Is FFXIII A Casualty Of Twitch-Gaming?
Over the years, I've noticed a disturbing trend: the increasing ADD-like behavior of gamers. They can't sit through a cut-scene longer than two minutes without having a nervous breakdown, they have to be mashing buttons 99% of the time, and they require the constant flashing and rapid-fire animations and cinematics throughout. I find this annoying trend hitting movies as well; the camera can't sit still for half a second and we're shifting at lightning speed between scenes. Obviously, this is a direct result of a generation that values speed of communication over substance and quality, and I think it's beginning to have a detrimental effect on games that are supposed to be deep and strategic.
Take Final Fantasy XIII, for instance. While it can easily be argued that we left turn-based behind because we now have the technology to make combat feel more "realistic and involved," I also think it's because people quite honestly can't sit still long enough, anymore. Have you noticed the almost complete termination of the RTS genre? Sure, it still exists, but the days of Command & Conquer and Age of Empires are long gone; it used to be an insanely popular genre and now, only the select hardcore play these games. Same goes for flight sims (even though they've always been few and far between) and really, many RPGs and strategy-based titles. I'm not necessarily saying the depth is gone or even less obvious...that would be inaccurate. But it seems developers want to hide it more; they want most of that to happen automatically and behind the scenes.
In FFXIII - you'll have to wait a bit for our review, as Arnold and I intend to dive in fully - we've heard the same thing time and time again: the battle is extremely fast and actually encourages you to use the Auto-Battle function. Read a few of the reviews that have already hit; you'll see what I mean. Yes, you have to make strategic decisions, but they have to be lightning fast and the existing stratagems are used automatically and manually selecting abilities is not recommended. That's just too slow. The bottom line is that it appears we're thinking a lot less during combat. Furthermore, as you really never talk to NPCs and the exploration is cut way down due to the linear progression, all we can really do is keep moving forward. In other words, the pacing is pretty damn fast; taking time to stop and smell the roses likely isn't in the cards.
Bear in mind that I'm not providing you with any personal commentary prior to our review. I'm not saying the game is good or bad. I fully expect it to be beautiful and entertaining, as all FFs have been. I'm a huge FF fan and always have been; the idea of passing on FFXIII is so foreign to me, it's not even worth mentioning. However, the distinct - and relatively abrupt - change in the style of this franchise is worrisome; the "twitch-gaming" boom that apparently wishes to leave calm, enjoyable pacing behind and continues to assault our senses at faster and faster speeds is beginning to chafe. It's one thing to have this in games that might actually benefit (action titles and shooters, for instance), but a role-playing game is something very different to me. Maybe others will feel differently, but I believe the disturbing "can't-sit-still" trend is having a profoundly negative impact on the industry.
At the same time, we still do have games like Heavy Rain, which are wonderfully mature and promote real storytelling, character development and actual thought. And it's doing well, too, so that's great. But shouldn't FFXIII be a little closer to Heavy Rain than to God of War?
3/4/2010 Ben Dutka