It arrived yesterday! So last night Orie and I dug into the latest episode of the Final Fantasy franchise. Just note that in these posts I won’t be posting “spoilers”, I’ll be breaking down the basic story elements, framework, gameplay, etc.

So, last night I played for a little over 2 hours, and I still appear to be in “the prologue”. The reason I can tell this is because they have not yet introduced any XP/levelling mechanic. Because of all the other changes in the game, I thought “My god… have they actually done away with the core mechanic of every console RPG? That’s kinda scary, and a bit intriguing…” but then I looked in the instruction manual and sure enough one is there, I just haven’t gotten to when it’s introduced yet (probably pretty soon, though, given the action that’s happening in the story).

Mind you, some of the below info is going to reflect the fact that I’m only 2 hours into the game, it might change as the game goes on.

* You don’t control your party of 3 members: You only control the lead character in your party, and the others perform support roles. Also, and this is new: You can revive other characters in your party, but if your leader goes down, you cannot revive them: It’s Game Over. So you’ve got to keep the leader alive no matter what.

* Potions: Use one single potion, and everyone on your team is healed.

* Restart: If you don’t like how the battle is going, you can hit Start->Select to choose to retry the battle from the beginning. I actually did this in one mini-boss battle: I mistimed the damage my companion was taking, and he went down. I could have dropped a Phoenix Down to bring him back up, but I figured “Why waste it?” and restarted the battle.

* No XP! …at the beginning, anyway. As I mentioned above, you later get XP in the form of crystals or something as explained in the manual. But I’ve been playing for about 2 hours, and 3-4 separate characters as leaders, and I’ve been yet unassailed with levelling mechanics. Incidentally, I’ve also been able to skip a bunch of low-level fights to get to bosses by simply running past them. As having whined about the frequency of random battles and low-level grinding on previous titles, this is kinda refreshing. But I’m just probably about 20 minutes from the next section when that stuff is introduced.

* Combat Roles: Haven’t been introduced either, but will get to those when the game brings them up, again probably after not too long.

* Characters: Already more memorable than FF 12. I’ll break down previous games later, but in short FF X had memorable characters. FF 12 had totally forgettable characters, who I referred to in play as Boy, Girl, Princess, Good Twin, Han Solo and Fran. Fran is the “bunny chewbacca”, and I only remember her name because she actually had some cool backstory. Anyway, even though they go a cheesy route of naming most of the characters after English words (Lightning, Snow Hope, Vanilla(for real?), etc), the characters seem memorable enough in their own rights.

* Treasure chests are floating metal spheres with hand-recognition stuff on them.

* The story: They are doing a real job of In Media Res with the action, and the story setting/background as well. I’m not sure what the fiction writing/word is for it, when the author doesn’t introduce you to the world but rather throws you in and you pick up on the meaning of the special words/terms/etc used in the world through inferrence… This game does that in spades. I’m 2 hours in and finally getting the lay of the land as per what’s going on, and why everything is fucking exploding. But we’re still a little unclear on what Pulse (the “Underworld”/下界), Cocoon (I figure it’s the techno-world of green-and-black that the game starts in), the Falshe (ファルシ), and the Rushe (ルシ). Huh.

* The women in this game are too damn thin. Lightning and Vanilla need more meat. I’m reminded of Late Buffy’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, and I want Lightning to pop a potion and a pack of almonds or something. As the Japanese say,”gari-gari”/looks like a skeleton.

* All of the weapons fold up. A fold-up sword, fold-up huge boomerang, fold-up laser-whip-staff (!!!), etc. That’s very efficient!

* There’s a techno-magical explanation for the “1-mile anime jump/anime fall”, which was kinda cool.

* The Intro/Prelude song is really cool, too.

-Andy