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What I'm Doing In FFXIII Right Now--[Possible Spoilers]

I've been in the non-linear area of FFXIII for the last two weeks, playing fiendishly, gathering materials, and searching for rare items as if I were a World of Warcraft addict. In the player review section, you'll see a small army of complaints about linearity, lack of exploration or uselessness of exploration, and basically being ushered down a choiceless road. Here are some examples of what I've been doing that defy this way of thinking:

1. Treasure hunting on Chocobo. Chocobos, and their location, must be unlocked via a few missions, but once you get them, you can access new sections of the map and detect buried treasure. The challenge is to find the digging location based on proximity detection, which is done solely by observing the bouncing rate of the chocobo's exclamation mark. Doing this has netted me a silver trophy along with two rare accessories--neither of which can be store bought. Since cash is hard to come by in the game, I use Chocobo treasure hunting as the smaller part of building my funds.

2. Stumbling upon hidden cutscenes. I have probably run around the entire open-world map over twenty times before coincidentally frolicking into the right place to activate a new event. Recently, I just discovered the cactuar and unlocked their presence on the map. And they'll be damned if they ever drop their rare loot, which hasn't shown up for me despite the fact that my party is wearing accessories to increase the odds of rare drops.

3. Struggling to take down beasts the size of AT-AT walkers. I can't resist a good challenge. The larger of these creatures attacks simply by walking, trampling your entire party into a KO with a single step--two steps if you have top-notch physical resistance accessories on. You can take out its legs and disable it temporarily, but the legs have more hit points than most of the bosses. After plotting like a mad scientist, I finally figured out a way to take down one of the bigger varieties and have succeeded in killing two. Only one of them dropped loot, which was the common loot--a very nice common loot made of platinum, fetching a big price in the stores. The rare loot is a transformational catalyst (think upgrading weapons or accessories) that can be bought in-store for about 13x what the platinum ingot is worth. You really have to save your pennies to afford that thing.

Destroying the colossal beasts got me the limit-breaker trophy, which you have to deal 100,000+ damage in a single attack to obtain.

4. Exploring! Yes, there is a use for exploration! I just found another totally unnecessary cutscene/mission from which I am searching for parts to repair an old robot. What does the robot do, besides looking like a really cool robo-bunny on wheels? I don't know, because I don't like to use game guides. But I have three more parts to go before I find out.

5. Turning my characters into superheroes. I discovered in the last few days that each character has a special attack that can be obtained in one of their higher level roles. I've also been upgrading their weapons and accessories, which requires a considerable amount of work. Considering that I just bought Disgaea 3, can you blame me?

6. Conquering the missions. Currently I have about two missions left of the highest difficulty. I have done about four others that took a few days of thinking and scheming to overcome, but considering that my Eidolons (summons) get knocked out by the two recent bosses in about five seconds, it is going to take some work. That, and I am missing 15-20 missions inbetween the ones I know about. Do I have to leave the planet to find the rest? I don't know if it's a deal where you can't ever go back. That's what save games are for, I guess!

EDIT: Repairing the robot was undeniably worth it. It was an OMG moment. The robot totally hooked me up!

I Was Wrong About FFXIII.

The trailer I had watched to make my previous judgment of the game was a scene I experienced out of context. I realized that the game obviously at least had immeasurable work and detail put into it, so I decided to buy it. I was so wrong about it.

The voice acting is superb and the characters are easy to connect with and care about. The thing about FFXIII is that it's the first game to make my jaw drop repeatedly and give me a sense of awe and wonder that I haven't felt since gaming many consoles ago. Heavy Rain was close, but FFXIII is like... walking through a dream. The high that I get from playing this game pervades my life even when I'm not playing. I feel like a different and better person.

The new trend these days is to dislike everything and pose as a discerning intellectual. Games aren't allowed to be linear anymore. What I have to say about that concerning FFXIII is thank goodness there's some focus to it because all I want to do is dive right in and get to the depths of it. This game makes me constantly wonder how my PS3 is making so many incredible things happen all at once.

FFXIII: Not Very Excited...

I know it's a crazy thing to say, but I'm not sure that I'll get FFXII when it's released. As a PS3 owner, I feel that I've been spoiled by Demon's Souls--not that Demon's Souls is any kind of replacement for a story-focused game like FFXIII. But from what I've seen in the footage of FFXIII, I'm not liking the story or the characters involved. This game does have imagination and creativity to spare, but there are a few things making it go to waste for me. Or maybe it's one thing.

I don't like the stilted emotions of the characters. They seem like actors trying to act rather than real people, all of their emotions and mannerisms taken from a generic anime grab-bag. For some reason, this is making me dislike the game entirely. I'm thinking that I'm going to skip it and that perhaps I'm over the Final Fantasy series. There were more then enough great Final Fantasy games in the past, and it seems ever since the Advent Children movie that I haven't been able to connect with the Final Fantasy world in the way that I used to. It's like Square-Enix became too accustomed to success and started churning out games minus the old school inspiration and passion that made the PS1 and PS2 games great.

2009: Year of the PS3

How does Sony do it? Historically, it's easy to see that Sony has been paving the way for the quality, in-depth, genuine console gaming experience since the arrival of the PS1. Being the owner of all three last-gen consoles--XBOX, Gamecube, and PS2--I can say that the PS2 had/has the best game library of them all. Final Fantasy, God of War, Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, Shadow of the Colossus... in fact, if you don't mind the graphics, you can still rely on the PS2 for hundreds of hours of great gaming. But my point is that the greatest game titles have been aligned with Sony for ages. This was something I took into consideration when I bought my PS3. I could only afford one system, so I did my research.

The problem with Microsoft is that they lack the sincerity and genuine passion for great gaming that Sony has demonstrated from the start. Microsoft tried to manipulate some of our basest weaknesses, most noticeably being the tendency to think that adding an "X" to a word causes it to ascend to a level of pure awesomeness. Then they tried to be hip by implementing the neon-green color. I can't help envisioning a group of Microsoft designers, out-of-touch with reality and their audience, swooning over the notion that all the kids would immediately connect with the neon-green. "They'll think it's rad!" While this sounds like a superficial assessment of the XBOX, I think these visual aspects of the system are a clear reflection of Microsoft's approach to console gaming, and why the PS3 so easily dominated the 2009 awards.

I am not a fanboy. If I had been given a 360 for free before purchasing my PS3 (since I would never buy one), I know that I would still have enough games to enjoy and to keep me entertained. However, I would not have Blu-Ray, nor would I have Bluetooth compatibility (not out of the box, anyway), nor would I have free network access (every little bit counts for me). I wouldn't have the many exclusives that I consider essential to my gaming experience. MGS4 was just the beginning of it--coincidentally the GOTY for 2008--and now, heading into 2010, the PS3 exclusives are rocking the gaming world like nothing else. What would I do if I had a 360 instead, and I had to watch Demon's Souls, Killzone 2 and Uncharted 2 waltz through the awards? What would I do if I knew that I was going to miss Heavy Rain? Thankfully, that was never a possibility, thanks to Microsoft's pretentious, self-absorbed, "money fixes everything" attitude that permeates the 360 and warded me away from it.

Demon's Souls, Game of the Year? That was a notion spoken by many in the Demon's Souls forums upon the release of the game, always followed by the sentiment that DS taking GOTY was just a dream. It would go unrecognized, moping in the shadows of massively hyped titles like Modern Warfare 2 and even other PS3 exclusives. If you remember those times in the forums, today will have been even more spectacular. Congratulations to From Software, to PS3 owners--to those who had the foresight to stick with the PS3 despite the trash talking and popular expectation for the PS3 to fail horribly. Today, we stand in the midst of more awesome exclusive games than we have time to play (how many comments have you seen in the PS3 forums about "this game is still unwrapped"?) and a new decade in which the PS3 will undoubtedly follow the path of the PS2 towards introducing the next best gaming library ever.

Front Mission 4--Hour 69.

I'm currently almost at my 70th hour of gameplay in Front Mission 4 (PS2). There's something addictive about the way the game is executed, the brilliance of the graphics, the crisp sound effects, and the sensation of each battle. I'm surprised that I've been captivated by a single game for so long, especially after finishing it. Thankfully, there is a plus mode after conquering the game, although I wish it would have included all of the unlockable camoflauge options from the starting point. The benefit of the plus game is that you start out with a ton of cash and the ability to purchase every pilot's full set of abilities (that would normally take you until the last half of the game to earn). It doesn't make you insanely overpowered, but it means that you'll be able to use your extra points to customize your pilots in ways that weren't possible the first time around. I'm a sucker for extensive customization. Of course, if I could afford a PS3 and Demon's Souls, that would be probably be the one game I'd be playing.

PS3 Trophies: Cool or Crap?

As an avid gamer, I've made some big changes over the last few years. I was once almost strictly "a PC", and, by the way--when did we start assuming the identities of inanimate objects? If that's the cool thing now, then let's have some variety. Hello, I'm a toaster. Nice to meet you.

Anyway, I'm not a wealthy individual, and I lost the race to keep up with PC gaming hardware as soon as Oblivion came out. When I realized my next-gen gaming desires could be satisfied completely by a console for the mere price of a new video card, I did some comparative research and sprung on a PS3. I was tired of the hacker-infested world of PC multiplayer and believed consoles to be the last pure gaming experience.

PS3 owners have seen a wonderful change throughout 2008, as the system went from sitting under Microsoft's constant, "You don't have enough games," argument to experiencing an landslide of incredible titles. And we finally got trophy support.

Were the trophies worth the wait? Should we even care about them? Some would say that trophies are a meaningless form of gamer recognition, or another extension of the cyber-ego. But for those of us who were creating challenges for ourselves years before achievements existed, trophies are a welcome addition. Before, you'd spend more time refining your ability to survive a six-star federal assault in GTA3 than actually finishing the game, and you got nothing but the thrill. Now, you finally get a prize for being a lunatic, as well as a sense of community.

Competition has always been an integral part of multiplayer, but we've mainly seen it reflected in the form of kill/death ratios and experience points. You'd memorize every nook and cranny of a map, find a technique, wash, rinse, and repeat. Or you'd learn to make twelve hour MMORPG gaming sessions part of your day-to-day life, watching your mortality transform into rare set items. After a while, it's more of a routine than a challenge. There's a difference between a kill and a really sweet kill--the kind you remember for years to come. But those moments aren't reflected in statistics... well, they weren't before the trophy system.

That's why trophies are somewhat monumental for me. They've added a friendly new dimension to competitive online gaming, where the focus is on skill rather than depth of obsession. And the system transcends individual games, taking more of the collective PS3 gaming experience into account.

In the end, all game rankings are subject to a reality-check: Can you expect to impress a beautiful woman at a club by bragging about your kill/death ratio or the amount of hit points your level 400 Mage has? Probably not. But rankings are fun within their context, and PS3 trophies have made a significant addition to the fun, as well as to how much enjoyment we can squeeze out of our games.

From Last-Gen to Next-Gen: The Changing Shape of Games

My PC and PS3 had recently been introduced to a gorgeous new widescreen monitor; HDMI for the PS3, VGA for the PC, and a leftover component input. After seeing how incredible the PS3 looked in HDMI, as well as my PC at 1920x1200 resolution, my mind immediately leapt to the possibility of bringing one of my last-gen consoles back to life on the crystal clear LCD monitor. I had yet to finish FFX and GTA: Vice City, and how could I live without playing the two more recent Final Fantasy and Xenosaga titles? A quick romp through Gamespot's PS2 section made it apparent that hit games like the Shin Megami Tensei series were still being released on the PS2. Sorry XBOX and Gamecube-- The PS2 had to come back first.

So I took a break from my COD:4 and Oblivion and Folklore. I was ready to conquer FFX. As I finished FFX, I started wondering what game would be the equivalent on the PS3. Next I started on GTA: Vice City. Since I began playing, I became engulfed in it and haven't played my PS3 since. Sure, the PS2 graphics couldn't compare to PS3 in HDMI, but that didn't bother me. It was the content of Vice City, the living, breathing world with so much to captivate me. And I started to wonder... do next-gen games spend more time looking pretty than being epic? Am I going to spend the rest of this year playing the PS2 titles I've missed, and then going back to Gamecube for the Resident Evil titles I missed? What next-gen game is going to compete?

Folklore... or Valkyrie Profile 2? FFXII? Resident Evil 4? Shadow of the Colossus? Could it be that the further we go back in technological prowess, we find more ambitious game developers? Although there are some epic offerings on the next-gen consoles, it seems to me that the current shape of most next-gen games is an obsession with how shiny and pretty things can look. But when are we going to get the next SNES FF3? I eagerly await the future of next-gen games... to see if developers will view the insane graphic and audio capabilites at their hands as a means to create even more incredible content, and not just a more incredible view.