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Every animation, every texture, every environmental design -- it is all absolutely breathtaking
I couldn't disagree more with most of the points you make. I have no idea how you can say this, the 3 specific things you mention are all low quality. The animations in the game are nowhere near the quality of uncharted or gta iv or even the unreal engine games. Running forward is the exact same animation repeated forever, in the 2 games I mentioned they have a far more realistic dynamic animation system. Enemies animations are all robotic too and dont get me started on the horrible battle effects. I can't think of what you're referring to as good animations, perhaps the way character items and hair aren't static but bounce about, but other games do this just as well and outside of the character models there's nothing good about the graphics. The textures are pretty low quality most of the time, there's absolutely no bump mapping which is utterly vital in a modern game to look realistic, so every surface isn't perfectly flat. The environmental design is perhaps the worst in any game I have ever played, the majority of the game is thin implausible skypaths, then pulse becomes thin paths with high cliff walls and abyss cliff edges, then there's one large open area that looks utterly terrible with close range pop in of small enemies & the worst looking grass and cliff textures. The water looks great but what modern game's doesn't?
You mention Lake Bresha as an example of staggering beauty but what drugs have you been taking? It looks terrible, the lighting is really not up to the standards of modern games. There's no light source, they're inside cocoon, why is it bright? Avatar: the game has better looking crystal graphics. Alone in the dark has much better fire. The part where snow is digging at serah looked incredibly bad and worse than a ps2 game. They've spent 5 years making it so of course you should expect a high quality in every detail of their tiny maps. The sky is a low quality 2d texture with no detail throughout the game, it looks particularly bad when you change the weather in the sunleth waterscape. The plants in the game are nowhere close to uncharted 2 or far cry 2, mostly 2d textures and invisible walls near any 3d plants because there's no physics and there'd be clipping. The lighting is nowhere close to killzone 2, there's something very fake and plastic about the look of the whole game.
I disagree incredibly strongly with your rating of the titles too. I think the ps1 titles are by an order of magnitude the best games in the series in terms of depth of gameplay, world, story, etc. Along with the ps2 titles they're my top 5 favourite games ever. I played VI, VIII, IX, XII & XIII all for the first time recently so am not biased based on the time I played them (like most people choosing VI as the best seem to be) and because of this it's quite clear that the older games were much simpler and should not be talked about on the same level. They were primitive dungeon crawlers with very little variety in design or gameplay.
They had a lot less content, VI took me just 20 hours and I wasnt speed running. I can barely remember a backstory to the characters, each had 1 thing about them to remember and that was it and there was nothing interesting to do in the world. I-VI are really over-rated by nostalgia bias. Whilst X-XIII are a case of graphics and cutscenes instead of gameplay and adventure. VII-IX are by far the best. Most people I've seen rate VI as the best and it's really annoying to me as I think it's snobbery and not rationally rating the titles based on the depth they offer. It has amongst the best music, it's gameplay is standard and it's characters are likeable. But there's just not enough to it, no puzzles, no gameplay variety. There's a backlash against VII, but it's clearly the best. It has almost as many gameplay varieties as the rest of the series put together. There's a reason they keep doing spin offs of it, and it's not because it sold the best, it's because it has the most interesting world and plot and characters. From midgar to cosmo canyon to wutai, to costa del sol, to chocobo farm to golden saucer, there's a huge variety of culture there that no other FF has reached.
Ten reasons FFXIII is the worst in the series
1. It has no towns.
This alone cuts out about 75% of my enjoyment of the game. The world feels empty and desolate and lonely. Towns gave huge amount of variety to the world, I never cared for dungeons in old games, I play mostly for the immersion in the world, the story, the friendly quests (like in archades, bhujerba, midgar slums). It's why GTA IV is one of my favourite games despite having mediocre game play. This is really the first main FF game where you only get to explore a tiny segment of a world, X and XII you could travel by airship and they definitely had more sense of freedom. Even I-VI's towns had some personality and helped flesh out the characters a bit. Some people say it doesnt matter and get over it, but this isn't progress, this is moving backwards and cutting out more and more features is just not the way to go. Towns are what seperated final fantasy from every other game series, they are what made it more epic and memorable and immersive and meaningful.
2. Least content.
Aside from maybe the very early games I think it has by far the least real content.
Least characters by FAR:
Joint least summons, least stats (just HP, strength, magic), least useful shops (never used them until the endgame), least side mission variety (I have 100% and they're all the same repetitive and boring battles that add nothing to the game), least minigames (different from side missions as they're uniquely interesting gameplay integrated into the main quest while having optional depth, really liked blitzball, triple triad & the myriad variety of minigames FFVII had to offer), etc. In terms of the universe there's only one race/intelligent species which is disappointing. XII had quite a few, Viera, bangaa, moogles. They have interesting memorable cultures that add something special to the games. The Al-bhed even had their own language which was cool. There's only one society on cocoon so no culture variety that the past games had been so great in. Yes you can argue it takes 50-100 hours so it's not less content but they've just increased the amount of time watching battles and added lots of non-interactive story segments where there's very little going on, it's not real meaningful content. The lack of towns means not much happens in the plot. The episode zero prequels were a hell of a lot more interesting than the actual game in terms of story as they had freedom of locations not taking years to make with more interesting things happening (e.g. hope school trip). The game really overstays it's welcome, and if it had been 20 hours long it perhaps would have been a lot more paletteable.
3. Least memorable music.
I thought the music was terrible during the game, that one melody (in serah's theme) that repeats 20 different times is horrible and annoying. But then I listened to the soundtrack on it's own and there's a number of great tracks on the soundtrack like Daddy's got the blues that are barely present at all in the game. Unforgivable then that the horrible tracks like the battle theme are repeated hundreds of times while the best tracks just once and not fully. Overly complex and dischordant instead of the classic final fantasy style. XII wasn't so great either but because of the better locations there is some memory and emotion attached to them. Also it's got really terrible sound effects, the footsteps, the battle noises, everything is just really cheap. I find it hard to believe they had a big team working on this for 5 years when things like the sound effects are so poorly done, perhaps japanese games just dont have the resources and technology available to western devs.
4. Bad story.
The story is probably better than 1-6, but those had no depth at all to them so you can't really compare to the modern game. The only character I liked was Sazh, and because they put no towns in they can't really do any backstory of characters (they do a flashback to one scene from multiple points of view constantly, it gets annoying and very little happens). Think back to FFVII, learning about Barret and his adopted daughter and how he fought with dyne and they lost their arms, Cid and his dream of travelling into space which you help him realise, nanaki (red xiii) hating his father for deserting him only to find out that he had died saving them, etc. You played through all of these interactively and it felt meaningful. There's nothing at all like this in XIII, the only backstory given is forgettable and meaningless. The antagonists are forgettable and horrible too.
5. Worst gameplay.
I understand the complaints made about XII. It wasn't interactive enough for some people. So why has XIII got a free ride? It has an uncustomisable auto battle command that will take up 99% of actions. Just because you spend all the time hammering x doesn't make it less automated. At least in XII there was no ugly transitions to low quality battle screens where you can't even move or change your characters. Paradigm shifting was interesting for a few hours but it boils the whole game down to just 6 commands, and mainly only 2 or 3. There's no fast battle speed (XII had 5 options for battle speeds), the game has the most needless time wasting in it. Instead of automated levelling up with a numbered system combined with a unique to each game, strategical abilities system (junctions, sphere grid, materia, license grid, etc.) you have to spend a total of 3 of your precious hours (if you max every character), holding down x while watching the little line glow up the crystarium. Isn't that fun!
Then the upgrading system is just annoying and totally unnecessary (completed all missions easily with lvl 1 equipment except 64 which I'm sure I could do also). The save points only exist to make you upgrade, there's no need to save since you cant lose your progress when you die, and shops dont have anything useful. It used to be you'd need a new weapon every couple of hours, now your first weapon is fine the whole game, they've whittled down the traditional RPG features, but I don't get who they are trying to appeal to. 1/2 of the decisions seem aimed at casual players (linearity, simplistic crystarium, no need for upgrading, autobattle, minimap arrows, no MP, auto healed after battles) and 1/2 at hardcore (length of battles, length of the game, hidden upgrading stats force you to use a guide for efficiency, main character dies game over). I just dont see how anyone can think it's a good game and I really despise the fans who enjoy seeing this great series become a mildly interactive anime movie. The summons were hyped up as these driving transformers, but you just click x to do moves when they could have been so much more. It's really incredible people enjoy that type of battle system when it has very little strategy, only a few missions require you to change your paradigms to fit the opponent. Battles are a key feature in a final fantasy game for sure, but just as important to me are puzzles and more friendly whimsical fun gameplay, which ffxiii totally lacks. It barely qualifies as a ff game and is more like crisis core than any of the main series. Terrible camera. There's no vehicles (maybe you can count the mecha Hope jumps on), past games all had airships. In X and XII they were not controllable but they were a hub community for your party and to the world exploring. It's moving really far away from FF traditions.
6. Ugly enemies.
This is a very personal criticism, but it's one of the least mentioned and deserves a place. Chocobos, tonberrys, ochus and maybe flans look fantastic in this game. Everything else looks crap. Nothing in the game has fur, rarely do enemies have noticeable eyes (cactuars and imps excepted), they're mostly low polygon zombies. I looked back at a database of enemies from VII and X and they're a so much more likeable design. The adamantoise are the most memorable enemy but look shit. It was a hugely hyped and in the end underdeveloped feature that you could take on giant beasts. There's only one variety of them (since they're the most interesting why not have a handful of giant super enemies), with no story behind them. Why do they have chains on their feet and sacks on their backs? They must have been used by humans at one point in the past. The summons also look shit. Most things are made of metal so they can get away with low polygon count and no bump mapping.
The cutscenes are amazing. The characters faces are amazing. The hair is pretty good, though it has annoying dithering. The gameplay graphics are absolutely atrocious and they should be ashamed to release the game like this. Perfectly flat surfaced battle areas, not in the same place where you met the enemies (each area in the game has 3 battle screens in a slightly different place) with low quality 2d painted backgrounds, extremely robotic animations, no physics, spells and actions all have the same generic overlayed effect, shoot or hit with a sword or set on fire and it just moves back a little and maybe flashes an overlay. These were standard in past games but it's time to advance into modern graphics please. XII was much better as it didn't transition to a new area.
Extreme overuse of 2d geometric patterns to indicate spells and summons etc. and even used in cutscenes in front of airships. I think since X they've been using these like mad. Advent children also had them. Past games didn't and it was much better without them. These things take me way out of immersion and are an unimaginative design choice. Instead of having to create realistic 3d spell effects (bio instead of making you look sick, just puts a green blob above your head for example), just create a geometric overlay. Compare Fira graphics to a flamethrower in killzone 2 where you have actual hard work and talent gone into creating it and making it look good. It's a ps2 game engine upscaled, they havent updated it to the current standards. There's no bump mapping on anything in the game that I noticed which is one of the best advances of modern games, it instantly makes the game look more realistic. No, instead you've got perfectly flat surfaces everywhere. There's no dynamic lighting. You've got a ton of cliff areas where they're jagged flat cliffs with a badly wrapped texture with shadows completely contrary to the shape.
The pulse area looks utterly terrible and everyone goes on about how great it looks. It looks fantastic in cutscenes, you have a fast river, dense forests and fields of grass, then when you get to gameplay it's just an empty field with ugly flat grass texture, no trees, no thick grass, etc. It really feels like the game was designed by a very small team who werent up to the task. Far cry 2 has much better graphics on a technical level, yet it is never mentioned in graphics discussion while I've seen FFXIII being rated as amonst the best many times, it's probably not in the top 50. I guess because FFXIII has good cutscenes, high polygon characters at the expense of everything else and more colourful graphics that people are biased towards it. Unreal engine 3 looks significantly better. I don't care much about the graphics, I'd be happy with ps2 graphics, but I just need to mention it as people keep saying the graphics are amazing.
The game struggles to handle transparencies and there's a lot of pixelation on them. Depite this, they make a few enemies have transparent parts that look like crap.
8. No quests or adventure.
The game seriously, no kidding, for real, doesn't have any quests! Has no one else noticed this? It is the thing I enjoyed most about the games. In XIII you run through a thin implausible skypath map and get to the end and fight a boss. That isn't a quest. It isn't anything like the FF game design we are used to where you do various story objective based missions, my personal favourite being in midgar dressing cloud up in a dress and whoring him to the don. Dungeons were never the interesting part of a final fantasy game. With XIII all you have are dungeons and cutscenes. It just doesn't make sense to play. It's entirely taken away the classic sense of adventure. I would be embarassed to show this as an example of game design to a non-gamer. FFVII is the perfect example of well integrated gameplay and quests to the plot, where there's a huge variety of things integrated interactively into the story. Snowboarding, chocobo racing, going on a date in the golden saucer with choice of barrett/tifa/aerith, reliving the past with sephiroth, being locked in a prison and escaping, marching in Junon, submarine exploring, dojo, motorbike racing, tower defence at mt. corel etc. Can you imagine how much better FFXIII would have been if it had this type of design?
9. The Official guide is a waste of time.
This is a good way to realise why the game fails. The guide goes into incredibly banal details during the story. It explains every battle you will do, when there's no reason to as even the most unintelligent player knows how to click autobattle. It gives you a map of each area, even though the map design is ridiculously simple and there's no need for a map at all, and the map is on the screen and in the menu already! It gives you the location of treasures when you know where they are during play even before you see them, because of the little short dead ends off path. It must have been a bit embarassing to write, this is by far the least guide necessitating FF. It's just a waste of time to look at during the story.
Amazingly, the one area that a guide really helps is the equipment upgrading. They devote over a hundred pages to meaningless bestiaries (that are already in the game menus), lists and graphs that you will never look at on every ability and stat and equipment and item repeating details and wasting huge amounts of space. Yet they devote a mere 2 pages to equipment upgrading! It's the one thing were a table would be very useful. Every weapon has an EXP requirement to max level, if you don't know what that is you may spend a huge amount of exp over the limit. It's either that, use a guide that tells you each items exp requirements, or spend a 100 hours trial and error reloading to get it right. Other than that there's arguably one other thing a guide might be useful for, the later missions. The section of the guide on this is very short and doesn't give the best strategies. There's outright sloppy information too, their battle methods are very slow and cautious when you need to win fast to get 5 stars and there are much better strategies to beating the missions. It doesn't tell you the most efficient way through the end game and gives you bad tips. You max the crystarium way before you get enough gil to upgrade everything, so you should NEVER grind CP, especially early on where it's a huge waste of time. Yet the guide tells you good places to do it. The trophy section is also way too short to be helpful.
Also the collectors edition sucks too. I just bought it for the stickers but they're low quality and tacky. There's stupid tiny art prints instead of a more useful poster. A figurine or tshirt and fancy box are standard. You get very little for your money compared to fallout 3 where you got a lunch box, bobble head and making of documentary.
10. No innovation.
There's a lot of room to innovate in RPGs, or at least to update them with now standard features like co-op & leaderboards. Since you only control one character in battle it seems quite suitable for co-op. Then you've got the 64 missions which are perfect to have leaderboards. There's some cool things other RPG's are doing that aren't all new but they're good innovations. Demon souls has some cool online features, fallout 3/mass effect have interesting choices/morality systems, lost odyssey has really moving short stories fleshing out the world, white knight chronicles has co-op & town building. I guess FFXIV is the place for these types of things, but I'm sure it will suffer most of XIII's problems of not having many features or variety. Can you imagine a FFVII remake, if it made use of some of these? Golden saucer could become an online multiplayer venue! Online chocobo racing and breeding, if given just a little bit more depth could be fantastic and almost a game of it's own. I suppose it really is unfair to expect this amount of content though. A good way to really illustrate what is bad about FFXIII is to imagine a trophy list that could be made for VII. There's just infinite possibilities with all the minigames and side quests and plot choices. With XIII the trophy list they made was about as much as they could do. It's just a real lack of variety in every way that makes it a chore to play.