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Counterpoint: Final Fantasy XIII is beautiful, classic

4:00 PM on 04.15.2010 // Chad Concelmo

Thought our discussion of Final Fantasy XIII ended with our official review? Think again: our "Counterpoint" series allows editors to share drastically different opinions on games we've already reviewed.

I have loved every single numbered main game in the Final Fantasy series. All of them. (Yes, that includes II and the surprisingly polarizing XII.) Of course, I love some more than others (VI 4 LIFE!), but there has never been a main Final Fantasy game I haven’t liked.

But going into Final Fantasy XIII I was nervous. First there was the ridiculously delayed release, then the talk of the game being very linear, and, finally, the harsh reviews that never, ever go hand-in-hand with a Final Fantasy game (including the now infamous one by our very own Jim Sterling). When I picked up the game the day it was released I truly thought this may be the first Final Fantasy game that could quite possibly disappoint me.

Sixty hours later, and having just completed the game this past weekend, I am here to say with full confidence that I didn’t just like Final Fantasy XIII, I loved it. I loved it so much that I would easily consider it a classic iteration in the revered Final Fantasy universe. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Final Fantasy XIII may be the most “classic” feeling Final Fantasy game since the much loved (at least by me) IX.

I know; I may sound crazy. But hit the jump to hear me out (and to see a ranked list of my favorite Final Fantasy games!).

Final Fantasy XIII has been out for a month now, and, because of this, I almost didn’t write this feature. I was worried people would be over talking about this game all these weeks later. But, since you are reading this right now, my love of the game obviously won out.

And, ya’ know, I am totally cool with that. Jim’s review of the game was rather harsh and I am happy to get the opportunity to express my positive opinion on a game I feel is getting unfairly criticized by many people, gamers and critics alike.

That being said, though, I admire Jim Sterling and actually respect a lot of the things he said in his original review. It’s hard to argue with a lot of the stuff Jim had a problem with. The main difference, I guess, is that, for me, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

This will not be a re-review of Final Fantasy XIII. Instead -- and what this “Counterpoint” series is really about -- it is an opportunity for me to talk about what I feel was missing from our original review. And, in that regard, there are two very specific things I would love to focus on.


First off, and most obviously, Final Fantasy XIII is gorgeous. I would even say it is the most beautiful console videogame to date. Yup, I said it. Better-looking than Uncharted 2; better-looking than powerhouse God of War III.

Now, let’s not confuse “best-looking” with best art style. Stylistically, some of the character designs are a little boring when compared to such artistic masterworks as Okami or Shadow of the Colossus. But when you take the graphics as a whole -- technically and stylistically -- no game has ever impressed me more.

For people who have played the game, think back to the first time you start walking through the frozen Lake Bresha. Remember stepping out into the enormous, gorgeous open fields and cliffs of the Archylte Steppe on Pulse. Remember the epic, giant battle between the PSICOM soldiers, the monsters, and the Eidolons on Eden near the end of the game. All of these moments are staggeringly beautiful.

And while no game should ever rely on impressive graphics to be good, Final Fantasy games only benefit from telling their moving, emotional stories using advanced visuals never experienced in any other videogame. It’s part of the overall experience!

With this, Final Fantasy XIII excels. There were times I was so blown away by the graphics in the game that I had to stop, spin the in-game camera around slowly, and just take it all in. Every animation, every texture, every environmental design -- it is all absolutely breathtaking and completely compliments the epic, although sometimes confusing, story.

Airships make a grand return

But that is not the main thing that I loved about Final Fantasy XIII. Yeah, the game looked great, but, as I just mentioned, graphics cannot save any videogame.

The main reason I loved Final Fantasy XIII was because it felt classic.

Despite all the changes that were made to the “normal” Final Fantasy formula; despite a lot of the game's problems (odd, ineffective summoning system, lack of traditional towns, etc.); despite the story being very hard to follow. Despite all of this, Final Fantasy XIII had such a classic, nostalgic feel that I couldn’t help falling head over heels in love with it.

Let me explain by throwing out some very specific details.

Fang jumps like ... Sabin?

In Final Fantasy XIII, there are numerous glowing blue circles on the ground that indicate places you can jump. Literally. The characters reach these hot spots and jump to a different level on the map. The thing about this jumping, though, is it is completely over-the-top. Characters don’t realistically jump up a couple feet like normal people. No, they leap, flip, and launch their way -- sometimes multiple times in row -- to all different heights. This happens in battles as well with skills like Launch.

While this may feel odd at first, think about all of this jumping around if it were recreated (de-created?) in 16-bit.

Would it look something like this?

That’s right; the character movement throughout Final Fantasy XIII reminded me of the good old days. In the older, best Final Fantasy games -- like the above example from Final Fantasy VI -- characters jumped around in a stylistic, unique way just as they do in XIII.

And while I know this is only one small detail (don’t jump on me for thinking this is the sole reason Final Fantasy XIII is great) it perfectly exemplifies my overall feelings about the game -- mainly that Final Fantasy XIII is full of a ridiculous amount of small, “classic-feeling” details that were completely (and unfairly?) ignored by many of the game’s harshest critics.

There is even a town called Palumpolum in the game, for crying out loud!

Palumpolum obviously drew its inspiration from classic Final Fantasy IV characters Palom and Porom

In a way, Final Fantasy XIII combines elements of all the older Final Fantasy games. The limited, more focused character classes and jobs from I and V. The playable members in your party -- for most of the game -- being selected for you based solely on the story events? That is completely reminiscent of IV. The linear, pilgrimage story: X. The highly customizable, almost automatic-feeling battle system: XII.

Heck, in XIII, since there are no magic points, I learned to use and master status- and time-based magic, which is something I never used in older Final Fantasy games. The battle system in XIII allows for experimentation like this to happen! AND I LOVED IT!

For a Final Fantasy fan, these numerous references to every single older game in the series is a dream come true. And I didn’t even begin to touch on the Chocobos, Cactuars, and other Cid-tastic references that make multiple appearances throughout the game.

It’s pretty wonderful.

Huh. Looks a lot like a certain Golden Saucer, doesn't it?

I understand that XIII makes numerous changes to the traditional Final Fantasy mold. But why is this a bad thing? If you miss IV, VI, VII, or IX, you can always go back and play them! They are not going anywhere! I have always loved how Final Fantasy games can constantly evolve why still maintaining themes and elements from past games in the series. Final Fantasy XIII masters this “inspired evolution” perfectly.

Is Final Fantasy XIII a perfect game? Not at all. Was Jim correct in harshly criticizing some of the role-playing game's features? Maybe. But does FFXIII deserve all the accusations that it lowers the series’ standards and changes too much about what makes the series so special? Never in a million years. Not only is Final Fantasy XIII an absolutely beautiful experience, when you look at it through fan-tinted glasses, it is just as “classic-feeling” as any other games in the main series.

What do you think? Put your strong feelings towards Jim’s original review to the side and let’s have a serious discussion: What are your true thoughts on Final Fantasy XIII? Do you like it as much as the other games in the series? Do you find it disappointing? If so, why? Do you miss the older games or do you look forward to a new Final Fantasy game trying new things? Sound off in the comments.

And, just for the curious, here is my ranking of the main, numbered games in the Final Fantasy series (excluding XI since I haven’t played that enough to give an educated opinion).

1. Final Fantasy VI (Favorite!)
2. Final Fantasy IV
3. Final Fantasy IX
4. Final Fantasy XII
5. Final Fantasy VII
6. Final Fantasy V
7. Final Fantasy XIII
8. Final Fantasy X
9. Final Fantasy VIII
10. Final Fantasy
11. Final Fantasy III
12. Final Fantasy II (Least favorite, but still awesome!)

XIII may not be at the very top, but it is most definitely not at the very bottom. It fits perfectly, comfortably right in the middle.

And please keep in mind what I mentioned at the very start of this feature: I love all the main, numbered games. Don’t let the order of things throw you off. In a box of twelve delicious cupcakes, there are always some slightly more delicious than others.

Chad Concelmo,
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