Historically, I’ve had a problem with Final Fantasy games. For whatever reason, it takes me forever to finish them. Usually, I’ll get about a third of the way in before I get distracted for a long time. Then when I return, I have totally forgotten the story, and it’s really hard to get back into the groove of the game. Especially one as story driven as the Final Fantasy series is.
Finally, after enduring many years of “hey can someone explain the ending of this game to me” with Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy XIII has made a simple change that has made me really happy. As soon as you start loading the game, recent plot events are relayed to you on the loading screen! Let’s have a quick look at this small but much appreciated usability-enhancing feature.
This really makes me happy. The game is taking a loading screen – otherwise a waste of the user’s time – and puts on it a couple of valuable paragraphs recapping the game’s plot. For me it also has the benefit of being able to see some of these names in writing. When the game uses words that are both odd and very similar – “l’Cie”, “fal’Cie”, “Pulse fal’Cie”, it helps me keep things straight to see them spelled out.
Regardless, turning a screen that gamers loathe into something that can pull them closer into the story is a huge net positive. A better understanding of the story means the game will make more sense, and gamers can identify more closely to the characters. When I was playing Final Fantasy XII, for some reason I took a huge break in the middle of the game. By the time I got back to it, I plowed through the end totally forgetting what the story was. And as I alluded to above, the ending was super confusing to me, and really didn’t make any impact on me at all. That’s totally lame for a game that’s so story-driven, and it was really disappointing to me (for sure, this is partly my fault for not seeking out “the story so far” online somewhere, but still…).
FF XIII isn’t the only game to do something interesting with loading screens. Mass Effect 1 tried hiding loading screens with elevator rides, where an announcement would be made about something happening in the world. Mass Effect 3 may or may not have hidden a loading screen in a “scanning” room. Bayonetta let you practice combos between stages. There are many examples, including “best of” lists from gamesradar.com and complex.com.
This is a simple one – if you’ve got to make your users endure a loading screen, try to do something interesting on it. Part two – if you’ve got a complicated story, make it easy for gamers to get a quick refresher on where they are. Especially with a potentially long affair like Final Fantasy, who knows how long gamers will go between play sessions.
I know other RPGs have similar offers to recap the story – The Witcher 2 featured a long, narrative text recap you could read for each quest you were working on. What other ingenious ways have games kept the player in the loop on the story while they were away? And what other games have featured particularly memorable loading screens? Let me know in the comments!