It occurs to me that there are quite a few reasons why I feel pathologically compelled to play as many new games as possible these days. Certainly there’s a desire to be able to “take part in the conversation”, as it were. It also gives me something to talk about here, and I’ve not kept it hidden that I’d like to turn my experience in blogging here into something more professional (although I recognize that (a) I’ve got a long way to go as far as that’s concerned, and (b) it’s not like professional gaming journalism is a hot racket).
But I think there’s a more fundamental reason at work here, and it’s that while I’ve always been a huge fan of videogames, I also had a rather gigantic gap in my playing resume. I started with an Atari 2600, but never had any of the Nintendo machines of the 80s. My little brother – 6.5 years younger than me – had a Sega Genesis, and we both played the hell out of that, but after that I was totally out of the loop. I never owned a PS1 or a PS2, nor did I own an N64 or Gamecube. After I graduated college, one of my best friends bought a PS1, and we spent a lot of time playing the Oddworld games and Crash Bandicoot, and I suppose it was at that point that I caught the bug again. My girlfriend (at the time) bought me a Dreamcast, and after that I started turning into the man you see before you.
[I feel like I've said all this before. I probably have. I'm too lazy to search the archives. I'm in a reflective mood today; indulge me.]
Anyway, I bring this up because I’m playing Final Fantasy XIII-2, and I feel bad about it.
You’ve gotta understand – I never played the early, “classic” FF games. As I said the other day, I’ve downloaded FF7, 8, and 9 on PSN out of obligation (and I’ll probably download 6 at some point, too), but with the exception of the 10-15 hours I put into FF7 for a blog feature that never quite went anywhere, I’ve not touched them. I bought the PSP-only FF7: Crisis Core, but didn’t get more than a few hours in without putting it down. And I think I put a few hours into the remakes of the early titles on the DS, but – again – I couldn’t really stick with it.
I came to FFXIII as a noob, ultimately. But the point is: I showed up for it. I deliberately played the PS3 version, because I wanted the best experience. I wanted something gigantic and epic for my PS3, too, since I hardly ever use it for gaming, and I’d figured that the first HD FF experience would be something special.
I was wrong.
FFXIII had a fun combat system and gorgeous visuals, absolutely. It was also relentlessly linear – which I didn’t necessarily mind, because I was overwhelmed by the incredibly annoying cast of characters and the utterly nonsensical story, a story that could generously be called “convoluted”. I finished the game, eventually, because I wanted to be able to say that I finished a Final Fantasy game, but it certainly wasn’t a pleasurable experience. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was because I’d finally fallen out of love with JRPGs, or if it was simply that FFXIII was just a shitty one. But the general consensus from FF fans was that FFXIII was a shitty game, and that made me feel a bit better. [I still sometimes feel like if I've had a bad time with a game, it's somehow my fault. I genuinely thought that I was somehow to blame for not understanding how to play the infamously awful "E.T." on the 2600.]
Point being, SquareEnix knew that FFXIII was a disappointment, and supposedly FFXIII-2 is a direct response to what everybody hated about the original; it’s more open-ended, it refines an already great combat system into something even better, it adds dialogue trees (sort of) – it’s catering to what it thinks the West wants. The problem is that these characters are still annoying, and this story is still stupid.
An hour isn’t enough time to form a valid opinion – I know that. It took me 40 hours of FFXIII before I started having “fun”, and your guess is as good as mine as to why I felt compelled to spend 40 hours playing something that wasn’t (besides the aforementioned compulsion to finish a Final Fantasy game). But an hour is enough time for the developer to introduce the story and the characters and get the player acclimated to what’s about to happen, and HOLY SHIT I don’t care. The dialogue is awful, and I genuinely feel bad for the voice actors, most of whom do a really good job with truly terrible lines. The characters are ridiculous. There’s really no other way to put it. I don’t like any of them, and it’s certainly not because they’re emoting at every single moment. (Seriously – do they need to insert every grunt and gasp and voiced utterance? It’s bizarre. Not even movies include that much sonic detail; it’s terribly distracting.)
And yet, after all this, I’m sure I’m going to keep playing through the weekend (except for the Superbowl, of course – go Giants!), and probably right up until next week’s Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning, which I am legitimately looking forward to. I am a whore.