Final Fantasy XIII: The Sine Wave of My Enjoyment

So far, Final Fantasy XIII has been an unexpected sine wave of fun for me. At first, I was truly wowed by the intensity of the visuals that the experience provided. I can not recall ever playing a game more graphically stunning in my life. It is truly at the cutting edge of the videl gaming medium in that regard.

I also enjoyed (and still do now, if not more so) the slow-but-steady incline in mechanical complexity of the gameplay. Where others decried its simplicity, I saw budding potential. I’m glad to see that now, several chapters in, I was right to stick out the slow advance of mechanics, as the top-down complexity of the combat system is a whole lot more satisfying to a strategist-type player, like myself. At least, I find it more satisfying than I ever found the combat mechanics of the previous iiterations in the series, save maybe for FFXII (my admitted favorite FF game so far).

Oh, and the setting! Ye gods, it is amazing. At first the myriad esoteric concepts – so deeply embedded into every aspect of its design – left me with an ambivalent response when I saw the first wave of trailers way back when. But now that I am sufficiently immersed in the game (thanks in large part to the complete lack of any in-game HUD at all), I find my thirst for the intricacies of its setting to be nigh-unquenchable. I hungrily devour every new update to the in-game Datalog (yet another must-have improvement first introduced to the series in this game’s immediate predecessor), and I get the feeling that I’ve spent almost as much time just sight-seeing with my characters as I have been kicking ass and following the story. Oh, and Square Enix? That whole “the story thus far” thing you have in the loading screen? Nice touch.

The weird rise-and-fall-and-rise-again nature of my interest in the game is based not in any of the above elements, but in the actual characters themselves, who I like to refer to (in order of appearance, more or less) as Angry McNeverSmiles, Hair-Chicken, Dude-Bro, Whimpy, Please-For-The-Love-Of-God-Stop-Making-Noise-You-Stupid-Twit, and the yet-to-be-really explored Morrigan Disapproves -10 (I’ve only just started to have her around, but c’mon, the resemblance is just uncanny). The game’s opening series of cut-scenes really instilled within me a hard-edged respect for the first two which so far has endured, if not blossomed, but the rest of them could die from salmonella poisoning after eating badly-cooked chocobo legs, and I wouldn’t really care…. or so that has been the story until very, very recently.

You see, without spoiling anything here, the third-through-fifth characters of the game are just really, really annoying. The writers do a piss-poor job of getting you to like them at first, and let’s just say that their physical design is also pretty questionable (although Whimpy might be a fairly attractive fella once he gets a few years on him). Dude-Bro is exactly that: essence of fratboy, distilled into the interactive visual medium. It can also be safely said that every motion and sound that PFTLOGSMNYS-Twit makes seems to be scientifically engineered for the singular purpose of raising the player’s blood pressure.

But while playing last night, that all started changing. I can’t really explain why, but I now feel that my distaste for these particular characters is transforming into a sort of rough “unwilling camaraderie” born through dire circumstances, and I get the distinct impression from the game (as well as from friends who are further along than me) that this will be evolving even more over time. This could be a sign that my enjoyment of them might be on the upswing, but it could also be an unusual form of Stockholm’s syndrome.

Regardless of the signs, I did notice a definite boost in my funtime experience while playing last night, and I think the lull caused by distaste in a majority of the characters might be rebounding. I should add that the experience was fun enough for me to again push back my installation of the new Dragon Age Awakenings expansion pack – a game update that I’ve been anxiously awaiting for months now.

Note that I have until now said nothing of FFXIII’s semi-controversial linearity, and now that I have, I won’t say much more aside from the simple fact that it bothers me not. Yes, most of this game’s stages are just long continuous one-way roads, but truth be told, the entire series has been extremely linear. Any appearances to the contrary have only been illusions. The worlds of the previous games may have seemed more open and free, but that was always deceptive. I could go into more detail on that, but I’ll save those musings for a later time, or a more detailed review.

Now I must return to the grind, and try to get that new combat song out of my mind.

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