There's been a veritable explosion of independent games as of late. Some of them are even quite good. I'm going to go over a couple I've played recently that are really more like interactive works of art than games.
First up is a PSN exclusive called Journey. It's $15 and you can play to the end in only 2-3 hours. I know, that doesn't sound like a great way to sell a game, but Journey doesn't feel like it's shorting you at all. Those 2-3 hours cover an impressive arc of shifting visuals and emotion. There's not a written word to be found anywhere once you enter the game proper, but there's definitely a story being told. The music is also no small part of the package; it's obvious it was given just as much care as the visual presentation.
Journey definitely leans more towards interactive art than game, but there is a game in there with some surprises laying in wait. I can't really say more without ruining the experience, and I'm not sure I could do it a proper description in words. It's something you have to see in motion to truly appreciate.
The other game I've played recently is Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery. It's $8 on Steam (and also available on iOS), and can be finished in about 6 hours. It's done in an 8-bit side-scroller style, though there are some conventions for modern hardware present. Most notably is the game's headline feature: it's soundtrack. There's no other way to put it... the music is absolutely sublime, and is worth the $8 alone. The game is mostly a puzzler, though it does have a few combat sequences. It's a real trip to play, and the dialog can be pretty hilarious.
I'm enjoying these games, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more like them.
I wanted to like Final Fantasy 13, I really did. At first it seemed like Square was trying to appeal more to western gamers. There were plenty of good tutorials to explain how everything worked. There were story recaps when reloading to let you know where you were in the game. Auto combat generally worked well. Right up until I ran into the brick wall that is Fang's summon fight. Bahamut kicked my ass. Maybe I shouldn't have skipped so many fights. Even then, I'm not sure how anyone gets past this fight. Every single attack he does has a knockdown. Even with the generally agreed upon setup of Saboteur, Medic, and Medic, I couldn't stay alive past the second or third attack. Sentinel, Medic, and Medic could keep me alive, but I couldn't complete the fight fast enough in that paradigm. And forget switching between the two. Bahamut's attacks just come too fast. By the time we're all switched over, the next attack is about to come, or is already in progress. Not enough time to get everyone back to full health. I ejected the disc from my PS3 and sealed it back up in the GameFly envelope after 21 hours.
As I blogged about a couple weeks back, this is one of the cardinal sins of game design. The only reason this fight is hard is because Bahamut's attack is an area attack. And like every fight in FF13, you start grouped up and have no direct input on your team's positions. So of course, everyone gets knocked down, and nobody can do anything. That's arbitrary difficulty. All that does is make me stop playing a game. Then I write bad things about it. Then I complain to my friends how stupid it is.
I honestly do not get why the Japanese like these games so much. Yes, the art style and visual design is amazing. I love looking at JRPG's. I just really do not like playing them. They're repetitive (yeah I could have done every mob fight and gone completely mad in the processes), there are too many menus and buttons presses to get anything done, and they're insanely hard. Final Fantasy 13 was me giving JRPG's one last chance, and all it did was put the last nail in the coffin.
I've never been a big fan of JRPG's. They tend to be way too menu heavy for my tastes. Lots of button presses for not a lot of result, that kind of thing. As a result I haven't really played that many. Blue Dragon was the only one I spent any kind of serious time on. Certain parts of it I loved. The music especially. I also quite like the extravagant visual style of most JRPG's. The big turn-off for me is when it comes to actual gameplay. It always seems like I'm doing an awful lot for not much real action. Ultimately I gave up on Blue Dragon after spending a couple hours wondering aimlessly with not a clue as to what I was supposed to be doing. The endless diving through menus to upgrade items/skills/etc also got pretty annoying.
That said, I've actually been enjoying Final Fantasy 13. A lot people didn't really like it, but I don't think it was aimed at the hardcore JRPG players. It was aimed at people like me. People that love the general creative design of JRPG's but hate to actually play them. FF13 does a lot of things to avoid annoying people like me. It puts up a little story recap whenever I sit down to continue the game, so I generally know where I am. The auto combat system works well most of the time so I don't always have queue up my actions for every attack. Leveling is pretty simple, and it will pick equipment for me when I select offensive, defensive, or balanced loadout option buttons.
Long time players of JRPG's, yeah... you're probably not going to like FF13. New players though... this could be something you want to check out.