Final Fantasy XIII: Twice the Hours, Twice the Fun?

Last night I crossed the 26 hour mark in Final Fantasy XIII. Actually I’m at 27. That’s 14 hours in about four days, which is a lot of gaming for me. Having days off for Thanksgiving helped, of course. So how’re things going?

Twenty-seven hours in I’ve just reached Gran Pulse and the start of chapter 11 which is, according to my vague memory of my last attempt to finish this game, where things “open up” and you start making some decisions for your party. Chapters 1-10 are very linear aside from some very short side-passages that generally hide a goodie behind a slightly more difficult than usual fight.

I haven’t really minded the linearity in and of itself. I’m one of those players who can enjoy doing battles and progressing characters just to earn the ‘rat pellet’ of another cut scene or chunk of story. In FFXIII I enjoyed the process during chapters 1-8. Chapters 9 & 10, though, were both slogs. They were both much too long or contained too little story, depending on how you want to look at it. The environments the party was moving through were monotonous, the enemies I was fighting were too familiar (slightly more powerful varients of baddies I’d been fighting for 8 chapters). Progress was starting to slow down. I’m hoping chapter 11 rejuvenates my interest which, I must admit, has been flagging.

One other point about Chapter 9. You’re on an enemy airship in this chapter and you’ve triggered an alarm. For almost all of this chapter there is a claxon blaring. I would like to find the person who thought this was a good idea and punch them in the ear in order to recreate the headache they gave me. This chapter literally cleared the room: Partpurple couldn’t take listening to it any more and left. I finally just turned the sound off and played in silence.

There was a tough boss fight at the end of chapter 9. I failed my first attempt on him after a long fight. This boss casts Doom 20 minutes into the battle. When a character has Doom cast on them, a timer starts counting down and when it reaches 0 it is game-over. To the best of my knowledge there is no way to remove Doom so basically it’s a time limit in the form of a spell. I am going to guess it takes 5 minutes for Doom to proc. Spending 25 minutes on a boss fight and losing due to a mechanic like this was discouraging enough that I didn’t want to repeat it. (Without the Doom spell I would’ve beat him; I was handling all his most potent attacks without losing characters; I just wasn’t doing damage fast enough.)

Before re-attempting the boss I did a small amount of ‘grinding’ by clearing a few encounters. That gave me enough experience to boost my character’s abilities a bit. Between that and some knowledge learned in the first attempt, I took him down the second time.

I wanted to talk a little more about character progression. You have six characters and there are six roles. Fairly early in the game each character receives three of these roles. You don’t level up the characters, instead you earn “Crystarium Points” from fighting. These points are used to unlock nodes on a ‘tree’, one for each role. Nodes provide either stats or skills. After a certain number of nodes are unlocked that character ‘levels up’ that role. Early on the game gates you in how far you can advance a role, which I think is meant to encourage you to unlock nodes in more than one role. A side-effect of this gating is that it is relatively easy to just unlock everything for each character, which is what I did for that Chapter 9 boss fight. I made sure everything was unlocked and that took maybe 10 minutes of grinding.

Part of Lightning’s Crystarium skill-grid thingie

Only three characters at most can take part in a battle. In the early game the battle party is predetermined; again I think this is to force you to try different Paradigms and combat styles (see my post from early this week for more about Paradigms). Somewhere around Chapter 9 (going from memory) the game lets you start picking your battle party members. Then at the end of Chapter 10/start of Chapter 11 each character gets all six roles unlocked and the gates come down.

At this point my characters had their initial 3 roles all capped at level 3. I’m finding that progress beyond level 3 seems to slow down quite a bit. I’m not sure if maybe that is to encourage us to work on the other 3 new roles each character just received? (The Internet tells me characters are strongest in their original three roles, though.) I’m currently running Lightning, Hope and Fang as my party. Light is primarily damage. Hope is healer and buffer, Fang is tank and debuffer. I don’t really like Hope much, though, and would like to swap in Vanille, but she doesn’t have the buffer role (Synergist). Well technically she has it now but no unlocks for it. So the question is, do I spend a bunch of points teaching Vanille to be a Synergist or do I just forge on with whiny Hope in my party?

Anyway, I guess that’s enough for today. I’m just about where I abandoned the game during my first attempt at it. I can’t remember what Chapter 11 was like, so it’s time to go refamiliarize myself. If the pace doesn’t pick up from chapters 9 & 10 then I might be coming to the end of my time with Final Fantasy XIII.

Update:
Finally thought to capture a full battle. This was my first time encountering triffids so I need Libra to learn about them. At one point I popped a potion more to show off that there are potions than for any other reason. Fight was dicey for a bit, then we staggered the big flora thingie and juggled it until it was dead.

Meanwhile, in Final Fantasy XIII

It’s been about a week since I started playing Final Fantasy XIII again. When I jumped back in I found I had a save file with 30-ish hours of playtime, but I couldn’t really remember how to play. I started a new game with my intention being to play the first 5-10 hours to get reacquainted and then switch to the 30 hour save.

So far I’m about 13 hours in. I think I’ve re-learned all the main systems and there’s no good reason for me to soldier on in this new save at this point. FFXIII is a linear game and it’s not like I can make different choices in this play-through. And yet, so far at least, I’m having too much fun to make the jump.

In truth FFXIII makes it easy to come back. There’s a ‘datalog’ feature that gives a textual recap of all the cut scenes and everything that has happened so far. I could read through all that and be totally caught up on the story. The various tutorials that you encounter can also be re-visited at any time. Kudos to the devs for offering these options.

I still might jump to the old save, but the vibe of the game is currently hitting me just right. Yup, it is super linear, and in some ways the game almost plays itself. But it’s awfully pretty and has a great soundtrack and I’m finding it quite soothing to play. With all the shit going on in the world, just easing into a mellow, escapist game is feeling really good right now.

It’s been a long time since I last played, but I think I am playing much differently than I originally did. FFXIII’s combat is base around teams of 2 or 3 characters with real-time, though not action-based, combat. There’s a bar called, I think, the ATB (Action Time Bar, maybe?) that you slot abilities into. During battle this bar fills up and when full your character performs the actions you’ve slotted. Then you slot new abilities in and wait for it to fill. The bar is broken into segments and different abilities take up different numbers of segments.

The game offers a way to automate this slotting of abilities into the ATB. I generally resist automation in games and I’m pretty sure I slotted things manually the last time I played, but this time I’m just letting the computer take care of that. I just pick the targets and the “AI” slots appropriate abilities. Honestly it does a better job than I do because it remembers what different kinds of attacks enemies are susceptible to. If an enemy takes double damage from Fire attacks the AI will slot Fire attacks whereas I’d probably never remember to do that.

In any case the AI always handles the abilities of characters 2 & 3; at best you can micro-manage the leader. There may come a time when I have to do that, but I haven’t encountered it yet and there’s a nice flow to battle when you’re just making the big decisions.

So about those big decisions. Each character can take on different roles. Roles are things like Commando (tank), Ravager (dps), Synergist (buffer), Medic (healer) and so on. You set up sets of this roles into a mechanic called Paradigms.

So maybe I have a Paradigm where Character 1 is a Medic, Character 2 is a Synergist and Character 3 is a Commando. That would be kind of a defensive Paradigm. Then I’d set up a 2nd Paradigm where Characters 1 & 2 are Ravagers and Character 3 is a Commando. That’d be be offense/assault Paradigm. You have have up to 6 of these Paradigms set up, and you can (and will) change them on the fly during a battle.

So instead of micromanaging the abilities my leader is using, I am instead constantly changing Paradigms and enemy targets. I guess the best analogy would be that I’m playing as the Coach of the team, calling the plays, but the AI is taking care of the moves each player makes. Here’s a short example video. Sadly the Xbox will only save 1 minute of video at 1080P so you only see the end of this fight when only a single foe is left standing. Need to start streaming then grab clips I guess.

I think this keeps me engaged. A lot of the battles are kind of trash mobs where my goal is basically “Kill them as fast as possible” (the game awards you for finishing battles quickly) with intermittent encounters where you have to think a lot more about what roles you need when.

And in between the battles, lots of anime-esque cut scenes where we learn about the characters’ backstories and watch the current story unfold.

So far, I’m digging it. There’s a lot more to the combat system but I’ve bored you enough for one post.

Playing Next: Control and Final Fantasy XIII?

Whenever I finish a game I feel a bit adrift for a while as I attempt to latch onto something new to occupy my time. Sometimes I can do that almost immediately and sometimes it can take weeks.

With Final Fantasy XV completed and off the Xbox external drive, I started looking for the next thing to ‘clean off’ the Xbox. (What brought me to FFXV initially was that it was a large game and I was trying to free up space on an external drive.) I was thinking Red Dead Redemption 2 has to be pretty big and I never finished that so I went to check and…it wasn’t even downloaded. I guess it was on the Internal drive of the old Xbox so didn’t make the generational hop. So of course I installed it and it is even bigger than FFXV.

So I’ve accomplished having even less free space.

I was all set to start playing RDR2 but…it felt intimidating. It was another long game; I’ve started it twice but never come close to finishing it, and I figured I’d want to start fresh this time, too. Plus I keep thinking Rockstar will release a native Xbox Series X|S/Playstation 5 version.

Then I thought “Hey I have a Playstation 5, maybe I should play something over there!” My PS5 has a 4 GB external drive for old gen games, and of course the internal space for new gen games. Unlike the drive on the Xbox, the PS5 external is quiet so I’m not really driven to get rid of it. In the PS5 ecosystem it’s the internal storage that is really limiting; there’s less than 700 GB of usable space on the PS5. You can now add a second internal SSD but sadly I don’t have a couple hundred bucks laying around to devote to gaming right now. Anyway, it seemed to make the most sense to complete and remove a native PS5 game.

A while back the ‘next gen’ version of Control was a Playstation Plus freebie. I’d played through a part of it before drifting away. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t like games with confusing maps, and Control has a pretty confusing map. (Poster child for this dislike of mine: Star Wars Fallen Order…I bounced off that game mostly because the map was so infuriating.) But I also know Control isn’t a super long game, so I decided to re-learn how to play it. I didn’t even start over! *pats himself on the back*

It is going slowly as I re-learn all the skills my character has and, yes, refamiliarize myself with the layout of game’s world. I’ve been spending lots of time reading the collectibles and stuff, which have a wonderful vibe and are really entertaining. I’m also only playing it late at night after @partpurple goes upstairs so I can put on the headphones because there’re so many creepy whispers and sounds in this game; headphones really improve the experience. (Rule of thumb around our house: the chance of her needing to tell me something spikes the moment I put on headphones! 🙂 )

But wait, that’s not a character from Control at the top of this post? Who is she?

Honestly I don’t remember her name, but she’s from Final Fantasy XIII, one of the more maligned FF games. Turns out I still have Final Fantasy stuck in my craw. FF XIII came out on the Xbox 360 but is covered in Microsoft’s backwards compatibility program. AND it just got the new “FPS boost” treatment where old games get their framerates improved on the Xbox Series consoles. Plus auto-HDR. In all, some Xbox 360 games look really good on the Xbox Series X. I booted up FF XIII and turns out it is definitely one of those games. The next thing I knew, I was playing it.

I have an old save with 30 hours of playtime on it, and one of the things no one likes about FFXIII is how linear it is for the first big chunk of the game (kind of the inverse of FFXV’s problems). Because of this I didn’t want to cast those 30 hours aside. Instead I started a new game with the intent of playing until I’m reacquainted with the characters and the systems, then I’ll jump to my 30 hour save and the open world portion of the game. I’m thinking 5-10 hours on the new save, then we jump ahead to the 30 hour mark.

I wasn’t really planning any of this so I have no screenshots other than…that girl, who I snagged a screenie of just because I couldn’t believe how good an Xbox 360 game was looking. I know my brain knows her name; she’s one of the main characters. I just can’t surface it. All I can remember is Lightning (that’s not Lightning) and Snow.

Anyway so that’s the plan. Double dipping, playing FF XIII in the early evenings, and Control later at night. I’m sure eventually one or the other will grab my complete attention but at least for now I’m keeping myself entertained.

(I also bought the Final Fantasy I Pixel-Remaster on Steam and have been dabbling with that, but so far not playing it very seriously. For me it is old-school enough that it is best enjoyed 15 minutes at a time.)

In other news: I’m taking a break from social media for a while (it gets really depressing seeing how wonderful everyone else’s life seems to be while you’re struggling) and because of that I need an outlet for random yammering; you may see more frequent blog posts that have absolutely no point to them. As someone who works from home full time and rarely leaves the house, I need to talk to SOMEONE even if it is the faceless Internet!

Final Fantasy XIII – Revisiting an old non-favorite

When Final Fantasy XIII launched in 2009 I, along with many others, was pretty underwhelmed by it. My recollection of playing it was running down endless corridors fighting endless battles and finding the combat an odd mix of frustration and boredom.

More broadly I remember “the community” having 3 main issues with the game:
1) Way too linear
2) Too many cut scenes
3) Boring combat.

When Microsoft announced that Final Fantasy XIII was hitting their backwards compatibility system, my reaction was a shrug until I learned that it was also being enhanced for Xbox One X. I’m always curious about these titles. When it hit BC it was also really cheap, so I plunked down my $6.50 (I think that was the price) and gave it a whirl. People/sites with more patience than I have say the game runs at 1728p on the Xbox One X (vs 576p on the 360, 720P on PS3).

So it sure is pretty, but I’m surprised to find I’m finding it a lot more enjoyable than I did back in ye olde days, too. Mind you, the game play hasn’t changed but looking at that list of 3 problems I find they don’t bother me. Let’s take them one by one.

“Too many cut scenes” is a complaint I didn’t have back when the game launched and still don’t. I’m perfectly content to watch a nicely rendered cut scene.

The “way too linear” thing isn’t bothering me as much this time around and I think this is mostly due to expectation. I knew going in that I was going to be running down those corridors, as opposed to when I first bought the game and kept waiting for that bit to end. I’m told it DOES eventually end but I’m 13 or so hours into this new playthrough and it is still endless corridors.

Boring combat… this is the interesting one. It’s been 9 or so years but my vague recollection of my first attempt at playing FF XIII was that I fought the system the whole time, and now I’m leaning into it. You see, you don’t really play a character in XIII, it’s more like you play “Party Leader”. The game decides (at least for the first 13 hours!) who is going to be in your party and who you control, and while you can issue specific orders to the character you are controlling, you’re really meant to use the “auto-battle” most of the time. I never used the auto-battle because I didn’t want to give up that control, which resulted in battles being a little frantic and me picking the same skills over and over and over.

Instead of telling the character you’re controlling to cast a fireball, you’re supposed to be telling the party “Focus on attacking that baddie” or “You heal and you debuff” and so on. Once you glom onto playing this way it gets more interesting. (And of there there are still situations when you want to choose specific skills, but those cases should be the exception rather than the rule.)

Each character can level up several classes (in MMO terms) and most are familiar. Sentinel is a tank, Medic is the healer, Saboteur is a debuffer, and so on. When your setting up your party pre-battles, you put together “Paradigms” which basically means you set up groups of classes. So one paradigm might have 1 character as Medic and another as Sentinel. Another might have both characters as Ravagers (DPS) and a third would have one on debuff duty while the other is dishing out damage.

During the real-time battles, instead of focusing on the specifics of what the character you are controlling is doing, you concentrate on which paradigm should be active and what enemy to target. Characters change classes between rounds of combat. Really it becomes more a tactics game and an individual RPG combat game.

Here’s an example of the last minute of a fight against some trash mobs:

You see I mostly choose “auto-chain” for Vanille and Sazh I have no control over. In this battle I’m switching between the War & Peace paradigm (Vanille as Medi, Sazh as Commando) and the “Slash & Burn” paradigm (Vanille as Ravager, Sazh as Commando). By choosing auto-chain I let the AI decide specifically what skills Vanille will use, and it’ll base those decisions on what we know about the enemy. It basically makes the same choice you would most of the time anyway, so why not use it?

Anyway I don’t want to drone on forever about a game from 2009, but I’m surprised enough by how much I’m enjoying it that I felt the need to write a blog post about it. That alone is worth $6.50! And I mean, look at the detail on the critter character models that we were missing in 2009! (click to embiggen, as always)

Weekend recap

I realized it’s been a full week since my last post here at Dragonchasers. In an attempt to convince my 4 readers not to ditch this RSS feed, I figured I’d share what my gaming’s been looking like recently.

Life has been super-busy lately, leaving not too much time for gaming. While I lament that fact often, the truth is that with scarcity comes value. When I *do* get to relax and play a game, I’m really enjoying myself.

My experiment in EVE continues. I’m *still* on my trial account but plan on switching over to a paying account when it finally runs out. I’m still learning a ton of new things in every play session, as infrequent as they are. I’ve gotten sucked into that mindset that thinks it’s ok to pay $15/month to log into a game once or twice a week since my character is still learning even when I can’t play. That’s a bit of genius on the part of CCP! Yesterday I finally went through an entire tutorial mission sequence (yes, I’m very much still doing the bidding of the Civilian/Tutorial agents), culminating in a rather difficult assignment to take a particularly irksome pirate. I limped home with 15% hull integrity and my pulse racing. So now I’m hooked.

Last Tuesday I started playing FF XIII; this seems to be a divisive title. Some people love it, others hate it. My feelings toward the game have been following a sin wave. I loved it at first, then started getting down on it, but now the love is coming back. Once the spectacle of the graphics and sounds wore off I was a bit bored with gameplay, but finally I’m getting new options and have hit some challenging bits. And I’ve found this isn’t the kind of game I can sit down and play for marathon sessions. I like it the most when I play for about an hour (which means I’ll be playing it for a *long* time). Happily save points are frequent enough that I can do that. (Can you believe some folks are upset with the frequency of Save Points? Considering they function as Shops and Workbenches as well as places to save, that seems…well… dumb. If you don’t want to use one, just go past it.)

Lastly I continue to struggle with Echo Bazaar. Or rather, Echo Bazaar continues to struggle with me. This is a wonderfully written web-based grind-fest. The problem seems to be that it is a victim of its own success. The site is glacially slow most of the time, turning a delightful little diversion into an exercise in frustration. And yet I keep going back to it to see what new Opportunities have arisen. Someone needs to write a book based in Fallen London!

And that’s about all of my gaming for the past week! Sad, no?

But PAX East is coming the weekend after next and I’m taking off a few days around it. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up on my gaming then. As for catching up on my blogging? I’m not sure when I’ll find time for that! Thanks for sticking around, though!