I'm back, and I have played over 13 hours of Final Fantasy XIII! I've been wanting to write a continuation to my previous blog entry for a while, but I've been too busy. Anyways, I'm currently in Chapter 8 of the game (there is, apparently, only 13 chapters), and to be honest, not that much has changed in the way the player progresses through the game, but I'll get to that later. Let me jump to gameplay features that were not initially present during the start of the game.
First of all, in an early chapter (forgot which one), the player is given a new weapons upgrade option that can be triggered in any save station. Upgrading weapons is rather simplistic: you use junk gathered from battle, and increase the EXP of whatever weapon you want with it. Some junk gives more EXP than others. Likewise, some weapons require more EXP than others (especially at later levels). It is also possible to use inferior junk first, obtain bonuses that multiply the amount of EXP from general junk, and use it to level up your weapons faster.
The weapons upgrade feature plays a significant role in the game because acquiring enough gil -- the game's currency -- to purchase new weapons is f'ing impossible. The money is so scarce that you're practically forced to upgrade what you have. Of course, there is probably a method of obtaining money that I'm not aware of, so don't take this too seriously.
Aside from the weapons upgrade option, I've also encountered and obtained my first summons (Called "Eidolons" in FF13). Like in all Final Fantasy games, Shiva and Odin appear! That said, I'm anxiously anticipating the arrival of my personal favorite: Bahamut. Anyways, the Eidolons I've gotten act as party members when summoning them, but you can press the X button to ride them (yes, ride) and manually kick some enemy ass. That said, before even obtaining a summon, the player has to battle it after a story sequence. These battles are unique because if you don't use strategy, you will -- I can't stress this enough -- lose. But fear not! The game's battle system encourages strategy thanks to the paradigm system I vaguely mentioned in my previous blog!
As first, I didn't know what to make of the paradigm system. I thought it was just a way to organize the actions of each character, similarly to the Tales series by Namco. However, later I fought my first boss and lost...miserably. I was quite upset because I hadn't had a game over until that point, and did not save either. But my frown turned upside down when I figured out that losing is not something to dread in this game -- you can restart right where you left off! Anyway -- I keep going off-topic here -- the Paradigm System consists of several different roles you can assign each party member: Commando (Offense), Ravager (Magic), Medic (Healer), Sentinal (Bodyguard/Distraction), Synergist (Team Strengthener), and Saboteur (Enemy Weakener). Basically, depending on the number of members on your team, you can assign the characters any of these positions (assuming they have them), and they will carry out their respective tasks. For example, if I have a Paradigm consisting of one commando, one Medic, and one Ravager, the Commando will attack enemies, the medic will consistently heal party members, and the Ravager will cast offensive spells. In total, the player can preset up to a maximum of six Paradigms outside of battle, and change the roles of characters in-battle by using the LB button. You don't have to worry about wasting MP by switching to Ravager or Medic either -- there is no MP! Yes, you can heal your party members and cast spells until your heart's content! And no, this doesn't over simplify things because bosses will probably kick your asses regardless. Overall, the summons and paradigm system define the battles because without them, battles are pretty dull, repetitive, and monotonous.
From what I've played, Final Fantasy 13 consists of nothing but mashing the A button to defeat all normal enemies. This is because you'll be pressing Auto-Chain in virtually every regular fight. Attacking enemies on your own is time-consuming and useless due to the speed of battles, so you'll find the game doing much of the work for you. Since there's no MP, characters will just bash enemies with all they've got until it dies. That is, unless it's a big monster. Bigger enemies require a different variety of mashing! The player will probably have all the characters gang rape the poor guy until a gauge on the upper right fills and it is staggered (weakened). At this point, the enemy takes much more damage, and can be quickly killed (sometimes, this is the only possible way to defeat an opponent unless you want to fight it for over an hour). After battles, all characters are instantly healed, so there's no need to worry about stocking up on potions (In-Battle, just use Medics to heal the party members!). Luckily, boss battles compensate for all the mashing, and require the player to utilize paradigms, summons, and staggering techniques to overcome the foe. Unfortunately, sometimes these fights drag on for too long. Speaking of dragging on for too long, I haven't clarified what I mentioned in the first paragraph!
As I stated, I'm only in Chapter 8 and the game has not altered in the way characters progress through the story. In other words, during my 13 hours of playtime, the game still consists of moving through narrow, linear paths; attacking myriad enemies; watching cutscenes; and fighting a boss at the end of the characters' segments. I say "characters'" because unlike conventional RPGs, the party members constantly split up, forcing the player to play as characters he/she may not like. I suppose this is a storytelling technique as opposed to a gameplay one, but this is not a movie. On the bright side, in this ceaseless, linear adventure, the player will witness some incredibly stunning environments. Unfortunately, that same player will probably rather see a giant wallpaper in his room. Why? Because there is absolutely no interactivity in these settings. You may glimpse at a beautiful ocean, but that's about it. I suppose I should expect this from a game that uses scripted jumps instead of platforming outside of battles, but eh, at least I get to see pretty pictures and not get lost in overly complex areas.
Well, that's it for now. I've heard that Chapter 11 is challenging, includes sidequests/missions, and allows players to organize party members, so that should be fun.