How’d that happen? I’ve not been playing voraciously, just an hour here, an hour there. Anyway, I’m at the very beginning of the last chapter now. Chapter 13: The Orphan’s Cradle. Here is the penultimate quick list of spoiler-free FFXIII stuff, focusing on story flow and rules.

* In a previous post, I talked about how anyone can eventually learn abilities in any role/optima/paradigm: For example, even though Lightning starts out as Attacker, and learns later Blaster and Healer, at a certain point all characters are free to learn the other roles as well.

However,  the truth of the matter is that even though they can learn those roles, there are some HUUUUUUGE caveats which I didn’t notice until I started looking down those paths:

– The cost is high. Each “Node” like “+200 HP” “+30 Magic Power” and the like costs 20,000 points or so on the highest of your character’s primary role. So for Lightning, that means Healing, Blaster and Attacker: Each node on the top ring (Level 5) costs about 20,000 “exp” (crystal) points. However, each node on the highest rings of non-primary roles are far more expensive. IIRC, it was something like 45,000 “xp” to get level 4 abilities, and they were way lesser things like “+60 HP”.

– Not all the abilities are available: Of all the abilities for that class, if it is your primary class you will get 80-100% of all the abilities, but if it is not your character’s primary class you’ll only get about 30% of the abilities. So if you want to make Fang into a Healer, you’ll end up spending a TON of crystal points only to get a bare minimum of Healing Ability nodes, likely Cure, Curea and 1-2 others.

So in the end, levelling up these tertiary roles isn’t something you would really ever do until the point that you max out on every single node of your characters’ primary three roles, and then had a mountain of amassed XP that you didn’t know what to do with.

It’s kinda cool, though. If you really want to turn Vanille into a badass Attacker, or Hope into a stocky Defender, you still have some room to do it, but you will also suffer a little. So the role casting is still there, it is NOT like FFXII where everyone can learn everyone else’s abilities with no hindrance.

* Openness… of sorts. Up until Chapter 10, the game is pretty linear. At chapter 11, it opens up immensely (respectively). Chapter 12 drops you back into the killing tubes, but 13 opens it back up again.

* Game length: What the above means in short is that Chapters 1-10 are about 40% of the game. Chapters 11-13 alone are another 40-60%, depending on how much side-stuff you want to do, how much grinding you want to do, etc. I have done about 10 side-missions (all the ones to open up teleporters, plus a few more), and I don’t plan on doing too many more on this first playthrough.

* I was wrong on the grinding: I said that the game was built so that you never have to grind. It’s better to say that for MOST of the game you don’t have to, but starting with Chapter 11 you’ll find it very beneficial to spend an extra hour or two running around swatting dudes to build up a bit: It will make the boss fights a little faster and easier.

Likes (again, not in general, just new stuff since my last post)

* Music is bad ass.

* Chapter 12 was like someone pulling out my eyes and screaming full-motion-videos into them. Very visually awesome, however they were a bit jagged and distracting as well (ex: Speed Racer. Seen it? These gorgeous FMVs are like that: Too much to visually focus on so it all kinda blurs together into a mush. Still, very pretty).

* Hope and Vanille went from being the characters I hated most to the characters I like the most (after Sazs). If you tired of their respective cheerlessness and fatalism/unstoppable perkiness, they change naturally through the course of the game. Very well done. No further spoilers than that.

* I like Snow’s gang, and I wish they played more of a part in the game. Except for the blue-haired dude, he’s too ‘Anime-looking’.

* Gaining CP and using them to unlock nodes is just as addictive and exciting as the grid levelling mechanic from FFX. Provides you with some solid choices when levelling without hurting you for making a less strategic choice up front.

* Enhancement and Jamming (buffs and enemy debuffs) I’m using far more than in any other FF game, making their implementation great.

* Someone posted a discussion with the writers/engineers of the game, saying how the magic system worked: In all previous FF games, you get low-level spells like “Fire/Water/Ice” etc, but once you learn the “next higher level” of the spell, you will never have a reason to use the lesser form in tougher battles. Once you learn Firera(?) and Firega, by that point you’re using Firega all the time and will never use Fire again. They wanted to make it so that all your abilities can and will be used even in later fights. This is TOTALLY TRUE. The Blasters use black magic to weaken the enemy by charging up their “break meter”, and while spells like “Firega” take 3 times as long to cast, they’ll do more damage… but up to the point that you Break the enemy, it makes far more sense to cast 3-5 small fire spells instead, as that drives the break meter up faster. The “damage multiplier/break” mechanic, coupled with turning magic into a time-based resource and not an MP based resource, was in fact what made that designer’s plan of “using spells from the beginning to the end” come true. I’ve just recently realized that, and find it awesome.

* The main antagonists/”The System” is bad, and makes me want to stab it in the face. So the story has me sold and locked into the end. “Somebody’s gotta stop Shinra…” “Somebody’s gotta stop Sin…”

Dislikes:

* After the openness of Chapter 11, I find the return to the Killing Tubes of straight-line dungeons in Chapter 12 really disconcerting/unwelcome, even though I had been doing it from Chs 1-10 with no complaint. I realized that exploration is a big part of the franchise. While I won’t be That Internet Guy and say “FFXIII sucks because its linear and you don’t explore much until the end”, I will say that it is an element that might keep the battles furious and stable, but keeps this particular game from being the Best In The Franchise.

* Fang: I’m not really interested in this character much at all. She might have more story left in her, though.

* The fact that each summons is tied to each character… That means that if you like fighting mainly with one particular character (Lightning, etc) you will probably see her summons dozens of times, but complete the game without seeing half the other characters’ summons. Makes me long for the “one character who can summon all of the biggies”.

* Summons: I haven’t found them very useful thus far (though I must say: I LOVE the character design on them, up there with FFX). I’ll need to read up more to make sure I’m using them right, but the most I got out of them was like maaaaybe shaving off one minute of a 15-minute boss battle.

* Levelling up weapons: It’s both interesting and not all that interesting. It’s not difficult, but it can be a little time-consuming. I almost, ALMOST yearn for the FFX-style “mini games”, but then I remember chocobo racing and collecting blue butterflys, I slap my face and realize that this way is better… and yet, I miss other activities other than combat.

* I compare this game against FFX a lot, as FFX is my favorite of the series. And while I see that FFXIII isn’t as awesome for me as FFX, it’s pretty close, so the points that don’t live up to FFX stand out that much more. In this regard, FFX had a stable of secondary characters that you interacted with, regularly encountered in your journeys, and sort of saw the world through the eyes of: There was the senior summoner who told you how to summon, the rival bitch summoner, the young novice naive summoner, the old sage, a bunch of various village friends, and so on. In FFXIII, there are a very few secondary characters, and you simply do not interact with them that much at all. This results in not feeling quite as attached to the world.

Having said that, there IS a lot more inter-party drama, conflict and resolution than FFX, and while that makes up for it in part, I still miss the Recurring Secondary Character.

* Right around the end of Chapter 10/parts of Chapter 11 (back to the killing tubes) I started to find some of the combat tedious. I think this directly corresponded to the places I needed to grind to get ahead. No where near as bad as places in any other game (including and especially X), but still there, and noticable. And since there are few distractions from combat, considering all the side-missions are all combat based as well, it’s hard to find an alternative way to immerse yourself in the world.

So far: If you like J-RPGs on the console, or are looking to try out your first, I still highly recommend FFXIII. Even though I’ve already mentally ranked it behind FFX for some story/rules reasons, I would never say it’s a “don’t play”: I rank the combat mechanic far higher than any other game in the FF franchise, and the FMV sequences are just Mind. Blowing. A must-play, actually.