Paradigm

I’m closing in on 16 hours of playtime in Final Fantasy XIII and I hate to say it, but I’m pretty disappointed with the game so far. There’s something amiss in FFXIII besides the horrible pacing, awkward cinematography, and convoluted and relatively uninteresting storyline. I haven’t quite put my finger on it yet but I think it has to do with the lack of control I have had, even 16 hours in.

My complaints with the pacing of FFXIII are multifold from the frequency of save points to the battle system, even the item and story progression. You’ll often encounter save points on both sides of a cut-scene and then go through an entire “level” without one unless there’s a boss battle. There’s no rhyme or reason to the placement for many of the save points, but they do serve a secondary purpose: upgrading your equipment and shopping the miscellaneous “eCommerce” stores.

This secondary purpose raises more issues with the game thanks to the extreme scarcity of materials used for upgrading equipment and gil that is provided early on. Well I should state that you’re given enough materials to upgrade a couple of items a number of times but that presents yet another problem. You’re given so many weapons and pieces of equipment that you can’t upgrade them all which adds insult to injury because if you’ve spent any time upgrading any of your early weapons they’re far more powerful than anything you receive later in the game.

Even the pacing at which you upgrade equipment is strange with some items only requiring 300-500 points to level up and others requiring 1000+. There’s even a multiplier mechanic thrown in for good measure that requires the heavy usage of junk materials to increase the bonus multiplier for materials consumed while upgrading. You can keep bumping the multiplier with junk to reach a 5x multiplier (I think) but it requires a metric ton of junk as the highest I’ve reached is a 3x multiplier. This multiplier isn’t permanent, however, as beneficial materials used will decrease the bonus multiplier.

Certain types of materials are better for upgrading different kinds of weapons and equipment but you’re not given an interface to make this process simple and easy to understand. You’re forced to pick a weapon or piece of equipment and then manually go through all of your materials one at a time to see if it’s beneficial or not. It’s all very convoluted and horribly executed and explained.

You are given the ability to buy some materials from the save point stores but you’re given so little gil in the beginning that I’m wondering why these stores are even provided. I have been hoarding all the gil I’ve received so far and I currently only have 5600 gil. Yes, that’s right … 5600 gil after 15 hours of play. ><;

I’m hopeful that once the game finally opens up that many of these issues will be resolved. I feel like I’ve been playing an extended prologue as I still have no control over my party as the storyline splits the six protagonists into groups of two with the occasional intersection of paths for a fully fledged three person party. You’re also not given control of whom you want to be the party leader, so occasionally you’ll be in control of a character with paradigms that you’re not comfortable with.

You can think of paradigms as your classic final fantasy jobs or roles, but with new and exciting names! Can you sense the sarcasm? For example, instead of white mage, you’re a medic. You’re given the ability to change your party’s paradigms on a whim to suit the situation by selecting one of (up to) six preset combinations, (these are given exciting names as well!) and for boss encounters you’ll be doing this frequently. Generally you’re given enough paradigm combinations to cover most situations, but you may want to double check and create a combination or two with more than one medic or all ravagers.

One reason you’ll need to switch paradigms is too build up a stagger meter to drastically increase damage once an enemy is staggered. This stagger meter is not always easy to fill as the stagger point will vary from enemy to enemy as well as the attacks effective at filling the meter. This is where you’ll need to be mindful of the paradigms active in your party. Ravagers are great at bursting the meter up but that build-up quickly decays without having a Commando attacking the same target to slow the stagger meter’s decay.

You don’t need a commando active at all times to prevent the meter decay as I’ve switched to all ravagers to build up the meter on boss encounters as their stagger point is usually difficult to reach. You just need to pay attention to the meter and execute paradigm shifts and abilities as necessary. Your party leader can queue up abilities which cost a varying amount of action points: single target attacks requires one point, area attacks require two points and summons require three (I think). Initially you start off with three action points per command sequence, but once that character unlocks their Eidolon (summon) you’re given four points.

You’re also given the option to manually queue up abilities, or hand the reigns over to the computer to make the decisions for you by selecting auto-battle. Usually auto-battle is decent, but you’ll probably want to dictate how you want to apply debuffs to the enemies if controlling a Saboteur. In one battle where I controlled Vanille auto-battle wanted to apply poison multiple times without decovering or defaithing.

Once the abilities are queued manually or by auto-battle the ATB meter will begin filling and the abilities will automatically execute one after another once the meter fills. While the meter fills you can press the triangle button or Y button to execute the commands in which their segments are filled and cancel the remaining queued commands. Why would I want to do that? Occasionally you’ll run into a situation where you need an attack NOW to prevent the stagger meter from completely depleting or relaunching an enemy before they have a chance to retaliate.

However, it is more likely that you may use this when you do not need an entire ATB meter to finish off an enemy. Because of all these mechanics to the battle engine and the speed in which everything plays out, battles have never felt twitchier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to frustration if you find yourself frantically trying to swap in a medic or two to prevent your party leader from dying; if your party leader dies, it is game over.

Overall the battle engine feels like a bastardized child of Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy X-2 which isn’t a bad thing. I just think that it could have benefitted from the action slowing down or pausing during command sequences to eliminate the frantic feel to a lot of the boss battles I’ve encountered. I’m sure some folks out there will love it, but because of the frantic nature of battle the engine lends itself to being more reactive than strategic. I’ve found combat really enjoyable so far but feel that if some of the frantic chaos was taken out, it would have been perfect.

Outside of the mechanics Final Fantasy XIII’s story and character development has been another disappointment for me. The entire first hour was extremely painful for me to get through as you’re tossed into the middle of an assault with a number of characters that are so incredibly stereotypical that you could care less what happens. Toss in the convoluted concepts of the fal’Cie and l’Cie and the battle between Cocoon and Pulse and you’re completely lost.

Things did pick up once I got through the fal’Cie interior and once the initial five protagonists were branded as l’Cie I was hooked. Unfortunately every time the story picked up, it tripped over itself and all momentum lost. There will be a building sense of urgency only to be ruined by short cut-scenes where the characters are casually or lethargically getting through the script. Sometimes they’ll have out-of-character moments leaving you scratching your head, but I think that has to deal more with Japanese storytelling style.

I’m having a hard time feeling compelled to keep going to the point where the game finally opens up. No game should ever demand so much of an investment from it’s players before becoming completely enjoyable. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m such a Final Fantasy fan-boy, I probably wouldn’t still be playing XIII as I’d rather be playing Mass Effect 2. Had the game not taken 5+ years in development and been released on PS2 it might have fared better in a pre-ME world.

Editor’s Note: I completely forgot to cover the Crystarium system which is how you “level” in Final Fantasy XIII. It is very similar to FFX’s sphere grid, just in 3d. No complaints here. I also forgot to cover Eidolons in detail, but I’ll save that for another update since I still haven’t grasped that system completely.