Friday, March 19, 2010

FF13: Choice and the Illision of Choice

I have been playing some Final Fantasy 13. I just got into disc 2 on the 360. So far I have had to make lots of choices. Some of them interesting, most not so much. Few, I think, that will effect the story line that FF is taking me through.

Spending XP--CP in this game, at the moment at least, is an illusionnary choice. So far the choices are none, in that I can afford to fully develop everything I have access to on a character, or the choice is so blindingly bad (a tier 3 buff in a main spec for 220 XP, or that other off, off spec tier 1 ability for 330) that only the impaired will buy them before they have completely maxed out the character.

The game is real time and the basic decision unit is the 1 action bubble attack--though the normal mode of game play is to let the bar build up completely (to a number ranging from 2 to 6) and let all those commands execute at once. You can decide to interrupt your bar buildup to perform partial bar attacks.

Now there is a lot of rote button pushing. Most trash combat--so far--is just repeatedly hit A button (X for all you PS/3 types). Very dull. A good thing/bad thing is the AI is smart, choosing well among the moves you have, to maximize damage/stun/chain. Its good because the battles are timed and real time, bad because there aren't many decisions to be made in the game and taking most of the basic decision making out of the players hands for such a basic unit of interaction is bad.

The heart of the combat system, and where it gets interesting is stance dancing--paradigms in this game. Actually, to put it in more WoW like terms, you can respec on the fly, in combat--and you have groups of nothing but druids. A character can melee (commando), DPS (ravager--more ranged), heal, tank (sentinel), buff (synergist) or debuff (saboteur) . Any given character will probably be good at 2-3 of the roles and sub optimal for the others. Choosing which roles to do when and how is the real heart of the combat system. The one downside is that there very little time to make those decisions in and you are limited to more than 6 stances at once.

So the one place where choice shines in FF13 which, I think, is enough to keep me engaged for a while yet. The utterly weird Japanese (or over-engineered German) weapon XP system might be another place where there is some meaningfulish? choices to be made, but mostly the system is just weird.

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