Two things to talk about today:
1. I finished Splinter Cell Conviction, and
2. I finally got excited about Final Fantasy 13.
The most recent Joystiq podcast touches on both of these games, which made this morning's commute more fun as I was already well versed in both. And as an added bonus, for the incredibly small subset of people who listened to that podcast and also read this blog, what I'm about to say will hopefully not sound redundant.
It's funny. I was somewhat indifferent about the first Assassin's Creed, and so I wasn't really looking forward to Assassin's Creed 2, and in spite of the marketing crush I'd almost managed to forget about it, and it ended up being one of my favorite games of last year. Whereas, back in the day I used to be a huge Splinter Cell fan/apologist, and actively hated Metal Gear Solid and other stealth games, and now that I've played Conviction, I'm kinda hoping they kill the franchise (or else reboot it from scratch).
Conviction suffers from a wide variety of flaws, but the one that seems the most jarring to me is the same one that afflicts the rest of the Tom Clancy's games - the storytelling is just dreadful. Conviction takes great strides towards giving you a real motivation for doing the things you end up doing, but the characters are so broad and bland and the villains are so generic and dull and the conspiracy hardly makes sense, and I found myself in location after location unsure of where I was, why I was there, and what I was supposed to be doing beyond following the objective marker and clearing out room after room. I'd almost rather play the game as a series of training missions; at least they could just drop the pretense and concentrate on interesting level design.
The game is better at combat, which means that there's a lot more of it. Which is unfortunate. I still prefer to sneak around and silently dispatch guards, or avoid contact entirely, and there were a number of areas where that simply wasn't an option; you have to kill everyone in front of you - or, alternately, you find a path and run through it until you get to the next checkpoint, which is what I ended up doing more than a few times when I simply couldn't handle the odds.
Ultimately, though, I'm just done with these characters and the fiction; they were never particularly interesting to begin with, and I'd rather they just scrap the whole thing and start from scratch.
As for FF13.
I feel like I've talked about Chapter 11 at great length, which is appropriate given that I've probably spent as much time in Chapter 11 as I have for the first 10. But the game has finally clicked into place for me. As I'm probably at least 50 hours into it by now, that shouldn't be just happening, but it is; I saved my game last night and turned it off and couldn't wait to get back in and start again, which is maybe the first time I've felt that way since I first unwrapped it.
Let me explain why that's so weird.
As I think I mentioned before, I had originally started Chapter 11 without really understanding what I was supposed to do - to be more specific, I didn't understand the map. Chapter 11 is where the game stops being so ridiculously linear; you stop going in a straight line and you start picking up side quests in this absolutely gigantic landscape. When I first started it, I had picked up a side quest and assumed that the map in the upper right hand corner was leading me to the side quest's location; I didn't realize that the map was still leading me towards the main story's objective. And so it led me into these caverns where I was just getting my ass kicked repeatedly, and I was getting incredibly frustrated and annoyed, and then I realized that I must've missed something, or perhaps I just needed to grind a bit more, and so I restarted Chapter 11 and figured out what I'd done wrong.
And so I'd spent the next 20 hours doing all the side missions I could find, and grinding like crazy in between each side mission, and (surprise!) that was beginning to get tedious as well. I wanted to get back to the story; I wanted to see if I could finally handle those caverns that had dispatched me so effortlessly. I'd finished mission 16, couldn't find where mission 17 was, and decided that was probably a sign that I should just get on with it.
And wouldn't you know - I kicked ass in those caverns. And - lo and behold - mission 17 was in those caverns. And when I got to Vanille's big summon battle, which had utterly destroyed me originally - well, it still destroyed me, but I eventually managed to beat it. And now the game is leading me along a somewhat more linear path again, which is a refreshing change of pace, and when I decided to call it a night last night I'd saved right after picking up mission 18, which meant that I was in the right place after all. It's as if the game read my mind.
I'm still a bit shocked that I've devoted this much time and effort into a game that I've been so apathetic about, but I guess this is the payoff; I'm now fully on board and can't wait to get back.