Last year I wanted to see what it was about and finally dove into the Final Fantasy series. What started out as mere curiosity eventually gave me two of my favorite games: Final Fantasy 7 and 10.
Both of these titles are such shining examples of JRPGs and are arguably the best of their genre. As they are both ageless masterpieces, it seemed obvious to buy the games released between them. It’s the same team, in the same time frame, working on familiar material – what could possibly go wrong?
Well… Guys, I wanted to like Final Fantasy 8. I really, really have it. I spent 16 pounds on it, gotta love it. But damn, those few hours of operation suck.
Friends, rivals, antagonists, GFs, junction, drawing – all of these key aspects of the game are crammed into the first couple of hours, and none are presented well. There are so many characters, but which characters should I be interested in? I barely started playing, but they keep appearing in and out of the story. What will the story be about? What are the themes? What is the driving force?
Obviously (or maybe “I hope”), if I continue to play, I will have the answers to my questions. I’m joining now, and I’m getting there with the GFs, but it’s an absolute failure of an opening if it doesn’t provide you with the basic facts up front, or at the very least give you a reason to worry. . I play a lot of more complex RPGs than Final Fantasy 8 – both in combat and storytelling – but they’re presented and explained in a more digestible way.
Take Final Fantasy 7, for example. This is how you make a game opening – by communicating so much with so little, and doing it so subtly that the player doesn’t even realize they’re being taught.
Immediately you jump off a train and are immersed in the action. As soon as Cloud looks up at the Reactor, you know two things: You play as the little guys, and this game is going to be about taking down the powerful. It doesn’t reveal the story – you don’t learn anything from Sephiroth or the full extent of Shinra’s villainy for a while – but this blueprint tells you why you should care enough to keep playing.
With Final Fantasy 8, I don’t know why I should keep playing. I will, however. My fellow writer says it’s really good (I’m sorry Meg). But right now I’m so lost, and I crave that initial Shinra Reactor moment – just something that tells me why I have to help Squall get through this.
Instead, so far I’ve pissed in high school for awhile, read a million lines of tutorial text, and had a brief flirtation with the action. Is this the story of a dystopia where children are trained in an army high school and hired for missions? Is this a commentary on the military-industrial complex? And the lively attitude of everyone in high school juxtaposes the horrors of such an existence? It would be cool as hell. I hope that’s what the story is about.
Games can recover from a terrible opening, but that doesn’t excuse them. Once I work my way through the tutorials and the odd pacing of the story, I’m pretty sure I’ll love the game like so many others. Looks like Square has gotten a little too arrogant with this one, and it underscores how important good communication is in games, and especially in openings.
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