I've been playing Final Fantasy XIII for the first time in the past couple of nights.
Since the release of the first trailer of this game in 2008 I knew it was a game I'd be staying well away from. It stank of everything that is bad in new generation Final Fantasy games; Ridiculous looking characters, terrible art direction and, presumably following suit with FFXII, a terrible story.
My presumptions were backed up by some of the slating reviews which followed criticizing poor plot exposition, incredibly annoying characters and also by some of the postive reviews playing trumpets to the heavens about the amazing graphics and the "streamlined RPG elements".
Two years after its release I finally got around to playing it due to boredom, a little curiosity and being able to get it free from my brother. I was surprised to find that the game wasn't as disastrous as I'd anticipated.
This was due to a combination of going in with such low expections and also a handful of endearing elements in the game.
Only a couple of lines into the review and already it sounds so venomous. To new generation Final Fantasy lovers, I'm not sorry. Your only criteria for hailing a game as a flawless masterpiece is "Does it say Final Fantasy on the box?" but before you get your adult diapers in a twist I think you'll find that my points are pretty fair and not completely tainted by hate.
Graphics and Design
My main qualm with all new FF games(from 10 onwards) is the art direction. All characters and backgrounds are head-throbbingly over-decorated to the point of ridiculous.
Firstly, I will say that the graphics in FFXIII ARE absolutely astonishing! High resolution, always a smooth framerate, incredibly detailed textures on everything in the game, great lighting and particle effects, an overal brilliant finish. The graphics kept me entranced to the extent of wanting to play on despite everything else.
But... the design is another story. It takes my eyes a couple of moments to decipher exactly what the hell I'm looking at when something new appears on screen. Every square foot of the game is ornately and meticulously decorated with some form of tribal tatto designs, geometric shapes and other forms of what-the-fuckery.
The characters wear ridiculous, impractical outfits adorned with whatever crap they found in the bottom of some cubism era cereal box. Lightning, Snow and Sazh are the only ones wearing something half way decent looking
The creatures in the game appear to be organic but usually with some odd, unnescessary appendages. There are robots and flying things with seem to be a synergy of future technology and magic but were designed by a gay, Japanese fashion designer. Nothing wrong with being gay OR Japanese but these futuristic killing machines look more like clothing racks you'd find in an expensive boutique.
Of course, whether design is good or not certainly is down to personal taste. While I dislike busy, overly decorated visuals some people may love them and be in awe of how meticulously designed everything in the game is. But when the designs infringe upon the practical visual hierarchy of everything, that's when I can say that the art style is objectively bad.
Near the beginning of the game when Snow is making his way through... some... temple kinda thing... in a cutscene he notices a switch which he must pull which will help him advance. This left me thinking "How did Snow realise that one glowing geometric structure was a switch next to all the other glowing geometric structures littered everywhere?" In that same section Sazh and Lightning are seen attacking a large door to open it. She then realised that she had to just put her hand on the door and ask it politely to open... and it did! How did she know that would work and how could she tell that was a door and not just the end of a hallway since every surface is covered in crazy crap! If it weren't for most of the game being one straight corridor and the mini map it would be easy to get lost in these levels as the visual signifiers would be lost among the backdrop. Sometimes I have no idea what sort of place I'm in! Nothing to suggest that this is a temple or this a dungeon or this is a sewer just constant lights and shapes. Most of the game is a neon German-expressionist nightmare!
Switches, doors etc. are only a minor quibble. Narratively, the design work makes no sense either! Since FFX every town and NPC in the game has been uniformly decorated in colourful, geometric crap. The only difference between a slum and a thriving city or a peasant and a member of royalty is that if they're poor their colour palette will be slightly less saturated. That and everywhere is littered with ridiculous, impractical looking devices. In these worlds it's hard to tell the difference between an ancient mystical doomsday device and a household lamp!
Vehicles and buildings would cost multiple trillions to construct due to all the weird curves, shapes and unnecessary, tiny adornments on every inch of everything!
There was one brief section in FFXIII where the gang decided to take a shortcut through an alleyway. The alleyway was simply a concrete block wall and some sewer pipes. It was beautiful. So plain and drab. My brain finally got a brief rest from the psychotic visual gangbanging of the rest of the game. There was also a nice grassy cliff section where I could rest my eyes for a bit. The junkyard wasn't too bad either. Lots and lots and lots of designs is not good design.
To try and end this section on a positive note I will say that the.... carnival/festival(?) scene with Sazh and Vanille was breathtakingly beautiful. It felt like it was full of life. In that same section I got to see chocobos rendered in current gen graphics and they looked fantastic along with these absolutely adorable little cuddly sheep creatures. I wished I could reach into the screen and hug them! Also the flan enemies in the series have a special place in my heart. In XIII, I was charmed by the flandragora, the flanitor and the flanborg. In a game of such visual chaos I was happy to see these blobs in endearingly humorous forms.
Bah... you don't need a summary from me. La Cie, Fal Cie, Sieth, Coccoon, Pulse, turning into crystals and shit... I just about got the gist of it. The story plays out as if it was written by those strange, socially awkward wapanese kids on deviantArt who write fan fiction.
To begin with I'm not a big fan of magical fantasy stories. I find magic to be an overly convenient plot device which should be secondary to the story as opposed to central to the story as it is in most FF games. However, I can tolerate it if the story is absorbing enough. In FFXIII, it wasn't in any way absorbing. I did not care even slightly what was going on and the narrative did nothing to inform me or get me involved. I was thrown into the middle of story with everyone blabbing about shit I'd never heard of before and then after the cutscene my datalog was updated. So I'm expected to stop playing and read through walls of text so that I can catch up with what's happening after it has happened. Early on the game I had a look at the datalogs so that I would have a sliver of a notion as to what the hell anyone is talking about but I soon stopped that as I realised I was pausing the game to stop and read dA fanfics! No thanks!
The story also featured one of the most shameful red herrings I've ever seen in any story. At a certain point we're lead to believe that Sazh has died and is taken away by the soldiers in a huge fancy coffin with Vanille following behind in a ceremonial robe.
Later on we find out that Sazh is not dead. He was knocked out by the soldiers to be taken captive. If so... why... why?! WHY?!! Why wasn't he just flung over a soldier's shoulder and thrown into the chopper? Why did they go and fetch the ceremonial robes and the most expensive and ornate coffin in the universe?! Why did this happen, Square Enix? Do the characters in the game realise they're being watched by a fat, drooling moron with a controller and they need to go out of their way to make him fall for their fucking pointless charade?!
The critics were right. The plot exposition is terrible and the story itself(according to them) is not much better either! I remember being utterly enthralled and addicted to FF7 for the story and characters alone. I cared what happened. I played that game again recently as a grown man and I STILL cared what happened. Where did it all go wrong?
I didn't find the characters AS irritating as other critiques suggested. At their worst, pointless and one dimensional and at their best... kinda cool.
Also, the chicks in this game are fucking hot, dude! Usually an arrangement of pixels don't make my loins tingle but the detail on characters in this game really really brought them to life more so than anything I'd seen in a game before.
An heroic rogue soldier. She's also moody and not quick to take a shine to people. She's Cloud but with a vagina and she does shit like in The Matrix.
It's good to see a female protagonist done right. When they try to portray a powerful female in a narrative, writers sometimes tend to make them manly or vulgar. It's good to see a female lead done right in a story. Lightning is strong yet effeminate. Just like every other male lead in the FF series.
He is a hero. His personality involves being heroic and doing heroic things. Sometimes he is happy because he has done something heroic. Other times he is not happy because he is wondering if he is really heroic or not. This deep, three-dimensional character is brought to you by the Square Enix Corporation.
Easily the most interesting and engaging character in the game. While the rest of the characters are busy being cardboard anime archetypes or staring at pretty colours, Sazh seems to be the only one who reacts to what's happening like a human being. His performance is touching and his journey to re-unite with his young son is truly heartfelt.
He also has a baby chocobo in his afro!!! :3
I was bracing myself for what critics suggested was the most annoying, vacuous, bubbly, oblivious retard ever to grace the FF universe. However I didn't find her to be as unbearable as I was expecting. The title of Most Irritating Hyperactive Retard In The Universe is still held by Selphie from FF8.
Vanille is in her own little world. She doesn't ever seem to be able to grasp what's going on at any given time. However I can't judge her too harshly for that as it would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
"Guys, let's stop the adventure so I can sit down and wallow in angst every 15 minutes!" Fuck off and die, Hope!
She's tough and has a lance.
Fans call Final Fantasy XIII a "streamlined RPG". It's a rail-RPG which has been stripped to the bone. You really do spend 20 hours walking down a long, colourful corridor. I felt constricted but it still felt like a journey to me maybe because I was so hypnotized by the graphics. Encountering enemies was boring. I only felt in control when I was waiting for them to turn around for a pre-emptive strike. Early on the battle system felt like "Press X to continue" however the paradigm system did steadily expand into something more complex and interesting. The battle system was streamlined and I can't say I disliked it but it was just not to my taste. I prefer selecting each character's set of moves for the battle and sifting through menus. However the paradigm system may appeal to more casual gamers who might find menus and management to be an arduous experience. The battles can have a nice flow to them when you get your paradigm arrangements right and they can be pretty fun to watch.
I was astonished that the developers thought it was a good idea to take towns and villages out of the game. This effectively made their world feel empty especially in contrast to the prequels.
After 20 hours of gameplay I defeated... the priest dude who turns into a big ass statue/robot boss and after that the game unlocked the paradigm and party system effectively signalling that I was free to spread my wings and enjoy the rest of the journey. But after 20 exhausting hours I'd grown accustomed to letting the game do all the driving while I pressed the continue buttons. When FINALLY required to progress on the strength of my own initiative I realised I was completely disinterested and I just was not having any sort of fun.
It's a game which did many many things wrong as an RPG, as a game and upon remembering how amazing Final Fantasy games used to be, this game is just an outright failure.
For those of you with a fetish for numerical scores, I give Final Fantasy XIII a generous 5 / 10 read