A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Final Fantasy

Discussion – New Content in Games

It’s an interesting thing, looking at how my interests in games have shifted away from console games to MMOs for my timesink. Here, let me explain…

Before there was Star Wars Galaxies, I got into Final Fantasy games and similar RPGs on the console. I got my first console that was all mine back in 2001 when a classmate got a PS2 for Christmas and just gave me his PSX and his copy of Final Fantasy VIII. From then until 2003, I played a lot of RPGs and even after Galaxies came out, I still played console games a lot. It was only until this past year that my MMO playing has superseded the console game playing. I think I have an explanation for this and I think it’s related to the constant release of new material.

When it’s a game I’ve never played, the new material is just on the next screen, but after a while, even that feels a bit stale. Star Trek Online just wrapped up another Featured Episode and each component of it was new and fresh and different. Lord of the Rings Online has these new zones that I’ve never been to and they have new and different creatures with new and different quests.

I’m not sure that this is entirely the case though. As I no longer have regular access to a 360, I no longer have a real desire to play it and the associated games (gah, I still want to play and beat Lost Odyssey and Final Fantasy XIII). I’ve been tempted to go back and replay Final Fantasy XII because I genuinely enjoyed it, but I’ve got more work to do in LOTRO and there’s more awesome to experience in STO.

I suppose the constant release of new content is one of the many reasons that has shifted my attention away from console gaming. I’m sure there’s a few other reasons floating around somewhere. Having friends playing too is a good one.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. I wasn’t exceptionally motivated to write today, but I did come up with this article on the fly.

P.P.S. “The times they are a-changin’.”  – Bob Dylan

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Discussion – Games that feel like work

In all the time I’ve been playing games I’ve come across a few that feel more like work than play. It’s a dawning realization, the moment you recognize that you’re doing something that feels way more laborious than is fun. We each have our own thresholds here, so your mileage may vary.

One such game for me is Disgaea and all Disgaea-style games by Nippon Ichi/Atlus/whatever. The game is sound, the mechanics are good, the story is fun and interesting, but it’s not enough to keep me playing against the feeling that I’m spending a lot of time grinding. Maybe it’s just me being a silly completionist, but I like the concept behind leveling items… unfortunately it’s a ton of work… too much work for me.

I suppose I feel like I should take advantage of such a thing and that’s why I’ve stalled out in playing the game. I’m not entirely sure. After a fashion though, some games just stop being fun.

A classic example of this from my own experience: I used to play Ragnarok Online (on one of the many free servers out there). RO is a massive experience grinding game with little to no quests available, further, loot drops and experience gain in the pay-to-play game is extremely low (let’s just say that the reason I played on a free server aside from the free-ness is that the experience gains were typically 10x the original and the loot dropping was typically 5x higher). It was through RO that I realized I have a lack of patience for long experience grinds. That’s not really the point of this example… there’s an item called the Fin Helm. It’s a lower face item slot that adds to your defense and typically only Knights and Crusaders can wear it (Swordsmen too I think, but don’t quote me on that). So, I set out to find one for myself (because there was no way I could afford the 10 million zeny it would have cost me to buy it off another player). Well, there’s only ONE monster that drops this Fin Helm. That monster spawns reliably in ONE location. I spent an entire month (I think it was June several years ago) doing pretty much nothing but killing this one creature in this one location. I maxed out my level in Crusader while there and nearly maxed out my base level. I never found the item. The BASE drop chance of the Fin Helm is .01%. On a 5x drop server that value increases to .05%. In a MONTH of hunting I NEVER found it. I was therefore forbidden (by friends) from searching for things that were so rare and since then my stress levels during games have been rather manageable.

Taking this lesson to heart, I stopped my search for the Jedi Holocrons that grant the Jedi Waistpack in Star Wars Galaxies and even changed my profession from Jedi to Commando. I don’t bother hunting for exceptionally rare loot (and sometimes even just rare loot) that drops from monsters in games any more. I don’t really see the point in stressing myself out over a random chance drop and I’d rather do other more productive things in the game. Essentially, if I can’t find it easily enough, I’ll move on with only slight regrets that eventually go away.

More or less, I’m not concerned with getting rich or having the best equipment or the highest level any more. I just want to play the game, to experience the story and the mechanics and to come away with satisfaction. If a game feels like work, I’m robbed of that satisfaction and I’m left just feeling tired. I suppose this is why I take a break from Final Fantasy games after playing them regularly for a while. The game isn’t going anywhere and I can always pick it up later.

One more supposition and I’ll end this: I suppose I’m just not a fan of needless effort. Don’t get me wrong, if I can get to the highest level and rack up the most cash and get my hands on the best gear for my characters, I will, but if I have to go millions of miles out of my way to do so and if I get frustrated and flustered while doing so, is that worth it? Isn’t the point of a game to have fun? To have a good time and enjoy myself? So, that’s what I do now. If I seem to always take the easy way out in games, well, that’s because I believe the stress just isn’t worth it. It’s part of knowing myself and looking deeper into why certain things make me happy or unhappy. No sense in stressing myself out over just a game, right?

Until next time, keep cool.

– Elorfin

P.S. “We shall never be at peace with ourselves until we yield with glad supremacy to our higher faculties.” – Joseph Cook


What makes a great game? – Part 10: Familiarity and Belonging

Today’s discussion is about a sense of familiarity and belonging in games. This is something of an extension on the discussion of a sense of home in games, but it’s a more general sensation. Here, let me try to give you a few examples of what I’m going for:

Reading a book you’ve read before

Playing an old game you used to play as a child

Wandering a museum you’ve been to before

Hanging out with old friends

Visiting with family

Hearing a song you used to listen to all the time

These all invoke a sensation of the familiar. A sense of belonging in that time, place, whatever. Some games draw people in because of the inherent familiarity of the surroundings. Some games keep you playing because of a genuine sense of belonging there.

This topic basically struck me as soon as I started playing the Lord of the Rings Online Free-to-Play Beta a few months back. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings once in my life, but it’s something that sticks with you. I’ve read The Hobbit several times though (it’s way shorter and mostly a travelogue). Anyways, when I first set foot into the LOTRO version of Middle-Earth, I felt that I was already familiar with the world. As I made my way through the Bree-Lands, I managed to orient myself and discover those locations in the books that I wanted to see for myself. I’ve been to Weathertop, I’ve wandered the Shire, and I walked some of the same paths that the original 13 dwarves walked with a confused hobbit and a wizard of implied repute. I battled goblins and barrow-wights as I made my way through the world that Tolkien imagined and I never felt that anything was amiss in that.

Another game that gave me the same sense from day one was Star Wars Galaxies. I already knew so much about so many things in the Galaxy Far, Far Away that when I set foot into Galaxies and was shown the waterfalls of Theed or the Lesser Sarlacc of Dathomir, I was amazed. I recall spending several months just as a tourist (of course, I had a 56k modem when I started playing, so that’s all I really could do). I was so familiar with the things in Galaxies and to this day I still say I belong there. Elorfin Thendt, Commando, at your service.

Something that definitely contributes to the sense of belonging in games (especially online ones) is the guild. It may be called by different names (kinships in LOTRO, fleets in Star Trek Online), but guilds are lasting groups of player avatars that allow for a much easier association between players. It encourages trade and group play amongst the guild members and it gives the players something to belong to and work for that is larger than themselves. In Galaxies, I belong to the guild Remnants of Mandalore and whenever I log in (which is less frequently than I’d like) I’m always welcome. I’ve been a member of ROM for almost two years now and I’ve never had a chance to regret it.

I suppose it’s a draw for a game to be set in a familiar world. Where the player is dropped into an existing world that they’ve experienced somehow, somewhere before. I was excited when I heard about Star Trek Online coming out. I wasn’t so much about Tabula Rasa (rest in peace). I’m looking forward to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Stargate Worlds, but not so much The Exiled Realm of Arborea (TERA) or Black Prophecy. That’s not to say I won’t give the ones I’m not exactly looking forward to a try later on, but I suppose I’m just a big fan of the stuff I know already. Games that players get to participate in a familiar setting tend to do a bit better than original settings with no connections to other things. I’ve played several games that define standalone (pretty much every Final Fantasy game fits there, with the only real connection being the title of the game and maybe some of the connected themes like crystals or a guy named Cid who makes airships or a boss named Gilgamesh) but I’ve also played a lot of franchise games. Of course, belonging to a franchise doesn’t mean the game is going to be good (most Star Trek games are way too difficult to be any fun and some Star Wars games are just terrible) but at least they have something going for them to get more copies out to more players.

Still, like picking up a favorite book or listening to a song I used to overplay, some games just have that sense of familiarity and belonging that I love. A warm sensation that says I should stick around a while, pull up a chair, have a drink, and go on another adventure. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

I recently picked up an old educational game I used to play as a kid: Super Solver’s Midnight Rescue. Holy crap it’s an educational game with playability! Playing it now, I’m fascinated with how simple yet how captivating the game was. It is a SMART game and it is a FUN game even today. I remembered how to play right away and I remembered what I was doing. It was fantastic. I picked this game up after not playing it for something like 20+ years and I did pretty darn well.

Anyways, I’m going to leave you there. I’m intrigued by this Black Prophecy game (plus the trailer they have is cool), so I’m going to check that out (I registered for the Closed Beta while writing this). It’s probably an EVE Online clone, but I’m still interested in seeing what they’ve got going on.

Until next time, cultivate that sense of familiarity!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Familiarity is the thing — the sense of belonging. It grants exemption from all evil, all shabbiness” – E.B. White


Discussion: Death Penalties in Games

Okay class, today’s discussion is covering the penalty associated with getting whacked, slain, or otherwise killed in games. Dying or death is an issue in a majority of games and a great deal of mechanics center on preventing it from happening. There are a lot of games where there’s no character that dies, so there’s a moment of defeat that the player has to struggle to stay away from like in Tetris or Bejeweled or any number of today’s “casual” games. I’m mostly going to talk about games that have a character that can be killed or subjected to some kind of incapacitation in this discussion.

This is sort of the flip side of the coin from making progress in a game. I mean, what would stop you from making progress at all? Yeah, being dead can kind of cause a bit of a problem there. Just a bit. Anyways, games tend to throw a roadblock in front of the player and if the player fails to pass that obstacle, there are penalties like death to deal with. Let’s pick out a few examples of this.

Many platformer games (Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., etc.) have the controlled character with a few hit points and when these two or three run out, you’ve got to restart at your last checkpoint or at the beginning of the stage. Some games had save points (Super Metroid), but those are essentially the same as checkpoints and some games let you have a lot more than two or three hit points (again, Super Metroid is a great example of this), but it’s essentially the same. If you run out of hit points, you are killed or defeated and you either reload or respawn or retreat (depending on the terminology the game is using) to the last safe point you found. The object is to go for as long as you can without being forced back to that checkpoint by death and the game sometimes gives you little items to help stave off this penalty for as long as you can. In Super Metroid (I suppose I’m going to keep using this as an example) you get more energy canisters that increase the overall amount of health you have, you get special suits of armor to help in resisting particular types of damage, you’re given new weapons to help with defeating enemies faster and more efficiently and you’re given new ways to prevent falling down pits or to keep you from getting stuck in certain areas. In a simpler example, in Super Mario Bros., Mario (or Luigi) is given mushrooms to make him large, enabling him to jump higher, break blocks, and take one more hit before falling. If you grab something like a fireflower, you are given the ability to shoot fireballs and you can take another hit before dying.

The above mechanism is constant through a lot of game genres. Essentially, it’s the same for platformers, role playing games, first person shooters, even racing games. Let’s take a look at a Final Fantasy game. Here you have three or four party members, each with their own abilities and so forth. If your party dies, you’re kicked back to the load screen so you can pick which save you’d like to start from. If you die in a Final Fantasy game, you lose time spent towards progressing the storyline and the development of your characters. Overall, the penalty for death in a lot of these games is lost time, lost investment. I recall playing Final Fantasy XII through the Necrohol of Nabudis and I was trying to get to the monster called Chaos (he becomes a summon, but he’s completely optional). So, here I am, entertaining the completionist part of myself, and I spend a long time trying to get to this one point. Mind, the last save point is literally a 20 minute walk away at this point and the bad guys will respawn in the dungeon, so I’d have to fight through them again on my way back after saving. I got killed in the fight with Chaos when I ALMOST had him. I dropped the controller, shut off the game, and didn’t touch it again for a year and a half. Mind, I didn’t play because I got killed in an optional area. Yeah, I’m a sore loser sometimes. I eventually went back and just beat the game, but every now and again I get tempted to play it some more.

With the introduction of online role playing games, death penalties are something of a point of contention amongst players. Here’s a few examples of the differences between games.

In D&D Online, the death penalty consists of 1) damage to all of your equipment that you need to repair for a small cost per item and 2) reduced experience payout for the quest you’re doing. That and you kind of need to catch back up to your party if you accidentally resurrect back at a tavern or something.

In Star Trek Online, there’s  not really much of a death penalty at all. If you’re in space, your ship blows up and you’re forced to respawn back at the nearest respawn point that you flew by (these respawn points are not obvious and are often the beginning of the zone where you entered). If you’re on the ground, you’re knocked out and you can be brought back by a teammate or an NPC crew member if they’re still alive. No tangible penalties unless you increase the difficulty setting for the missions you’re running. Then you need to deal with injuries on your captain and injuries on your ship which can be removed if you have minor/major/critical regenerators or components in your inventory.

In Star Wars Galaxies, they changed the death penalties a bit either when the Combat Upgrade hit or the New Game Enhancement, I forget which. The original death penalty was that your equipment would take damage (you could insure your equipment so instead of taking 5% damage, I think, they took 1% damage) and you had to “clone” (basically respawn) where you had stored your cloning information (saved your character). Also, you had wound points to deal with in each of your three damage taking statistics: health, action, and mind (referred to as HAM). You had to go to a medic or a doctor in a medical facility to heal the health and action wound points and to an entertainer in a cantina to heal the mind wound points. Wound points essentially reduced the maximum amount of health, action, or mind your character could have until they were removed. The more deaths you experienced (and in some cases, the more fighting you did), the more wound points you would have in each category until one hit could probably kill you. They later removed the wound point system, the mind bar, and the deterioration of your equipment. These days if you die you get a 5 minute death penalty status that makes it so you have only a percentage of your maximum health and action (making it really easy to die again). Getting rid of this status is possible in three ways: have an entertainer remove it, pay the medical droid in the cloning facility to remove it, or wait the 5 minutes for the penalty to go away on its own. The cost of paying the medical droid scales with your level, but does not exceed 5000 credits at level 90. It’s mostly a minor inconvenience and many players just ignore it and do what’s called traveling by cloning. Essentially, you can now clone anywhere on a planet regardless of where you saved your cloning information. You can still only go from planet to planet if you’ve saved yourself at a cloning facility on another planet from the one you’re on, but now if you’re at the top of a planet and you want to get to the bottom and there’s a cloning facility there, instead of driving or walking the 12 kilometers, you just die and BAM, you’re there. It works pretty well if you can’t find a place flat enough to call your Instant Travel Vehicle.

Like I said up above in the intro, preventing death is what a lot of games focus on. In Star Trek Online, my captain can focus in shield skills that keep his shields regenerating in combat or that allow me to quickly heal my hull as it takes damage. In D&D Online, I can wear armor to help prevent getting hit to begin with or I can carry around healing items that fix the damage that I take from getting hit. In Star Wars Galaxies, every character comes with his own personal healing skill that gets better as they gain levels (Commandos still need Medics to back them up though… 4500 from a heal every once in a while is NOT enough).

I mentioned that this topic is a point of contention amongst players and it really is. I’ve read long forum threads decrying or supporting the use of a death penalty in games and I recall a great deal of complaining being made by crafters in Star Wars Galaxies that the removal of the damage to items from the game has made it harder to sell stuff to players (why buy a new pair of shoes when the old pair never wears out?). It’s definitely changed the economical standpoint in the game, but players are still buying stuff like crazy and even more now because you can have an appearance (essentially an overlay costume) that covers your actual equipment. I can almost guarantee that if you look for it, you might find a forum thread somewhere discussing the merits of harsher or softer death penalties in just about any online game. The fact remains that the players have a skewed perspective: some are there to have a good time and others are there for a challenge. For some, those are both the same thing. It’s up to the developer to determine at what point is the game killing players so frequently that it’s just not fun any more. Case in point, I find the Crystalline Entity in Star Trek Online to be way too hard a fight to be worth fighting. I tried it once and died in a single hit three times in a row and I vowed to never do it again. Some of my friends have come to the same conclusion. It’s not worth the effort and time to attempt to do that fight correctly for us.

Rare is the game with a “hardcore” setting where if you die, you can’t play that character any more. I only know of two games that have that… Diablo II and Hellgate: London. That’s a box I never check. I get kind of attached to my characters.

Ah, speaking of perma-death (that’s the “technical” term for it), the tabletop game of Dungeons & Dragons is really where you grasp the concept that your character, that extension of you and a major investment of your time, could die quite easily. It’s a precarious balance between making sure you can do damage to enemies and keep them from hitting you long enough for your party healer to get to you to fix whatever ails you. We had a game the other day where one of our party was hit all the way down to one hit point and she just shrugged and we were all confused. Apparently, she had armor that could heal her all the way back up to full if she ever dropped below one hit point. She was laughingly upset when the fight ended and she still had one hit point, so we all offered to crack her character upside the head to trigger the heal.

Games tend to trivialize it, but no one wants to have to start all over every time they die. It’s the human condition to wonder about death and those who play games happen to deal with it rather frequently without much thought. It’s a rather morbid topic, but addressed in a wide variety of manners by our games and our religions. I think it would be nice if we had a save and load function in our lives or maybe a few extra coins for continues.

Until next time, don’t forget to save often (if you can) and pay attention to your hit points!

– Elorfin

P.S. “I have no terror of Death. It is the coming of Death that terrifies me.” – Oscar Wilde

P.P.S. I really like this: While on a journey, Chuang Tzu found a skull, dry and parched. With sorrow he questioned and lamented the end to all things. When he finished speaking, he dragged the skull over, and using it as a pillow, lay down to sleep. In the night, the skull came to his dreams and said, “You are a fool to rejoice in the entanglements of life.” Chuang Tzu couldn’t believe this and asked “If I could return you to your life, you would want that, wouldn’t you?” Stunned by Chuang Tzu’s foolishness the skull replied, “How do you know that it is bad to be dead?” – Zhuangzi


Recent absence

My apologies for not writing anything recently. I’ve been wrapped up in games and this kind of took a back seat.

I wish I could talk about what I’ve been playing a lot this past week or two, but I signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I can’t give my impressions until later. In the meantime, I’ve been playing D&D Online and I’ve got a game of Civilization IV going with a friend of mine.

I’ve got an article idea bouncing around in my head regarding the player and their familiarity and sense of belonging in the game world. This is something very relevant today, especially in light of the vast numbers of multiplayer online games and the persistent worlds that many of them have. I find myself fascinated by games that have to do with existing mythologies or well developed environments. Examples of these are the Star Wars universe, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the Forgotten Realms, and Greek Mythology/Homerian Epics. Like I said, it’s an idea, and I hope I can figure out how best to explain it soon.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to secure a ticket to the Distant Worlds Final Fantasy concert. If you’ve read my article about music in games and my article about immersion and the part where I discuss the role music plays, then you’d understand that I’m a huge fan of game music. I especially like it when it’s performed in concert halls and the like. I guess it’s a way of realizing that the music that I grew up with is now recognized as important. Can’t help but feel a bit proud that I got in on the ground floor.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. George Washington fought dragons. Spread it around!


Septerra Core – Impression

Welcome to the world of Septerra Core. This planet is strangely built to allow for seven world layers that orbit a core. Every hundred years or so, these layers align properly to allow a beam of light to strike the core. When this happens, and if people are paying attention, someone can go to the core and receive the Gift of the Creator: the Kingdom of Heaven.

This game was whipped up by Valkyrie Studios and distributed by (the now defunct) Interplay Productions (responsible for Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, and a variety of other RPGs for the computer gaming market). I’d purchased Septerra Core a long time ago as part of a collection of games and I actually purchased the collection because I was interested specifically in this game. An interesting note is that you can still find the Septerra Core website.

Anyways, down to the mechanics of the game. I really enjoyed the turn-based combat (kind of like the Active Time Battle system in older Final Fantasy games) where each character had a different speed and took different amounts of time to charge up. You’re given a three part bar (per person) and each part of the bar represents a different level of power. The first segment represents some of the weaker attacks available to that character, the second segment represents more powerful attacks, and the third segment is where you’re charged up enough to perform the most powerful attacks that character has at their disposal.

Each character also contributes to the party’s available “core power” or effectively a mana pool that the whole party can tap into to perform special attacks. For example, Maya gets access to a piece of equipment early in the game called “Grenade” which allows her to perform an area attack upon enemies. Using such an attack consumes a small amount of the party’s available core energy. It’s the blue bar at the top of the screen during combat. Speaking of characters, there are nine people you can have in your group, of which you use three at a time and Maya (the blue haired girl) is always in your party (except in rare circumstances). The other characters are necessary to solve certain puzzles and everyone gains experience at the same time, they just level at a different rate. For example, Selena the Chosen swordmistress ended the game at level 62 or something whereas Led, the army mechanic daughter of a general, was level 28 or so. They had the same amount of experience points, just different levels. I thought that was interesting. The characters are: Maya (uses a gun), Grubb (mechanic who uses a staff), Runner (robot dog built by Grubb), Corgan (Wind City guardsman), Selena (Chosen swordmistress in love with the main bad guy), Led (uses a big wrench), Lobo (former cyborg soldier of Jinam), Araym (bounty hunter demolitions expert), and Badu (Underlost warrior who wields dual knives).

Further, the game has a magic system built around tarot cards. These tarot cards are specific to the world of Septerra Core in that they use the legendary figures of Marduk, Gemma, Kyra, and Dogos to perform special things. In fact, you can combine cards with your three characters and perform special spells and so forth. From giving your whole party protection from damage to casting massive fire strikes, the card combinations are versatile enough to provide a wide variety of combat options. You can even summon the famous Marduk to bring a beating to your enemies. Pretty cool.

The game is built like an adventure game (Monkey Island is a great example) with a very capable and intense combat engine. There are a great number of key items in the game that allow you to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles. Something that kind of annoyed me closer to the end of the game were the massive mazes that lead to only a key that would allow me to access the next maze that led to another key that led me to another maze… and so on.

I originally set out to beat it several years back and made considerable progress, however I hit one dungeon (the catacombs full of undead on World Shell 3) that just pissed me off so much with all the switches and I got lost and so I just put the game away and forgot about it for a while. This time, I was so into getting the story done (finally) that I cheated. Yup, I cheated to beat this game in a reasonable amount of time (still took over a week to beat). Lots of walking can’t be avoided, but the fights would last only a few seconds (if I felt like not fighting). Oh, yeah… lots of fighting in this game since everything respawns when you leave a screen. That can be rather annoying, but you can run around some fights like in Chrono Trigger.

Overall, I enjoyed the game, but I’m not a big fan of switch mazes (mazes that rely on switches to change the layout). I mean, they’re cool, but when they get really big (like they do later in the game), well, I’m stuck staring at a map for 10 minutes trying to figure out where I need to go and how to get there. Oh! There’s not much of a tutorial for this 11 year old game, so I didn’t realize that TAB pulled up the area map until about halfway through the game! *laughs*

The graphics have DEFINITELY held up and the game still works on a Vista laptop with a minimum of fuss. It even alt-tabs flawlessly. The cutscenes hold up pretty well too. I was rather dissatisfied with the ending because I felt it was too short for the length of the game. Oh well. I appreciated in the credits where they say that if they left anyone out, it was an accident and they’d buy them a pony to make it all better. Ah the good old days, back when game developers had a sense of humor and did it for the love of creation instead of a love of money.

Anyways, I finished this game today (after playing it off and on for a week with a walkthrough and cheat codes) and felt that it warranted a place here. It’s definitely a unique game and I challenge anyone to find a combat system or storyline like it.

Until next time, remember that the full body tattoos of Kyra are temporary and will go away in a few weeks. I’m looking at you Maya.

– Elorfin

P.S. All screen captures courtesy of the Valkyrie Studios Septerra Core website I linked above. More screens can be found there.


Final Fantasy XIII – In Progress, Part 1

Pardon me while I gush about the latest installment in the Final Fantasy series…

Dear God, this is an incredible game! I’m really enjoying the experience overall and I have complained very little and in only the most appropriate points (typically when I die, I grumble, but that’s not uncommon).

I love the cutscenes, the character development, the graphics, the epic music, the character designs (stereotypically Japanese RPG style, but I’m cool with it), the battle system, and how much I’m actually connecting with the characters. I can sympathize with Snow, I understand what Hope’s going through, I feel terrible for the situation that Sazh is in and I’m rooting for him (he’s like Lando Calrissian and I love that… and yes, that’s an awesome and adorable chocobo chick in his ‘fro), I think Fang is a really cool character, Vanille is a much deeper character than I thought she was initially (and that was a very pleasant surprise) and Lightning is my favorite heroine in a video game (because she’s freaking cool!).

Combat flows smoothly with an “Auto” function that is far smarter than I originally expected. What happens is it collects information as the combat proceeds and if certain attacks are resisted or more damaging, it adjusts accordingly. The auto-hinder function for the Saboteur combat role doesn’t keep trying to poison something that’s immune to poison. The auto-heal function defaults to healing the most critical of targets. The friendly AI is actually clever in this game (it was in FFXII as well).

The game is linear thus far (I’m in chapter 10 after 23 hours and 20 minutes of game play and 108 saves) but it’s starting to open up now that I can finally pick my own party members out of the six available.

I’m LOVING my experience. For the record, I’m playing the XBox 360 version of the game on a high-def tv at a friend’s house with surround sound and a comfy chair. Many thanks to one of the best damn friends in the world for putting up with my gaming in his basement!

The strategy guide is very well written (which I appreciate after the FFVII PC strategy guide burned me oh so bad back then). Yes, I use a strategy guide, but only because I’m mildly obsessive about getting all the treasure as I go… and most FF games are devoid of a New Game + mode (which keeps me coming back to Chrono Trigger) so I’d like to be a near-completionist the first time through. The guide keeps the spoilers to a bare minimum with world class advice (like which Paradigms I should prepare so that I don’t get owned in fights) and when I should bother to grind CP (effectively experience points) so that I get the biggest bang for my time spent. I appreciate all the work that went into such a tome and I look forward to plumbing its depths as I approach the conclusion of the game.

Overall, I’m thrilled to be finally playing Final Fantasy XIII. 13’s my lucky number and this has definitely been an amazing ride for the last week. It plays like an interactive movie and the music combined with the story keeps me emotionally invested in the characters plight. I WANT to help them with their task and THAT is what a good role playing game is all about: a desire to BE invested.

To all my close friends who’ve been suffering this last week thanks to my obsession with this shiny new game: thanks for putting up with me, but according to the guide, I’m definitely not done yet! Hang in there folks!

I’ll resume the regularly scheduled programming this week sometime (I hope). Don’t forget to be awesome!

– Elorfin