I probably don’t have a lot to say about Skyrim that others haven’t said. I will say this — it’s a testament to how good of a game it is that I put around 500 hours into it despite it being shockingly buggy. And seriously, it is a very buggy game. It is easy to do normal things that result in the game crashing (which isn’t so bad) or losing items (very bad).

Still, it is a great, great game. It’s not for everyone, of course, but it taps right into a super-addictive part of my brain that could probably be exploited by heroin or pogs or something. I took my PS3 with me on vacation to the in-laws so I could play it. When we arrived and I realized that I had forgot to actually bring Skyrim, I went out and bought a used copy (from Trade-N-Games) so I could continue playing it.

So maybe I have a problem.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I finally got around to completing the main quest a few weeks ago. The main quest was great and could probably stand alone as a game itself, but of course it’s everything else in the game world that makes the game so good. I’m not really sure that I’m done with it, even though I’ve started playing Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations — Won!

That was quick. I started AC: Revelations on 12/3 and beat it yesterday, 12/16. That’s much better than my normal 6–18 months.

First, the bad. This game was glitchy, at least on PS3. More than once I came across groups of guards that did nothing and could not be killed. You could attack them, they’d go through all the animations, then they’d stand back up and hang out like nothing happened. Also, I never finished all of the “Desmond’s Journey” side stories because the 5th (and last) one crashed my PS3 every time I tried to access it. Every. Single. Time.

I also did not enjoy the strategy mini-game Den Defense. It actually isn’t too hard when you get the hang of it (I even got a “Perfect Defense” PS3 trophy), but I actually got all three den defenses required for a guild challenge out of the way as soon as possible, then made all of my dens assault-proof. The third defense was the hardest, and I lost it twice before finally winning it. But one of the losses was in an area with a Coward Templar Captain, which was very annoying. So I actually made all dens with Cowards assault-proof before attempting the final den defense again. Super annoying.

Near the very end of the game, something weird happened. Minor spoiler follows. Sofia was kidnapped by the main bad guy. To trigger the next memory, I had to go back to Assassin’s HQ. I got there and Sofia was inexplicably there. Ezio showed her all his books and they talked, with Ezio avoiding talking about what exactly he does. Then the scene ends and she’s nowhere to be found. Because she was kidnapped, of course. Then I went and rescued her and continued with the game’s conclusion. Very confusing.

With that out of the way, I thought this was a very good game. The hook-blade was fun, the combat was even better than AC: Brotherhood and the side-quests were fun and addictive without pulling you too far off the main storyline.

Desmond’s interactions with Subject 16 were interesting, if a bit of a letdown. Maybe I missed something, but Subject 16 communicated a lot of cryptic things over the last couple games and now Desmond had the opportunity to have some things clarified, but he didn’t really do that.

In fact, the sort of meta-plot (with Desmond and the contemporary assassins) was probably the weakest part of this game, and that makes sense. The plot itself really concerns Ezio and Alaïr. Ezio has hit middle age and is struggling with how to live his life. Through his investigations he sees how Altaïr spent his twilight years. The short video story “Embers” follows up on this, showing Ezio in a sort of retirement. He wants nothing to do with the Assassins any more (likely feeling that he had already done his part), but is briefly dragged back into the conflict.

I probably had the most fun in a particular segment near the end of the game where Ezio causes all sorts of mayhem, from bringing a tower down to torching a half-dozen ships with Greek Fire. A close second would be an episode even closer to the end where Ezio leads his assassins into the Arsenal. I kind of felt like a Sith Lord in that segment.

Overall it was a fun game, annoying bugs notwithstanding (seriously, Ubisoft — straight-up crashing?). I’m definitely looking forward to AC: III. There are a lot of interesting possibilities with setting it in the American Revolution. And that the protagonist is at least partly Native American (I got the impression somewhere that he’s half Native American, half European) should make for a interesting, possibly complex story.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood — Won!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been breaking several of my self-imposed rules. The result has been pretty good, actually.

As I said before, I beat Unwound Future a couple weeks ago. Last night I beat AC: Brotherhood. I’ll get to that in a minute. But right there I was breaking a rule: playing more than one game at a time. For a while there, I was playing Unwound Future, AC: B and Final Fantasy XIII-2. Now it’s FF XIII-2 and Professor Layton and the Last Specter. That’s not so bad — Layton games are really just puzzle games with a story wrapped around them, and it’s on a portable device. But after beating Brotherhood, I’m all fired up to play more Assassin’s Creed.

My wife picked me up AC III on Black Friday (for $35 — not bad) and I ordered AC: Revelations (got it free with Amazon points). That’s another broken rule — no new games. Still, I’m really enjoying the AC games, and Brotherhood ended on a cliffhanger, so I’m probably going to jump into Revelations.

Anyway, back to Brotherhood. I really, really enjoyed this game. I don’t remember why I stopped playing it in March 2012, but over Thanksgiving break I dove right back in. I was on Sequence 6, I think, which is very close to the end of the game (there are 9, and Sequence 9 went very quickly). I had already opened up most (but not all) of Rome. So I proceeded to mop things up. I finished Sequence 6, claimed the final Borgia Towers (which — long story — allows you to exert influence over a regain by reinvigorating its economy and also allows you to acquire more Assassin allies). I then went on to finish Sequence 7 and finished up most other missions. I actually finished every single side mission in the game except for the Mercenary Challenges. One mission, “Young at Heart” frustrated me to no end. So I skipped it. I don’t know if I’ll go back and try to finish it. I also don’t think I’ll try to finish each mission with 100% synch, which basically means I’m not going to redo old missions, keeping with certain goals or restrictions in order to get full credit. There is some DLC (Da Vinci Disappearance, I think) that I may play; not sure yet.

Anyway, Sequence 9 went fast and was surprisingly easy. I remember the end of the first Assassin’s Creed being more difficult (and frustrating). It was very entertaining, though.

SPOILERS follow.

I really did not see the last couple minutes of the ending coming. My wife and I suspected that Lucy Stillman might actually be a Templar (and at this point that hasn’t been ruled out), but I did not see the Final Fantasy VII-esque Desmond-being-possessed and murdering (or maybe just wounding? It’s not made clear, but she appears to bleed out) Lucy thing coming at all. The fade to black surprised me too. Nice cliffhanger.

One worry I have is that the game makers are dangling a lot of little hints, strange references, etc. that I’m not sure will pan out. For example, “Subject 16” babbles a lot of things to Desmond that make no sense out of whatever context they should exist in.

It bugs me when storytellers do this kind of thing without a substantial, meaningful payoff — Lost and Battlestar Galactica were guilty of this. It’s ok to leave some ambiguity, but it’s not okay to string an audience along with promises of an explanation just to leave them with mystical half-explanations.

I’m not saying that will happen in the AC series, but it has some of the hallmarks of a story that ends up like that. So we’ll see.

Still, Brotherhood was a fantastic game. I loved the Assassin recruits. It adds a whole new strategy to the game. I loved the Project Legacy tie-in. Legacy doesn’t work reliably anymore, but I got all the rewards available from it early on.

I don’t think I really mastered combat — kill streaks in particular did not come easy for me. At least not beyond 2 or 3. I also never tried the multiplayer mode. Multiplayer doesn’t appeal to me much for whatever reason.

Looking forward to AC: Revelations!

Back on the FF Train (again)

My last post was August 8.

This blog is called Stack of Shame, after all. This is how it happens.

That said, I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 for a couple hours each night for a few days now. I collected 10–20 fragments. Leveled Serah and Noel a lot — probably way more than I needed to. Leveled some of the monsters a bit too.

I also opened up some new stages. Two versions of Vile Peaks. I’ve played some of one of them.

It’s been fun. Good for blowing off steam. I think I may be winding up some of the leveling for now and I may delve back into the main storyline.

Back to FF XIII-2

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I didn’t play Final Fantasy XIII-2 at all until two weekends ago. We did a little travelling and my kid has become much more mobile (he just turned 8 months). So we’ve had our hands full.

I did get some time that weekend, though, and I needed to blow off steam. So I played it for a few hours on and off. Of course there’s always that initial half-hour or so of disorientation when picking up a game after a while. I’ll forget how to pull up the map, or I won’t know why a character is equipped with this or that. This time was no exception, but it didn’t take long.

I wasn’t up for advancing the story (it’s hard to get into a movie or a game when you’ve got a squealing, gargling, pooping miniature person crawling all over you), so I decided to go for chocobo racing. I don’t have the time to experiment with it (see previous parenthetical), so I just went to the strategy guide. If I didn’t cheat, I probably wouldn’t bother doing it. So yeah. It gave some instructions for building up a Silver Chocobo to race with.

In a nutshell, this involves acquiring a Silver Chocobo, building up its stats, then infusing other creatures (one of which I also needed to build up). Building up stats in creatures requires certain items, which can be obtained by fighting certain creatures.

This is time-consuming. For example. I needed something like 46 Potent Essences. Which sounds pretty gross. There are a handful of creatures that will drop them after a fight. I went to the Archylte Steppe to track them down. I had completed some quests there earlier that ultimately resulted in me being able to control the weather with some steampunk machine.

Yes, I said control the weather. With a machine. Look — this game has magic, time travel and angry, fighting, hat-wearing dessert treats. Just go with it.

So these particular creatures only appear on the west part of the map and only when it’s raining. I set the controls for rain and spent a couple hours stomping around in puddles and collecting Potent Essences from Mud Frogs, Swampmonks and Caterchipillars. You know — a typical Sunday afternoon.

Did I mention that it was time consuming? Because it was. If I was lucky, I would get 1 Potent Essence after a fight. I occasionally got 3 or 4, but usually 1 or none. After one fight, I freakishly got 9. I was almost there when something happened that destroyed about an hour’s worth of progress.

Before I explain it, let me explain how our living room is currently arranged. We’ve got a fireplace. On either side of it are some shelves where most audio/video equipment, video games, etc. are. The TV is mounted above the fireplace. 1 There’s a couch on one adjoining perpendicular wall and a love seat on the other. There’s a chair facing the TV. The chair has an ottoman. There’s another, larger general-purpose ottoman. There’s no fourth wall — there are no walls separating the living room from the dining room or kitchen, which means when the dishwasher is going, I can’t hear shit unless I turn the volume up loud. That’s easy to do, since we’ve got 5 speakers installed in the ceiling. But I also share my house with my wife and baby, so courtesy demands I not blast it. But I digress.

So my receiver, PS3, etc. are all close to the ground. They are therefore in constant danger now that my son can crawl. So we set up a gate that does a good job of keeping him away from all that and the fireplace. It’s arranged in a curve, butting up against the sides of the couch and love seat. We arrange the ottomans on the other side, and the baby effectively has a large playpen.2

I was playing the game, my kid was rolling around, gurgling and doing baby-type things, and my wife was going between playing with him and watching what I was doing.

So here’s the problem: he can still reach through the gate far enough to reach the PS3. And the eject button. And the disc, once it’s ejected. So he did all those things. In the span of several seconds.

I was of two minds. One, I was annoyed that I lost my progress, though I obviously couldn’t fault a baby (well, I could, but then I’d be a big jerk). Two, I was pretty impressed that he was able to eject then remove the disc, which I was able to get to away him before he did something unspeakable to it.

So I need to rethink the setup.

On the upside, restarting from my last save seemed to reset a random number generator or something, and I got the materials I needed much more quickly.

I’ve procrastinated on this post long enough, so I’ll pick up where I left off in the next post.

  1. The room was designed for this, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. The mantle makes my 50″ TV look like it’s 40″, and it’s too high — I’d prefer it to be closer to eye-level.
  2. Read: he’s locked up.

Final Fantasy XIII-2: Graviton Cores, Music as a Crutch

I’ve hit a point where I’m hunting for items called “Graviton Cores” to help with a plot-related task.1 I’ve tracked down a couple of them, but the remaining ones are proving a little hard to find. Still, it’s giving me plenty of opportunity to level, collect monster crystals, etc. Which is another way of saying, “I’m doing one of my favorite things ever”.

But this also puts me at risk of accidentally abandoning the game. I get very wrapped up in all the advancement, then I take a break (like, perhaps, a holiday trip). Then I don’t jump right back in, because I was in the middle of something in the game. And I never have the time to reacquaint myself with what I was doing, and next thing I know, I haven’t played it for 3 months.

Still, I’m having fun and I’ll try to avoid this problem. That, after all, is the entire point of this blog.

Since there’s not much to talk about (yet) when it comes to leveling, I thought I’d write a little about the music in the game.

I’m a big fan of the series’ music, especially the music composed by Nobuo Uematsu, which is most of it. I don’t think the music for this game was done by him, but it’s still pretty good. My only gripe with it is that many of the songs have vocals.

I find the vocals to be horribly distracting. I’m not sure when vocals first started showing up in Final Fantasy music. I think it was X, but I’m not sure. In X, a song in one of the opening cinematic had death metal-style growling or barking. It wasn’t too bad there, though it was a little surprising.

In XIII-2, though, there are several tracks with vocals. And some of these are played during regular exploration. I find it very distracting. I also find it less fun. I usually make up ridiculous lyrics in my head. While I was re-playing Final Fantasy VII a few years ago, my wife came up with lyrics for two songs: one to the game’s main theme about Mexican food, the other for the battle music about Rainbow Horseheads. Discussion of these will have to wait for a future posting. For now, take my word for it that they were amazing.

Also, though, with vocals suddenly the songs become more concretely about something. And usually not something as interesting as the action going on onscreen. Moreover, now there’s another character of sorts to contend with — the vocalist.

And yes, I have similar feelings about music used in other media. Overall it’s used too much, and when it is used, it’s used poorly. Music so saturates games, movies and television that it can be jarring and disconcerting when it’s not used — I recall a notable episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that used the lack of music to good effect. In games a lack of music is often used to incur feelings of discomfort in players.

That’s always interesting, but it also highlights how much games, movies and television use music as a crutch. When used well, music can compliment some amazing storytelling. When the storytelling is weak, the viewer is left with emotional reactions to something that isn’t particularly compelling. That is, the music is serving as a cue — “Get goosebumps! This is an emotional moment!” — rather than letting the action speak for itself.

This was parodied very well by SNL several years ago:

I realize that I’m rambling a bit incoherently here. The point I’m trying to make is that music should compliment an experience. It should be a part of the experience, but over-reliance on it annoys me. And introducing a song with vocals is often heavy-handed, compounding my annoyance.

Final Fantasy games don’t tell objectively masterful stories. I wouldn’t argue that at all. But very few stories are masterful, and I certainly don’t expect that from any video game. Final Fantasy games do tell a good story augmented by excellent character development mechanisms and turn-based-derived combat. These are well-complimented by Uematsu’s (and Uematsu-inspired) excellent scores.

But XIII and XIII-2 have, well, pop songs.

Most of them aren’t pop songs, but the ones that are draw attention to themselves.

It certainly doesn’t ruin the game(s) for me. But along with the hyperactive battle system and the cinematic quick-time events, it gives me the impression that they’re trying to appeal to a wider (or a certain?) demographic. This isn’t necessarily bad, but the games are starting to feel different. These games don’t need these elements to be good.

  1. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you probably saw this as a status update posted directly from the game.

Final Fantasy XIII-2: Chocobo Racing and Moogle-Tossing

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.

  1. The Golden Saucer was a location in Final Fantasy VII. There were some plot events there, but mostly it served as a site for a bunch of mini-games.
  2.  Update: I don’t know how I forgot to mention it, but Caius releasing Yuel into the water is an overt reference to Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

I had to double-check the name of this blog. It is not, in fact, Stack of Final Fantasy Shame. Regardless, I had a lot of fun finishing Final Fantasy XIII and I wanted to jump right into its sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Remember my disdain for time travel in entertainment? It turns out that time travel is central to XIII-2. Interestingly, so far it’s been the good kind of time travel — it seems to respect the consistency of the timeline, with only a couple apparent exceptions. I’m not far enough into the plot yet, though, to say for sure if these really are inconsistencies.1 A consequence of this game’s time travel is that you can, under the right conditions, replay entire segments of the game repeatedly, making different decisions. This is the first of the potential inconsistencies, but it’s so much fun (and it caters to my compulsive desire to explore all options) that it doesn’t bother me. The second possible inconsistency is what kicks off the main plot: Serah, Lightning’s sister, remembers greeting her at the end of the events in Final Fantasy XIII, but everyone else insists that this never happened — that Lightning had joined Vanille and Fang in turning into the giant pillar holding Cocoon aloft.

The game opens with the player in control of Lightning. It turns out she’s in Valhalla, which, if not a place, is a time — specifically, the end of it. Or out of it. I’m not entirely clear on this point yet. But she’s locked in what appears to be perpetual battle with an opponent named Caius Ballad. During a respite, a character named Noel Kreiss shows up. She is not at all surprised and sends him into the past with instructions to contact her sister, Serah.

I’m not going to recount too much of the plot — this is still a somewhat new game. I will discuss certain interesting plot points, though.

I’m very late on this post, so I’ll leave it here. I have a few things I want to talk about, including character customization, the dynamic between the two main characters and the use of time travel in the game.

I’m enjoying so far!

  1. I’ve since come across a few Back to the Future moments — oh well.

Final Fantasy XIII: Won!

My wife wanted to see me beat Final Fantasy XIII — it turns out she’s never actually seen me beat a Final Fantasy game. But that meant waiting until the weekend, since our workday evenings are usually pretty busy.

I actually started playing Final Fantasy XIII shortly after it was released in 2010. I was chugging right along and was around 90% through it in July 2010. I was actually playing it when I got a call informing me that a friend had killed himself.

I might have attempted to play it once or twice in the weeks and months after that, but I don’t think I did. At any rate, I don’t recall playing it then. I next picked it up in early 2012.

The problem with such a long gap in play time for a game like this is that you forget the context for your characters’ current status. You may have been involved in the main quest, or you may be on a side quest. The ability or magic system may not make sense after such a long time. You may quite simply not know what to do.

Sometimes, though, you can figure it out. Final Fantasy XIII has a neat little feature where when it’s loading a saved game it gives you a recap of recent events. It doesn’t give you all the details, but often it’s enough to jog your memory.

Spoilers follow.1

When I did pick it back up, my characters were on the planet Gran Pulse. There are two main settings in the game: Cocoon, where the game begins, which is a satellite of the planet Gran Pulse. The inhabitants of Cocoon have lived there for a long time. Cocoon is, I believe, an artificial construction. It’s run by a group called the Sanctum, who if I remember correctly, are an oligarchy of sorts which is or resembles a theocratic institution.

Cocoon is sustained by beings called fal’Cie. They’re usually large and powerful. The fal’Cie are manipulative — they can effectively enslave humans. The human becomes magically marked with a tattoo of sorts and becomes a “l’Cie”. Each l’Cie has a goal, called a “Focus”, unique to it. They don’t necessarily know what that goal is. If they fulfill their Focus, they’re rewarded by being turned into crystal (some reward). If they fail, they undergo another transformation into a being called a Cie’th, which are creatures or monsters with the mental life of a zombie.

Over the course of the game, the main characters become l’Cie. They are eventually told that their Focus is to destroy Cocoon. One of them will turn into a monster called Ragnarok and destroy the fal’Cie Orphan. This will result in the destruction of Cocoon.

The playable characters are:

  • Lightning — an experienced former soldier. You start the game with her and Sazh. She’s trying to find and rescue her sister, Serah.
  • Sazh — a pilot who is trying to reunite with his son, Dajh, who has been taken by the Sanctum.
  • Snow — Serah’s fiancee. Leader of a group that’s opposed to the Sanctum.
  • Hope — a kid whose mother dies early in the game and blames Snow.
  • Vanille — the narrator of the story. She’s a l’Cie from a village on  Gran Pulse called Oerba.
  • Fang — also a l’Cie from Oerba, she became Ragnarok in the past to kill Orphan, but initially has no memory of it.

Ultra-brief story summary: Serah and Dajh come in contact with a fal’Cie and become l’Cie. While trying to find Serah, Lightning, Sazh, Snow and Hope become l’Cie (unbeknownst to them, I think, Vanille is already a l’Cie — so is Fang, but she’s not in the group yet). Serah accomplishes her Foci quickly and turns to crystal. Lightning and Snow are understandably not okay with this. They resolve to restore her. I think that Dajh is (or was) at some point turned to crystal as well. They run all over Cocoon, solving most of their problems the same way characters in all Final Fantasy games usually solve their problems, with a great deal of violence. They discover that the Sanctum leader is actually a disguised fal’Cie named Barthandelus. They find out that their Focus is to destroy Cocoon, and then something neat will happen. I don’t recall what. Probably some pretty apocalyptic stuff. Eventually they go down to Gran Pulse. There are some seriously huge creatures there. I made it most of the way through Gran Pulse. I was about to go back to Cocoon when I got the bad news about my friend and stopped playing.

When I started playing again a year and a half later, I made it back to Cocoon to a place called Orphan’s Cradle. It was a surreal place — it was like the inside of psychedelic wind tunnel. I made it most of the way through it before getting distracted from the game.

After beating Final Fantasy, I thought I’d have a go at finally finishing the 13th installment. I took a look at an online walkthrough to get my bearings and realized that I was very, very close to the end. On the last day of the long Memorial Day weekend, I started playing again. And was almost immediately astonished by how hard the fights were. After a moderately difficult fight with a Bandersnatch and a Jabberwocky, I was teleported to another section. There I fought a large beast, called an Immortal, that was similar to other less powerful creatures I had fought before. But it wiped the floor with me. I then tried fighting some of the smaller enemies in the area and had a similar outcome.

Back in the day I would do two runs through a Final Fantasy game. I’d do one run through just to get the main plot and beat the game, and a second run to fully explore every facet of the game. I don’t do that anymore, since the amount of time required is prohibitive, and my interest in the game can’t be sustained across many short sessions if the gameplay required for all the extras is both tedious and complicated. But, even these days, if I come up against a part of the game that’s too hard, I have no problem setting aside some time to developing the characters enough to be able to handle the challenges.

But this game is different. I never really fully grasped what was required to advance characters. The system to develop abilities is called the Chrystarium, and I understood that. But most of my weapons and accessories were fairly weak. I had, back in 2010, managed to upgrade a bunch of them, but it’s a weird process and I don’t remember exactly how it works. And the in-game help was surprisingly vague, unless I somehow missed or skimmed a thorough explanation (that’s very possible).

So I was faced with this dilemma — do I go back and invest a lot of time developing the characters? That might be okay, but I’m doing this in conjunction with this blog, and I since I was already starting very late in the game, I didn’t think that would provide anything resembling interesting material for posts.

Instead, I tried messing with what the game refers to as “Paradigms”. The characters can adopt different roles, or jobs, in older Final Fantasy games’ parlance, in combat. In some early Final Fantasy games, you could change your jobs outside of combat.2 In others, especially more recent entries, you can change mid-battle. In this game, you don’t specifically change a character’s job mid-battle, you change the group configuration of jobs. So you may start a battle in the “Relentless Assault” paradigm, which consists of 1 Commando and 2 Ravagers. A Commando is a typical fighter. A Ravager is an offensive magic user. If one or more of your characters start to take damage, you may want to heal them. To do so, you might switch to the “Diversity” paradigm, which consists of 1 Commando, 1 Ravager and 1 Medic. The Medic casts spells that benefit the party members, including healing spells.

There are many possible paradigms — I think 16. However, you can only have about half that number available to at any given time. You configure them outside combat. If it turns out that you didn’t configure “Diversity” and you’re in a fight, you can’t use it until you are outside of combat and enable it.

Good use of paradigms are the only way to advance in Final Fantasy XIII. You can button-mash through weak enemies, but bosses and mini-bosses are considerably more formidable. Before I understood this, I was often very surprised at how quickly the game seemed to ramp up the difficulty. It wasn’t really — it just required good strategies. And it’s not just the use of a particular paradigm — you can (and usually have to) switch paradigms many times over the course of a battle.

So that’s what I did. I don’t remember offhand what paradigms I configured, but I managed to barely survive some of these battles.

I made my way deeper into Orphan’s Cradle until I got to the last save of the game. That’s where I stopped until this weekend, so my wife could watch.

I expected the first fight: it was with the fal’Cie Barthandalus. I beat him on the first try, but it was a little difficult.

The characters thought they were finished, but then Orphan shows up.

Orphan mopped the floor with me. In true Final Fantasy tradition, it has a mega-attack that reduces everyone to a very small amount of hit points. If my party leader (in this case Lightening) gets killed, it’s game over. I couldn’t heal her fast enough, and a followup attack killed her. So I rejiggered my paradigms and tried again. After beating Barthandalus again, I took another shot. I did better this time, though I really did squeak by.

Also in Final Fantasy tradition, it wasn’t quite over yet. Another incarnation of Orphan (or something) shows up. This one wasn’t so hard, though there was a time limit on the fight.

I’m skipping some stuff, with Fang turning into Ragnarok, everyone else except Vanille supposedly turning into Cie’th, etc. Honestly, given the long gaps in my play of this game, I’m a little confused.

Anyway, everyone escapes, except for Fang and Vanille. Those two become Ragnarok and stop Cocoon from crashing into Gran Pulse by turning into a giant crystal that keeps Cocoon aloft.

Everyone else, now down on Gran Pulse, turns to crystal.

I half-expected it to end there. Boom, everyone’s crystal now, the end. But they somehow un-crystalized. Serah and Dajh show up and everyone is happy. Except for Vanille and Fang, who are still crystal.

I think I will replay this game at some point. The very long break I took diminished my enjoyment of the gameplay and plot. The game did allow me to save the game after winning, so I don’t have to start a new game to explore some parts more carefully.

I had a lot of fun playing it, though — so much that I decided to just start playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 next.

  1. That’s really what this site is, isn’t it? One big spoiler?
  2. There were plenty of games, however, with fixed roles. This was the case for the first game, which I recently beat, though you do choose your characters’ “jobs” in the very beginning. Others include II, IV, VI, VII, I think VIII and IX. Games with jobs include III, V, X-2, and now XIII. Final Fantasy X and XII allowed you to develop other job-like skills, but the characters would come to embody multiple jobs, not switch between them.