I’m a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series of video games. While I didn’t actually play one until the 9th game was out, they quickly became my favorites and redefined the gaming hobby for me. How I played games changed drastically after I was exposed to those games. I even played Final Fantasy XI, my first of several MMOs, because of FF. It should go without saying that I was very excited to play Final Fantasy XIII.
I typically don’t read reviews of games that I’m going to purchase no matter what. If it’s a must-have for me, I really don’t care to know what a reviewer thinks. I don’t need to be swayed to purchase it. I don’t need to have any lingering curiosities resolved for me. However, in the days leading up to the release of FFXIII, I became so excited that I had to read some reviews. I wanted to read as much non-spoiler information about the game as possible, even though I had pre-ordered my copy months ago. It was through these reviews that I learned that the game starts out very slowly. For 8 – 10 hours you don’t do much more than press X. I have faith in the creators of Final Fantasy titles, so I didn’t worry too much about it.
I started the game and immediately fell in love with the characters and the world. The graphics are incredible. The music is perfection. The story is quite confusing and a bit challenging, but it works great. It didn’t take me long to realize that I truly was not doing anything more than pressing X, but I was okay with it. Knowing, thanks to the review, that this eventually changed made it a lot easier to deal with. Plus, I was still deeply in love with everything else about the game.
Fast-forward a few more days and I’m now 12 hours into the game. I’m several hours beyond when the “Press X Carnival” was supposed to end, but that’s still all I was doing. Another hour goes by and I’m still just pressing X and easily beating anything the game threw at me. Despite loving the game and wanting to see the story through to it’s conclusion, I was seriously becoming bored with the gameplay. I finally reached a point where this was no longer an issue.
I was beat over and over again by a tough boss.
No longer able to easily win by only pressing X, I was forced to take a much closer look at the battle system. It was then that I truly discovered the joys of Paradigm Shift. Paradigm Shift is when you change the jobs of the characters in your party to preset formations. Instead of having all attackers, you can switch to one attacker, one healer, and one buffer. Or one physical attacker, one magic attacker, and a healer. Or any other combination that you can come up with. In the tutorial on Paradigm Shift, the game presents it as something to do when you need to change the course of the battle. Need to get rid of that poison? Paradigm Shift! Encounter an enemy that is vulnerable to magic attacks? Paradigm Shift! Want to buff up at the start of a tough battle? Paradigm Shift. It’s too bad that the game didn’t truly explain what Paradigm Shift is used for.
Using Paradigm Shift also the ATB gauge of the party. When a character’s ATB gauge is full, they can execute a command. Paradigm Shift fills the gauge of much more quickly, allowing the characters to do things more often, such as attacking. Attacking more often fills up the enemy’s Chain Counter more quickly. A filled Chain Counter causes the enemy to stagger, making attacks against them hurt exponentially more. Instead of using Paradigm Shift occasionally to get one need addressed, I began using Paradigm Shift constantly to control the flow and pace of battle.
All of a sudden, the game opened up to me and I started to have fun with the battle system. Arguably, it’s still not as complex as previous entries in the series, but it’s no longer just an exercise in pressing X. Purists will still probably have a problem with the system, but I can appreciate what the developers did. They aren’t afraid to take risks, even with their beloved, flagship series. I wish they would have done a better job of explaining just what Paradigm Shift is capable of, but maybe they wanted us to discover it on our own. I find it ironic that many game journalists criticize the developers for making a too accessible battle system where you do nothing but press X, yet, you won’t be able to finish the game until you explore this battle system on your own more than you ever had to with previous Final Fantasy games. It makes me wonder if game reviewers even finish these epically long RPGs, of if they just play 10 or 15 hours and throw together their review in order to meet deadline. But, that’s a discussion for another time.
With my worries around the battle system gone, I’m now back to enjoying the game and what it has to offer. And wow, does it have a lot to offer. The story has had several jaw-dropping twists in it and I’m only at the 20 hour mark. I can’t wait to find out what happens to my group of l’Cie friends and what happens when, and if, they complete their Focus.