Over the past six months, I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in a few game-swaps with other bloggers. We’ll decide on a theme together, send each other a video game which matches the requirements, and then play the title received and share our thoughts on them.
Luke from Hundstrasse sent me a copy of Whiplash for ‘bizarre retro titles’, a PlayStation 2 platformer which caused some controversy when it was released. Then followed all the cutscenes and craziness that came with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty after sharing ‘favourite series’ with Athena from AmbiGaming. The most recent game-swap is with Nathan from Gaming Omnivore, and Pete and I are currently playing through Banjo-Kazooie for ‘genres we’re not experienced with’.
I’ve also been playing Final Fantasy XIII since the middle of August for a swap with Ellen from Ace Asunder. Anyone who knows this lovely lady will be aware just how much the title’s pink-haired protagonist means to her. In a post entitled Lightning Will Not Leave Me published on her blog last month, she wrote: “Lightning’s story taught me about myself, the person I know the least about, and that’s a precious gift I never thought a series of video games could give me.”
It’s therefore easy to assume that the basis of our game-swap was ‘favourite games’ or maybe even ‘most-loved protagonists’, but it was something completely different. This collaboration was going to one which challenged us to play releases which make use of mechanics we don’t usually enjoy. I’ve never hidden how much I dislike turn-based combat, having written about the subject in the past and discussed it several times while streaming, and so I wasn’t surprised when a copy of FFXII appeared in my Steam library one day.
So why don’t I like turn-based titles? My biggest problem is that it feels so far removed from what would really happen in a fight. When you come face-to-face with a huge monster, you’re not going to politely wait while it takes it’s turn to strike – you’re going to get stuck in and hit it with everything you’ve got to prevent the beast from doing damage to you at the start. There’s no way I could see myself saying, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly attack you first, that would be far too selfish! After you, good sir.’
This explains why I initially had some doubts about streaming Ellen’s gift. I knew how much this game and its follow-ups meant to my blogger-friend and so I was concerned I’d say or do something to spoil it for her. Would I be able to play it for long enough to be able to see what she found so special about it? Would that be what I needed to keep me going when the gameplay wasn’t to my taste or became tough? And would I even be able to pick up the mechanics in the first place, without throwing down the controller in frustration?
I must admit that I don’t dislike the combat as much as I expected thanks to FFXIII’s Command Synergy Battle (CBS) system. Instead of controlling every character in your party and taking turns in a battle, the player focuses on the leader only and can perform actions as soon as the segments on their Active Dimension Battle (ADB) gauge is filled. Other party-members are controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence (AI) although you can switch between Paradigms to have them fulfil a different role.
It also helps that Ellen agreed I could play on easy mode and I’m making use of the Auto-Battle feature. This selects commands automatically for the player during fights depending on factors such as the party’s health and the enemy you’re trying to beat. I can totally understand why experienced turn-based fans would avoid it at all costs because it does take away some of the more tactical elements of the game – but for a complete novice like me, I found it invaluable. I’m not sure I’d have had the patience to continue without it.
The thing I don’t like though is the Battle Rating system, as I don’t feel the need to be graded on every single fight because all I care about it making it out alive and getting back to the gameplay. And I know it’s a fundamental part of turn-based RPGs but I don’t like having to keep switching between characters either. As I’ve written before, I much prefer sticking with one protagonist so I can get to know their backstory, personality and skills fully rather than having to jump between several of them.
Pete and I have found that the people joining us on Twitch while we’re streaming FFXIII have been firmly in one of two camps: they either adore the game or it’s their least-favourite entry in the series. There doesn’t seem to be any in-between and the more frequent complaint is the game’s linearity. On one hand, I can see what they mean. You’re essentially travelling down a long corridor which is interspersed with fights at regular intervals and, although we’ve been told it opens up later on, we haven’t reached that point yet.
Personally I don’t have a problem with this. Sometimes I like being able to sit back and enjoy the journey the developer wants to take me on, rather than having to deal with the pressure of choice. My issue is more with the number of battles in each corridor. I understand these are needed to gain Crystogen Points (CP) to level up your characters but the enemies are often the same in an area and it feels a little repetitive. Maybe I’d have a different opinion on this if the game was entirely an action RPG and used mechanics that come more natural to me.
Speaking of the characters, I’m warming far more to the female protagonists than the male ones right now. Hope is growing on me a little since toughening up but at first, I groaned each time he appeared onscreen thanks to his downbeat nature (we renamed him ‘Mope’). I’m not sure I’m ever going to like Snow though. Anyone who calls themselves ‘The Hero’ has got to be an idiot and as Lightening says herself, he’s ‘arrogant and chummy from the get-go and thinks he’s everyone’s pal’.
Playing FFXIII has taught me two things. The first lesson is that I can manage turn-based combat if I put my mind to it, even though I may not enjoy it anywhere near as much as other mechanics. The second and more important lesson is that it’s important to remember that everyone has a special game which is unique to them. We might not always understand their choices or see what they see in a certain title, but there’s something in it which spoke to them and possibly helped them through a tough time.
For example, that game for me is Fable. It will always have a special place in my heart because it was the one which brought me back to gaming after stepping away from it for several years and I might not be here writing this post today if it wasn’t for Peter Molyneux’s project. But I’m well aware it’s very much a game of its time and feels awfully clunky to play nowadays, having picked it back up again myself after watching Athena play it on her stream. It therefore won’t be something that everybody enjoys or finds as special as I do.
It’s therefore important to be aware of other opinions about a title and take them into account – but as discussed last month, it’s also vital to be honest when it comes to sharing your own views. You just need to make sure you explain your viewpoint so readers can understand where you’re coming from. Everyone is going to have their own perception of a game because of their unique backgrounds and experience, and that’s ok: the gaming world would be a pretty boring one if we all liked the same kind of releases.
The great thing about game-swaps is that they’ve encouraged me to try genres I wouldn’t normally play. If it hadn’t been for these collaborations with other bloggers, I’d never have found out about the uproar caused by a weird release back in 2004; my feelings about the representation of certain characters in Hideo Kojima titles; or just how terrible my spacial awareness is when it comes to 3D-platformers. Every swap has been an experience which has broadened my gaming horizons and I’m grateful for that.
I’m about 16 hours into FFXII and I’m going to keep playing for now. I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to finish it; at the time of writing, I’m a little stuck on a particular boss and have failed numerous times. But I’m going to keep trying for a few more sessions and see how I get on. To quote Lightning again: “We can win if we stay focused!”