Welcome to part 2! I’ve played a little more and I am confused. Confused and disappointed. Confused, disappointed and a little bored. Confused and…you get the idea. Basically, I’m conflicted.
The start of the newest Final Fantasy is a rough ride. You crash in some crazy train monorail then fight through waves of strange robot panthers and sentient cucumbers through environments that look like the Collector’s ship from Mass Effect 2. Many cut scenes are shown that explain little of what is going on or who the fantastically awful characters are that you will be spending your next 90 hours with.
Early impressions are bad. Although the game looks great and the design shines, the environments very quickly get bland and repetitive. Floating staircases and glowing disembodied walkways abound. The characters are highly detailed, but fall painfully into the uncanny valley. Facial expressions and emoting is full of “wrongness” that completely removes the player from the game.
The audio is a mix. Some of the music is soaring and beautiful at times but seems to poorly match the action with soaring crescendos accompanying mundane events. Composer Masashi Hamauzu has done a decent job, but its nowhere near as stirring or iconic as Nobuo Uematsu career defining work on VII. The scene of Aeris’s death was made emotive through the cinematography and, crucially, the score and there’s no sign that XIII’s soundtrack will allow the game to reach the same emotional climaxes. Indeed, the bleepy futuristic feel of the opening section is more Mass Effect than Final Fantasy.
I have thus far found no way to turn the speech to subtitles only, and this is a big problem. The dialogue is awful. Really, truly awful. Many reviewers have said that this is less of an issue as you become accustomed to it as you play, but that’s no excuse. Having the black character utter “Damn!” early on sets a low benchmark, but the addition of some truly toe curling child-like baby talk from the younger characters is painful. Much of the dialogue appears childish and melodramatic and this seems to be simply poor quality writing rather than a thematic choice.
The camera controls are awful, attempting to strike a balance between player liberation and dramatic panoramas and failing to deliver either. The horizontal movement is especially sluggish making it difficult to sneak up on enemies, which bizarrely seems to be a key gameplay component. The gameplay thus far is unreviewable. There isn’t any. I know that the complexity of the game increases as the game progresses, but four hours in all I have done is click the auto battle button a thousand times. Breaking a player in slowly is one thing, but this is incredible. I honestly can’t believe how little “game” there is. At one point there was a series of moving staircases controlled by a switch. My gamer brain anticipated a simple and formulaic puzzle, but instead my character pressed some buttons and lined up the stairs. I watched him solve a puzzle in a cut scene?!?
This has always been my main problem with Final Fantasy games. You play the dull parts, then the computer does the fun stuff in the cut scenes. It’s like playing a game with your older, meaner brother who will only let you play the rubbish bits of the game, then snatches the controller back when things get exciting. I wonder around fighting cucumbers and checking behind staircases to collect 10 gil like some beggar scrambling for change, then the computer takes control and jumps and swing on grappling hooks through the air while shooting a gun-sword.
Despite all these complaints, the game hasn’t broken me yet. It moves quickly and there’s a bizarre satisfaction is clearing an area out of enemies. Theres very little to slow your progress and the story is confusing and slow enough to make you want to find out what is happening. Theres also the promise that the “game” part of the game will kick in at some point and I’ll have something to do other than watch some ugly-pretty cut scenes.
I’m gonna push on further into this dark, scary cave of mystery we call JRPG’s. Wish me luck, I hope I make it back!
Part 3 coming soon!