As I mentioned before and I promise to go into detail later, I am no fan of Japanese RPG’s. Yet I am not alien to the format. Two of my favorite JRPG’s are MS Saga and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. The first game is essentially Final Fantasy: Gundam. The second game might leave you scratching your head. “That’s not a JRPG!” you might claim. Well, actually, it’s about as JRPG as you can get without the weird anime character designs. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was essentially a Lord of the Rings game made on the same engine as Final Fantasy X.
Oddly, the Third Age and FFXIII have something in common. They cut out a lot of crap. See, the Lord of the Rings game was widely criticized for the features it cut. Town visits in particular. This is also a common complaint about Final Fantasy XIII. My recent foray into Lost Odyssey reminds me of why I hate town visits in JRPG’s so very much. They are pointless and annoying. The towns are spread out amongst multiple maps, and there will be no more than three things to do on any one of them. When I say “to do”, that could a combination of an alleyway with some minor item in it, some citizen with pointless game minutia to share with you, or a shop of some sort. Often a part of a town will have nothing to do. These sections exist as transitions between parts of the town that do have something to do.
This pointless padding just frustrates me, especially since these games rarely have maps and so I find myself wandering lost as I try to find that one person who will give me the information I need to progress the plot. Heaven forbid I actually need to find that shop again. Hopefully the next monster I fight will drop some healing potions because I’ve spent all the time in this town I want to!
Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was story, battle, cut scene. Those were your three options. So far, Final Fantasy XIII is the same way. Is it linear? Almost ridiculously so. You start the game fighting on an elevated highway with two options, forward or back. Really, forward is the only option for obvious reasons. The concern was that in making FFXIII appeal more to western audiences they might have focused on the wrong things. Westerners like our freedom, we like our choices. Don’t take away overland maps or town visits!
Actually, I think that’s a mistake. While westerners do like our freedom and we do like our choices, we also have a very low frustration threshold and a very easy irritation trigger. I don’t want to wander aimlessly and lost through a town were I have to traverse five screens just to buy a handful of healing potions. Actually, I wouldn’t mind if I could at least tell where I was at and which way is the quickest exit? Dragon Age has a fairly large town in it, but it features it’s own map for quick travel between sections. You know what? Thanks for that. Don’t force me to wander around and spend precious gaming time doing nothing.
This is a big improvement for Final Fantasy XIII. Get rid of everything the game doesn’t need. Don’t try to add features to “westernize” a game. Do that later when you understand the culture and can do it in a way that hopefully won’t alienate your home audience. Instead, trim the fat and focus on the game and story itself. I bought this game for a reason, so focus on what it does well as the first step in improving your franchise. Take a page from American game designers on how not to improve your game. More sequels have been ruined by adding features that nobody wanted instead of focusing on the areas that nobody liked or were done poorly compared to the rest of the game.
Crap, I can’t believe with my hardcore anti-JRPG stance in general and strong distaste of Final Fantasy in particular that I’m having to admit they got something very right with this game.