So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been spending time (re-)playing through Final Fantasy XIII. This is so I can play XIII-2 (which I missed out on), and Lightning Returns (which, if you’ve been following gaming news pretty much anywhere, you know is recently out). Now, I’ve been plodding away through FFXIII for a couple of weeks now, partially because I tend to only play in the wee hours of the night after Nugget and HawtWife have gone to bed, and partially because, well, even without a lot of exploration available, it’s still a pretty darned dense game. Clearly it’s a game that I enjoyed, otherwise I never would have wanted to revisit it. I mean, I could have caught up on the whole story again by visiting the internet and devouring article after (thinly veiled attack) article. But, I’m going back, and reliving through it all, partially because of the admission that I had fun, and partially because I don’t want to just read more gripes about how FFXIII isn’t a “real” Final Fantasy game.
Anyway, I’ve finally reached the point in the game where everything opens up. This is both a good and a bad thing. See, it’s awesome, because now the whole concept of linearity is thrown out the window (at least, for a bit). Suddenly, I get to wander around and look at all of the gorgeous scenery that’s been built and, truth be told, the world of Gran Pulse is a beautiful place to wander (especially if, like me, you live in a place where the only color outside of the window is white, thanks to a combination of snow and road salt). Beautiful vistas abound, and, everywhere you look, there are dangerous monsters that you can either fight or avoid, as you see fit.
The bad part? This is the part of the game that taps into the lizard brain portion of my mind. It’s where I remember all of the time I spent as a younger person, playing through earlier Final Fantasy games. It brings the need for level-grinding back to the forefront, which means I’m going to spend probably as much time on Gran Pulse trying to make my characters the strongest they can be as I spent even GETTING to Gran Pulse in the first place. This, coupled with the fact that there is no real way to know if you can handle the monsters until they’ve curbstomped you will lead to some very long sessions, and a whole pile of time spent ticking away, just trying to get Lightning and crew to not have any more little dots on their character progression charts.
Even though I’m griping somewhat about all the time I’m going to spend in Gran Pulse, it’s a very nice change of pace. I may not push my characters to be the best of the best (of the best, sir), but I’m certainly going to let them get to a point where they can’t be defeated by a little leg sweep, either. It’s comforting to remember that, once I get bored of (over-)leveling my party, I can return to the adventure as I see fit, and move the story forward again. From what I’ve heard about some of the mechanics behind Lightning Returns, I actually might end up missing out on this element, because being able to take your time exploring a game world has always been a bit of a joy for me. It’s how I lose myself in the Elder Scrolls, and why Assassin’s Creed IV has kept me going. Exploration of these worlds has been joyous, and, honestly, it’s nice to be able to do it on my time.
After all, if I was always beholden to the timeframe established by the game developers, I’d probably never even see past the midpoint of any game I’ve ever played. I get too easily distracted by what might be lurking beyond the horizon. Give me open vistas, and allow me to set my own pace, at least for a portion of my time in your game world, and you’ve got a contented gamer.