Monthly Archives: July 2012

Final Fantasy XIII Isn’t Bad Like You Think It Is

For our birthday a couple of weeks ago, we procured for ourselves several new video games, among which was a copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2. We started playing it and got about 5 hours in, but we were having so much fun that we decided to go back and play Final Fantasy XIII again before we got too far along.

We don’t typically like role playing games that much, what with the emphasis on overwrought story and all, but we like this game a lot. Some people don’t. Let’s look at some common criticisms of the game and why we don’t agree with them.

It’s too linear

This criticism holds that one of the bad things about Final Fantasy XIII is that it takes away the player’s agency by essentially forcing them down a series of tunnels. There’s no way to break from these tunnels until the latter half of the game, which keeps the player from exploring and inhibits them from having Fun. Here’s a quote from the Wired review:

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Final Fantasy XIII is relentlessly linear. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Many other RPGs are linear in the metaphorical sense, but the vast majority of this game is literally a straight line. Like the internet, it is a series of tubes in which you run forward, forward, ever forward, fighting battle after battle, breaking only to watch the lavish story sequences.

First of all, we would like to use that guy’s Internet. It sounds more exciting than this shitty one we use.

Secondly, unless you’re playing an open world game like Just Cause 2 or Grand Theft Auto IV, the game you’re playing is linear. Let’s take another Final Fantasy game, like Final Fantasy VII. The argument here would be that you get a great big world map to explore and lots of cities and people to discover at your leisure. The problem is that most of the time, there is a barrier keeping you from going any further than the game wants you to go to. These aren’t literal walls that you have to overcome, but come in the form of a big nasty snake in a sand pit you have to cross or a river that can only be forded with the help of a six wheeled automobile. If you haven’t talked to that one guy in town yet, the earthquake or whatever won’t happen. These strictures are not released until the latter third of the game, when you get an airship that can go anywhere at anytime and you can engage in a bunch of sidequests.

Fat Pipes

Final Fantasy XIII just hits you over the head with what it wants you to do by “forcing” you down these pipes. The only difference between this and earlier games is that the pipes are actually skinny and direct you where you need to go, rather than just being a big circle with one town and one exit. Like the older games, the world opens up in the final third and players can do optional sidequests at their leisure.

Skinny Pipes

Really, the critics seem to be complaining that the pipes are skinny rather than fat. Also, what the hell does “linear in a metaphorical sense” mean?

The game doesn’t let you grind

The leveling system in this game is based on a grid called the “Crystarium”, where you use experience to move your characters along a line to various nodes. When a node is reached, you level up. Also, those damn pipes again.

The problem people have is that the Crystarium only lets you level up to a certain point, after which you’ll have to complete a story-related event to open up another Crystarium level and become stronger.

One level of Lightning’s Crystarium

There are a few problems with this. The first is that grinding is something people complain about in RPGs all the time. The most boring thing in these games, people say, is that in order to progress, you have to spend hours killing the same monsters over and over again to level your characters up. By only allowing advancement to a certain point given the player’s story position, the need for grinding is essentially eliminated unless you’re going for some rare end-game items. Granted this is definitely a matter of taste, but if you’re complaining that the thing you were complaining about before has been fixed, then you’re just looking for a reason to complain.

The second problem is that, due to the amount of experience you need to upgrade as the game progresses versus the amount of experience monsters give you as you progress through the story, it would be impossible to grind in this game without a significant time commitment. Rather than letting you find this out through trial and error, the game just tells you you can’t level up anymore by not allowing you too. We can appreciate that.

Vanille is so cute.

The third problem is that the main method of strengthening your characters in this game is actually through leveling up your items as opposed to your characters, which runs counter to everything that RPGs have been teaching you since you were small. However, if you’re playing this game and you’re not enhancing your weapons, we won’t say you’re playing it wrong, but you’re certainly creating a lot of hardship for yourself.

The final problem is that this system just makes sense within the world of the game. Your characters just became magical people who can mess things up real bad, but since they just became magical people, it makes sense that they would get better at being magical people over time. This lends the game a much better sense of progression of in game time than other rpgs, where you could theoretically spend 50 hours leveling your characters up to an obscene, unnecessary level. You would then hit another story trigger and as far as your characters were concerned, only 15 minutes would have elapsed. That’s just ridiculous.

The story doesn’t make any sense and I don’t know what these dumb made up words mean

In a lengthy RPG like Final Fantasy XIII, an entire world has to be constructed to support the 40 hours of story. This world has to have it’s own lore that makes sense within the context of itself. We have seen two approaches to the presentation of this lore:

  1. Your character, who is usually a long time resident of the game’s world, has to ask basic cultural questions to everyone he meets. These cultural questions are things that, presumably, anyone in this society would already know the answers to because they live in the culture. When you assume control of your character, a lobotomy is performed on them to remove all cultural knowledge.
  2. Information is presented to you in some kind of encyclopedia. The game, assuming you’re keeping up with your homework, will use culture specific words that you won’t understand if you haven’t kept up with the reading.

Final Fantasy XIII opts for choice two. Do your reading and it will make sense. Whether you like the story or not is up to you, but whining about how you don’t know what’s going on is just silly.

The game plays itself

Final Fantasy XIII uses a battle system called the Paradigm System. You control the lead character out of a party of three and can either select specific actions for them to perform or pick “Auto-Battle,” in which case the game will select the options best suited for your opponent based on the weaknesses you’ve learned about from fighting them previously.

Paradigm generation screen

There is also the matter of controlling the party as a whole by making sure that everyone is using the Paradigm you want them to use. These are roles like Commando (physical damage), Ravager (magic damage), or Medic (healer). The Paradigms are what you should be spending most of your time controlling. Prioritizing your Paradigm configurations so that you can best heal, stagger your opponents, or buff is what you’re meant to spend all of your time doing in battles. That’s why the game picks commands for you. Since your character can perform as many as 5 actions in a given turn, there’s just no time to queue up all your actions without a monster eating you. Again, we don’t want to say you’re playing it wrong, but in this case, you really are. Concentrate on Paradigms, not your lead character’s specific actions. They’re designer to take care of themselves.

So there you go. We think Final Fantasy XIII might have gone off better if it hadn’t been released under the Final Fantasy banner. They could have called it Cocoon: Dumb World Forever or Don’t Ever Use Hope Because He’s Obnoxious. When you reach the thirteenth iteration of a series, people know what to expect and surprises upset them.

In closing, seriously, Hope is obnoxious:

Grant, we wouldn’t want to have a picnic with any of these people but Hope is just special with his misanthropic ability to complain. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said:

We Can’t Escape From No More Heroes

We’ve recently come into a copy of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle for the Wii. It is endlessly interesting in all of the ways that video games can be, but we’re not all of the way through it yet, so we can’t really say anything about it.

What we can say something about, however, is it’s predecessor, No More Heroes. No More Heroes was created by Grasshopper Manufacture, which is where Suda51 works. You might remember that Lollipop Chainsaw was made by this same company, and you might surmise that we’re on a bit of a Suda51 kick lately. To that, we say, “Good work, detective.”

Box art.

It’s easy to get on your preferred search engine and find a review of the game talking about how awful it is in spite of it’s genius. Other reviewers just think it’s cool because it’s weird. Lucky for you, we here at Feral Joystick have a gluttonous need for Punishment and Strange Things. We think this game is just off the chain. It’s simply impossible to dislike a game that has a character named Bad Girl.

Bad Girl is our favorite.

If we’re going to force it into a genre, No More Heroes is a third person action game. You are Travis Touchdown, a man in his twenties who lives in a hotel room with his cat. He’s so pathetic that he even watches porn and anime. Can you imagine? He has stumbled into lightsaber ownership and an assassin tournament, which gives us a reason for a video game.

Travis Touchdown

It is intensely absurd, self-aware, and most of all consistent in what it’s trying to do. No More Heroes is, to us at  least, about escapism. It approaches this by being as far from being escapism as a video game can be.

Typically, the purpose of a video game is Play. When a person engages with a video game, they are escaping from the gamespace of real life, where the stakes are very real and the rules are unfair and completely illogical. In a video game, there are no stakes that the player doesn’t make for themselves and everything is controlled by a carefully calculated algorithm. Video games are a reprieve from your dumb life.

No More Heroes subverts it’s escapist mission broadly in two ways:

  • It makes itself feel like work.
  • It constantly reminds you that it’s a thing you bought.

You might say it’s a double agent. Sorry, but we had to.

Now, let’s get specific.

It makes itself feel like work.

In order to get to any of the “play” parts of No More Heroes, the player has to earn large sums of money by going to a day job. Money is required to get stronger weapons, increase Travis’ abilities, and start Ranking missions. The Ranking missions are this games “levels” and presumable why you purchased the game in the first place. The player has these career options:

  • Coconut Collector
  • Lawn Mower
  • Garbage Collector
  • Gas Attendant
  • Minesweeper
  • Graffiti Cleaner
  • Cat Wrangler
  • Scorpion Exterminator
  • Stunt Man

These jobs all take the form of simple gameplay segments that last for about 3 minutes and can be repeated as many times as the player wants. Kick a coconut off the tree with the A button, pick it up with the A button, and walk it to the coconut vendor. That sort of thing. The player will be repeating jobs, because in order to earn enough money to enter the assassin ranking fights the player simply has to repeat jobs a few times. Needless to say, the jobs begin to be Repetitive and Boring, which are good adjectives for lots of jobs. The player even receives a grade at the end of each job and money based on their performance. That sounds like a review and a commission to us.

This is what a coconut on an unkicked tree looks like.

But why work a day job when you do assassination missions (different than assassin ranking fights) to earn money? Because the assassination missions amount to the same thing as the day jobs: easy, repetitive busywork. Travis will be placed in a location, usually a Parking Lot or Parking Garage, and have to kill so many enemies or a specific enemy within a time limit. Like the jobs, in order to have enough money to get anywhere, the player will have to repeat these assassination missions several times. So really, they are no different than the boring and mundane day jobs.

To add insult to injury, the player even has to commute to job locations. Travis has a motorcycle that he rides to work. That sounds Pretty Cool, except that the city of Santa Destroy is completely lifeless. All of the boxy cars have windows that you can’t see through. The few pedestrians you see can be pushed around wherever you want and absolutely do not acknowledge the player’s existence. For that matter, they don’t really acknowledge their own existence, just standing around like that. Santa Destroy has a loitering problem. If you want to repeat a job or assassin mission, you actually have to drive back to the job assignment location, restart the job, and then drive back to the job location. A cold, friendless commute to and from work? That sounds like driving to work in the suburbs of Chicago to us. At least we have NPR in real life.

Robert Siegel would be our favorite if it weren’t for Bad Girl.

The last three paragraphs have been lengthy, and they have only described getting to the fun parts of No More Heroes. The point is, you will spend much longer working to get to the fun parts than actually having fun. As a person who works/commutes 10 hours a day and lives two hours from his Wife, No More Heroes is beginning to mirror our own life more than we’re comfortable with. We can’t emphasize enough, the Ranking fights are excellentexcellentexcellent and they make all of the drudgery of the rest of game worth it. Make no mistake though: before you finish No More Heroes, the jobs will become drudgery and they will remind you of that spreadsheet you have to do tomorrow.

Now that we think about it, these jobs actually make you look forward to the killing even more. The sexual satisfaction that Travis and by association the player gets from kill is another blog post for another day.

It constantly reminds you that it’s a thing you bought.

No More Heroes is a video game. Video games are bought at the store.  By the transitive property, you bought No More Heroes at the store. No More Heroes would you like to remember that.

For one thing, it constantly breaks the fourth wall. And by constantly, we mean constantly. Take the game’s ending, for instance:

This type of thing happens all the time in this game. Delightful. You are a person playing a video game, and rather than “Immerse” you, it reminds you of it constantly.

The game breaks the fourth wall in another exciting way apart from the dialog. Watch a bit of this gameplay video:

Did you notice how the game constantly shows you a picture of the controller and how to move it to make the game go? We’re sorry, did you forget you were playing with your Wii? Here’s a picture of your controller to remind you.

We implied it in the last section, but this game has a Thing with money. By Thing, we mean it revolves around money. The game world is obsessed with taking it from you. Everything hinges on your ability to do a good job at work so you can save and buy the fun parts. It’s like playing a free to play Facebook game that’s actually good.

If you’re not watching a cut scene where Travis says he’s a video game character, you’re looking at a picture of your controller. If you’re not doing either of those things, you’re earning in game money so that you can start doing those things again. The player simply is not allowed to forget that they spent money to buy a physical object that is allowing them to enjoy this experience.

For the last time, we don’t want to pre-order anything except for a punch to your face. Jeepers katz.

And so No More Heroes uses these two principles to make sure you never “escape” from the real world. And that’s all we have to say about that. To go out, here’s a video of the fight/cutscenes against Bad Girl. Your life will be better for having watched it. SHE’S SO AWESOME.