The latest game in Square-Enix's role playing megaton franchise, has left many with mixed feelings. From our good sir Jim Sterlings' 4/10 review score to the A- from Jeremy Parish of 1up.com.
I am just a small bud in the forest of Final Fantasy fans out there, many of which are not very good at articulating why a Final Fantasy game is good or not. Yes, FFVII did have Sephiroth, but why does that make it the best game in the series? Maybe you are confusing your love for the actual game itself, with the way it effected you as a 10 year old kid? Yes, FFXII didn't have the best character development, but why does that make it the worst game in the series? Maybe the delivery intent was more about the clashing empires, not the characters themselves? These are a few things I have asked myself and asked other people. It's always an interesting topic.
I have a theory. Each Final Fantasy game is not only in each owns universe, but is also supposed to have a different motive. By motive, I mean something that you get out of the story, or something that the game is trying to deliver to you. Some may say, 'CharlieKun your going a bit too deep aren't you?' - which would be awesome if I really am just reading too much into it. Imagine the developers reading this, drinking sake in their offices, cackling at my use of free time. Well, they might want to spend less time doing that and more time developing their next game, as I am not prepared to wait another 5 years for a game that isn't mind blowing. Slight Spoilers So Please Tread Lightly Music
I'll start with the good things first. Don't worry though, there isn't an ocean of bad things about the game in my opinion. Just a few hard hitting ones. I'll say here and now, im not analysing this as just a stand alone RPG game, im reviewing it to how it holds up with the rest of the series. Just for a more interesting look at it. Where Final Fantasy XIII excels the most is in the music and the characters. I agree with alot of the things Jim said in his review. One of the things mentioned was that the game has good music, but none of it is memorable. Which I agree with. I love the epic boss battle theme in XIII, but I had trouble remembering the 1st few notes and how it builds up to the bit that I like the most. Still, the music is really fresh. I loved the chocobo theme park song, the standard battle theme, chocobo riding, various tracks through out gran pulse, etc. Music is important as we all know, in any FF game. generally RPG's are a very laid back genre of games. They rarely require us to be on the edge of our seats when in a battle (once the system is mastered) so good music should be there to feed our ears with sweet candy and carry us through times of grinding and running around. Characters
Saying the characters in XIII are some of the best in the series is saying alot. Especially when thinking about the super cool cast from FFX, FFVII and FFVI. (oh FFVI, such a good game you are) I found the characters quite likeable. All except Vanille, mainly just because of her annoying voice. I more like the way the characters develop as individuals as the story progresses rather than the characters themselves. When lightning starts to open up a bit more, it is very much felt and appreciated. Likewise, when Sazh starts to be less negative and more positive and when Hope grows himself some man-balls. Snow just realised how to be more of a grinning anime man without feeling terrible inside, so his growth was more internal then the rest of the cast. Fang I felt was a bit out of place. She wasn't there for long enough to get a good grasp of what her original problem was. It was kind of funny when Bahamut emerged actually. I remember imagining a movie set where the characters walk in and the director says "Okay Fang, we need to put your Eidolon in this scene because the script writer forgot to flesh out your character. So when you walk in, just get angry for no good reason and we'll go from there!" Try watch that scene again after reading that. Its so bad its awesome! Vanille and somewhat Fang aside, the rest of the cast is strong enough to be on par with the rest of the series.
Now we proceed to the negatives. Hope your all following? Story
The story is very simple. Okay fine. But, its a problem when a simple story is made hard to understand. Plenty of movies start off with the characters knowing whats cracking but the audience has to listen, watch and catch on. But XIII did a really bad job at that. Half way through the game, I shouldnt need to open the datalog, just to find out properly whats going on. The flashbacks where slightly weirdly placed and Vanilles narration came out of nowhere. Did they want the story to be told through Vanille, by flashbacks or by the characters themselves? I dont know. A story is only measured by how well it is told and in that regard, it loses lots of points. I did however, like the way the cast was split up throughout the whole game until gran pulse. Getting to know the story and characters in twos, bit by bit, was nice. Kind of like an episode of Lost, flashing back and forward to various characters in different parts of the island.
Where the story dies its most, is after gran pulse. I dont know if it was just me, but i was so happy to be in the open fields of pulse, that I just had to explore and do about 25 missions before continuing the story. Well, that, and because you can tell your approaching end game and your gonna need to level up in order to take what your going to face later on. When the time came to finally follow that orange plot marker on the map, I just didn't care anymore. I didn't really care much about that twat Barthandelus or about Ragnarok or the fate of Cocoon. And even then everything became very "heroes go storm the castle and beat the evil king darky dark dark and save the world" To me, it seemed like everything prior to Gran Pulse, was the writers trying their best to dish out a good story, and then after Gran Pulse, they got fired and the cavalry rolled in with the classic king and castle plot line. Definitely a weak story by FF standards. It could have been good, provided I was in the know. Gameplay
I will address this aspect of the game like this. So I was grinding for CP. Think I was fighting those flying wyverns, with about four leeches pathetically wacking at my party. I remember im still wearing my jeans from going down the road to buy some squash so, during the battle, I hop up and look for some jogging bottoms to put on. took me about 2-3 minutes to find something to wear, and the whole time I had the joypad in my hand, pressing the X button. Yes, the enemies were dead by the time I finished changing and I hadnt looked at the screen the whole time. I really like the battle system. Epic battles that require lots of strategy and quick thinking are extremely satisfying, but I cant accept a battle system where I can mash X without looking and win 40% of the time. Its a real bad look smell to have when its a game thats been in development for very long. I almost feel bad that a team of people have worked hard to make a system where I can finish battles and grind for CP, while browsing Destructoid. That should not be happening. I still really like it, but come on? Thats real bad. I should not be potentially able to kill shit while making a cup of tea in my kitchen.
The skill development in the game is also very patronising. Similar to the Sphere Grid from FFX, which allowed you a great degree of personal customisation. The Crystarium System however is like a bully taking your cupcake away and waving it in your face, teasing that you cant have it back. Promising at first, since I thought, okay its very linear and I cant develop them how I want, but maybe when the rest of the roles open up, it'll get more fun. Which I was right about. The game itself even encourages you to customise your team how you see fit once you unlock all the roles, but whats the point when learning skills outside of the characters original roles, costs a stupid amount of crystals and gives you 3-15 point stat boosts? Now not only has the bully taken your cupcake, but hes just taken a big bite out of it and left you with a fingernail sized piece for yourself. Whats the point? You said I can do all this fancy stuff with all these roles, buts its not worth the trouble if thats all im going to get.
This is a no-brainer, the graphics are dope and im not a graphics whore so, whatever.
My main beefs with FFXIII in a nutshell is, the story in its raw form and the battle system. We all knew the game would be more linear, and for those who didnt should swiftly remember how linear Final Fantasy X was until you got your airship, so linearity shouldnt be a complaint as if it's the first time its been in the series. That being said, I believe that certain things that are a Final Fantasy standard are absent from XIII, and thats not good. Towns/places you can go talk to people, are completely gone. While I was cool with this, its a bit weird. There is a flash back scene with Snow where your on the beach looking for Serah. This scene is about, what, 6 hours into the game, and its only here, the X button pops up for you to actually talk to people. Its very too little to late by then. I clearly wont get anything out of pressing X on people if its only introduced in the game now. I know square has said they took things out to address game balance and size but you cant take out something that is a series standard. It would be like taking out chocobos and summons. Im all for embracing a new world and a change that comes with it, but clearly, scenes like Snow on the beach is like squares way of crying to the players, showing us how much they may of wanted to put more areas to exlpore and talk to people, but it just didnt happen. Because of this slip up, I couldnt bring myself to care about Cocoon. If I cant travel around and converse with the inhabitants of a world Im trying to save, why should I be obliged to care? I cared alot about Midgard and the universe of FFVII. I cared a lot about Spira and that was still a linear game even, so what happened?
I hope my analysis is clear and easy to understand, and I want all the fans of XIII to know that I would love to say more lovely things about a game we had waited ages for. But to those that are harsh on the game while forgetting what the concept of Final Fantasy is, your bunch would do well to remember it.
After beating the game, I feel maybe this experience was telling me that you can change your destiny if you choose to. You just have to make that choice when the cross road is in front of you. If thats the message the game is trying to deliver, then it has to be done in a certain way. Sure it could have been done better, but the route they took was a good enough formula for me to extract that conclusion.
Final Fantasy XII's main character Vaan. Yeah he's not a very likeable character. Neither is his wannabe girlfriend Penelo. But if you stop and think that Vaan and Penelo are basically two kids caught up in the affairs of wars, kingdoms and sky pirates, you'll realise the scope isnt about Vaan getting the girl in the end, its about the world in which they live and the situation it was in. I mean, you start off the game killing rats and you end up on some epic grand scale journey where every other character is a big shot except for you. Your just from Rabanastre and your brother died in a war so you think your all bad and deserving to be a part of all the action. As you can tell, FFXII is a favourite of mine.
I wish more people would realise, Final Fantasy is one of the only franchises that can completely change with each iteration and still be enjoyed by the fans. How many other great franchises can you say the same for? Halo? Metal Gear? Street Fighter? Im sure you cant. If that lamp out of Aladdin could give me a wish, it would be so fans of Final Fantasy learn to be more critical and embracing for each game that comes out rather than sending Square fan letters containing bad Cloud cosplay and a request for them to remake FFVII.
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