So, I caved and bought a second-hand PS3 Slim for S$300 (about 220 USD), partly because the PS3 has finally been successfully modded with a hacked debugging dongle reminiscent of PSP’s Pandora battery. (I am a cheapskate…) The awesome part is that my ancient Dell monitor has secret HDCP-via-DVI support through a HDMI>DVI converter and displays 1080p perfectly, so I don’t have to wander out of my room into the great unknown that is my living room to forage for a Barvia.
I finally get to play that (second-hand) copy of FFXIII I bought in Japan five months ago for cheap. Having skipped right passed all the Final Fantasies released during the PS2 generation (because I am such a cheapskate that I didn’t buy a PS2 until the PS3 was released), FFXIII comes as quite a huge leap forward from my perspective. I’m a FFVIII guy, so all this tech futuristic stuff is just right up my alley. After all, there’s no real difference between magic and sufficiently advanced technology.
Anyway, some first impressions after sitting through the tutorials.
There’s something about Japanese society that keeps producing these utopia-turn-dystopia stories, like how Chinese producers love to talk about the Warring States Period. The former is a rather pessimistic view of how Japan’s material-rich society is but an illusion that will eventually be its own downfall, while the latter is a constant reminder of why mainlanders prefer strong leadership to individualistic ideals of democracy. But I digress.
I just started playing the game, so I’m going to extrapolate what I think is going on based on the first generic corridor Lightning runs through, using my keen plot sense horned by years of studying anime modern Japanese visual culture stereotypes. This is what I have so far:
We have the Cocoon (obvious name is obvious), a floating spherical utopia — that looks suspiciously like a Death Star — in the sky where humans lived in peace for hundreds of years. (I’m guessing this is a metaphor for Japan and the sheltered lives the Japanese live.) Then we have the fal’Cie, some kind of non-human supernatural beings who built Cocoon for humans. (Uncle Sam?) I’m playing the Japanese version and the katakana for fal’Cie is exactly the same as that of Farsi, which is the Persian language they speak in Iran. Interestingly, Iran just started fuelling its first nuclear reactor. This is all linked somehow… I just need my conspiracy tin-foil hat to think.
Cocoon hovers over a planet called Pulse, which in kanji is rendered as 下界 (underworld) but read as Pulse. Apparently all manner of wild magical beasts roam free on Pulse. There are also non-friendly fal’Cie living there who apparently want to invade/destroy Cocoon for unknown reasons (probably because they are bored of frolicking around the grasslands). The government of Cocoon is called 聖府 (holy government), which is a pun of the Japanese world for government 政府 and has a decidedly less punny English name — Sanctum.
I’m going out on a limb here and guess that the fal’Cie from Pulse is trying to destroy Cocoon for humanity’s own good and the Sanctum, though ostensibly trying to protect Cocoon’s citizen, is actually a corrupt evil organization hell-bent on preserving some kind of status quo for its own nefarious purposes.
Sanctum is probably demonizing the underworld to stop people from realizing how awesome it is to go out. It’s basically a conspiracy to turn its citizens into hikkikomori. The moral of the story at the end will be that the great outdoors is an awesome place and we should all go out of our room and roam free in the wild like savages. Well, I’m not falling for it.
But seriously, I’m still running straight paths down endless corridors in the game, so I’m just making shit up based on a few paragraphs of flavour text in the game menu. Don’t bother correcting me either. I possess a 10kΩ resistance against spoilers.
Graphics-wise, I feel a bit conflicted. While FFVII and FFVIII offered a substantially differentiated experience for their time, it’s a whole lot harder to be impressed nowadays, particularly since the PS3 and the 360 run on three-year-old technology comparable to today’s budget PC graphics. I’m not holding my breath, but I did like the train sequence at the start of the game. That is to say, the graphics and cinematics do have their moments, and it’s nice to not have that the immersion-breaking back-and-forth between curvy FMV cutscenes and blocky in-game graphics for which I remember the PS1.
So far, there’s really nothing much to speak of in terms of gameplay. I hope it gets more complicated than facerolling on the controller’s O button and running in straight lines.
I kind of get turned off by games that require insane min-maxing to win, so I should be happy. But I’m kind of worried that FFXIII goes too far in the opposite direction. Maybe it’s because I haven’t run through enough straight corridors to get to the good part yet.
…Okay, this is turning out to be one negative-sounding first impression. It’s actually not that bad. The high production value basically guarantees a minimum level of quality enjoyment. And if all else fails, there’s still Lightning’s Japanese voice-over by Maaya Sakamoto. She keeps me hanging on. But if you ask me whether I would still play through FFXIII if the Japanese version didn’t exist, I would be hard-pressed to give you an answer.
Maaya doesn’t just tip the balance, she breaks it.