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APFFRT 4 Round 1: (6) Final Fantasy XIII vs. (27) Avernum

APFFRT 4 Round 1: (6) Final Fantasy XIII vs. (27) Avernum – August 15, 2013 1:22 PM (edited 8/15/13 9:22 AM)
Talraen (2373 posts) Doesn't Play with Others
Rating: Not Rated
I played Avernum back when I first got it, and it didn't really hook me. I don't know if it's the "imprisoned in a strange place" thing or if I can only stand old-looking games via nostalgia, but it fell kind of flat. Perhaps things will be better a second time around? FFXIII, on the other hand, I am a big fan of. Of course, 30 minutes gets through 1/60th of what I'd call the "tutorial," so we'll see what happens. There's definitely some good stuff early on, but I'm not sure how early.

Full Disclosure: I got my butt kicked pretty early in Avernum, and between that and some installation problems that threw off the time, I decided to just start anew (like I did with Fallout).

Game 1: Visuals
You can talk about style and retro and whatnot, but frankly, Avernum's graphics are not very good. The main problem is that this, the first game, is locked into 800x600, which is not a good resolution when every monitor is 1920x1080. It's either going to be super tiny or distorted (I went with tiny). That said, I'm also not a huge fan of the art style. The character designs seem one step removed from some weird fanservice MMO - dresses slit almost to the waist, that kind of thing. I mean, come on, guys. Combat is a bit confusing, and I have a lot of trouble figuring out what is and isn't important on the various maps. I'm pretty sure these are all things the sequels addressed, but they're not in the bracket.

FF13 is nothing if not a pretty game. I can't say I actually like the scenery in chapter 1, but it still qualifies as eye candy. (Although it must be mentioned, to be fair to Avernum, that Lebreau's outfit is so much fan service-ier than anything in that game.) The character designs seem almost simplified somehow - almost FF7-like - which is kind of interesting. Each character basically has their own color to identify them. The design of the world is somewhat futuristic, but unlike many of the later FF games, it actually seems to work here.

This isn't even really a contest. FF13 was designed to look great, Avernum is made by one guy who is not an artist. Which do you expect to look better?
Final Fantasy XIII leads 1-0

Game 2: Audio
Avernum doesn't seem to have music, which is not really surprising given that it's a one-man job, but some of the sound effects are downright silly. The in-battle stuff is basic - it sounds as much like a gold box game as it plays like one - but the various bits of fanfare that happen when you enter towns or combat are extremely cheesy. Of course, this is a game where probably 90% of the sounds you hear are that one 'step' sound effect. It's not really trying to be audibly amazing.

Is it weird that I associate FF13's battle music more with Theatrhythm than FF13 these days? It's a pretty good tune, but the main strength here is the voice acting. It's also a bit of a weakness, though - I'm not hugely fond of Lightning's general cadence, and I had the same first reaction to Snow as Vanille did ("all full of talk"), but Sazh is the undisputed best. Even outside of cutscenes he's constantly commenting and complaining in the background. Really, most of the problems with the voice acting are, at their core, problems with the acting in general. JRPG characters just like to act weird and have really awkward pauses sometimes.

This is also no contest, and isn't really even fair. Avernum basically had to go 4-1 as soon as this match started, because it was never going to beat anybody in audio or visuals, let alone FF13.
Final Fantasy XIII leads 2-0

Game 3: Combat
As I mentioned before, Avernum combat is very reminiscent of Gold Box game combat. To me, that's a good thing - it was a pretty straightforward system, and it worked. Avernum throws a bunch more wrinkles in, like delaying actions and whatnot, but the main draw for me is the magic. The starting characters have a whole bunch of spells, and plenty of MP to use them with - I was casting pretty much every round, and I had to (especially the healing). Combat is tough but fair, and strategy goes a very long way right from the get-go. This is a very good system, and I can definitely see the appeal.

FF13's combat eventually gets pretty damn awesome - it has one of my favorite systems in the game. However, that doesn't start until the party becomes l'Cie, which is still a ways from happening at this point. At the moment the characters I've controlled have exactly four combat options: attack twice, AOE attack, attack once and save a bit of time, or use a potion. A few monsters can be staggered, but not through any particular actions you take. I always thought the criticism that you can only control one party member was missing the point, but when things are as basic as they are in chapter 1, it does seem like kind of a big lack.

Avernum's combat is great right from the get-go, and potentially could be on par with tactical games in terms of complexity and overall fun. Hell, for all I know it could rival FF13 in the long run. In the short run, though, it beats it flat out.
Final Fantasy XIII leads 2-1

Game 4: Advancement
I'm a bit overwhelmed by Avernum's advancement, and also I'm not actually sure how to advance. Every stat has a coin value next to it - does that mean all advancement is done via training? I forgot to check if there was experience or something similar. Still, the level of customization is clearly kind of ridiculous, and there are a lot of abilities and gear to use. It certainly seems like the kind of game where half the fun is discovering what you can manage to do.

There is almost literally no advancement in chapter 1 of FF13 - you don't even gain experience. I did find two accessories, each of which provides a whopping 50 HP. And... that's it. No weapons, no armor (since none exists in the game anyway), no new abilities, nada. It's not the most mechanically exciting chapter.

Once again, FF13 loses big time because it takes its sweet time letting the player actually, you know, play the game. Avernum may drop you in a bit too fast, but I'd rather die and start over or use a starter party than spend the first hour just spamming X. I mean, people level that criticism at FF13 when combat does get interesting.
Series tied 2-2

Game 5: Characters
Most of the characters in Avernum are pretty generic, but they fit the world well and all make a lot of sense. There are a few standouts, though, and I enjoyed them more than is probably warranted. First was a boatmaker who acted like a pirate (and admitted as much when confronted about it). The other notable character was apparently a lesbian, and seemed really eager to imply this but upset that I asked about it. One thing I don't understand: why are so many NPCs female? It seems like 2/3 at least. Between that and their descriptions, it's all kind of vaguely creepy.

Lightning pretty clearly seems like the protagonist here, which makes it kind of jarring when Snow becomes the viewpoint character. I may have observed recently that FF6 is the only FF with no central character - well I totally forgot FF13! At any rate, Lightning is badass in this intro, even if her attitude kind of annoys me. She was totally going to ditch Sazh! Sazh, on the other hand, is cliched but very entertaining. Sure, he's basically just playing Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon ("I'm too old for this" is one of his first lines!), but he does it well, and his nonstop chatter is great. Snow doesn't really work for me, nor does Hope - but we don't even know who he is at this point and he's mostly just grunted and made whining noises. I totally forgot that Vanille narrates, and knowing what will go down later, that seemed really cool. Without that context, it really just makes you wonder where the hell that accent comes from. (Apparently Pulse is... Australia, I think?)

FF13 has some fantastic character arcs, but the game begins in media res and at this point it's hard to really know what's going on. Sure, Snow thinks he's a hero, Lightning is almost unbelievably badass, and Sazh seems out of place. All of these things are true and fleshed out later, but for now it's almost not as interesting as it has to be. Still, random black guy with a chocobo in his afro > random guy who acts like a pirate. (But maybe not by much!)
Final Fantasy XIII leads 3-2

Game 6: World
Avernum's world is the best part of the game (possibly excepting combat). Sure, the premise - bad people get thrown underground never to return; hijinks ensue - is kind of basic, but everything is well thought-out. Well, almost everything - apparently each square on the world map is a mile, which means I've walked at least 100 miles without a rest. That seems... unlikely. But beyond that, everything is there for a reason, the world seems to exist beyond just your characters, and the setting allows it to be limited in scope which gives it a lot of potential for actually making sense. To put it another way, I kind of want to play more now, so that's good.

The intro to FF13 does a decent job fleshing some of the details of the world out - you're on Cocoon, you've been banished to Pulse for reasons yet unknown, the Sanctum is doing it, PSICOM is the division carrying it out. To be honest, though, it isn't really that intriguing at this point. It's basically just a bunch of random gun battles and explosions in chapter 1.

Going straight to the action hurts FF13 a lot in this competition - there is so little world development that I can't help but say Avernum is way ahead in this category. The difference is simple: at this point I want to know more about the world of Avernum, and I still don't give a crap about the world of FF13. (Truth be told, as much as I love the characters and story of FF13, I am not a fan of the world, particularly Cocoon.)
Series tied 3-3

Game 7: Storyline
I'm torn on what to think of Avernum's storyline. On the one hand, there basically isn't one: you're in Avernum, now go survive! I have no idea if there's a central plot of some kind. On the other hand, a lot of shit is going on, and I can definitely see pursuing courses that will have major effects on it. There is a two-front war, bandits, abandoned towns, etc. There's a ton of potential, if not necessarily much execution so far.

It's tricky to be objective about FF13's story at this point. I know what's actually going on, what fills in all the blanks, and I love it to death. FF13 has one of my favorite stories in the series, at least until the Big Bad reveals himself and things take a turn for the stupid. But what do I actually know so far? Sazh is some apparently random dude tagging along with Lightning out of self-preservation. Lightning has a grudge and is after the fal'Cie (and I don't even know what that is yet). A bunch of people are being banished for some reason, and Snow and his buddies think they're big heroes and are fighting back. Actually, that last part never gets less lame. I don't really like Snow. Smile

This is tough. Avernum's story so far is OK, and the potential is immense. FF13's story so far is confusing and kind of uninteresting, but I know it eventually becomes great. How can I judge potential against potential I know will be filled? I think it comes down to this: the first time I played FF13, I was not all that hooked at this point. As I said above, I find myself wanting to play more Avernum. That's really all the difference you need, I suppose.
Avernum wins 4-3

Originally up top it said "I'm hesitant to predict an easy win after being so wrong about FF8, but... I'm gonna go ahead and do so anyway." I moved that down here because it seemed like a cheesy thing I added after the fact. I didn't, though! I mean, what's going on in this competition? At any rate, this was a pretty lame match because five or six of the games had de facto winners, and game 7 is so subjective that it invites criticism either way. Well, the original idea for this APFFRT was to just play each game for half an hour and the winner would be the game I wanted to keep playing. (Overcomplicate otherwise perfectly fine ideas is how I roll.) So I guess the right game won in the end.

Next Game: (7) Final Fantasy Tactics vs. (26) Kingdom Hearts

There is no Mythril Sword in Elfheim
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