Opinion: What ever happened to the world map?

What ever happened to the world map?

I’ve been playing Crisis Core on PSP a lot recently. In actual fact, I bought a PSP pretty specifically for this title, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Although when I say I’ve played it ‘a lot’, what that means in reality is that I’ve played it for 17 hours and have already beaten the game. “17 hours? That’s pretty respectable for a £15 platinum title” you might be thinking, but for an RPG, and a Square-Enix RPG at that, I’m actually quite disappointed. I think the problem stems from the removal of the world map, and its replacement with those awful blue dot floating lines from Final Fantasy XII that signify where one area joins another. Now I know the argument that J-RPGs are considered quite old hat, and it may be true that if you don’t evolve and move with the times you wither and die, but please, stop messing with the important stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff that adds longevity and the feeling of exploration and actually having a choice in how the game pans out.

Save crystal and blue dots - disembodied blue entities abound in FFXII!

My beef with the blue dots is as follows.

The removal of a world map takes an awful lot of the fun out of an RPG, it’s as simple as that. In Crisis Core you are acutely aware as you rumble through the story from A to Z with no deviation en route that essentially you are involved in a story on rails, you literally stepped on the storytelling equivalent of a 17 hour, non-stop express train, and as Barrett so expertly put it, “there ain’t no gettin’ off this train we’re on!” The whole affair from Zack working to become SOLDIER 1st Class at the beginning of the game to its rather distressing conclusion is an exercise in linear travel, and in Crisis Core you spend as much time being flown by helicopter from one area to the next as you do traversing the blue dot lines, but one thing is for certain – there is no exploration, there is no deviation, and there is no substitute for that.

OK, I didn't really find any screenshots of the 'blue dots', I had to put them in myself in Photoshop - that's how much everyone hates them, they refuse to acknowledge their existence!

As in Final Fantasy XII (with it’s frankly dreadful and uninspiring ‘Hunt’ quests) Crisis Core does have some side-quests in a manner of speaking, but in all honesty I found I had little or no motivation to start them, was completely underwhelmed while undertaking them, and was left with no desire to ever do that again. The premise is simple – you collect missions from a central hub (Zack’s Shinra PDA-thing, the Inn’s noticeboard in FFXII) venture off to complete the rather one-dimensional task (find/kill/collect reward) and in doing this, another handful of tasks all slightly more difficult (but no less dull) than the previous become available. I don’t want to be spoon-fed my side quests! I don’t want to sit drooling as Square-Enix’s collective lack of imagination tells me to ‘lather, rinse and repeat’ 300 times! And what’s worst of all, if they must insist on putting in these missions, is that you miss out on experience and items if you don’t plough through them one dreadful and boring stab in the eye at a time!

In Final Fantasy XII I found myself woefully under-experienced and lacking in cash by the time I came to assaulting the final sections of the game because I hadn’t completed a single hunt. In Crisis Core I played through one hour of these missions just out of interest (I wasn’t reviewing the title, but felt I should be more analytical) and in that time levelled up 8 or 9 times, and found so many useful materia and items that it made the final bosses straightforward – the only trouble was, I was so distressed by the terminal tedium of it all, I nearly didn’t pick up the game again after just one hour.

Conversely, I found every single artifact in Chocobo Hot and Cold in Final Fantasy IX, I discovered so many interesting side quests and hidden dungeons in Oblivion because I chose to walk everywhere, and all of this was achieved because I was enjoying myself. Exploring, wandering, getting lost even, are inherently fun activities that we don’t get chance enough to do in our every day lives, so please stop taking these delightful little cherry-on-the-icing-on-the-top-of-the-cake dalliances out of games and let us have our fun, rather than marching us straight to the end, not passing go or collecting £200, like a teacher on a field trip.