Final Fantasy XIII. A game followed in a long line of great, classic titles that have shaped gamer’s interests, expectations and dreams since 1987. Just one question. What happened?
Before I continue, I will say this, I have encountered many people who take offense to criticism of the game. I warn you, if you are a fan of Final Fantasy XIII, I am in no way trying to offend any of you. It’s wonderful that you feel that way, and I sincerely wish that I could see the game the way you do. This article is merely my own opinion and is only representative of only one person, me. So if you get offended by this, well from here on, it is now your own fault ;p. Moving on…
First my personal history as a Final Fantasy fan. As a gamer I joined Final Fantasy fandom around it’s mid point, well into the release time span of Final Fantasy VIII, which is (btw) my favorite game of all time. I picked up Final Fantasy VIII on a whim on an unassuming trip to the mall and it turned out to be my most personally influential game of all time. It was (and still is) a major reason that I want to get into gaming. I followed it up with a purchase of the Greatest Hits version of Final Fantasy VII (my second favorite game of all time, and best 20 bucks I ever spent) and a purchase of Final Fantasy IX very soon after it was first released. Those three games right there make three out of my top four games of all time (the first God of War being the fourth game). Final Fantasy X was released not long after-wards, and though it was barely a smidge beneath VII, VIII and IX, it remains my personal fifth greatest game of all time. I didn’t have online access for console gaming at that age, so I was unable to play Final Fantasy XI, and still haven’t to this day. Finall Fantasy X-2 had fast and dynamic combat, but the story was so incredibly girly that it borderlined on painful at times. Plus many Final Fantasy fans, including myself don’t count it as a “real” entry in the Final Fantasy line, it’s more of a spin-off. Final Fantasy XII was due to be released around the time I graduated from high school, so you can imagine my disappointment when I heard of the massive delay. It was the worst Final Fantasy withdrawal of my life, and as such my perspective of the game never achieved the same status as VII, VIII, IX and X. But I can safely say that Final Fantasy XII, at the very least was a very good game. Not a great game, but a good one. Along the way I also picked up copies of Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy Chronicles, Origins, and Anthology. All of which are very solid packages. Now that the history lesson is over I must say that it is truly unfortunate that Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t even come close to good.
In applying for graduate school for Game Production, I met a professor, with significant experience in the gaming industry and a brutually honest, “no-bull-shit” attitude, who passed on some very wise words to me when it comes to true Game Design.
“Nobody is going to give a shit about your story if the game you are making is no fun to play in the first place.”
That’s Final Fantasy XIII’s problem in a nutshell. The gameplay outside of the battle system sucks to be quite frank. But even the battle system itself is equivalent to an empty-shell that you are forced to grind through at the start of the game through about the 15 hour mark. The extent of the mechanics of Final Fantasy XIII go something like this.
1.) Press forward on the joystick.
2.) Spot and fight enemy (by hitting scan and pressing auto-battle).
3.) Enemy defeated, go down a small side road and open a treasure chest.
4.) Watch a brief cutscene with a little blonde boy collapsing and crying about how he can’t do anything right.
5.) Walk back down the side road to the main road and continue forward.
6.) Fight two more of the same enemy.
7.) Pause and go to the Crystarium to level up your character’s by class. (It’s all pretty to look at but what you’re really doing is spending points on a straight line.)
8.) Walk forward some more, fight three more of the same enemy, plus one small different one that changes things up a little (but not really).
9.) Watch an overly dramatic cutscene with soldier mc-chicky talking about how the “entire world is against them” (gimme a break, like I haven’t heard that one before).
10.) Fight the boss, wash rinse, repeat for about a days worth of hours until you reach the “open area”.
That’s about where I stopped with the game when I finally got tired of feeling like I was doing work. Yes, I admit, I haven’t finished Final Fantasy XIII yet. But would you if a game made you feel like you were doing work? If I wanted to do work, I would have been doing my homework at the time, not sitting on a couch waiting for a highly self-promoted, graphically stunning snooze-fest to finally wake up and take off. The game is simply no fun to play outside of a battle system with some decent potential that isn’t fully realized since the game forces you to grind through it’s lifeless shell-like state with virtually no reward. And by the time you reach the abilities that should be fun, the novelty of it all has completely worn off. There are a few story set pieces that stand out, such as the attack on Hope’s house, but the game ultimately relegates back to its mundane formula.
Over the years, I’ve found that I am able to fully engross myself in a game’s lore and universe when the gameplay is clicking, even if it’s a little rough around the edges. But Final Fantasy XIII didn’t even give me that chance. The mechanics were dull, and even when I tried to get into the game’s story there was nothing but overly dramatic fluff and some awkward scene transitions (particularly with the levels) that didn’t always make sense. For instance, how did Lightning and crew get from a shabby-looking junk yard to a dynamic and colorful bio-mechanical forest(one of the few great areas of the game)? As a player, you don’t get a good sense of how the geography and the inner workings of the world you are exploring go together. It’s all just kind of a jumbled mess. There’s no strong central villain that really drives the story or provides motivation on the part of the players, just a few forgettable, two-dimensional stock villains that serve as excuses for boss battles and funky character design.
It’s pretty apparent to me that the designers were banking on two things to carry the players through the game, story and battle system. While neither are completely and utterly terrible, it takes more to make a great game than just those two things. Players are forced to fight through most creatures that they come across along a straight path with no real sense of choice and the story seems like it expects the audience to be drawn in from the moment they pop in the game. The story dives right into the melodrama, and it’s impossible to find sympathy or relate to any of the characters when all they appear to be doing is complaining or making “inspiring” speeches. I’m sorry if I’ve heard the phrase, “the world is against us” in just about every other action film, game or book out there, but Final Fantasy XIII is not winning any awards for originality on that one. I know it’s hard to carry on creative ideas for 20-plus years, but come on! You can’t expect to knock anyone’s socks off with that sap.
In case, you haven’t gotten the point. I am not a fan of Final Fantasy XIII. I know there are those who are, and I am happy for you. However, I also know that this game has proven to be the most divisive entry in the franchise’s long history. Perhaps XIII is an unlucky number, or perhaps Final Fantasy as a franchise has run its course. I am still hopeful about the turn out of Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Agito XIII, but I’m not counting on either being the savior of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series. While it looks like Versus will be able to give players more freedom, it’s still far from a sure-fire, high-quality title at this point in time. However, I will give Square Enix their props for coming forward and admitting that Final Fantasy XIII was a flawed product due to a “lack of cohesive vision”. That takes guts and humility to say something like that, and I hope that Final Fantasy XV benefits from the lessons learned.
Hours In Length: Roughly 40-70
Final Score: 5.3 / 10
– It’s pretty to look at
– Some solid set pieces bordering on epic
– Battle system can be engaging once the shell is full
– A lot of very dull game mechanics
– Story is way too melodramatic for some people’s tastes (even for Final Fantasy)
– Characters are pretty average
– It really took 20 hours before I could choose my party? WTF?
– Crystarium is really just a straight line of numerical values with skills attached to them
– The players’ path through a majority of the environments consists of merely going straight