I have a complicated relationship with RPGs. Originally soured by the experience of playing Ultima IV on an Apple IIc with no instruction manual or clue what my objective was [to be a good person, as it turned out. Wait, what?!], I was wooed back by the Phantasy Star series for the Genesis [Rune Walsh til I die, son!] and won over for good when these ads started airing in 1997.
Done. Like dinner. I borrowed a friend’s copy and didn’t come out of the basement for months. When my TV blew its tube I rigged my Playstation up to a 12-inch black and white TV so I didn’t have to stop playing. While I’m not as much of a fanboy as some [I’ve only played from VI on, and I still prefer the Chrono series], Final Fantasy was a staple of my gaming diet.
Strange thing happens as you get older, though. Well, lots of strange things happen, but one of them is that the time you can dedicate to a video game, especially at one sitting, decreases dramatically. Any fan of RPGs knows one of the highest orders of concern when discussing a new game is the time requirement. What are we talking here, twenty hours? Thirty? Child’s play, I spent nearly 60 level grinding on FFVIII, drawing Aura spells all over the southern parts of the map.
Sixty hours might not seem like much on the surface, but spread out over weeks and months, that’s a hell of a commitment. And it just wasn’t one I felt comfortable making at this age. I sold Fallout 3 after three hours of gameplay, simply because I could tell that game demanded way more than I was prepared to give it. I just didn’t have that kind of time. So despite my happiness that 2010’s thirteenth installment of the Final Fantasy series would be available on the 360, I didn’t think I’d be able to devote the time to get through it.
And then the reviews started coming in. Too linear. You just run in a straight line and fight monsters, then run some more. Boring characters. Gets good after hour 20. Not exactly the sort of ringing endorsements that’ll make you plunk down your seventy bucks.
But I had to get to it. I mean, this is Final Fantasy! This is what I do, I play Final Fantasy! When the price for used copies dropped to something I was comfortable with, I traded in my completed copy of LA Noire and spent three bucks to walk out with a copy of FF13.
So was it worth it? For three bucks, hell yeah it was.
Taking the game as a whole, giving the hyped up expectations to cool down, I think the press was way too hard on the game. To hear them tell it, the first two thirds of the game [the ones taking place on Coccoon, as opposed to the portions on Gran Pulse, which even people who hate the game agree are awesome] all take place in one hallway in the same building, which isn’t true at all. The story splits up the party into pairs fairly early on, which gave the game a kind of plot development I wasn’t used to from Final Fantasy. Some hardcore JRPGers have issues with that, since it means the game basically leads you around and you don’t get to do what you want.
Thing with me, though? Even with the most open-ended Final Fantasy game, I still did what the story demanded of me without much exploration, because that’s what I’m here for. I play Final Fantasy to lose myself in the story of the characters, regardless how melodramatic and silly and convoluted it may become [and this is a Japanese Role Playing Game, so count on the story to check all three of those boxes in short order]. I didn’t care if the game didn’t let me choose who was in my party. I was taken by the story of Lightning and Hope looking for meaning in their quest [despite Hope being the whiniest bitch in the history of whiny bitches]; I loved the odd couple affection that developed between Sazh and Vanille, and the guilt and tragedy that got layered onto their story the more I played the game. I don’t play these games to manage inventories or level grind [fun though that can be]. I play them to see things I can’t see anywhere else.
I’m not trying to say the game is perfect. Not by a long shot. It’s Final Fantasy, so the story stops making sense somewhere around hour four, and you can only listen to people talk about Santum fal’Cie, Pulse fal’Cie, l’Cie and Cie’th for so long before you start to go a little buggy [as the lady said after overhearing the dialogue of a tender cutscene, ‘This shit is ridiculous!]. Plus, Sazh has a little too much shuck and jive in his character, which is somewhat troubling to see in a rare FF character of colour. Though the Chocobo chick that lives in his afro is probably what made me buy the game in the first place. Eidolons [Summons] continue their tradition of being useless started in FF12, and I suspect the difficulty is about to ramp up on me at any minute in a cheap attempt to keep me playing.
But something about the game, all the familiar elements I remember about playing previous installments, conjure a very specific brand of nostalgia. Casting Fira, battling Behemoths and summoning Odin all feel like coming home, in a way.
And that might just have been the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written on this blog. Good for me.
The sequel for FFXIII, a rarity for the series, drops early next year.
BONUS!: If you’re like me, the first thing you noticed about the game is how utterly sublime the battle theme is, an earworm of graceful string notes that get stuck in your head for hours after you finish playing. The fine folks at Complex recently counted down a list of dope game music remixes. This lovely ditty was on the list, and has been bumping in my headphones the last twenty minutes. Nice.