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Final Fantasy XIII-2? Square-Enix is a bunch of morons

Their heyday long past, you can see barely anything of the once venerable Squaresoft in today’s overstuffed, overindulgent mess of a company that is Square-Enix. Not content to simply make and release good games, they made the egocentric play of announcing three separate and oddly titled games in 2006; Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy Agito XIII under the unnecessary banner of ‘Fabula Nova Chrystallis’. While not the start of the company’s decline, this bold announcement did mark the studio’s pretentious obsession with Latin, and, in any case time has proved it was a dick move.

Final Fantasy XIII, the only one released to date, was met with critical and popular malign. It was shit. Technically, artistically and from a game design perspective. Most importantly for an RPG though, it’s storytelling was apalling. And I hated it. Versus XIII still has no direction, no released gameplay footage and no release window, despite being announced way back in 2006, and this being 2011. At least we know it’s still a PS3 exclusive.

Agito XIII, on the other hand, has been refocused and is set to release this year. Thank fuck for that. Only now instead of being part of one silly series, it’s part of another. The number ‘XIII’ has been dropped and the game is now called Final Fantasy Type-0, part of the Type-X series. Hooray. If this doesn’t confirm what we already knew – that the games in the ‘Latin series’ have nothing to do with eachother – it says that the new Square is still preoccupied with over-promising more titles than it can deliver, let alone deliver well.

Perhaps the most gobsmacking news of the day is that FFXIII, the game every PS3 owner probably wishes didn’t exist, is getting a sequel. I don’t think you could even ask for Final Fantasy XIII-2 at a K-mart counter without sounding like a moron, but that aside, who thought this would be a good idea? The game, not the title, that is. I’m sure we’re all in agreement on the latter. So who’s signing up for another romp though I-can’t-remember-where with that bunch of whiny pricks for hours and hours on end with nothing interesting happening? I didn’t think so. As blatant a cash grab as this is, I gotta hand it to the guys from the quadrilateral company; they sure know how to take fans for a ride.

One would hope that this whole experience would instill some humility in Square. First off, if I were them, it’d teach me that I can’t make a good game while juggling a million projects at once. That’s even if I can make a good game at all- they need to realise these aren’t the glory days of FFVII and VIII. Secondly, it’d tell me to lay off the pretentious foreign namedropping and loosely connected titles. Who do they really think they are? When I heard that, on top of these travesties, there’s one called Final Fantasy: Dissidia – Duodecim, I felt like killing someone.

Franchises get run into the ground and developers get cocky off the back of a single success all the time. But none have been as lucky or ridden out a bad streak of releases as long as Square-Enix has. I think that if the company cannot turn around a few back to back blockbusters soon, and I don’t think they have a prayer, then their time might just be up. Those years-in-development projects don’t pay for themselves.

Then again, who am I kidding. For any of that to happen we’d have to assume being good had anything to do with how games from Square end up selling.


Gran Turismo 5: The PlayStation 3 Tradition of Silliness Continues

A big part of the console wars that used to be all the rage 3 or 4 years ago was the issue of the PS3′s Blu-ray drive versus the 360′s boring old DL-DVD. I think that if hindsight has shown us anything it’s that Microsoft was right in including DVD-9 in their current Xbox as Blu-ray has 3 serious problems. 1) It’s more expensive- drives, discs, everything. 2) It takes longggeeerrrr to load. And 3) Developers seem maniacally obsessed with filling it up. Flagship PlayStation franchises – quite a few, actually – have taken a bizarre quantity over quality approach to development lately and I dare say supporting BD’s as a format has had something to do with it.

This generation of games don’t need 50GB’s of Blu-ray. There, I said it. Between development costs, hardware processing restrictions and the fact that the drive in a PS3 only reads at 1x, Blu-rays are not necessary. So I found it curious when the first claims came out from Kojima Productions in the lead up to the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Apparently their game was not only so big that it needed a BD-ROM, but there was not even enough space left over to include a Japanese voice dub. Not to open a debate about how bad MGS4 is or isn’t compared to the previous games in the series, it definitely was shorter. And by that I mean there was less actual gameplay. A lot less. It was also disjointed and the level of difficulty was inconsistent to say the least. But who cares. By sticking uncompressed 5.1 audio and an overwritten script on a disc, they managed to eat up a lot of space. A lot of pre-rendered video helped hit that as well. I’d summarise this by saying MGS4 was filled with media but not real gaming content. The ill-received Final Fantasy XIII took a similar approach. Lots of repetitive fights, lot’s of inane chatter, and passable gameplay stretched lengthwise outward to the point where it was, well, no longer passable. Of concern is that both Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid had been praised and innovative franchises in PlayStation’s past- to see them both stumble on the same point is more than a coincidence in my books.

Gran Turismo 5, which I have had the questionable pleasure of getting to know lately, seems to suffer the same curse as the other PlayStation mainstays. Here we have a game with a great deal of content. However none of it seems thoughtfully put together and the experience itself seems rough, to be kind. Marketing highlights the game’s 1000+ cars, however 800 of them are just lifted straight from Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2- low polycounts and lack of interiors left in tact. Now, if we cast our mind back to Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, the last time GT had a generational shift in technology, the devs chose to cut the car count significantly. They could have borrowed outdated PSX assets from Gran Turismo 2 and had a massively inflated car count, but they chose not to. Why then in 2010, after the game has been in development for years and years, is the a shift in tact such that we should include more stuff on the disc, whether or not it’s up to scratch? I think this has a lot to do with simply filling the disc, or at least giving the impression that you get more with a PS3 game on a Blu-ray.

To be frank, I blame Sony for this practice. SCEJ in particular. No doubt someone up the chain felt the need to boast that the excessive 50GB were actually useful for games and that filtered down to developers. In the process we have seen sub-par games bloated with media, not content, and although BD-ROM’s aren’t wholly to blame for that, Sony’s need to push them certainly played its part.


Final Fantasy XIV: Failure in Game Form

ff14

It’s now a foregone conclusion that Final Fantasy XIV is pure failure presented in the form of a game. The series has been troubled for a long time now – something I intend to soon chronicle in a ‘fall from grace’ series of posts (Linkin Park will be next) – but it’s rare to find something so bad that a shareholder will dump their stock over. Square messed up here and in no particular order, here’s how.

Setup

MMOs need patching. And registration. However FF14’s process is so drawn out (especially for Australia and other countries that don’t fit into Square’s pigeon holes) makes you wonder if the game isn’t trying to keep you from playing it. If so, well done. It’d be the only player-considerate thing the game does do.

Exploration

FF14’s ‘Eorzea’ is invisible wall city. Progress dictates where you should go at a given time. In World of Warcraft’s beta, they’d debuff teleport you out of places the devs didn’t want you in. WoW abandoned that after testing but FF14 hasn’t. It is frustrating.

Questing

Quests are ambiguous at the best of times. Imagine then how convoluted FF14’s are- rarely do you know where to go or where the next quest will be coming from. I’ve never seen breadcrumbing being done more poorly. Levels, class decisions and even just talking to other NPCs appear to determine when quests are available, but none of this is transparent at all. This is also frustrating. There are also light ‘levequests’ which have a 1.5day quota cooldown, but these are twice as boring as WoW dailies and you can do barely a third as many. Most of the time you have nothing really structured to do.

Combat

I’ll reserve judgement for now on what I think of fighting in FF14. Maybe I just suck though, but the combat seems imbalanced to an absurd degree. I’ve struggled with easy monsters and had an easy time dispatching hard ones. As indicated by the interface of course, which is a poor implementation. Also it seems like the progression through monster-types is very slow and I’m sick of seeing the ones I can’t even beat yet. Finally I’ve never found MMO combat all that well done but come on? Scrolling through targets that doesn’t group allies and enemies? Is there an easier way to make every group battle a messy affair?

Transport

No real ground-covering mechanisms are in the game yet. Vehicles, Chocobos, Airships and the like are not implemented. They’re represented in world, but for the moment you have to get everywhere on foot. Wonder how long they’ll take. There’s always the expensive option to port somewhere, but Anima is a resource that you’ll be wanting to hold on to.

Itemisation

Two problems with items; 1 crafting items is a pain and there is no auction house / economy to speak of. Whenever you do the goldsmithing / mining / carpentry thing, there is a minigame attached. By ‘thing’ I mean either gathering or actually crafting and ‘minigame’ I mean a tedious pain in the ass. Also there is no real means to get a business going with your wares anyway so what incentive is there? To the game’s credit it seems like there is some depth to this system, but there should have been a few more iterations during testing.

The Interface

This is a real mess. FF14 was announced as a console game first and should have stayed that way. The PC version makes you dig through menus and submenus obviously designed for a controller to get the most menial things done. Funny thing is, you still need to manually map a gamepad. Funnier still, the PS3 version is still getting coats of paint applied and so won’t be out until March next year.

 

Being fair, graphics are good despite being demanding on hardware. However it’s not nearly enough to cover for this game’s many failings. Without getting wholly into the Square-hate rant, they have been to insular and too indulgent with their games for a long time now. It’s evident in Final Fantasy XIII and it’s certainly evident here. I never played it, but I hear tell that this is more than a step back from FFXI as well. Maybe our Japanese Square-o-phile friends will entertain something as sadistic as this travesty of a game, but I won’t.

I imagine that’s what prompted the extension of its free trial too. After all, the last thing you want after sinking so much into a game is to have everyone quit during their free month.


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