Lightning Returns Rant

Lightning-Returns-Final-Fantasy-13-ps3-998x1152

 

My husband doesn’t know this but I’m trading this into GameStop as soon as I get a chance.

Hubby and I finally saw the credits roll on Lightning Returns last night. We clocked in at around 55 hours spent and accomplished pretty much everything you can do without starting a New Game +. Steve-O already did a technical review of this game, so I can delve right into why I think this is the worst console Final Fantasy game, like, EVER. Some handheld ones were pretty bad, but in the main FF line-up and sequels this has to take the cake.

In fact, I think I’d even rate this as lower than FFX-2. I put FFX-2 on my “Most Disappointing Games” list. It was the worst FF game I’d played at the time. It took everything that was beautiful and amazing about FFX (My FAVORITE) and stomped it into the ground after taking a big dump on it. But you know what? At least in X-2 you could explore the world, actually enjoy a good battle system, and expect some RPG game play elements that actually make sense. Playing Lightning Returns was unnecessarily stressful, thanks in part to the stupid time constraints and juggling your one resource with having enough time to do everything you need to do in one day, getting to where you need to go, and getting a leg-up in battles. Due to the fact that we wanted to do all the side quests (There’s one that can’t even be turned in until New Game +), we carefully managed all of our time and stressed to follow the guidelines laid out in the official walkthrough. It was a chore, is what it was.

The side quests were boring fetch and/or kill quests. And most of the NPCs giving the quests would go on vomit-inducing tangents for about 15 minutes trying to find a meaning to their pointless 500-year existence. The dialogue was so bad even Lightning would often say things like, “You can’t be serious,” or, “Let me guess,  you want me to go get it for you,” or, “You can’t possibly be that stupid.” It was almost like she was inside of my head and giving voice to my own thoughts about the game. This was supposed to be the writer’s idea of reflecting her having “no feelings” even though she constantly pines over her sister and is quite capable of being annoyed. If this were a better game, I’d say Lightning’s jabs at the NPC’s poor dialogue would have been the game poking fun at itself, but alas… the writers do NOT have that level of self-awareness, I can promise you that. I hope this isn’t a true reflection of what humans would be like if they couldn’t die of natural causes. I’d completely lose the little faith in humanity I’ve got left. After 500 years on Pulse, humans are just as selfish, ignorant and stupid as ever.

So why did we suffer through about 60 painful side quests? Well, unlike pretty much every other RPG in history, Lightning does not receive any type of experience for defeating enemies. The ONLY ways to get any substantial stat increases are to do the 5 main story quests and to do the run-around side quests. The whole “Leveling up” thing in 99% of RPGs is nonexistent here. Plus you need to do like, 40-something quests to unlock the Ultimate Lair and fight every Last One to get amazing equipment. I don’t want to get myself started on the whole “making monsters extinct thing.” I’ll just say that, while it is a neat concept in a couple of ways, it has more cons than anything else.

A strange coincidence between LR and my other most-hated Final Fantasy is the dress-up feature. In FFX-2 you change “dresspheres” to change the girl’s class, essentially. Except Lightning gets the star treatment with jewelry, accessories, and breaking down her schemata down to each ability she can use in combat. You’ll spend a bulk of the game micro-managing her outfits to best suit your play style. And by “play style” I mean what specific elements or abilities you need in order to stagger and kill a mob. I didn’t mind this too much, except while in the heat of battle I often had a hell of a time remembering what I equipped on each of the 3 schematas I was using. There’s a pointless “adornment” you can equip as well. It only offers aesthetic value. I feel weird saying “aesthetic” since half the time they look absolutely RIDICULOUS. I made the best of it and equipped the most obnoxious ones I could find to get a reaction out of Hubby. Case in point: we beat the game with Lightning wearing an effing CHRISTMAS TREE on one schemata, and a super afro with a red chocobo chick sticking out of it on another. Eat your heart out, Sazh.

Speaking of a staple character, none of them have had ANY character growth in 500 years either. Snow is still moping about Serah. Same for Noel and Yuel. Sazh’s kid still won’t wake up, and Fang is still awesome. Hope is still annoying as ever. Don’t even get me started on Vanille. I’ve always disliked her and her stupid voice. I’m glad the scenes when she speaks were relatively limited. Thankfully there’s an option to skip cutscenes and mash a button to get through the crappy dialogue as quickly as possible. But the load screens are so long I found myself opting to mash X instead.

I don’t know how much longer my Final Fantasy fandom loyalty is going to last. With the exception of Crisis Core and Dissidia (which still had gag worthy and downright confusing writing) I haven’t genuinely enjoyed a Final Fantasy since FFX all those years ago. I look at games like this and the recent slew of Kingdom Hearts spin-offs and wonder how anyone can be perplexed about JRPGs falling to the wayside. I’m hoping Ni No Kuni and Tales of Xilia will elevate JRPGs somewhat closer to the pedestal I used to hold them to. When I finally get around to playing them, that is. But I won’t hold my breath. As for the Final Fantasy series itself, I solemnly vow to wait and buy the next installment used.

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Retro Review: Breath of Fire 2

Breath of FIre 2

A couple of months ago, my gaming partner and I decided to pick up Breath of Fire 2. We played Breath of Fire 3, a completely amazing RPG, and made the mistake of thinking that its predecessor would be, I don’t know… enjoyable? Or at the very least a good, nostalgic SNES RPG romp.

Well, it’s not. BoF2 is not fun. Nor is it hardly tolerable. In order to try and make sense of how utterly terrible it is, try conceptualizing a JRPG lovechild between a self-mutilating masochist who can’t figure out which direction to slice their wrist and a 15-year old who thinks they know how to write but can’t even get a positive review on fanfiction.net.

We almost rage quit. Multiple times. This game is so terrible, even my gaming partner who has impressive fortitude and patience when it comes to video games had to consign to putting the classic controller down and taking deep, healing breaths.  Instead of quitting (because that would permanently injure our gamer pride) we took therapy breaks with Lollipop Chainsaw and movies.  There are so many flaws (both technically and conceptually), that it is hard to believe BoF2 even made it through any sort of review process before getting put on the market. At times I felt like the developers wanted me to break my face with the controller and damn them to an eternity of  anal penetration with cumbersome, pointy objects. I have a hard time thinking clearly through my rage when it comes to BoF2. I think the best way to go about this opinion piece is to list everything that makes this game the worst RPG I’ve ever forced myself to play.

1.) CONSTANT PARTY RAPING- When I use the term “party raping,” I mean instances when you have, say, 7 characters to choose from but the game keeps forcing certain party members down your throat. In most RPGs, it happens due to plot purposes. Final Fantasy XIII would be a recent example of having your party forcibly shuffled around for 50-75% of the game because of what is going on with the story. It is to be expected once in a while in a lot of these types of games. Sometimes you are strong-armed into playing one character solo. Again, it is common. BoF2 does this, but does it dishonestly and stupidly.

In terms of plot related party raping (and yes, there are other methods I’ll cover in my next complaint) the two most annoying occurrences were doing solo boss fights with Sten and, later on, Nina. As Sten, you have to go to his hometown and rescue the other party members who end up getting captured. He was immediately pit against a boss who got two turns to his one. Well actually, the bosses’ one turn=two actions, so really, four attacks to Sten’s one attack.  We hadn’t used Sten unless forced to at that point (he’s a monkey with boring abilities and the way he joined the party was just… tacky), so he was a little under-geared and under-leveled. You’d think common sense would dictate that, hey, if they’re going to force a solo boss fight upon a character the player may not have been using up to that point, they’d give the player access to either the other party’s inventory or an equipment store to buy upgrades, right?

Well, such was not the case. You also can’t leave the town. All you get is access to a two floor dungeon with a couple marginal equipment upgrades. And the fights in the dungeon were also a much higher difficultly than they should have been! One lonely monkey vs. a group of three mobs that enjoy “Slamming” him for more hit points than he even has before getting a turn= a very frustrating two hours trying to level up to kill the boss.  And that’s not all! Let’s make him traverse a dungeon all on his own after the boss fight with no heal spell or reliable way to run from even more random fights that can knock you out before you can say “This is f***ing BS!” And I don’t want to hear “Just run away,” because it doesn’t work, or “Use a ‘Smoke’ item,” because if it does decrease the encounter rate, it isn’t by a significant amount.

Something similar happens later on in the game when you have to use Nina, a mage, solo. Her boss fight was laughable after the stupid dungeon they make her go through by herself. We died, repeatedly, and kept popping back up where the rest of the party were offering to help, but just stood there, watching Nina come in and out after every death. It’s not like it would’ve made sense to put enemies with noticeable magic weaknesses in a dungeon when you are ONLY controlling a mage. Yeah, magic is all-around crappy in this game. Another gripe of mine.

I’d prefer the game MAKE me use characters, even if I have no interest in them,  than let me think I actually could choose how to set up my party and punish me for not having the foresight to swap crappy characters in and out to soak up experience (not that there’s a decent way to do so). God forbid they give non-active party members partial experience, or scale the solo boss fights dependent on your level, or supply you with a reliable way to buff the character up before throwing them into their obnoxious solo endeavors.

2.) CONSTANT WORLD MAP BACKTRACKING- The yokel who decided walking back and forth across the world map three dozen times before giving the player access to a Warp spell and without even updating the random encounters needs some lengthy doses of Chinese water torture. I’ll come clean here: one of my RPG pet peeves is being forced to walk by foot across already-explored territory while entering random encounters that offer trivial rewards. BORING! BoF2 took this, coincided it with my party raping frustrations, and showed me a whole new level of rage.

Every character has a different ability they can perform on the world map. You must put that person in the lead, hit the corresponding button, and something different will happen depending on who you’re controlling. In order to access certain areas on the world map, you must have certain people in the party to proceed. See where I’m going with this? So, say you hate Jean because you think he is an insufferable tool and is completely ineffective in battle (which isn’t too far from the truth) but you have to keep letting him in your party because, being a frog and all, he is the only one who can swim to certain spots. Now imagine you spent 15 minutes crossing the world map to get where you wanted to go only to find out you need to turn back around and change your party lineup because you have to put Jean in your party. And then, assuming you go back to the nearest dragon statue to change your party (Dragon statues are the only way to swap active characters and with the ridiculous amount of time spent changing party members there really should have been more of them) and get back on track, you make five more minutes of progress only to find out you need a different party member! But hey, by now Jean will be level 14 and know Warp, so he won’t be quite so useless until you get Bleu. This is what I mean by not being honest about forcing party members down your throat. You don’t even get the decency of a suggestion that it might be a good idea to put so-and-so in the party for the next plot area most of the time.

Just when I thought this was all going to be alleviated once we were able to fly, the game spit in my face again. In order to fly across the world map, you still have to have a certain party member present. Which means, even when finding good item/experience grinding locations, you’re not necessarily going to have the ideal party you want leveling up. And there is no dragon statue to be found on these isolated grinding islands. Tell me how that makes any sense at all.

These frustrations could have easily been avoided if the game would just let you change party members from the main menu. Backtracking would also be less painful if you could run away from fights. The “Run” option uses everyone’s turn and doesn’t like to work most of the time. Even when you are level 25 and trying to escape level 1 Slimes. This is not an exaggeration. I cannot fathom why there is NO character with an escape ability, or a consumable item. Even if it wasn’t 100% I’d take it, because at least the other characters could whittle away at the enemy’s HP. As it stands, you’ll fail running away from a pointless fight three times, then give up and kill the enemy anyway because it seems to be less time consuming. And if you’re fighting a higher level enemy and your life depends on it, don’t depend on getting away alive. You will die and wish you could kill the stupid characters in real life because they “Won’t Run” from fights they can’t win.

So yeah, the developers managed to combine three of my major peeves into one hellish experience:  Constant party raping while walking back and forth across the world map fifty times and fighting the same level 1 slimes over and over again.

3.) BAD TRANSLATIONS- Don’t get me wrong, I like quirky and funny dialogue gaffes as much as the next JRPG player. They tend to have a certain charm to them. Legend of Dragoon is an example of how they can be funny but also tolerable. In BoF2, they are crippling. Debilitating. No one who has a third grader’s understanding of the English language proofread this before giving it the go ahead.  Punctuation and grammar are afterthoughts. When you try to unite your shamans, “No” means “Yes” and “Yes” means “No.” I went around and around the same conversation before I realized that when I was telling her I didn’t want a shaman explanation, I actually had to tell her I did want one, even though I didn’t, I just wanted to do the damn uniting already.

Item descriptions tend to be pointless or unintelligible. When hovering over a sword, the description says, “Is a sharp blade.” …Ya don’t say? A sword is sharp, huh? My gamer senses are telling me the blade is sharp, thanks. What I really want to know is if it has any special properties or elemental attributes. But whatever. One of the accessory descriptions says “Erase the spell.” Um, pardon? I mean, I had all kinds of guesses about what that might mean, but I’d like to think I deserve a little better idea of what I’m getting myself into before putting the thing on. It really should’ve said, “Periodically nullifies magical damage” but something tells me that’s a bit complicated, given the translator’s ineptitude. I’ve also  read conflicting reports online about whether the “Collar” accessory increases or decreases the encounter rate.  Personally, I found my encounter rate to be consistently high no matter what I did.

Want proof no one bothered to read the crap they were putting in this game? Check this out. Anyone who knows Japanese language stereotypes knows that “r” comes out as “l” when they speak English . Well, if you decide to go fishing, the small menu that pops up asks you if you want to equip a “lod.” Seems like they didn’t bother checking on whether “lod” was actually a word in the English language or not. I even typed “lod” into dictionary.com and all I got was a poor translation of a town in Israel. In case you can’t wrap your head around this, when you want to fish and the game gives you the option to “Equip lod/bait” they actually mean ROD. As in FISHING ROD. Not one English speaking person read this, or perhaps they didn’t care to point out the glaring error because even if the game had glorious English it would still stuck. But I still think the morons who thought this was a passable translation should have been laughed out of Capcom after having a fishing “lod” shoved up their buttholes.

All this translation ridiculousness aside, the biggest problem I have with it all is feeling lost most of the time because I couldn’t make heads nor tails out of what the NPCs were trying to tell me, which leads me to my next main complaint…

4.) LACK OF DIRECTION/POOR PLOT- I’ll give the bad translation some of the credit for this. You really can’t expect to play this game for story purposes because when it isn’t being a stereotypical JRPG, it is a convoluted mess of strange sentences and bizarre roadblocks. I hope I’m not forgetting anything, because I’m going to give you a series of events we had to do in order to advance the plot: Recruited a new party member in order to talk to a tree, tried talking to the tree, but he needed a “Dream Pillow” in order to recall something important… we went to where the “Dream Pillow” was located, but none of the citizens would speak with us because we didn’t have some fancy instrument. As it so happened, Monkey Sten knew where to get one so we went to his hometown and proceeded with the solo crap I complained about earlier to get the flute or whatever it was called, went back to the town where the “Dream Pillow” was, then we had to go find some secluded old man and bring him there. THEN we had to return to where we JUST picked up the old man to get an item he needed from his apprentice so we could go INSIDE the fat ruler of “Dream Pillow” town and kill her demonic fat cells. They then gave us the “Dream Pillow,” we went back to the forest and after all that work the absent-minded ancient tree told us the demons were killing the forest.

DA FUQ JUST HAPPENED?!

Saved a queen by turning into microscopic lipid destroyers and clearing out her colon? Un-freaking-believable. All to get a dream pillow from a forgetful tree who doesn’t have a HEAD to rest on said pillow… To be told meany demons were killing his tree friends. I have to say, for my first video game liposuction procedure, it was underwhelming. Ten hours of pointless running around doing completely random fetch quests, and the only hints towards a grander, overarching scheme were demonic fat cells and tree killers.

I don’t always ask to have my hand held throughout an entire game. I know that, especially in older RPGs, there will be times when the game doesn’t give me much to go on moving forward. Sometimes you just have to explore a little bit, talk to NPCs, or follow an old hint. BoF2 doesn’t bother to give the courtesy of even a vague shrug in the right direction most of the time. No cardinal directions, no “check out the mountains,” no “talk to the people here,” no nothing. Most of the time, you’ll complete a dungeon and then sit there, scratching your head, wondering where you’re supposed to go next.

At one point, an NPC said “Go learn about St. Eva.” Which, by the way, is an abbreviation for St. Evan. Everything in this game is abbreviated, which is totally annoying, by the way.  What on earth do you suppose that means? “Go learn about St. Eva.” It means that you have to go to a church and talk to a priest about 20 times until you’ve donated a small fortune. Apparently after you donate a certain amount of money, you get a free bible for your troubles! The priest doesn’t even hint that he’s going to teach you about St. Eva or give you a lifelong donor prize or anything, either. It is all totally random, and I don’t know who would stand there and donate a ton of their hard earned money for no reason. Without the wonderful internet, we would have literally spent hours wandering around between almost every major dungeon and town trying to figure out what the game wanted us to do next.

We also missed the boat on a lot of cool things we could do. Mostly because we had no idea about any of the people we could recruit or things we could do with the TownShip. The first NPC we spoke to who wanted to join our TownShip caught us by surprise. We let him join our cause, of course, but it was to our detriment. It’s one of those systems where there are only a certain amount of people who perform different tasks (carpenter, armory, fishing, etc.) that you can recruit. So if there are two armor sales people and you invite one of them into your town, you’ll screw yourself out of the best armor if you pick the wrong one.  There’s no tutorial or anything about all of this stuff, so you happen upon NPCs and tell them the wrong thing and hate yourself later for it.

Oh, and you can also make the TownShip fly! A flying headquarters, something every RPG needs! Final Fantasy already had the lockdown on the airship thing at this point in time, so it was a unique idea. Well, you need a certain NPC for this as well. Except this NPC can be killed. And boy, did we kill this NPC good. It’s a boss fight, and a boss fight that doesn’t think to give any indication that killing him might be a bad idea. No awkward dialogue, no Game Over if you kill him. Things continue on as normal. If my memory serves correctly, he was begging us to kill him. Should’ve known better than to trust anything a character in this damn game says. By killing him we ALSO ruined our chances of getting the good ending.

So after all that work, we ended up with the bad ending and had to youtube the good ending. In my opinion, the bad ending is more fitting… The good ending is a bit cheesy. But it is frustrating that in a game where the player can unintentionally screw themselves over so much, there is no option to save on a different save file at the dragon statues. And, like I said, no indications or hints or tutorials or anything.

5.) SHAMANS- The shaman uniting system was this game’s one chance at not totally sucking, but they managed to botch that too! The concept is pretty neat. Aside from Ryu and Bleu, all the other characters can unite with shamans you find throughout the game. If you chose the right shaman/s for each character, they transform, get great stat bonuses and a new ability. Katt turns into a hot cat chick, Rand turns into a lame pink pokemon, and Jean turns into a Battletoad-reminiscent mech. And there IS a tutorial for this, which you’ll accidentally sit through when you don’t want to because the shaman granny thinks “No” means “Yes.” Finding all the shamans does take some backtracking and exploration, so use a walkthrough. The problem is this: If a united character is killed OR knocked down to critical health they lose the shaman buff. And the enemies all somehow know. In the final dungeon, our party consisted of Ryu, Bleu, Rand and Katt, which means only half of our characters had shaman buffs. Without fail the enemies would spam death on Rand and Katt. Or they would take turns “Slamming” Katt, thus knocking her into the danger HP zone and removing her shaman buffs. Rand was even wearing the DmndBR (which means “Diamond Bracelet” for those who don’t speak RPG Abbreviations) and still fell to the Death spell even though that particular piece of equipment is supposed to prevent against it. When you lose the shaman buff, the only way to retrieve it is to return to your TownShip. Since we never got the TownShip to fly, we effectively had to return to the beginning of the game every single time. Needless to say, this resulted in a frustrating back-and-forth with the final dungeon where the mobs spammed Death and trying to run away from fights was pointless.

Even MORE frustrating is when your shaman buffs suddenly disappear after certain cut scenes. And yes, over halfway through the final dungeon there is one of these particular scenes. The game did us the favor of shuffling our party around and giving us back our characters WITHOUT the shamans they definitely had up until that point. It was almost like they wanted us hating the final boss fight, too. The final boss fights were as expected, not too easy but not too difficult, and the laughable plot almost made traversing the dungeon multiple times worth it. There’s really no reason or excuse for randomly losing the shaman buffs we intentionally tried so hard to keep so we could have them during the final boss fight. Okay, maybe there IS one excuse: the developers really didn’t want anyone to potentially have fun while playing this game.

Those are my main gripes with this game, but there are definitely more. Aside from Death and buff spells, magic is pretty crappy in this game. Angel, a “Holy” spell, doesn’t hurt undead enemies, and this applies to pretty much all of the elemental weaknesses you’d think would exist. The inventory management system is a mess: items that should stack on their own don’t. You have to go into your inventory and “Clean” your mess of items which should happen automatically, in my opinion. There don’t seem to be items that fully heal a character’s AP, and one of the only satisfying high-damage moves is Ryu’s G. Dragon spell, which uses all of his AP. So unless you want to spend turns giving him 4 WFruits, you only get to use the spell once per fight. I mean, really, what kind of RPG doesn’t have an item to fully heal a character’s magic pool? You don’t get the satisfaction of seeing high numbers very often. As I mentioned before, even if Katt had her shaman buff her HP still wasn’t high enough to withstand two enemy crits in a row. The only high damage outputting moves we found were Ryu’s Dragon spells, Jean’s “Chop” (which failed the second time we tried to use it so we didn’t bother), and Katt’s “Keep” ability with an Atk-Up boost. No matter how much time we spend experience, we never really felt like we were getting ahead of the enemies.  The game also likes to switch around your party set-up, but it’s not like that means anything, because enemies commonly ignore the character you put in the front because you want them to soak up most of the damage. Rand, who has great healing spells, and Bleu, who is a flat-out mage, both had more HP than the main character. Not bad, but a little confusing.

Oh, and this game has NO stealing. Big letdown. Especially since there’s a depressingly low number of accessories in this game, it’d be nice to be able to steal accessories and equipment from bosses.

If, despite everything I’ve just said, you insist on letting this game play you, I will make a couple of suggestions. Play an emulated version with fan translations. Really, die hard fans do so much better with walkthroughs than the people who get paid to do them. And I KNOW in this case, it is impossible for their translating to be any worse than the official version. Plus, with an emulator, you can take advantage of save states and save yourself some frustrations. My other suggestion is to hug a good walkthrough. It’ll save you from a lot of the troubles we had. But honestly, if I was given an ultimatum that I either had to play this game again or shove hot pokers underneath my toenails, I’m pretty sure I would choose the latter.