Last time, I dug deep to write about the things in FFXIII that I like and hinted that next time I’d flip that around and write what I didn’t like. Here I go:

The story has failed to be compelling and is told poorly. Even FFX managed to have something compelling happen in the first hour — after which I spent the rest of the game wishing the main character would just disappear… But anyway, FFXIII has failed the first-hour story test I usually apply to RPGs. At the same time, it seems the game thinks it has so much story that it can’t even tell it all in the cutscenes! Square-Enix has somehow forgotten that it’s better to show something than to tell it, especially when that telling involves asking you to once again go to the menu and click through all of the bits that have been marked as “NEW”. But if I wasn’t doing that, I would have even less of a clue about what’s going on than I already do, as characters often drop names and terms without any explanation whatsoever.

The story telling is so bad that this post actually rags on it twice.

Press X to win. Like many games with battle systems that reward you based on your speed, FFXIII can get rather button-mashy. I’m told that later it becomes considerably less button-mashy and a little bit more like FFX, except that instead of switching characters in and out, you’re switching Paradigms. At this point I find myself mostly selecting the “Auto-Battle” option to quickly load commands in for me, possibly using the “Libra” technique every so often to make the automatically loaded commands more effective. Yawn.

Fleeing? What’s that? If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having triggered an encounter with monsters that are simply too powerful for your current level, you’re up shit creek without a paddle. Instead, you watch your party leader die, select “Retry”, and you’re taken back to just before you got shanked so you can (possibly) avoid the encounter. Unnecessarily tedious and frustrating.

Upgrades are on the Spher– I mean, Crystarium. This is one of the more subjective points. I didn’t like the Sphere Grid system in FFX and FFXIII’s Crystarium is pretty much the same thing, only prettier and with more grids (one for each role the character can be placed in). I’m convinced that the entire purpose of the story notes being provided in the datalog is to lure you back into the menu, at which point you realize that you have a whackload of unallocated CP that you could be using to upgrade your characters. Go too long without upgrading and you risk running head first into the “no fleeing allowed” problem. I don’t mind choosing abilities and specializations from trees, but do you really need me to hold X for two seconds while you light up the little rod that connects to the crystal that gives my character +15 Max HP? (This is another area where FFX managed to be less irritating.)

Remember those fireworks? No? Well, don’t worry. You’ll see them at least 10 more times in the first couple of hours. It gets old after a while. And only a few of those times is the scene paired with some kind of character development. The rest of the time they have apparently decided to toss you another fireworks scene just because. It’s like the orphanage in FFVIII except that the characters don’t suddenly come to the realization that they happened to be acquainted with each other the whole time and simply forgot because parts of their memory had been taken up by the spirits they were summoning/using the whole time — which, by the way, was completely retarded like pretty much the rest of FFVIII’s story.

I continue to play the game anyway and it’ll be interesting to see how my impression of it changes as I do. For the time being, my fanboy-ish dedication to playing it solely because it is a mainline Final Fantasy title is keeping me engaged with it, but if it doesn’t improve I’ll find myself switching back to Valkyria Chronicles very soon.