Long Corridors

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.

An image of a map from ME2, showing its linear nature.

An image of a map from ME2, showing its linear nature.

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.

An image of a map, showing the linearity of FFXIII.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.

N.B. Originally this post had no images, but both Gunthera and TheMirai kindly pointed out maps that would serve well.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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6 Responses to Long Corridors

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Long Corridors | Vorpal Bunny Ranch -- Topsy.com

  2. eleniel says:

    Interesting post. Personally, I don’t understand complaints about linearity… some games just work better that way. It seems to me that the difference between ME2 and FFXIII is that ME2 just hid the linearity better (something those maps really make clear).

    And, the same thing totally happens to me with FF games and other big RPGs XD;

  3. Drew says:

    I’m well aware that I’m replying to this post 4 months late, but when I first read this post, I didn’t really think of anything to say. Upon re-reading it, however, it occurred to me that I like a certain amount of linearity in games. While yes, sprawling dungeons and innumerable side quests are appealing to me at times, I find that I enjoy them best when coupled with a certain amount of linear plot and gameplay.

    Squaresoft/Square-Enix (especially through the Final Fantasy series of titles) has always created a fairly linear world. Dungeons, caves, tunnels, buildings (like ShinRa!), temples, towns, and even the world map (until you unlock the Airship or, in the case of VII, the Highwind and/or various other Chocobo needed) are generally long tunnels with a series of doors, hidden switches, and puzzles needed to open them.
    I personally feel that the having long corridors in games is nothing new, really. It’s just that as gameplay and battle systems have evolved, they often take you out of the top down view, and do away with many of the disguises that they’d put on them to begin with.
    The link below is a screenshot of one of the screens you must pass through in the Cave of The Gi behind Cosmo Canyon.

    They could just as easily have made it a single corridor, but in order to set mood, keep the game interesting to the player they broke it up into small segments and put “traps” on it. Here’s the thing though. You can see the entire screen. You know exactly where you have to go, where all the traps are. You can see the items (though there aren’t any in this image). So how, I guess, is it that different from any of the long corridors in Final Fantasy XII or XIII? I honestly think it’s just the shape.

    As for beating the game and then being able to go back and collect content if you want to, I have mixed feelings about. On one hand “Why not?” Seriously. Why not allow players to go back and collect additional content if they’d like? But then there’s always the Lunar 2 (possibly available in the original release of Lunar) where you beat the game. You watch a few cut scenes, and it ends. If you decide to load you can be surprised to say “Hey! Look! The game continues on apparently! I have gained access to new dungeons and am following a new mini quest. This is pretty cool.”

    But, to be honest, my opinion is this:
    I like endings to be endings. Even if they don’t tie up all loose ends, even if they’re not what I want for the characters in the end, it’s over. It’s final. There’s no undo, and I’m left to sit and wonder (if I want to) what happens to the characters at the end. New game + for extra content, and if you’re as awesome as Tales of Destiny 2, an added dungeon.

    I wrote this originally, and decided to cut it out and put in my Final Fantasy dungeon statement, but feel as though this covers a point (not particularly efficiently though, which I apologize for) that the above post does not. Which is a combination of linear and non linear elements in gameplay, aside from optional quests that can be done at any (or, many) times.
    When I was younger (I think I must have been in 6th grade? 8th at the latest) I was a big fan of the RPG Wild Arms 2. Upon playing through it again, I discovered that there was an incredible amount of content that I’d missed. I’d missed a lot of the content for a number of reasons, (content that was referenced to in game, but never explained properly because of either bad translation or poor game design, for example) the largest of which being that you really had to go out there and look for it.
    This game wasn’t like Final Fantasy V, VII, or VIII or IX where you could fly over the curious cave, landmass, or undiscovered city in your airship and say “Hey. What’s that?” You would have to land, press the Square button on the controller and hope that whatever point on the map you’re trying to find is within a certain area around you. If it was, the point would appear on the map.
    While occasionally infuriating, this offered a stark contrast to the dungeons themselves. There was always only one path. You could occasionally go the wrong way, but you would generally wind up, again, in a room with a treasure chest off the single hallway you were supposed to be following. Occasionally the room would contain a character telling you what to do next.
    They managed to keep it somewhat interesting by requiring you to use the different characters in your party and the tools that they possessed to get to visible but otherwise unreachable tools, though these “puzzles” often seemed contrived, and the tools often lost usefulness pretty quickly…

    But this contrast between semi aimless wandering (I honestly once spent over an hour looking for a plot related town, and found 4 optional dungeons in the process) worked fairly well. If they’d actually made reference to the extra content, simply due to the nature of the world map, it would have been significantly less frustrating to me.

    Though I find the Tales series way of doing World Maps to be one of the best – there is much to explore. But exploring is, for the most part, entirely optional. They also break up the tedium of world map exploration with little skits (like the one below) which makes it much more digestible.
    Though, in US release they cut the Voice Acting on said skits. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G6DSi3MArI&feature=related

    Anywho: I know that I’m responding 4 months late and don’t really have much new to say.

  4. Drew says:

    Er.
    “and don’t have much new to say”, but I wanted to put in my two cents worth anyway.

  5. Evan Barnett says:

    I guess my main concern with FFXIII’s linearity versus ME2’s linearity is in the combat systems, and in the narrative.

    First, the combat systems: in FFXIII you are in a far more static environment than in ME2. When you encounter an enemy in FFXIII, you are given a set of actions to perform, and you never move around from where you stand. In ME2, however, you are able to move around large spaces, make use of tactical abilities that change positioning (pull, push, slam) that FFXIII lacks (certainly FFXIII has some form of tactics, but it’s mostly stack buffs -> stack debuffs -> attack). In addition, ME2 is completely in real time, except for when you pull up your skills menu.

    I find the ability to move around freely while combating helps break up the linear corridors that serve to channel you from combat zone to story moment to decision point. In FFXIII there was never anything to truly break up the corridors until very late in the game, and, as you mentioned, it almost wasn’t worth exploring until you finished progressing through the rest of the hallway. In addition, FFXIII almost always had you literally running down a corridor, as you were extremely restricted in where you could move.

    The next point is narrative linearity: while ME2 might have been technically just as linear as FFXIII (though I certainly didn’t feel it as much, due to the breaks for combat), the narrative completely opens ME2 up and frees the player from the restrictive feeling of being pushed down a hallway. In FFXIII you go down a corridor, see what they want you to see, and that’s it; in ME2 you go down a corridor, see some cool stuff they wanted you to see, and then you can directly impact the world, the story, and the future (for the rest of ME2, and for ME3). This form of non-linearity I feel is not only much more rewarding than environmental non-linearity, but also completely overshadows any linearity that may exist. You realize as you progress that you’re not going down hallways to get more of the story, you’re going down hallways to make more of the story. And that makes ME2 a vastly less linear game than FFXIII, or at the very least makes it feel less linear, which I think is the important part (because let’s be honest: most of the time when people mention linearity, they’re upset because they felt they had no choice in the overall experience, rather than just being channeled down corridors).

    Overall, I think it’s a bit unfair to say ME2 was anywhere near as linear as FFXIII. However, your point about how FFXIII saves all the grinding until the end is actually really interesting to me, because I hadn’t realized that. Thanks for that excellent tidbit!

  6. Denis Farr says:

    I suppose the way I see the linearity of ME2 is the same as constructing a toy railroad, to be honest. I have the decision of which pieces to put there, and it can either make that path longer or shorter, but in the end, it’s still as linear. There are no parts where there exists a branch that alters how I get to the end, or even changes the end itself (beyond which companions you have). Ultimately, it is less linear than FFXIII, which is nothing but one long ride that’s already been constructed–but linear? Yes.

    Then again, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with linearity. Until game studios get the budgets to where they can really tell a branching story (and reading any of the devs responses about how truly branching their dialogues are–they say it isn’t all that much), we’ll have linear stories where we can sometimes choose how long it takes to get there, and perhaps some things that change how we might be presented the story–not the overall story itself (Commander Shepard saves the day, no matter what). That doesn’t diminish these games, in my opinion.

    However, I agree. ME2 does a much better job of making it seem less so, through the examples you’ve given. Even party selection has a large part to do with that. FFXIII might have made a more interesting movie, but I feel more and more that’s the direction in which SquareEnix is headed with their main FF franchise.

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