An unfortunate reality about Final Fantasy XIII
Recently (within the past couple weeks), I've picked up Final Fantasy XIII for X-Box 360 and begun playing. Now almost 19 hours into the game, I've come to a somewhat depressing conclusion.
I feel absolutely no attatchment to any of the characters, nor do I have any interest in the storyline whatsoever.
This dawned on me as I was observing what I presume to be an important storyline event (I know this to be true because the already gorgeous graphics got extra nice looking), and realized once it was almost over that I'd spent the entire time reminiscing about how great Final Fantasy VII was, and how much I miss that total engrossment in what's happening to the people and world I'm being immersed in. I'm not saying I expect any game to ever be Final Fantasy VII (because to be fair, in my opinion that can never happen, so to hold games to that standard would be like comparing a variety of cold sandwiches to the world's greatest cheese steak), but when I'm 20 hours into a game and feel absolutely nothing as a character spouts off their rather generic sounding yet well voice-acted monologues about the pain of loss that they're experiencing something is very wrong.
Another great issue I take with XIII is they've adopted what I like to call Final Fantasy X's "hold-your-hand-through-the-entire-fucking-game" style of game play, where you basically walk down a series of paths fighting enemies until the next cut scene. As much as I said I wouldn't do it, I have to bring up VII again and point out that within the first hour, you're thrust from the city of Midgar out into the world to find your own way. Granted, if you want to get REALLY technical you could say that you're still on a path just with a sense of self-exploration implanted by giving you limited access to the world within the game, but the thing is it's such a lush, immersive world that you don't even notice you can't do certain things yet because it makes complete sense that you can't cross oceans or mountains, which is a testament to what a fantastic job they did drawing in players and writing a gripping storyline. In XIII (and on that same note, X), you literally follow the map in the corner and walk along the gorgeously rendered path, cutting down enemies and saving your game at a save point every 20 feet. There's no sense of being on your own or exploration, and the game would feel exactly the same if they took out your ability to control where the characters move and simply made it where the only time you have control is when there's a battle going on and everything else is a cut scene. Hell, it'd even make the game go faster that way.
Lastly, I want to touch on the subject of those save points every 20 feet. Combine this with the fact that if you die you can pretty much instantly start the exact same battle over right away regardless of whether or not you've saved, and there's really no motivation to not die. You never feel worried because the game will always be there to hold your hand and walk you down the pre-determined path, point to each next monster you need to fight, and give you an infinite number of mulligans if you happen to screw up. What happened to the days when hours of progress could be lost because you've neglected to save your game and accidentaly stumbled into the village where Ultima Weapon is waiting to stomp the shit out of you? (That actually happened to me.) Save points are supposed to be a sigh of relief, now they're as mundane and routine as the rest of the game itself. Your health is restored after every battle, and magic is as free as the air you breathe, meaning there's no magic point system of any sort and characters can cast an infinite number of spells per battle (theoretically). Gone are the days of managing your inventory and remaining magic to make sure you can make it to that next save point, one of the suspense-builders that makes so many RPG predecessors great.
I can't say if I'll finish XIII or not. To it's credit, the battle system is somewhat fun, and the graphics are amazing. The voice acting is done quite well (even if the dialogue is rather uninspired), but the music is somewhat forgettable. They've made the series more accessible to all types of gamers, and in the process have let down one of their hardcore fans.