Final Fantasy XIII is a game very dear to my heart. I'm not entirely sure why that is, mind you. I guess we all develop an affinity for things that help distract us from some of the rougher patches in life. And Final Fantasy XIII was definitely around for a few of those for me. So when I read or hear people talking smack on the game, it hurts, even when I know they're right. And when the complaints I see are clearly fabricated, it stings all the more.
But it goes without saying that the internet is full of arm-chair quarterbacks. If you give someone on the internet a brief synopsis for a game and subtly suggest to them that it isn't good, they can write you an entire design document of complaints, changes and improvements they would prescribe for it, which is pretty much exactly what I'm about to do, except obviously I know better. And I've at least spent a significant amount if time with it beforehand. So that's something.
But I really liked the game, which is kind of a rare opinion, as it turns out. So I thought I might share with you all a little bit of history behind the game's development and a little close reading of what the game is, what it set out to do, and how it succeeds and fails at those things. So, um, pull up a chair I guess?
A Little Back-story
The game's development was really kind of a mess, which seems to be a running theme over at Square Enix right now. They started developing Final Fantasy XIIIon the PS2. When they made the jump to the PlayStation 3, they had to throw out all of their assets. At which point they began working on a multiplatform engine to run the game, which they named Crystal Tools, or the White Engine. I don't know, and they can't seem to decide which it's called either. We're going to go ahead and go with Crystal Engine just to make things easier. Once the project became a multiplatform endeavor, they tried to make the Crystal Tools engine into a more multipurpose engine, not unlike Capcom's MT Framework engine, if you will.
This is apparently what lead to such setbacks in the development time, as they were too busy adding to the engine to finish it, and they couldn't finalize the game's design without the engine already having been finalized. "This created a standstill between the engine and game development teams, because if the engine’s specs couldn’t be finalized, neither could the game’s."
It wasn't until they had produced the vertical slice demo for the Japan only Advent Children Complete Blu-ray, which was released in April of '09, that they had the game in a playable state. "With a tangible version of the game that could actually be played, internal debates transitioned from theoretical discussions based solely on abstract concepts to concrete dialogue. . . . it was also the first time that everyone could see exactly how the assets they worked on would function within the game."
Now, it should go without saying that iterative design is friend to game developers and small children. With some exception, iterative design lets the developers make the game play good sooner rather than later. Considering how that later that they keep pushing it off to sometimes never comes for some games, you can see how making sure your game is playable early on can be a boon to your games' 'Fun-Factor.'
When you consider the fact that there were barely eight months between their first playable demo and the Japanese release date, your mind can probably fill in the blanks for me how the game turned out the way it did. I mean, that's not even like when you would throw together your mid term essay on the weekend before back in school. There's an established system for doing that. These guys are ostensibly supposed to be reinventing the wheel every time they sit down to make a new game. So it's understandable that you would want a tangible prototype to work off of as soon as humanly possible.
Final Fantasy XIII got a lot of mess talked on it when it finally came out, and with good reason. I remember when it came out; I was really in love with hating Square Enix. They're a company that made themselves really easy to hate.With Nomura's work steadily declining into inscrutability, the way they handled the Kingdom Hearts series in general, not to mention the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII expanded universe business and their announcement of the Fabula Nova Crystallis series, which was to be several games deep, before even having finished out all the Final Fantasy VII reboot games that they'd announced, it seemed like they were far more interested in announcing stupid ideas than making actual games.
And that's the kind of reputation that doesn't leave you easily. I was willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt too, starting out. They at least tried to do something good with Final Fantasy XII, so I knew it wasn't beyond their imagination to make a Final Fantasy game that doesn't completely suck.
But when I heard that Final Fantasy XIII was going to be handled by most of the team that made Final Fantasy X, I pretty much lost all hope for it being good. So by the time the game came out, and I rented it, I was pretty much already resolved to hate the game, or at least not to give it any free passes.
And I think that's the perspective a lot of people went in with. Unless you were already a devoted fan of the later entries in the series, and were going to love it regardless, then you were probably going to hate it on principal alone. You should like this game though. The game has more than enough good qualities, that deserve your respect and admiration no matter what your final estimation of its quality is. The problem is that so many people hate the game, but they don't actually have any good reasons for it, like it's Resident Evil 6 or something. Don't misunderstand. The game has some real problems, but most people were too busy trying to hate it to have any meaningful insight into why you actually should.
But thankfully I'm here to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding this woefully misunderstood game. We're going to cut this short here, because part two is already way too long already as it is, but in part two, we will pick back up by going through what was bad about the game, and then we will circle back around after that to talk about what all was good about it.