9 Mar 2010

Gameplay: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3): Part 0

Join me as I play through Final Fantasy XIII! Every week I will be playing about 1 to 3 hours of the game and then blog about it. Simple.

Since I will be documenting every step of the way, this post will be filled with spoilers. However, I will first spend the first part (Part 0) talking about the game in general before going into the actual story and game. The spoiler tag will signal the start of the game walkthrough.

It's a little hard to see from this picture, but the cover is a "hologram". The shiny "foil card" look for those who play TCGs. It's really quite nice, and a welcomed addition for a $69 normal edition. Inside the box is just the game, instruction manual (English), quick help sheet (Chinese), and PSN promo leaflet. Nothing much to see here.

Square Enix logo appears when you pop in the disc

A short cinematic plays with credits overlay

And the title appears in boring font

And a familiar-looking NEW GAME screen. Yes, this is a Final Fantasy game!

But start the game and you'll slowly realise how far this is from the truth. FFXIII is not your typical FF game. Yes, it does have chocobos. Yes, it does have a great story. But much of the gameplay has changed. Those of you who have been keeping up with FFXIII news would know that this game does not have towns and shopping is done at Save Points now. Moreover, the whole first half of the game is as linear as a string. Do not let this deter you though. Square Enix makes sure their main Final Fantasy games are polished to a shine. General reviews are still favorable (about 8 to 8.5 on average), so relax and give this game a try! That's what I've been telling myself anyway :S

I'll start off by talking a bit about the battle system, since this is quite different from recent FF games. The Active Time Battle (ATB) system is back from FF7, with a few twists. The action gauge is segmented into 2 or more sections as "action points" (AP). Each action, whether a normal attack or magic, uses 1 or more AP. So basically you can charge up and store a finite amount of AP to be used. This makes the battle more fluid, allows for better combos, and adds a sense of urgency. Timing is key here since your score for each battle is determined by your damage per second (dps).
Hitting an enemy till their "stun gauge" (I can't remember the term for this) fills up will put it in a vulnerable state, taking even more damage from each hit. This forces players to, most of the time, focus their attacks on one enemy so as to deal greater damage faster. However, strategic use of area attacks (like Snow's hand grenade), will allow you to damage more enemies at a time, hence dealing more dps. I shall not go more in-depth into the battle system yet as I'm only in the beginning stages of the game and still trying to get a hang of it.

 I forgot to take a picture of the menu screen, but trust me, it's beautiful. It's like they had a team working solely on the game menus. Anyway, beside the usual "Items", "Equipment" and "Settings", we also have a menu option called "Datalog".
The Datalog is basically an encyclopedia of all the information you need. From gameplay explanations to the game's lore and myths, there's quite a lot to read here, though not as much as Mass Effect's Codex. This is quite an interesting addition to the game, perhaps reflecting the influence of western RPGs on their design process. I found one interesting bit of information in the Datalog...
You can now restart battles. I've yet to try out this feature, but it makes sense here. HP and MP are completely replenished after each battle, so every skirmish feels like a self-contained mini-game. Allowing players to restart a battle straightaway will prove useful as you can't save anyway you like in this game.
There's even a Bestiary in the Datalog, allowing you to scrutinize the enemies weak points, creating a strategy for the next time you have to fight it again.

Save Points:

Like most FF games, save points are scattered throughout the map. This time, they double up as a shop too.
Just like Mass Effect (I'm sorry, I don't know what else to compare with!), you gain access to more shops by acquiring certain items. In my current play through, I only have access to one shop, and can only buy 2 items (Potions and Phoenix Down). I suppose this will grow to include shops that sell you certain types of weapons or armour. I just hope access to these shops aren't too hard to acquire!

And with that, I end Part 0 of this journey. Part 1 should be up by this weekend, so do look forward to it!

Hey! The Helghasts are invading Cocoon!

Let me know if you like what you've read by commenting in the chat box =)

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