Six to Start

Final Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy is the epitome of everything that is good and bad about games that try to tell a memorable story. While it's easy to mock the tedious predictability of the series and its imitators, it's the only game with a story that my friends at school talked about, and the only one where numerous boys freely confessed that they cried at Aeris' death in Final Fantasy VII. This is quite the achievement, since it was in a school and at a time when people would use any excuse to call each other 'gay'.

Because I didn't have a Playstation, the series' 40+ hour story and endless cut-scenes scenes held a tantalising mystique to me for an entire decade. I imagined vast worlds populated by complex characters, with the power of CGI giving total freedom to artists' imaginations, and simple but enjoyable game mechanics that would perfectly complement the games' stories. After all, with review after review proclaiming the perfection of every single Final Fantasy game, how could it be otherwise.

So when I bought a PS3 and Final Fantasy XIII, I was as enthusiastic as can be. Even the cautionary tales that the game was 'too linear' for the first dozen hours didn't put me off - I don't have a problem with linear games, as long as they're engaging.

Of course, I was disappointed - disappointed by the nonsensical story, the astoundingly cliched and sexist characters, but most of all, by the gameplay (not by the graphics though - those were fantastic). Graphic adventures are linear; Fable 2 is linear; Halo is linear; even Red Dead Redemption is basically linear. I believe that if you want to give players a memorable, emotional experience, then telling a largely linear story is one of the best ways to do that.

Final Fantasy XIII's problem, unfortunately, is that it doesn't take any care at all to justify or conceal that linearity with an appropriate story or game mechanics (Rockstar, for example, is particularly fond of blocking or temporarily destroying bridges to other parts of its worlds). Instead, you're literally forced down straight and narrow paths to whatever fate might await you, and for about 3-4 hours, I could win every battle by just tapping the same sequence of buttons over and over again.

The game does try to alleviate boredom by switching the player between multiple characters. On the face of it, this is a good idea and can create more elaborate and interesting stories, but the too-rapid jumping merely diluted the drama. Even worse, the fact that at least two of the player-controlled characters hated each others' guts posed a serious problem - as a player, I would rather not be forced to perform actions that could kill my characters (as an aside, this is related to the lack of omniscience you see in games but not some novels).

Now, I understand the impulse to make games accessible to new players and why you might want to limit player agency in order to prevent confusion, but it's madness to keep this up for hours. People have said that it 'gets good after 12 hours' but that's hardly a ringing endorsement for new players - I can watch an entire season of Mad Men, or finish Portal and Braid, in that time.

So I just gave up; I couldn't bear the thought of spending even more time in a frustrating world that was unable to justify its limitations.

If you want to play an even more linear and non-interactive game that Final Fantasy XIII that is actually incredibly fun, then you've got to play Super PSTW Action RPG - it's the lowest of the lo-fi, but it's also a glorious few minutes of fun. And once you've played that, try the sequel.