Thursday, October 6, 2011

Final Fantasy XII

I am a year or five late to the party with this one, but I finally had my chance to play Final Fantasy XII last night. This game was so bad that I was inspired to create a blog just to discuss exactly what this game did to invoke my ire. I will continue to add posts to this blog, as I have been meaning to make a blog for a while, but this game really gave me no choice but to get off my lazy ass and really get on with it.

For those of you tired of my rambling and just waiting for me to get to the point, here it is. I will not be playing Final Fantasy XII again because it committed the greatest sin that a game developer could allow: bullshit.

But let's take a step back. I don't want to dive face first right into the bullshit. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. Instead, let's start by telling a story.

This is the story of a gamer who has heard terrible, terrible things about the combat system in the only game in one of his favorite franchises that he has not yet played. And no, Final Fantasy XI does not count as a Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XII was the only real full-on single player epic Final Fantasy game that I had not yet touched.

I was critical of the combat system, because that was the main thing I heard people griping about. It's slow, sure, but this was the beginning of the game, and I only had one party member. Final Fantasy VII's combat system was slow too, when all I had to work with was Cloud and his basic attacks. At least in VII I got to actually tell him to attack each time instead of saying it once and juggling my controller while I waited for the battle to be over. But once I got more party members, I was sure that it would improve.

I was introduced to the licensing system, whereby you have to not only buy new weapons but buy the privilege of using them, each using separate currencies. It seemed a little odd, but what new Final Fantasy game doesn't introduce an odd new leveling system? Again, I was able to work with this. This game still had the potential to be fun.

After a few hours of gameplay, I found myself in the Giza Plains, where I was quickly introduced to many new classes of enemies. Hyenas and rabbits went down quickly and without any danger. Big owl/bear things were slightly more troublesome, but with two characters in my party now, healing between battles was a breeze. There was one enemy (who I would affectionately have referred to as "legs" had I any affection for this game) that posed a bit of a challenge, but really didn't give me too much trouble.

Put simply, at this point, I had been lulled into a sense of security. The game design so far had been leisurely and casual. When I saw another new class of enemy off in the distance (to the south, even, with my current quest being the vague "go south"), I did not think twice before engaging.  I ran up and stabbed him with my sword...and his health bar did not move even a single pixel.

That's fine, I thought. I'd just run away. I turned and started running, holding the "flee" button. Then I died. From full health, in a single, devastating blow, I was reduced to a corpse. The game prompted me to change party leaders, but that hardly helped, since my other character died immediately thereafter.

Teaching lessons to the players in video games is part of good game design. The player will make mistakes, and it is the game designer's job that early in the game, those are corrected and the player is able to carry on with improved knowledge. The problem is, I didn't make a mistake.

At no point in the game did the designers give any indication that such a thing could occur. Even after immediately realizing the battle was unwinnable, there was no chance to escape. It erased more than a half hour of progress since my last save point. I'm the kind of gamer who will save every time I walk past a save point, even if I just saved, because losing progress in this kind of game is akin to being punched directly in the balls.

There are other games where it is okay to lose your progress. In The Witcher 2 (another game I didn't finish but for entirely different reasons), every time I lost a battle, I learned something about the enemy that would help me next time. My character progress was set back minutes at the most, and my player skill had increased. These battles were well-designed because they increased my personal versatility and losing them helped me stand a better chance of winning them next time. This is very different from the experience I had with Final Fantasy XII. I lost a half hour of progress, my character stats and accumulations were lost, and I was no better off as a player than I was beforehand. There was no design advantage to putting an enemy that difficult in that location. It was purely frustrating, with absolutely no benefits.

It was bullshit.

I have a lot of games to play, and not a lot of time to play them. If a game can be this unforgiving and poorly designed early on, I don't want anything more to do with it. Final Fantasy XII is now tied for last place on the list of Final Fantasy games I've played, with Final Fantasy II (Japanese numbers; no I'm not talking about your precious Final Fantasy IV), which did the same thing to me ten years ago.

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