Final Fantasy XIII ended up being one of those love it or hate it games, changing up many aspects of the series that had been fairly recognizable at least up until X-2. While we’ve seen indie studios attempt to replicate just about every sort of Square Enix game under the sun in recent years, several with great success, the paradigm battle system’s proven perhaps unappealing or too challenging to implement successfully.
At least now though we have one company willing to bungle it.
Sword and Fairy 6, or Chinese FFXIII, is a pretty good example of when you try to do something ambitious where you both lack the capabilities to execute it, and the understanding of why it worked to begin with (if we’re going with the assumption that FFXIII did in fact work well).
The combat system is truly the tip of the iceberg- by itself, not what sinks the ship, but when you see it you can tell that what you can’t see is going to hurt a lot more.
I’m going to be talking about three games to explain this. The first, FFXIII. The paradigm system let you switch rapidly between roles, such as tank, damage dealer, debuffer, in order to both keep your team alive and dish out damage. You could manually or automatically pick abilities, but due to the pace of combat even controlling one character could be inefficient as your focus should be on switching the roles of your team depending on what the enemy is doing. Combined with a stagger and weakness system, it ended up being one of the most simplistic looking yet in practise complex Final Fantasy combat systems in a series where generally ‘doing the most damage, healing- and maybe some buffs’ would be enough.
The key thing is- it’s not just queuing up abilities, it was highly strategic.
So, second game- what Sword and Fairy 6 is trying to do. Basically, imagine that but without the complex strategy. The strategic elements are gone, with no customization and very basic role choices you can pick out of combat, and some AI decision making you can employ in combat (if you can figure it out)- meaning this game would be just as good or more likely, much better, without bothering. Instead of a quick paced, strategic combat system- you are just spamming a small pool of underwhelming abilities while your AI allies seem to slowly help out. You really are just queuing abilities.
And finally, third game- what actually happens, and here’s the bulk of the iceberg. Lag.
I’ve never experienced this much lag in a PS4 game, heck, I don’t think I had such consistent lag in games I played on the PS2, which is the era this game looks like it belongs in. Thing is, a turn based or even active battle system might have softened the blow- but since this combat system is meant for a rapid pace, the stuttering, input lag, graphical lag, unresponsiveness of it all ends up making what could have been an unremarkable and poorly designed combat system considerably worse. Rather than having to frantically prepare abilities and switch up your paradigms on the fly, it’s a challenge just to get what you want to do to register.
And that’s this game’s theme.
The UI is poorly designed, menus are awful with no fast or continuous scroll (nobody wants to flick the analog stick a hundred times to get to something at the bottom of a menu). The cursor gives poor visual and audio cues and for some reason directional buttons aren’t mapped to the direction you press. It’s hard to tell which submenu you’re in, what you’re trying to do, it even takes some getting used to things like healing or attacking in combat. For a while I thought I had to rotate between healing and dealing damage because each combat round it was switching my initial target between allies and enemies… I’ve seen games that remember your last choice in combat, but never one that intentionally picks something else.
BUT, with the input lag making it even harder to tell if you’re actually picking or moving the cursor in a menu of a UI that seemingly has no consistent rules- it’s all made considerably worse.
Dialogue in voiced fully in Chinese, which I am perfectly fine with. But there’s no chat box or backdrop to subtitles, which on a large screen are small and have minimal outline making it very difficult to read depending on what the ground looks like. The story and characters are at least decent, if not great, and that’s the closest thing to a positive I could find- and for an RPG, normally that would be enough to make it an OK game.
Add to that tutorials that are confusing, shoved at you all at once, in some cases incorrect and the victim of google translate’s quirkiness, and in other cases referring to PC controls- and it feels like two of the most important aspects of an RPG – making sure people can understand the story, and the gameplay – are gravely impaired.
But, with input lag it’s harder to test out the tutorial instructions or just figure it out through trial and error like the good old days, and having to strain my eyes to realize the reason dialogue makes no sense is because I’m reading coding makes it all considerably worse.
The game begins with a pretty anime style cut scene to get your hopes up, before going to PS2 era graphics, with buildings that vanish if you get too far like playing an MMO on a low end system. Except, we’re on the PS4 here, and while the stiff hero models look all right, maybe even early PS3 grade, the quality drops off elsewhere.
And, of course, it lags- making it considerably worse.
The thing is, even without the lag, the game’s poor UI, mediocre combat and low tier graphics would make it hard to recommend, but at least I could see some appeal with the setting, music and story. Many of the issues with this game are ones that should be easy to fix, such as making menus better or making subtitles easier to see.
Did I mention the lag?