Final Fantasy XIII Impressions, Part 1

Image by Gord McLeod via FlickrI'm impressed with Final Fantasy XIII.
No, I'm VERY impressed.
FFXIII has a very different feel than I've come to expect from the franchise, which is pretty appropriate. When Final Fantasy first came to the Playstation with FF7, it changed dramatically from what came before with the introduction of 3D graphics to the series. When it appeared on the PS2 with FF10, it changed again, taking 3D graphics to new heights and adding voice work for the first time. Now FF13 streamlines the play experience in huge ways, which feel oddly subtle while totally changing the game.
For starters, there are a lot of cutscenes in this game, but while that's not unusual for the series, their length is. These are mostly pretty short scenes, and they come at you frequently.
Next, there are save points everywhere. I have played through several hours worth now, and I don't believe I have yet come up on a stretch where I went more than 15 minutes without hitting a new save spot.
Take these two features together and you've totally sold me. The rest almost doesn't even matter.
One of the big things that always drove me crazy about JRPGs, and Square's JRPGs in particular, was the insane lengths of time you could go without the ability to save. Not too long ago I gave up on Star Ocean: The Last Hope on the 360 because the console's instability  resulted in one too many crashes between far-spaced save points. I eventually ended up trading it in for the International version on the PS3, which seems much more stable and I may be able to finish it.
But it's still not high on my list of gaming priorities. It's a wonderful game, I love it and will finish it, but those 2 hour gaps where you can't save are horrific. Even without the risk of crashing, it's hard to rearrange my schedule around the game. If I'm playing at night and I hit a save point at 11:00, do I risk continuing? What if it's 1am before I find another place to save? What if I continue and find myself in a cut scene that's 20 minutes long, or 30? What if that cut scene can't be paused or skipped?
Square games have always been gorgeous and fun and moving, but there's always been an element of inconvenience. Final Fantasy 13's biggest change is the complete removal of that inconvenience.
I've barely scratched the surface of this game, but I already know I'll be finishing this one fairly fast. Star Ocean? Even Final Fantasy 12? I'll finish those as well, but when that will happen, I couldn't say.
More impressions to come as I progress...
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