I’ve been on a bit of a BioWare binge of late, having picked up Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition (was cheaper than buying Awakening and the DLC I didn’t have) and the story-based DLC for Mass Effect 2. As I never finished the second playthrough of ME2 with the other character I’d imported from ME1, it has been a bit of a treat to go through it again in another style with a different sex, class, and philosophy.
Yet something has occurred to me as I’ve been playing.
Among the complaints I’ve often heard levied against Final Fantasy XIII, its ‘long corridors’ that ‘don’t allow exploration’ have been among the highest. Melodramatic plot comes second (whole other post). Yet, as I was going along as Commander Ronia Shepard, I couldn’t help but notice that all of my missions had very linear paths. The only standard of deviation might be that I would be herded into a larger room so I could decide on the tactical use of where to place my companions and myself as I took cover and shot at my enemies. Those little alcoves and cul-de-sacs that might have an item or two squirreled away? Both exist, but don’t feed the same exploration need I find myself wishing to indulge.
I enjoyed Mass Effect 2, though among the things I missed in that franchise were the vast amounts of space to be explored–though after playing ME1 twice back to back, I understand the need to cut down on how much space there is to explore (fatigue!). At the same time, the long corridors of Final Fantasy XIII didn’t bother me as much, and it took me a moment to figure out why that was exactly. Expectation and my own gaming habits as a sometimes perfectionist.
There are many Final Fantasy games I’ve never finished because I’ll set them down for a month while picking up another game, and come back completely confused as to what I was doing or where I was going. There was no help to be found in a journal, and the open world environment would often mean stumbling along, second-guessing in which direction I was supposed to go. Since I typically leave these games somewhere along the halfway mark (long game, suffer fatigue, need break), that means I have more options for exploration, and am not as guided as I would have been in the beginning of such a journey.
The linearity in Final Fantasy XIII ensured I finished the game. When the world does start opening up, I have the option of going about and doing some sidequests, though I can’t complete them all very successfully until I finish the game and am allowed to come back. That’s the real brilliance of FFXIII for me. It saves all the grinding and more ‘hardcore’ gaming for the very end.
This means that gamers who do not feel the need to explore every nook and cranny for the best way to finish the game (read: ones who don’t wish to pour hundreds of hours into the game) are allowed to finish the plot, and then decide whether or not they wish to engage in more grinding. Though this isn’t a perfect explanation either, and made me wonder about my own gaming habits.
It’s certainly true, I never had to breed toward the goal of having a golden chocobo and grab Knights of the Round to finish FFVII. However, the fact that it was there, and the game ends when the last boss goes down meant I wanted to go for it. Knowing that FFXIII‘s end was not truly the end and that the rest of the game waited for me if I so wished meant much more to me in terms of how I approached my gaming.
While I could put more criticism on the game from other aspects, this was not one that concerned me as much. Among the improvements it could have made is one that probably aided in not bringing up the criticism to the same extent when ME2 released, which is allowing a hub from which you travel (even if that hub/space had that damnable probe mining minigame). At the same time, the sense that FFXIII wishes to impart is that you are on the run, whereas ME2 wishes to give you the feel of a Commander amassing an army and making decisions to assault an enemy. Two different goals.