City 16's Top 10 Games of 2010: #10

Posts auto-publishing themselves at 8 in the morning? It can only mean one thing: the blog’s annual run down of my favourite games of the year.

As always it comes with the provisos. Firstly, it’s a personal reflection of the games I’ve enjoyed spending time with over the last year, not some all encompassing barometer of quality. Secondly, I’ve not played every game made this year – not even some of the games I was really looking forward to getting my hands on. In other words, once again an Assassin’s Creed title misses a chance to place because it’s released at the wrong time of year. Same with a whole list of big name titles released October onwards. The exception is Call of Duty, which I just don’t give a toss about.

And with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with it.

Final Fantasy XIII

Yeah, this one’s gonna take some explaining.

Here are some of the things FFXIII has going for it:

  • It’s graphics are genuinely jaw-droppingly stunning.
  • It has the most likeable, or at least most believable, lead character yet.
  • It’s story, although stretched paper-thin over the game’s ridiculous length, is actually pretty good.

All those reasons: fuck ’em, they don’t matter one bit.

A significant number of people panned the game because it was a terrible RPG – linear, no sidequests, no conversation trees, no towns. These people were absolutely right, it’s a fucking awful RPG. That’s because it isn’t an RPG, it’s something else. It’s, as close as I can work out, a tactical brawler and it does that brilliantly.

Here’s how Square could have improved FFXIII: scale back the graphics, remove the story, remove the characterisation and just make it a action-RPG style dungeon crawler, entirely centred around it’s combat system. Because it’s the combat system that makes the game great. You’re only given control of one of the three characters that enter battle and even then you can elect to let a largely competent automated system take control of their moves. Instead of making FFXIII a game that largely plays itself, however, it becomes about the macro management of your party as they fight.

It’s a system with incredible depth, far too much to justify explaining all the ins and outs here, but essentially your role is to manage the flow of the battle and switch the roles of party members in response. If they’re getting a kicking, switch out a mage for a medic and get another character to start casting status ailments on the enemy. If eternal weakling Hope’s being targeted by an enemy, get another character to shift into a defensive role, drawing fire away. Or just laugh while he dies because he’s a twat. Any changes made take away from the main 2 mage, 1 attack set up that is usually the quickest route to ‘staggering’ your enemy; granting bonus damage while they’re in that state. Add to that potions that can be used at any point in the battle and special abilities that can be deployed but use up a tactical point that will need to be earned back in subsequent fights and you have a system that is both frantic but entirely focused on strategy and resource management.

Each battle gives a ranking out of 5 stars, largely dependant on how quickly your opponents were killed. It encourages the player to improve efficiency and get the most out of each battle. It keeps you constantly re-evaluating the battle set up, looking for ways to shave seconds off each fight by finding the best sequence that plays to each character’s strengths and weaknesses. In previous Final Fantasy games each randomly encountered battle was a chore to slog through on the way to the next group of backward villagers needing rescue from something or other. In XIII, I’ve found myself clearing each location of as many enemies I can find. That I’m actually looking for a scrap speaks volumes as to how satisfying they are.

Also, whenever you change a party’s roles the game announces PARADIGM SHIFT which is just funny.

Obviously it’s far too long. I’m only 18 hours in, with no sign of an end any time soon. That’s been my relationship with this latest installment of the oxymoronic series; short bursts to be savoured rather than devoured whole. At this point I couldn’t reliably tell you what the story is all about – only that each, admittedly beautiful, cutscene seems to be drawing at a glacial pace to some sort of point – and there are at least  3 characters that I openly fucking despise. Yeah, the game has major problems to be sure. It’s a long way from perfect, but what it does well it does well enough that I’ve no qualms about including it on this list.


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