I’m about 30 hours into the game. It’s been pretty fun so far. I opened up a Golden Saucer-like location1 called Serendipity. So far there are 2 games available — Slots and Chocobo Racing. I was very excited to see this — I have fond memories of the Chocobo Racing mini-game in Final Fantasy VII. I entered one race and bet against my own chocobo. This paid off — my chocobo was not very good. Anyway, I’ve decided to put racing on the back burner for now. If it’s anything like the racing in VII, I’d risk getting very sidetracked if I started now.
This game, intentionally or otherwise, has many references to older Final Fantasy games. The intro sequence has a scene with a sword landing in the ground that reminds me of the intro to Final Fantasy VIII. In fact, the feathers that seem to fly when Lightning brandishes her weapon is very similar to a part of VIII‘s opening as well.2
Also, Noel Kreiss seems kind of familiar. Maybe he’s reminiscent of Final Fantasy X‘s Tidus? I do suspect, at this point in the game, that he may not be a real person.
This game also involves the moogle Mog more than most games. He/She was a playable character in Final Fantasy VI. I don’t think that’s happened since. Mog transforms into Serah’s weapon during combat, and is used for item discovery & retrieval outside of combat. By item discovery and retrieval, I mean that Serah or Noel grabs Mog, while Mog cries “Kupo kupo kupo”, then hurls him/her toward an out-of-reach treasure ball, or just in a random direction. If there’s a treasure nearby, Mog will retrieve its contents. If not, I can sometimes get a good item anyway, though I usually just receive 1 gil.
Moogle-throwing is oddly satisfying.
Anyway, I’ve been pounding away on the game. I get more time in on weekends than weekdays. Since I can’t just pick up and play it like I could with Final Fantasy (which I played on my PSP), I kind of need to set aside time for it. But, as I said, I am about 30 hours in. I’m guessing I’m about halfway through.
A few other notes: The Academia location was fairly annoying. I’d get into a fight every few seconds. Most of them were against very weak enemies, but it was irritating that if it took too long to get my bearings after a fight, I’d be right back in another one. This game has a convention where you’re alerted that you’re about to fight. A countdown starts, and if you locate and strike the enemy before the time’s up, you begin the fight at an advantage. The problem is, when the countdown starts, you scramble in various directions to hit the enemy. Once you’re out of the fight, you’re facing in a random direction, and sometimes you lose your bearings.
I worry that Square Enix concentrates too much on making these games exciting — the battles in this and Final Fantasy XIII are much more fast-paced than earlier games. I know there’s the option to carefully plan your attacks, but you can only do that with your lead character. And while you’re trying to select attacks, the battle rages on, so you’re better off just mashing Auto Battle, which picks a series of appropriate actions for you. In many ways it’s kind of a hybrid of Final Fantasy XII and the older games. You are basically configuring patterns for your characters to fight in, with occasional intervention. So there definitely is a strategic element to battles, but non-boss battles become both over-stimulating and boring at the same time. The camera flies all over the place, shit’s exploding, people are yelling things — it’s hard to keep track of it all. On the other hand, I spend most of my time mashing X and watching my characters’ vitals, with occasional glances at the enemies’ life and stagger bars. It’s a very different experience to traditional turn-based video roleplaying games (or at least the ones I’ve played).
The draw of earlier Final Fantasy games was the strategy in combat, character development and, at least after the first game, plot. From VII on, cinematic cut-scenes were also part of the experience and a reason to play. This game (and XIII) have all those plus these rather frenetic battles. I’m not sure that this is necessary, but it certainly doesn’t ruin the game for me.
Another irritant — this game, along with games like Assassin’s Creed (and from what I’ve seen, Call of Duty), like to throw important dialog at you while you’re otherwise engaged in activities. I don’t multitask well.
These are minor nitpicks, though. I’m enjoying it a lot so far. The time travel plot is interesting. There’s been hints that my characters are actually the cause of the time travel problems — that is, in the future (or in the future of their personal narratives) they may do something which kicks off the sequence of events that started the game. When they run into Caius Ballad in different areas, he talks to them differently. It’s not clear how his narrative or theirs intersect. It’s also being heavily suggested that it’s not always actually Caius they’re running into — some of them may be artificial reproductions.
On the other hand, at one point Serah’s fiancé, Snow, did a Back to the Future-style fadeaway. That sort of thing never made sense to me. If you’re going to adhere to a branching model of time then you wouldn’t have situations like that. That said, a central element of the game is the existence of paradoxes, which by definition don’t make logical sense, so I think a few weird things like that can be forgiven.