use of mechanics we don’t usually enjoy. I’ve never hidden how much I dislike turn-based combat, having written about the subject in the past and discussed it several times while streaming, and so I wasn’t surprised when a copy of FFXII appeared in my Steam library one day.

So why don’t I like turn-based titles? My biggest problem is that it feels so far removed from what would really happen in a fight. When you come face-to-face with a huge monster, you’re not going to politely wait while it takes it’s turn to strike – you’re going to get stuck in and hit it with everything you’ve got to prevent the beast from doing damage to you at the start. There’s no way I could see myself saying, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly attack you first, that would be far too selfish! After you, good sir.’

This explains why I initially had some doubts about streaming Ellen’s gift. I knew how much this game and its follow-ups meant to my blogger-friend and so I was concerned I’d say or do something to spoil it for her. Would I be able to play it for long enough to be able to see what she found so special about it? Would that be what I needed to keep me going when the gameplay wasn’t to my taste or became tough? And would I even be able to pick up the mechanics in the first place, without throwing down the controller in frustration?

Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XIII, video game, female, Lightning Farron, pink hair

I must admit that I don’t dislike the combat as much as I expected thanks to FFXIII’s Command Synergy Battle (CBS) system. Instead of controlling every character in your party and taking turns in a battle, the player focuses on the leader only and can perform actions as soon as the segments on their Active Dimension Battle (ADB) gauge is filled. Other party-members are controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence (AI) although you can switch between Paradigms to have them fulfil a different role.

It also helps that Ellen agreed I could play on easy mode and I’m making use of the Auto-Battle feature. This selects commands automatically for the player during fights depending on factors such as the party’s health and the enemy you’re trying to beat. I can totally understand why experienced turn-based fans would avoid it at all costs because it does take away some of the more tactical elements of the game – but for a complete novice like me, I found it invaluable. I’m not sure I’d have had the patience to continue without it.

The thing I don’t like though is the Battle Rating system, as I don’t feel the need to be graded on every single fight because all I care about it making it out alive and getting back to the gameplay. And I know it’s a fundamental part of turn-based RPGs but I don’t like having to keep switching between characters either. As I’ve written before, I much prefer sticking with one protagonist so I can get to know their backstory, personality and skills fully rather than having to jump between several of them.

Pete and I have found that the people joining us on Twitch while we’re streaming FFXIII have been firmly in one of two camps: they either adore the game or it’s their least-favourite entry in the series. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between and the more frequent complaint is the game’s linearity. On one hand, I can see what they mean. You’re essentially travelling down a long corridor which is interspersed with fights at regular intervals and, although we’ve been told it opens up later on, we haven’t reached that point yet.

Final Fantasy XIII, video game, battle, fight, Lightning

Personally I don’t have a problem with this. Sometimes I like being able to sit back and enjoy the journey the developer wants to take me on, rather than having to deal with the pressure of choice. My issue is more with the number of battles in each corridor. I understand these are needed to gain Crystogen Points (CP) to level up your characters but the enemies are often the same in an area and it feels a little repetitive. Maybe I’d have a different opinion on this if the game was entirely an action RPG and used mechanics that come more natural to me.

Speaking of the characters, I’m warming far more to the female protagonists than the male ones right now. Hope is growing on me a little since toughening up but at first, I groaned each time he appeared onscreen thanks to his downbeat nature (we renamed him ‘Mope’). I’m not sure I’m ever going to like Snow though. Anyone who calls themselves ‘The Hero’ has got to be an idiot and as Lightening says herself, he’s ‘arrogant and chummy from the get-go and thinks he’s everyone’s pal’.

Playing FFXIII has taught me two things. The first lesson is that I can manage turn-based combat if I put my mind to it, even though I may not enjoy it anywhere near as much as other mechanics. The second and more important lesson is that it’s important to remember that everyone has a special game which is unique to them. We might not always understand their choices or see what they see in a certain title, but there’s something in it which spoke to them and possibly helped them through a tough time.

For example, that game for me is Fable. It will always have a special place in my heart because it was the one which brought me back to gaming after stepping away from it for several years and I might not be here writing this post today if it wasn’t for Peter Molyneux’s project. But I’m well aware it’s very much a game of its time and feels awfully clunky to play nowadays, having picked it back up again myself after watching Athena play it on her stream. It therefore won’t be something that everybody enjoys or finds as special as I do.

It’s therefore important to be aware of other opinions about a title and take them into account – but as discussed last month, it’s also vital to be honest when it comes to sharing your own views. You just need to make sure you explain your viewpoint so readers can understand where you’re coming from. Everyone is going to have their own perception of a game because of their unique backgrounds and experience, and that’s ok: the gaming world would be a pretty boring one if we all liked the same kind of releases.

The great thing about game-swaps is that they’ve encouraged me to try genres I wouldn’t normally play. If it hadn’t been for these collaborations with other bloggers, I’d never have found out about the uproar caused by a weird release back in 2004; my feelings about the representation of certain characters in Hideo Kojima titles; or just how terrible my spacial awareness is when it comes to 3D-platformers. Every swap has been an experience which has broadened my gaming horizons and I’m grateful for that.

I’m about 16 hours into FFXII and I’m going to keep playing for now. I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to finish it; at the time of writing, I’m a little stuck on a particular boss and have failed numerous times. But I’m going to keep trying for a few more sessions and see how I get on. To quote Lightning again: “We can win if we stay focused!”

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

8 thoughts on “Final Fantasy XIII: staying focused Leave a comment

  1. “I don’t dislike the combat as much as I expected” That’s actually high praise! 😀

    I’m legit impressed by how far you’ve gotten in the game, despite me jokingly trying to sabotage you for, um, reasons. This definitely hammers the point that different games are special to different people for different reasons. I always try to be respectful of the games I hate just in case they mean the world to another person 🙂

    And FMV fun will come soon. Yay! (And that yay is not sarcastic, I swear, haha)

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    • I first drafted this post the day after I reached the giant-mushroom-thing so I was feeling a bit deflated. Looking back on it now, I’m surprised I made it past that boss and am still going! I don’t think I’m ever going to truly enjoy turn-based games but if I can get through this one, I’ll be happy to say I’ve completed by first Final Fantasy. 😉

      I promise that the FMV games I’ve sent to you are very different to Poe and Munro. The player actually has a role in them rather than simply watching the stories and making a few choices, so I’m hoping you’ll feel a bit more ‘involved’. Saying that though, don’t feel like you have to finish them if you don’t enjoy them!

      That’s not the case for FF13 though. I have to finish it for, you know, reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bulbasaur is the first difficulty spike and I wouldn’t blame you at all for rage quitting there, eh.

        Yes!! Having a role sounds much better than the Poe and Munro experience. Can’t wait! 😁

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        • I have a feeling you’re going to like one of the kickass female characters too, even though she’s not perfect… looking forward to hearing what you think. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I always considered turn based less like you and the enemy are taking turns and more so as you (the player) are inputting what your characters are doing. So it’s like choreographed in real time if that makes any sense. Squeenix tends to do something different and new with each of its Final Fantasies, and I’m actually a bit glad I haven’t played XIII yet because I was vehemently against ANYTHING non turn based for their RPGs because I’ve always preferred that method. I actually didn’t hate it in the FFVII Remake, and I know that XIII uses a more active type of battle, though it took Squeenix a bit to get that right. It was one of the many aspects of Final Fantasy Type-0 that made me DNF it.

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    • I’m pleased to report that after over 50 hours, I managed to finish Final Fantasy XIII last night! And I can also report that turn-based combat of any kind still isn’t for me.

      I’m happy to be able to say I’ve now played an FF game though and it might not have happened if it wasn’t for this game-swap. I can see why the series has as many fans as it does – and why those people have their preferred games – but I’m not sure I can see myself ever returning to it. Turn-based gameplay requires a level of patience and strategy I just don’t have. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s understandable! You like what you like and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m like that with the more strat based RPGs and don’t even ask me about chess. I’m not good at stuff like that at all, but other people seem to do it so easily.

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        • You’re not alone on chess… every time I see a puzzle in an adventure game that involves chess pieces, I cringe inside!

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