In order to make myself seem less like a fanboy, let me point out the Final Fantasy XIII nuked the fridge for me, and this does not necessarily make it a bad game for everyone. People went into that game looking for different things, and what I was looking for, I didn't find, pure and simple. My opinions on the game and the series, I admit are only my own, and I am not authority on the subject, and reflect only my particular tastes in games and artistic media. Also note that I'm completely ignoring MMO entries in the series. I just don't play those.
"Nuke the fridge", I sure most of you know what this term means, but for those who don't, I'll explain so you can pretend you always knew. This is a reference to the movie "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" in which the titular character escapes harm from a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. Said fridge is thrown a great distance, the surrounding buildings are completely destroyed, and yet our hero emerges from the fridge unscathed once it lands to watch a mushroom cloud miles away. An incredibly unlikely scenario, obviously. This moment in the movie was taken as a shining example of the poor quality that many fans felt the movie displayed, and the phrase describing this scene became analogous with the "Jump the Shark" phrase of the TV show Happy Days.
Now some interpret this phrase to mean a moment which signals the downfall of a series or franchise (like jump the shark), while others take it a step further to mean a moment which not only signals the downfall of a franchise, but casts a dark show on all previous entries... and this is what I am referring to.
From the beginning I was a little skeptical. The battle system looked a little strange, and there was talk that the game was extremely linear up until about 30 hours into the game. But this was Final Fantasy, you could debate about the individual merits and flaws of the game main numbered games, but all of them were good games. I thought that despite whatever flaws there would still be a nice sized nugget of pure enjoyment in there at the core. I pre-ordered the game. Went to a midnight launch and picked it up with the fancy pants strategy guide, damn near $100 for the lot. I fired it up, I was cautiously optimistic. After all, this was one of the reasons I bought a PS3 in the first place. I didn't expect much at first. After all, the opening exposition in a Final Fantasy game has always been rather extensive. But the game was gorgeous, and I was just getting to know the characters. Eventually I start getting in the actual meat of the game.
Press X to Jason
The combat system was indeed strange, but it was fast paced, and had some interesting elements to it. I kinda liked how it was almost automatic, it let you worry less about individual attacks, and more about overall strategy. I found it strange though, how you still had to enter issue attacks for your party leader, when you can only assign jobs to other party members. Sure you could let the game auto-select commands, which worked out pretty well in battle, but lead to a rather tedious mashing of the x button just to keep things going. This also re-enforced the notion of turn-based combat, which clashed with the fast-paced real time nature of the battles. Speaking of fast paced, this was both a pro and a con as well. Battles were sometimes over in mere seconds, which was kinda neat, but that also meant that if you lost that momentum, things really seemed to drag on. Minutes become eternities in a world of 3 second battles. The extreme nature to which leveling was locked down, didn't really want me to hang around for the battles anyway. There wasn't much point in fighting anything you didn't necessarily have to.
Now the level design, rumored to be so linear. In the beginning, it was extremely linear, but you expect that, with what ends up being a tutorial and exposition rolled all into one, as is usually found a the beginning of an FF game. It got better, but not by much. The closest you really got to an open area, was a high road and a low road that converged within a few minutes. And there was no towns. No side quests. Save points doubled as shops. And what little exploring you can do in a tunnel was interrupted every 3 seconds by cut-scenes. This was compounded by the fact that your party seems to like splitting up a lot, so at the end of every tube, you switch over to a completely different party in a different tube. This, with the very tube nature of the level design, really kills any over all sense of the game world. You have no real gauge of distance between one location and the next. You're not walking across a map, you're flipping through postcards. Now supposedly things open up at the 30 hour mark, but I never got that far.
Somewhere between 12 and 15 hours in I realized that I wasn't having fun. I was playing because I was determined to get to the mythical 30 hour mark when things opened up. I realized that the mythical fun part, was indeed a myth. Problems I had with core elements of the game would destroy whatever enjoyment I might get at that point. And from what I could see, it's wasn't exactly a whole new game at that point. Just one big area, and a chance at a couple of side quests, then back in the tube. This wasn't an rpg so much as it was an attempt by a game developer to make a movie with game elements. which brings me to my "nuke the fridge" moment.
More like Hope he dies quickly, ammiright?
The story. The characters. These are the elements of Final Fantasy games that the developers take pride in. These are the elements that the core fans rave about. And these are the elements I generally despise. The elements I love are the game world, the combat and weapon systems, the monsters and espers. Most of those elements were notably lacking in FFXIII, if not non-existent. It's written like a lot of Japanese anime, littered with standard tropes, including annoying characters that are supposed to be endearing. This is probably why the series is so popular. I've watched my fair share of anime over the years, and read a bit of manga too. I've found that the vast majority of it is complete shit. It retraces the same themes over and over again, but it does this because that makes money. People watch it. They buy it, and you can't fault a company for making what people want to buy, even if it's shite. I can't say that the characters in FFXIII aren't well developed for the story. I can't say that isn't extremely well done for what it trying to be. It's just not something I want to sit through.
But back to the point at hand. I was trudging through the story looking for the game-play, and didn't find it. And this made me look back at all the other Final Fantasy games I've played, and it was the same story. Trudging through crap story and characters to get to the gameplay. and it made me realize that I was begrudgingly pushing through what was really the core of those games. And now I have a hard time justifying ever going back to play those games. The trudge to gameplay ratio was just too high, and I've got stacks of other games to try.
That said, I will put in some pseudo-exceptions in though. Namely FFXII and some early entries like FFI and FFV. 12 has all the same emphasis on story issues as the other games, but the story is quite as bad. Van was only mildly annoying, and the other characters are actually vaguely interesting. The game world was actually pretty open too, at least compared to other games in the series. The story isn't too bad, while it's still about warring empires and the nations caught in the middle. Unfortunately they had to drop back into the standard at the end. That and I really liked the battle system. It essentially let you pre-plan battles and only move in to adjust things as your characters played out your predetermined actions automatically.
In the end though, I guess saying FFXIII nuked the fridge is a bit of a misnomer or misphraser, or whatever. It didn't so much cast a dark shadow on the other games, it just made me see them for what they were. And that I'm not really in that target demographic. read