Final Fantasy XIII
does nearly everything that I believe a jRPG shouldn't do. The dungeon design is nonexistent, all pressure of resource management has been nullified, and the story is honestly the worst I think Iíve ever seen in a game. Iím also 65 hours in and I canít stop playing.
Final Fantasy XIII
is old news by now, so I thought there would be no surprises when I decided to pick it up for all of $10.00. Depending on who you ask, the game is either a brilliant reimagining of the jRPG formula
or a disgrace to the Final Fantasy name
. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Iíd end up agreeing with both sides. Even the first 20 hours in which the game is ďstill getting good,Ē I was surprised by how much I was enjoying the experience.
Around the 40 hour mark, I asked myself a question that challenged everything I knew about gaming: Can a game be enjoyable without actually being engaging, immersive, or even fun?
I was initially inclined to call Final Fantasy XIII
a ďguilty pleasure,Ē but that doesn't quite fit. Iím not really embarrassed to play it, and itís not indulgent in cheap thrills like ultra violence or sexually provocative content. Itís not that ďso bad itís goodĒ kind of enjoyment either, as that is more appropriate for games like Deadly Premonition
. Upon deeper introspection, I found my reason for enjoying Final Fantasy XIII
is actually quite simple: A game can have a fundamentally flawed foundation, yet be built around that intelligently to create a satisfying Ė if not fun Ė experience.
For example, while most good RPGs use limited resources/HP/MP to add tension to regular battle sequences, Final Fantasy XIII
does away with virtually all resource management and actually works with this as a mechanic. Since the AI doesnít need to worry about excessive use of resources, the decision to only control the party leader actually succeeds and makes battles flow quickly. The rating system means battles focus on being effective instead of efficient, all while still giving the player reason to take each encounter seriously. Honestly, Iíd take the battle system of, say, Grandia
, over Final Fantasy XIIIís auto-combat any day, but finishing a battle in a hot minute and seeing a five star rating is a unique form of satisfaction. Maybe I didnít do a whole lot to earn it, but I canít deny I enjoy doing it.
Furthermore, letís take Final Fantasy XIII
ís crystarium. The crystarium is a clunky level up system that only pretends to offer choices and makes a time consuming process out of a normally streamlined staple of RPGs. Yet somehow, taking five minutes to watch my EXP advance toward each stat upgrade is strangely Ė again Ė satisfying. Instead of earning a lot of rewards at once during a dramatic level up process, Final Fantasy XIII
gives small rewards frequently. All the flashing lights and pretty sounds make each of these small rewards feel
significant without actually being
significant, so being forced to deliberately level up characters emphasizes this illusion of importance. Itís like filling in a connect-the-dots puzzle versus being handed the finished pictureÖ and that simile is more literal than I thought it would be.
And the storyÖ my goodness, the story. I wasnít joking when I said itís one of the worst Iíve ever seen, yet thatís what makes it so enjoyable. Snowís annoying optimism makes it hilarious when Lightning punches him in the face
. The bad guys are so obnoxiously evil that I feel overjoyed when they get their comeuppance. The world is only so nonsensical to allow for inane gadgets and sparkling scenery around every corner. Maybe I just have an incredibly high tolerance for jRPG melodrama, but for all the storyís incoherence (which I assure you was plentiful), I usually felt I was getting what I wanted. Itís sort of like cheering on the drunken couple at the karaoke bar because they keep picking your favorite songs. Also, my analogies arenít getting better and I apologize.
Some might read this and say my enjoyment of Final Fantasy XIII
is shallow and therefore should be discouraged. To an extent, Iíd agree on the shallow part, but I wonder if thatís a bad thing; Iím willing to bet we all play games that fall into the enjoyably bad place that Final Fantasy XIII
does. The act of keeping the player involved by sprinkling small rewards and cheap thrills is commonplace now, so at what point do we distinguish between the rewards of a good game versus a bad game? Itís commonplace for games to feature a ďlevel upĒ system, even if itís just a means of delaying powers a protagonist should have had to begin with. First person shooter level design has streamlined so that players can consistently have more things to shoot while looking at pretty landscapes and scenery. The entire genre of ďloot gamesĒ is built around the pursuit of small rewards. All these things are done to keep the player feeling ďrewardedĒ and satisfied without necessarily creating a fun or immersive experience.
Small rewards are even given to real life to keep people interested
To clarify, all of the above can be (and has been) done in genuinely fun and engaging ways. By analyzing exactly why
we enjoy certain games, we can come to a deeper understanding of what can make a system ďshallowĒ or truly great. Final Fantasy XIII's
foundation was built for the frequent distribution of shallow rewards, and I donít think itís wrong to enjoy that. Sometimes I donít want to shed tears playing a To the Moon
or spend hours customizing my team in a Devil Survivor
. I may remember those games more fondly and recommend them wholeheartedly, but Iím happy to have a Final Fantasy XIII
when I just want to unwind and watch pretty colors when I level up.†
I still consider Final Fantasy XIII
a ďbadĒ game, as itís not really a ďgoodĒ game and mediocre doesnít describe my feelings toward it either. However, I think itís okay to like a bad game. Itís not exactly worthy of the Final Fantasy name, so for those who expected the game to be better, I absolutely do not blame you. To me, Final Fantasy XIII
is like a well made chocolate bar. Itís made with pure ingredients and tastes good, but itís still candy. It lacks the nutrition of a vegetable or the exquisite flavor of a gourmet dish, but damn it, sometimes I just want some chocolate. †If it was all I ever had, Iíd probably get sick, but every once in a while itís good to have a little snack between meals.