Sunday, December 18, 2011
It's not really *fantasy*, it's more science fiction. The main protagonist has a Gunblade and a secondary protagonist has two pistols.
Basically, there are two big lands in the world: the floating, possibly fabricated utopia/dystopian world of Cocoon, and the planet below, Pulse. Each land is ruled by powerful God-Machines called fal'Cie (fal SEE). These machines provide power, food and water, and basically anything else required for daily life. They have agents/thralls called l'Cie (le SEE) to do their bidding. Each l'Cie has a brand marking them as "owned" by a particular fal'Cie, and they each have a purpose, or Focus, that they need to fulfill. If they succeed, they'll be turned to crystal until they are given a new Focus, which could be hundreds of years. If they reject their Focus, fail to complete it, or "go astray", they turn into aggressive monsters called Cieth (Seethe). Nobody wants to be a l'Cie, but it grows on some.
Pulse and Cocoon are at war. Artifacts from one land are feared in the other, because they might turn you into a l'Cie, and therefore an enemy of the state. It is believed that even coming into contact with a l'Cie will turn you into one. The plot starts when a Pulse fal'Cie is discovered in Cocoon, and this results in everyone from a particular town being quarantined and Purged. Our Heroes attempt to stop their friends and family from being Purged.
As settings go, it takes awhile to understand, but it's actually interesting when you get into it. I feel like there's some social commentary on the plot, but what do I know?
My pet peeve is that almost all the characters are named after nouns. Lightning, Snow, Hope, Vanille, Fang, and Sazh. Sazh is the only one with an actual name that isn't just a noun. Maybe this is some sort of weird translation decision, but I don't like it.
Lightning is the tough-as-nails pithy soldier woman archetype with a mysterious past. She opens up a bit as the plot goes on.
Snow seems to know he's in a JRPG and always wants to be "A Hero," and is filled with all sorts of wisdom as to how heroes ought to behave. His ego deflates as the plot goes on.
Hope is an indecisive, insecure, depressed, Momma's boy. His mom dies in the beginning, and Lightning fills that role (or the "Cool Aunt" role) by teaching him how to be stronger.
Vanille is the weird chick. She has an Australian accent and strange clothes. She's peppy/Kooky and makes a nice, if vaguely irritating foil to Hope and Sazh. Who KNOWS what her deal is?
Fang is kinda like Cid from FFVII. She uses a spear and kicks ass, and has kind of an "awww yeah, bitches!" attitude. She also has unusual clothes and an Australian accent. I wonder what that could mean?
Sazh is basically Barret from FFVII in that he's black and has guns. That's where the similarity ends. He's a Dad whose kid was turned into a Cocoon l'Cie, and was taken from him by the state so they could figure out what his Focus is to use him. He's generally level-headed, and makes a nice foil to Lightning's and Snow's reckless behavior. He's easily the most likeable character, and rarely says anything particularly eye-rolling.
It's very linear, but it's Final Fantasy so get over it. Play Skyrim if you want a nice open-world type game. The linear nature of the gameplay doesn't bother me.
I've been won over by the battle system with a few MAJOR criticisms. The fundamental idea is good though, and I think it's the best expression that Square Enix's venerable ATB system is likely to get. Battles aren't random anymore, and enemies don't drop money. There are only 3 stats to keep track of: HP, Strength, and Magic. They're all pretty self-explanatory. Characters get stronger by unlocking nodes in "The Crystarium" with "Crystarium Points" of which you get a certain number per battle. Nodes contain things like "+15 HP" or "+5 Strength", or various abilities you can use in combat.
Combat is simplified and yet more complicated. You can only control the party leader, and your supporting members all behave according to one of six roles. These roles are Commando (COM), Ravager (RAV), Synergist (SYN), Medic (MED), Sentinel (SEN), or Saboteur (SAB). Commandos are skilled at taking out weak enemies quickly and harassing big ones and use physical attacks or flavorless magic. Ravagers use elemental attacks or magic and help Commandos take down big foes. Synergists buff you. Saboteurs debuff the enemy. Sentinels are the tanks; they'll attract enemies to attack them and defend themselves while the other characters do whatever. Medics heal.
The cool thing about the combat is the Paradigm system. Each Paradigm is a particular configuration of roles. For example, RAV/RAV/COM is called Relentless Assault, and it's good at taking down bosses and tough enemies. SYN/SAB/MED is called Evened Odds, and you would use it if your enemies are too strong, your characters are too weak, and you're all about to die. RAV/RAV/SEN is called Mage's Tower or something, and you would use it if you need to take down a bunch of enemies one at a time while someone absorbs their hits. You have six Paradigm slots to configure as you will. Each character has three roles they can fulfill, and if you fight every encounter (there IS a finite number of them), you'll be able to fully level up every role (more or less). You can't use skills from one role in another. So if you're a Ravager, which is basically a Black Mage, you can't use Cure, a White Mage/Medic skill. You need to do a Paradigm Shift to access them. I used to hate this but I was won over since it requires actual strategy and forethought, which makes combat exciting.
Here's the absolutely infuriating part of the whole game though: it handholds you and forces you into doing particular things. You actually can't change your party members until you're 20 hours in, and you can't change the character you control until a couple hours after that. Don't worry though, the game's storyline forces you to divide your six people into three groups of two, eventually involving every possible combination, exposing you to every character. This is to prevent any character from going unused, but it's incredibly frustrating, extremely contrived, and makes the narrative unnatural and inorganic. There's no reason the storyline would go the way it does if it weren't for this decision by Square Enix.
This is the other bizarre thing: by the time they let you control any character as the leader, and have anyone you want in your party supporting you, they ALSO let any character learn any role, albeit at crippling expense. This is frustrating since they just spent 20 hours making you learn to work within the limits of the game, but what's worse is that since battles aren't random and have a finite number, you can't level grind as you would in a traditional Final Fantasy game. At least, this SEEMS to be true, except the storyline just took me to a "training ground" so I can "hone my skills." Hmm. Doesn't this sound like something that should have happened in, I don't know, a TUTORIAL? At the BEGINNING of the game?
In conclusion, I really want to like it. There's many things I *DO* like about it. But those two issues really ruin a LOT of the fun you COULD have been having.