This is based on having played through to the middle of disc 2, early on in Chapter 7, I think. I will be spoiling up to this point, and making mildly informed speculations as to what’s to come. I’m enjoying the experience, but it sure is paced oddly. There’s been a lot said about the boring opening, gameplay-wise, and I don’t have much to add. I had the ingenious idea of having my girlfriend play through the opening of the game so I didn’t have to, and she fell asleep early in Chapter 2.
The game has gotten a lot better since. Obviously, the paradigm system opening up helps a lot. But also, there have been some absolutely stunning environment – especially the frozen lake of Chapter 3 and the forest of Chapter 6.
But I don’t think enough has been said, or at least I haven’t read much, about how oddly the story is structured. Snow gets set up as a co-lead character, gets his summon, and then immediately drops out except for a couple of cutscenes for six hours or more. And the game puts so much faith in our interest in the party characters. It’s really all been about them. There’s no well defined villain in the piece yet. Our heroes don’t even have a properly defined goal – they know they’re supposed to do something, they just don’t know what, so they project their own issues on to it and we’re supposed to care and go along for the ride with them.
This is a bit of a problem if you happen to not like some of the characters (Hope, Vanille and Snow all made mediocre or worse first impressions on me). It’s also awkward since I feel like I knew, or was able to presume, important information about too many of the characters well in advance of them actually revealing it. I don’t mind being a bit ahead of the curve, but I feel like I’m too far ahead, especially when it comes to Vanille, and Sazh, and the impending Snow-Hope conflict. This really drags the pace of the game down, while I wait and wait for these impending “revelations”, and it makes it feel like the gameplay segments drag on for too long.
Related to that, I find the choice not to intercut between the party groups more baffling. You’re with the same pair of characters in Chapters 5 through 7 for a couple hours minimum each time, and things feel monotonous, and weighed down the doubt and expectations of when we’re finally going to go somewhere else. It also means that before the time they’re over, I’m already getting bored with the environments, even in the cases when they’re, as a mentioned earlier, gorgeous. It’s also deeply weird not to give me a three-character party. I understand that they want me to ease into the Paradigm Shift system, and that’s all well and good, but really, I’m ready for the training wheels to come off.
I’m doing my best not to mention the bizarre, arcane item upgrade system. Anyways, I feel like I’ve rambled, and said everything two or three times each, but I just wanted to get something up for the record before moving forward in the game.