Recently I have been playing Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, which is the third entry in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. I would like to go over an instance where the designers of Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns were successful at using some simple pieces to create a powerful experience. The game is broken up into 4 primary regions, and within one region, The Wildlands, which is basically giant plains, you hear a voice coming from nowhere which details the legend of the “Angel of Valhalla”, which you find out is a local folk legend which is said to be a white chocobo, or large bird.
In the village of Canopus Farms, you find a man that heard the same voice that Lightning had. He feels as if you might be the one chosen to ride this mighty bird, so he informs you that the bird has been spotted trying to battle its only known predator: the chocobo eater. Upon hunting down the chocobo eater in its natural habitat, you find it about to deal the finishing blows to the lovely Angel of Valhalla itself and you step in to save the bird. Upon defeating the chocobo eater, the Angel of Valhalla is taken to the nearby village.
From this early point the developers have invested you in the bird by making him both rare and elusive– something to covet after– as well as vulnerable and needing of your care and attention. They also tell you that you are the chosen one and make it to where it is you destiny to find this bird. Finally, they have the chocobo stare into your eyes after saving him, as if he was trying to tell you something; Lightning feels as if she knows the bird.
When you get back to Canopus Farms you are informed that no one can get the bird to eat, and that soon it will die. Naturally, the bird will only take help from you, so you must ascertain food from the village’s residents and nurse him to health. This requires the player to invest in the bird. Following human psychology, this means that once someone has started to spend time on something they are more likely to return because they have already devoted time and effort to that activity. After eating everything in the village, the bird is finally healthy enough to walk, but alas he is not up to full function. It is at this point that things get good.
The chocobo will not only now allow you to ride him in the open world– allowing you to travel faster– but he will also join you as a companion in battle. Instantly he brings huge value to you by allowing you to explore a vast environment much faster and by assisting you in combat, especially by providing buffs, which are exceptionally hard to come by in this game. However, he is not back to full health quite yet, as such he can not contribute his full strength in combat, nor can he glide after jumping quite yet. In order to unlock his full potential you will need to search the rest of the region for more items that will help him grow.
Even though my back was up against the in-game clock and I did not know that the chocobo’s ability to glide was needed in order to progress, I still worked hard to unlock it, because I was so enthralled with my new companion and excited to use him in order to explore previously inaccessible areas. This meant I traveled far and wide to find goat’s milk, gysahl greens (chocobo’s favorite food), and complete quests that might help out my compatriot. While these items were intangible resources, they carried real value to me because they made sense in the context of the game. They were food and medicines for the chocobo and they helped heal him as such. While many items in the game were relatively meaningless, there was huge endogenous value associated with these items because of their correlation to my chocobo.
The addition of the chocobo mechanic was relatively small in scale compared to some games. There was no complex upgrade tree; you merely needed to gather x number of items for him to regain his full strength. On top of that, it would have been a lot easier for them to add in the ability to hire just any old chocobo to ride around, as they had in the two former games. However, they instead built an entire region around this simple mechanic, invested the player in the chocobo through interactions, and made an enormously valuable companion even more valuable by showing you the before and after of traveling with and without him. Over the course of several hours I cared more for my chocobo– which I named Cerebius– than I did for Hope, one of the main characters throughout the FFXIII trilogy who acts as the player’s guide within this game.