I felt more like XIV was a movie than a game; I prefer dialogue options where I press X/A periodically with the occasional cutscene for effect instead of having nothing but cutscenes. It's a matter of personal preference. I won't debate that if you factored in "Time reading while pressing okay in previous games" vs "cutscene time in 13", they may very well come out close to each other. You're probably right. I just prefer dialogue to cutscenes; dialogue feels like I'm playing a game, cutscenes feel like I'm watching a movie. If I wanted a movie, I'd have gone to Blockbuster instead of GameStop :)
Regardless, I can see how those who prefer cutscenes might prefer it.
Fair enough. To me, I see very little difference between the two. Certainly not enough to make it a sticking point. With a cutscene, I can see the argument that there's no interaction. To me, the dialogue boxes from previous installments gave me vitrually no interaction either. There were a few "choices" you could make occasionally, but answers rarely did more than loop the dialogue back to get you to answer correctly... or no matter what you chose, the story was unaffected. In FFs, the idea of choice is a sham, at least as far as the story goes. There's one story, with one ending. So, IMHO, the only thing different between the two was that you read dialogue boxes, and watched cutscenes. I don't think it was ever a design philosophy that led earlier FFs to use fewer cutscenes. They were limited by space. As space has increased, cutscenes have replaced automatic dialogue.
I enjoy taking a break from teh game and doing the grind periodically. In 12, I usually "take a break" (and by take a break, I mean chain 100-200 2-3 times) in the sands early on, then again in Lhusu, then again in the sandsea... I had a total of 9 quickenings between all 6 people by the time I fought the first Judge aboard the airship. Defeated -both- demon walls in one shot.
In single player RPGs, I always try to grind a bit whenever I hit a sweet spot in the game. Again, matter of preference.
I don't care for grinding in MMORPGs, but I'll grind the **** out of single player ones.
We definitely share that philosophy. I even enjoy the mesmerizing grind of an MMO when the mood strikes me. And like I said, I shared your initial disappointment in not being able to "clock out" of the story and get my grind on, so to speak, in the initial chapters. Then again, I can think of a few FFs that didn't really present you with a good chance to break out into heavy grinding (or at least, not very good grinding) for longer than 5 hours into the game (again, or at least longer than 5 hours with me scrutinizing every nook in town)... Of course, I can think of a few that you could start your grindfest within 30 minutes of purchasing the game, too. Point being: a long, story driven, fairly (or even very)linear initial act wasn't invented with XIII. And Contrary to popular opinion, you don't have to wait to grind out some xp until "The game opens up." You'll find yourself long before then with Crystalarium sections unfilled on multiple disciplines, and nice areas to run circuits to rectify the matter. Most people don't because they don't have to. The opportunities exist, they just won't allow you to unbalance the game to where you're one-shotting bosses. In a way, the game tries to save people like you and I from ourselves. :D
As far as I'm concerned, the regular battles -should- be trivially easy. I wouldn't mind needing to paradigm shift for boss fights; I expect difficulty there, but I shouldn't have to do it 1-3 times in a random battle is my opinion. 2-3 attack rounds should be more than enough to clear an early to mid game random encounter. I personally prefer to level up such that they end in 1-2, but 4 or more attack rounds, IMO, is too much for a random encounter in a single player game.
See, it's hard for me to remember how things were a few hours into XIII, looking back months after completing, but from the impressions I'm getting from you, and my hazy recollections on the matter, it sounds like the early "normal fights" were either encouraging you tutorial style into shifts to learn the system, or flat our forcing you because you had so few abilities on any one job/party setup that you Had to shift to get things to work.
I'll tell you this: when I think back on all the "normal fights" for the first 1/2 or so of the game all together I would guess the average one lasted 30-40 seconds from start to celebration music ending. And until pretty late in the game I sat exclusively in my favorite party paradigm (which varied by members, naturally) unless I ran across mob types that were very resistant to that setup. Of course there are a couple notable instances where I performed terribly against a specific mob type... preferring to force "my way" of killing on an enemy rather than shift strategy to something far more efficient. Why? I dunno, I get like that. But really, the battles might not be Nintendo fast these days, with all the fancy animations, but it gets loads faster, and easier, than the pace and effort you're describing.
Further in, around the much ballyhooed time when "The game opens up"? Well, that gets rather challenging again... Of course, grinding more skills becomes more practical too.
Well, I must say that if the devs wanted me to feel "lost and overwhelmed" then they certainly achieved their goal. See, I don't mind the immersion factor, I just don't like the fact that they give you everything at once. Start me off with Lightning and Sazh. Bring Hope and Vanille into the story in 2-3 hours. Bring Snow into the story in another 2-3 hours. Let me get a firm grasp on who people are and what they're about before giving me new people to worry about. Doesn't help that many of SE's protagonists (Cecil, Terra, Cloud, Squall, Lightning) are people who don't like to talk about themselves or their past, but I can live with that. I just don't like having to worry about everyone at once, especially how it keeps jumping from "these two over here" to "these two over here". FF6 did a similar scenario split between Locke and Terra/Edgar/Banon and Sabin/Cyan/Gau. Even then, it did them one at a time (and still introduced you to Shadow, Cyan, and Gau one at a time) and didn't jump back and forth.
Like I said; it just felt like way too much at once, way too early in the game. If they wanted to do it 10-15 hours in, it wouldn't be as big a deal.
Boy do I feel you, because you're right. XIII really puts you into a busy portion of the narrative from the get go, and if you're trying to master the intertwining motivations right off, it can feel overwhelming. But the devs didn't do so accidentally. Their intention was to put those questions into your mind while driving the action at a breakneck pace initially. They Wanted you to feel the situation first, and really learn the characters later on. It's been done before in FF. Take VII (since you obviously love it so much :P ) You start off as Cloud, jumping off a train and fighting Shinra soldiers right off the bat with some weird Dude with a gun for a hand and a bunch of other miscreants calling themselves AVALANCHE with no real idea what's going on for an hour or so. Two hours in, you'd have a certain basic opinion of Cloud, Tifa, and Barret. 10 hours in, you'd have a different view on all three. 25 hours and you'd have another completely different view of at least 2 of them.
XIII throws 5 of them at you in short order instead of 3, but it also really doesn't delve into any of them in a substantive way until you're able to deal with them in 1-2 person narratives. It may not fit the ideal formula in your mind, but the story necessitates it. Because you aren't wandering around meeting people in XIII. Mostly, you're running for your lives. They don't all speak 5-6 at a time though. When the story slows to allow it, each character has opportunities to be revealed in a way that allows you to really understand who they are. And as with many FFs, these revelations usually come in layers and over time.
I agree with your sentiment of "ask any 10 fans and you'll get 10 different answers". I see your point about the 7/8 thing vs my opinion on 13; here's my response:
My negative outlook was geared towards people for whom 7 was their first game and they played 8 expecting 8 to have the same story and characters at 7. If you played 8 and didn't like it on its own merits, then fine. I was more directing my comment on people who expected (and logically so, I will admit) that "Final Fantasy VIII" would have the same characters/story as "Final Fantasy VII" and sperged on 8 when it didn't have anything that 7 had, for no other reason. As an analogy, I would equate if 12 were my first FF game, and then upon playing 13, I quit because "zomg what happened to Vaan? And where are the Viera? And why aren't there any more hunts?" etc... My reasons for disliking 13 were based on my dislike of the merits of the game itself.
Of course, many knew that Cloud wasn't coming back, they just wanted the gameplay to be what they remembered in VII. They wanted Materia back. They didn't like to "Draw" their spells from mobs (actually, I kind of hated that too), and other game mechanics that they weren't used to. So they quit. Not because it wasn't a direct sequel to the story. They quit because the mechanics changed. That's where I draw the comparison. In a series with games as divergent as 2, 6, 8, and 10, I'd think it behooves a FF fan to ride it out.
I mean, I don't like 2. At all. The basic combat is expanded and improved, and the story is leaps above the first, but the leveling system and those #$%& keywords were agonizing. Heck, I remember reading one of the creators even referring to some of the design choices as "failed experiments" or something to that effect. I still trudged through. If I quit once I realized how boneheaded it was to advance character stats in the game, I'd have never seen the story, and I'd never be able to really know if I didn't like the game, or if my reservations were just an uneasy adjustment, kind of like the materia loving guys from before with VIII. At the end, I still felt 2 was the worst of the main FF series, and it's on a very short list of FFs I wouldn't likely ever play again. But I only know because I played. And I played it (obviously long after its initial release) because this series has a well deserved reputation for doing right by me in the end.
That's what I see when I look at 13; it's a game that may very well have a GREAT story, and it may indeed get better as it goes along. But just as someone who can't find a party to get past the promyvions would never see Al'taieu, I will never know what I'm missing until I can get past walking through a tunnel and being bombarded with cutscenes.
Bah, tunnel shmunnel. You made it through the Tunnels of X just fine. Heck, you even went back into the SAME Exact tunnels for X-2. Uphill, both ways, AND YOU LIKED IT!!
Let's be clear hehe. I'm not championing playing XIII for the story alone. I liked the story, but you'll be revisiting many themes that are staples of the FF series, and frankly unless a particular FF game gets you to relate to the story in some personal fashion, they are all somewhat generic, as compared to a great book or movie. I recommend XIII for the journey. Yes, the story, but also the combat and the world. If you're convinced you're gonna hate everything about XIII But the story, then the story ain't saving it.
Also, I loved CoP. Evey stinkin' bit. It's the first thing that pops into my mind when asked for my favorite game/gaming experience. Frankly, once CoP was completed, nothing else was ever as fun in XI for me... so that might convince you to ignore every good point I've made :D Edited, Jul 22nd 2010 5:16am by ascorbic