Dear Diary: 18th March 2010
Final Fantasy XIII needs to give me a little more breathing room.
Following the serious concerns that I've had with Final Fantasy XIII's combat system over the last week, I was hoping to be able to spend some quality time on the battlefields of Cocoon to see whether my initial feelings were justified outside of the first few hours of the game. Unfortunately, this aspiration was scuppered shortly after getting back into the action as Square Enix continued to bombard me with new character development systems before I've had a chance to consolidate my thoughts about the existing procedures.
The Crystarium is holding me back from reaching my full potential.
First on up on the menu was the Crystarium, Final Fantasy XIII's take on attribute and skill management for my merry band of characters. Consuming the mechanics of the system proved to be a relatively straightforward affair, primarily due to the similarities it shares with the Sphere Grid from the tenth instalment of the franchise. Regardless of Final Fantasy X's failures, of which there were many, I was a huge fan of the Sphere Grid because it gave true freedom over the direction characters developed in. Want to make Auron your primary healer and Yuna the main physical damage dealer? Go right ahead. Sure it took some serious dedication and a lot of time, but the opinion was there.
Alas, while the two systems may look and function in the same way, the Crystarium allows the same level of freedom as a straitjacket permits. Much like the game world, the various attribute and skill upgrades are connected by a predominantly linear procession of nodes and using the system rarely involves anything more than holding down X until your accrued CP has been drained. I can see that the level of choice might expand a bit more further down the line when characters have access to more Paradigm Shift roles, but even then I'm concerned the principal decision will be which tree to spend CP on rather than which specific attributes and skills.
This issue is compounded by the fact that the Crystarium only expands to new attributes and skills once certain checkpoints in the plot have been reached. As someone who likes to make role-playing games easier for myself by grinding enemies for longer than is strictly necessary, these limitations really rub me up the wrong way. I just don't see the point of having a levelling system at all if my character's progression is hamstrung by the game to ensure I can't make the content too easy. Surely this should be my choice to make? If not, just make attributes and skills improve automatically and leave me out of the process altogether.
The Equipment Upgrade system is keeping things between us pure and simple.
Somewhere in between the complexity of the combat system and the superficiality of the Crystarium, Square Enix have managed to hit the sweet spot with the Equipment Upgrade system. When I try and recall the weapon and accessory improvement processes that have traditionally favoured by the franchise's developers, I can't help but feel twinges of pain in my frontal lobes. I swear there's a better chance of learning particle physics from manuscripts written in Olde English manuscripts than understanding Crisis Core's Materia Fusion procedure.
Fortunately, Final Fantasy XIII has dropped the need for a photographic memory and a doctorate in statistics in favour of a undemanding levelling system based upon the oddly named bits and bobs that every living being on Cocoon seems to carry around with them. By varying the amount of points an item gives, depending on the item being upgraded, not only does the system avoid becoming monotonous, but it also allows my obsessive-compulsive personality disorder to be kept in check by allowing me to keep my inventory nice and tidy.
Regardless of any of these advantages though, any process that saves me from having to refer to partially translated Japanese ASCII art table on GameFAQs is already a winner in my book.
I need to look beyond the learning process and focus on our long term future.
I know it's easier said than done, but I need to stop myself from getting too down about the intricacies of Final Fantasy XIII's various systems and how they're not up to the ridiculously high standards I was inexplicably expecting. My self imposed pre-release media blackout means that my knowledge about the game's length is meagre at best, so it may well be that I'm still working my way through an incredibly long tutorial section and the various systems will come into their own once the scope of my mission increases.
I'll let you know how it goes. Until next time diary.