I donít like Final Fantasy 13. You could probably guess that from the title, but I REALLY donít like Final Fantasy 13. Itís not because Iím some sort of FF fanboy who is offended by the game or an old school RPG fanatic against anything that doesnít make me draw my own map, I have no real experience with the series aside from what Iíve learned purely from osmosis and when it comes to RPGs Iíve got little experience with anything not involving paper plumbers. Iím just someone who wanted to get into an unfamiliar genre and instead found one of the most complicatedly flawed games ever.
FF13 goes beyond conventional game flaws. It isnít poorly made, it isnít falling apart at the seams, but it is bad. I have spent more time trying to fully grasp all the problems of FF13 then I have actually playing the game. It is a perpetual conundrum to me how people havenít written dissertations about everything this game does poorly because I am nothing but perplexed by it. So Imma do it.
I donít like Final Fantasy 13. The entire point of this little series is to go into grave detail on all the reasons I donít like it, partly because of trying to garner some reputation as a writer, mostly because I think iíll go crazy if I donít let it out. So thatís what youíre in for, a Red Letter Media style breakdown of FF13. If you like FF13, thatís fine, but you might not want to keep reading. So, letís get started.
1. No Setup
When you boot up Final Fantasy 13 youíre treated to a cutscene of a train trafficking people in glowy robes through some canyons. One of the robed figures begins an assault on the guards, freeing the other people inside the train and boasting some visual impressive gravity powers. This is Lightning, the chick on the cover and our main protagonist. Along for the ride is fellow captive Sazh, a black man who is black and presumably has been for some time.
As the scene continues the train enters a massive cavern of rails where itís obvious Lightningís uprising isnít an isolated incident, and there seems to be a full on war in the cavern. This scene establishes a few of FF13ís better parts, notably the amazing visuals and fantastic score. No matter how much I put down FF13, Iíll never knock it for being ugly or sounding bad.
Now, youíve probably been able to deduce from the title that my problem with this scene is how it tosses you into a complex situation with no real setup on what this scene is and youíd be correct. This type of scene is very common, itís called a Cold Open and itís one of the easiest way to engage an audience, by putting them in an unfamiliar situation thatís visually interesting which prompts interest in what exactly is going on, allowing you to deliver exposition to an eager audience. Itís not new and itís not bad, in fact itís a fantastic way to introduce the viewer to their world. This problem is more †long term, as we never reach the exposition stage.
2. A Severe Lack Of Exposition
At this point thereís already a lot of questions rolling around. Who are these robed figures? Why are they being moved around via train? Why are the Helghan moving them? Well, FF13 is a pretty high concept game. Thereís a lot going on and a lot of things to explain, but of course you canít just ignore the ongoing conflict to get into the fairly complicated elements of the FalíCie and Cocoon.
However FF13, even when giving the player a moment to reflect never gives the proper exposition to the viewer. Instead FF13 focuses on the Codex, an in-game wiki that serves as the sole source of exposition. Compare these to the Codec from metal gear Solid. Aside from the cutscene Codecs which are used to cutdown on disc space, the Codec is used to expand on plot points in the game proper, but is never necessary. So long as you pay attention you can play the entire series without using the Codec once and still have a full understanding of the story.
FF13 Even has the perfect moments built into the story to offer this exposition, and the perfect characters to ask these questions but never does so. †It almost goes out of itís way to avoid exposition, as if it was a negative. These leaves the player, confused, as we never get a direct explanation for concepts like FalíCie.
But Iím getting ahead of myself. As the prologue continues we follow Lightning and Sazh and as they confront ďPSICOMĒ the strange soldiers and battle their way through the cavern. We hear some bits and pieces about Lightning, namely her status as an AWOL soldier and her mission of attacking a ďPulse FalíCie.Ē Once more, the game doesnít explain what this is, but itís early enough that it isnít confusing so much as mysterious.
Weíre also introduced to our third protagonist, Snow Villers. Snow leads a group of flamboyant soldiers known as NORA, a resistance front that seems to be leading the uprising even though it apparently only consists of maybe 8 people. Iím not quite sure of NORA is a bigger organization or assisting other groups in the assault. What we do see is NORA recruited the robed figures into their war, most of whom are untrained civilians.
3. Thematic Dissonance
As you can imagine, this is a pretty dark scenario. Unfortunately, almost none of the characters treat this with any sense of urgency or dread, the underlying conflict of war is completely lost on them. Instead, NORA is obsessed with heroics and almost goes out of their way to avoid any sort of strategy.
To FF13ís credit, the game does highlight this dissonance in the character of Hope, our fourth protagonist. Hopeís mother joins up with Snowís group and is murdered because of it. Hope, being a perpetually sheltered boy, spends a good chunk of the game trying to murder Snow for it. Unfortunately the game doesnít go deep enough into this personal conflict, opting instead to focus on the grander FalíCie conflict, a conflict that isnít properly outlined and completely alien to the player.
This is actually the strangest aspect of FF13 and might be the most interesting. FF13 seems to stumble into interesting conflicts without knowing it. Hope is a far better suited protagonist than Lightning. His age gives him a unique perspective on the conflict and makes him the perfect audience surrogate, as his sheltered life style would obviously leave him naive to concepts such as FalíCie.
Along with Hope weíre introduced to Vanille, a young eccentric girl who seem strangely alien to the rest of the characters. The two of them play off of each other well and can relate as both are being thrust into a strange setting. Ultimately Vanille becomes heavily entwined with the main conflict and could be seen as the Ďtrueí protagonist, but were it properly developed Hope could become just as vital to this conflict as Vanille. Instead, the two are set to the sidelines and underdeveloped.
4. Prolonging itís Stay
At this point weíve been introduced to each of our protagonists, and the game throws us another curve ball by revealing the Pulse FalíCie that seems at the heart of this conflict. The FalíCie is menacing, completely alien and colossal. Apparently nothing more than a monument, itís profoundly strange and intriguing. Independently, each of the protagonists makes their way to the monstrosity.
Ideally, this would be the stopping point. The player has been subject to quite a bit of this way without a clear idea of why itís going on, and in order for the story to continue properly we need to have a clear idea of what a FalíCie is. Here we would stop and take a moment to get some much needed exposition. A flashback to the normal lives of the heroes would probably be the best way to do this, and with one of the protagonists being a student it wouldnít even be an out of character exposition dump. †
Instead, the game continues the characters into the FalíCie, revealing it to be a temple like entity. Weíre then introduced to the next major drawback of FF13:
5. Inconsistent action and characterization
Once inside the FalíCie we take control of Hope and Vanille for the first time, and the two begin to enter conflict with the monsters inside the Creature. Now, FF13 is host to some pretty big problems when it comes to consistency. Characters change motivation radically across the story, and thereís no real connection between the combat and the plot. However this particular moment is the most jarring, as the ever sheltered Hope pulls a boomerang out of his ass and begins to go to war with no training.
Now the unlikely hero is one of the most common tropes in video games, RPGs especially, but usually they preface it with some footnote on how impossible the situation is. FFX at least had Auron preface the event as life or death and Tidus is an established athlete. It makes no sense for Hope to even have this boomerang, let alone know how to use it.
It would have just been better to not have any combat at all, and instead focus on the exploration of this strange alien temple.
6. Under developed Personal Conflict
As the groups converge at the heart of the temple they find a girl upon a slab. The girl, identified as Serah, turns out to be both Snowís Fianceí and Lightningís sister. Again, this adds a layer to the already complicated conflict, but itís a much more relatable one. Amidst the FalíCie and líCie and AC/DC are these nuggets of fantastic storylines. Lightning, a soldier, is the sister of Serah who is married to Snow, a terrorist. That conflict, even if a bit far fetched, is considerably more interesting simply because we can understand it.
of all this personal conflicts this one gets the most development, but even it is lost amidst the shuffling of characters into teams and lost in the Cie chatter.Serah turns out to be a LíCie, which is not explained at all, and implores them to complete her ďFocus.Ē Another concept that is ill defined. her focus, apparently, is to ďsave Cocoon.Ē A place that is not defined. She then turns to crystal, as LíCie that fulfill their Focus become crystal as a reward. Something that is defined but only after itís relevant. With nothing to lose, Lightning and Snow head into the heart of the FalíCie to kill it, the rest of the group following.
The group encounter the FalíCie itself, a random assortment of swords and tubes that makes no sense because as you might have imagined, FF13 was written by a madman. Upon defeating the FalíCie, the entire group is transported to a strange dimension where they are branded by the FalíCie, a concept we were unaware was possible or what it means. The FalíCie temple then plummets hundreds of feet into the massive lake below (That we didnít know about) and turns everything into crystal.
If you need to read those paragraphs again donít bother. Even as I wrote them I needed to watch the cutscenes again to make sure I had the events correct, because it reads like a fever dream. But that is what happens. And this is ultimately what makes FF13 so strangely interesting. While playing it I didnít realize how asinine and ill-defined this all was, but in review none of it makes any sense and makes me feel crazy.
It was about here that that shine of FF13 began to wear off and I saw the ugly monstrosity underneath the pretty graphics. And it only gets worse.
If youíve read the entire article, I want to give a personal thank you for sticking with it and hope I gave some insight into my issues with the game, and hope youíll come back for the second iteration. As we go no I plan to better compress the plot so future installments wonít be so dense. Please join me next time when we look at the combat mechanics, the poor characterization, and the infamous HALLWAYS.