Final Fantasy XIII: A (Not So) Cynical View

Final Fantasy XIII has proved one of the biggest game launches in Japan for 2009, and by all accounts will prove to be equally (or more) popular with the rest of the world when it is released in March. FFXIII has been hit with a fair amount of criticism, despite selling well and receiving good review scores.

I am as guilty as anyone for being overly cynical about ‘popular’ games, but this time it’s going to be a little different. Unlike my Cynical Views to date, this is more a cynical view of the cynical views about FFXIII. Mostly the large amount of conclusions or observations and complaints made by people who haven’t actually played the game yet, but also a few by those that have. I should point out at this point that minor plot details will be discussed. I would also add that you should take any estimations of playtime with a pinch of salt as translating on the fly pads it out a bit more.

Let’s start with straight lines. Linearity. Why do people hate straight lines? Lines are useful for so many things. Linearity means you won’t get lost, that it feels like you are constantly heading towards your next goal and that it’s very obvious if there is a hidden treasure down a small crevasse or little dead end. We might be more used to multiple paths and an open world but does that really mean doing it that way is better?

A vast amount of FFXIII is spent traversing linear maps. Eventually it does open up, but not to the degree you might consider as the standard for other RPGs (including previous Final Fantasy games). I honestly fail to see why this is a bad thing. Other RPGs might try to disguise the fact you are progressing from A to B to C to D and so on but you still are essentially going along a linear path so it isn’t like this is something new. I suppose it is new that FFXIII doesn’t try to hide this, but the fact it seems to have taken so many people by surprise is frankly shocking. Would it really be better if it became a pseudo-open world game filled with tedious arbitrary moral choices that are so popular right now? That isn’t what an RPG is supposed to be.

Connected to the way the plot progresses is also the lack of populated places. In other words; there are no towns. No towns? Someone pray to the RPG gods to strike this heathen game down! Who cares if there aren’t any towns? Towns are glorified shops. That’s all they are good for. Do you really care about the unimportant generalized dialogue spouted by NPCs littering these places? As it happens there are actually towns so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, it’s just that you can’t stop to chat to people mostly as they are filled with enemies.

Some criticism has been aimed at the battle system FFXIII uses. Now, for those that have played the game it is a personal choice whether or not you found it enjoyable and that is fair enough and I won’t try to counter that. I would counter those who have deemed it bad without having tried it though. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but while I might find watching someone playing an RPG boring, that is not the same as I would feel actually playing it. Combat has been refined, perhaps some might say simplified and as a result flows very well and looks stylish.

This is all not to say that combat in FFXIII is perfect or the best RPG battle system ever conceived. The crystal levelling system (as opposed to normal levels) is just a streamlined variant of the Sphere Board from FFX mixed with FFXII. It can be a little annoying having to constantly switch between Optima (essentially class types), as is the fact that if your leader dies it is an instant Game Over – even if the other people in the party are fine and have the ability to cast Raise. Do not let this put you off from the perspective that two characters have to be constantly controlled by the AI though as it preforms admirably (more so than the Auto-Attack option for the character you are controlling sometimes). The best example of this is that if you Libra (Scan) an enemy type the AI will retain the knowledge of what element of magic works best against all of that enemy type you encounter and will use it accordingly.

Perhaps it isn’t a widely known fact, but on the subject of levelling you can’t actually do it until about three hours or so into the game after a certain event. Prior to that you can still change weapons and equip accessories. This probably doesn’t help FFXIII put forward a good case when you can’t do any proper upgrading for that long, especially if it is only the first hour or two people are watching before forming an opinion.

Even more damning for some people is the fact that for the first twenty five or more hours of the game you have no control over who is in your party and who you are playing as. This is due to the nature of storytelling employed by the game (more about that in a second). I can sort of understand this being an issue if you don’t like some of the cast and two in particular have received a lot of flak. The first is an irritating crybaby, whose constant peril and suffering amused me to no end, named Hope (or Hopeless as fans have christened him). The second is your typical cheerful optimist skipping through life while everyone else dies pain in the backside named Vanille. In case anyone is interested; my favourite character is the baby chocobo living in Sazh’s afro. It’s tough for a young chick to get a credible acting role these days.

FFXIII tells its story in an interesting way. As I mentioned; it constantly skips between two or three groups of the cast and usually who is in each little group changes every so often. This encourages (well, forces) you to make use of everyone for a long time. It’s a departure from the more common ways of telling a story in RPGs and was a breath of fresh air.

What I also especially liked is how bleak FFXIII’s story is. Without going into too much detail; right from the off this band of characters all suffer some kind of heartbreak. This continues to run through the whole game, even to the extent of dealing with things like attempted suicide. It’s a nice departure from the light touch in previous games in the series. These characters are living hellish lives; hated by everyone and constantly on the run. This adds a lovely feeling of macabre to the infrequently happy or positive scenes because you just know they will be fleeting or end in tragedy. There are also some very moving moments that I can only hope carry over well in translation and localization with a decent cast voicing the characters.

Even if you were to remove the difficulty of not being terribly brilliant at Japanese and just look at the core gameplay, it is still very obvious that FFXIII is a challenge. This has been another sticking point for a lot of people. I guess people expect a cakewalk like previous Final Fantasy titles with the only real challenge in the form of optional monsters? I don’t really know what to tell you here. Yes, it is hard at points. If you don’t plan, arrange your Optima properly and have an effective strategy. Is that really a deal breaker? That you might not win first try every time? The game is actually very forgiving with Game Overs and will often put you back mere seconds before the fight you lost. This could all be moot mind you, as often the standard difficulty in one region of the world won’t be the same as elsewhere. I’d be a bit disappointed if the worldwide release was made easier though.

FFXIII came under a lot of unjustified fire from numerous people who haven’t really played or seen enough of the game to accurately judge. I strongly feel that there are many people who will look at a new Final Fantasy game and if they don’t see Cloud or Sephiroth will immediately dismiss it as being terrible, but that’s another story (as is my opinion that Cloud’s dialogue is some of the worst ever written – he’s like an especially inarticulate thirteen year old). There will be those who have played enough to accurately judge and still decide they don’t like the game of course, but I just feel these credible opinions are being lost in the hysteria and assumptions that seem to be sweeping the internet.

The newest in the contradictory line of Final Fantasy games is an excellent RPG. It is by no means the greatest thing ever made but certainly, in my opinion, easily eclipses the last two or three games of the series. It has helped SquareEnix regain some credibility in my eyes – that they can still produce a decent game despite the better part of their staff leaving to form Mistwalker and I just hope that they continue going down this route of a more adult and darker way of storytelling.

One last thing though that I really think does need complaining about more. Why is Sazh treated like he’s pushing seventy? He’s only thirty two yet everyone calls him old man or Grandad, he walks like he needs a walking stick and gets tired out easily. He isn’t old! Well, alright, by Final Fantasy standards he might be old. Especially when you have someone like Snow who is in his twenties and appears to be engaged to a ten year old. I was actually going to suggest a drinking game where you take a shot every time Snow says “Serah…” but I don’t want to be responsible for you dying of alcohol poisoning.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

14 comments

  1. “FFXIII came under a lot of unjustified fire from numerous people who haven’t really played or seen enough of the game to accurately judge.”

    Which is true for a lot of games, but especially true for FFXIII. I think people just love complaining about the Final Fantasy franchise, but truth is, it’s a GREAT series of games. I mean, they’ve been around for what.. 23 years (Japanese release at least). And they’ve kept up such a great quality of games. And okay, not all of them were “as good as”, but XIII seems to be having that great, great Final Fantasy style and quality that we expect it to have, and by that, rises above my expectation in a way that I though they just couldn’t get any better. Yes, FFXIII is ‘different’ is several ways. But that doesn’t take away the fact that qualitatively, it is a wonderful game.

  2. Michael J /

    I’ve learned not to judge or trust what other people write about Final Fantasy games, because they’re pretty divisive games and my own opinions game to game differ wildly. I loved Final Fantasys 4,6,7 and 8, hated XII and X-2 and felt that 5,9 and X were decent, but not great.

    But I was pretty burnt by XII, the reviews at the time were filled with superlatives about the game calling it revolutionary and forward thinking. I personally found it to be a grindfest devoid of charm or interesting writing.

    Can’t say I’ll miss the cities found in the Final Fantasy games, especially after the bit in XII where you had to speak to everyone in one of the cities and pair up their conversations in the most repetitive and slow minigame ever, to get some ticket thing.

    “Would it really be better if it became a pseudo-open world game filled with tedious arbitrary moral choices that are so popular right now? That isn’t what an RPG is supposed to be.”

    I kinda disagree with this sentence, because on the surface that sounds like a criticism of all the best western RPGs (Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Planescape Torment, Dragon Age etc). That said open world and decision making have never been the strong points for JRPGs so perhaps in that context you’re completely right.

  3. Coldk6 /

    u guys are retarted… its on ps3/360 it should have been FAR FROM LINEAR…. SIDEQUEST…HIDDEN BOSSES… ULTIMATE SUMMONS… ULTIMATE WEAPONS…..is there even a chocobo or card game in this???

  4. Leopard /

    “Who cares if there aren’t any towns? Towns are glorified shops. That’s all they are good for.”

    Sorry, but i CARE. They might be ‘glorified shops’ but i could deconstruct everything else in the game in the same way. I’m not expecting everyone to share my opinion, but to dismiss it as outright irrelevant is just dumb. I enjoy visiting towns,chilling out and checking out the architecture design,doing some random quests,searching for secrets, what’s wrong with that? They are as much a part of the fantasy as the storyline and characters in the game. The time i spent exploring Rabanastre in FF12 was really memorable, just like the events and atmosphere of Winhill in FF8, and my ‘ZOMG’ first impression of FF8 was due to the magic of Balamb Garden.

    There are REASONS why people complain about the changes, not everyone is whining about how it is NOT FF7

    • Shadowcatt /

      I think the biggest problem here is that people are complaining about a lack of towns just for the sake of complaining. From what I understand about the story, there is a very valid reason for not having any “normally populated” towns in the first half of the game. If the devs were to put in a town it would likely seem out of place given the circumstances.

  5. I am at 32 hours mark on pulse and I understand japanese. I am big fan ff series since FF 3 on famicom.

    Well sorry to say FF13 is a big big let down for the fan. It is not a RPG but tactical combat game. It feels so empty. I am not even sure i will have the courage to finish it as it gets really boring just to fight all the time and watch cutscenes with full of dialogue from 80’s sentimental soap.

    I guess a real and true benchmark of how the game is judge by japanese consumers is community sites like mixi and amazon japan. well the feeling is very mixed there. 3 stars on amazon with lots of disappointing comment, it is pretty bad compared to the importance of the franchise in Japan.

    • Animus /

      Amazon japan is about as reliable a benchmark as 2ch. It is an exaggerated and superficial version of reality.

  6. Bryan /

    Why is linearity a problem in RPG?

    Simple. If it’s linear, the it is NOT an RPG.

    The whole point of an RPG (at least what I think SHOULD be the point) is that it allows you to step into a “play a role” in which every decision you make (moral or otherwise) has a tangible effect on the world that you are playing in.

    In a nutshell, where your choices matter.

    If every single decision is already mapped out and decided for me, then what’s the point?

    People often say, “well, it’s about enjoying the story! It’s then story!”

    Well, hey, guess what? We already have a medium for that. They’re called books. If reading is too tedious a movie, you can sit back a watch a movie! There great for when you want to just sit back and just follow the story, and let the narrative happen and get carried along for the experience.

    But this not what I expect from a “role-playing game”, just from it’s very name. The whole point of why I play (and most people, or least most people here in the west) is that I do NOT want to just be carried along for the ride with narrative, but want to be an ACTIVE participant in it’s development. Where my choices could lead me down unexpected directions, permutations and paths that are above all unique to me. I’d love to talk to someone else about playing the game and here that there experience playing it was completely different from mine due to the different choices they made through their playing experience.

    Of course, that’s NEVER the case with a JRPG, but I digress….

    To me, THAT’s the point, though. What do people think the point of genre is? RPG are named for the original pen and paper role-playing games that they emulate. Could you imagine if you and your friends got together for an evening of pen and paper role playing, and then you get ready to roll up your character sheet, your GM presents you each with character sheets he’s already prepared for each you (HE decides who get’s what character, of course), along with which weopons your allowed to wield, exactly which pre-set paths you can take on the adventure (with absoulutely NO deviation), and exactly which what your pre-set character is allowed to develop in? The GM has already pre-determined every possible decision you and party can make for each and every encounter, from which you can choose from. Basically, you and your friends are basically to role the dice, when needed. And that’s about it.

    Kind of would defeat the purpose for night of role-playing, wouldn’t you think?

  7. Oni-Samurai /

    My first final fantasy game was no.12, I found it difficult to get to grips with as I never played this type of game before. I thought the story was awful and would keep thinking of Star Wars for every character and certain areas. In fact it was only the gameplay that kept me going, once I got the hang of it. I loved the huge open world that there was to explore and really felt like I was on an epic adventure.
    I know the appeal of FF7s story and I really only play games which have a relatively interesting storyline, I hope this game’s story is more interesting – but from what I’ve read on various sites, I’m not excited by the story.. The gameplay is also said to be harder but more rewarding? I found the optional bosses in FF12 to be tough and I did use a guide to beat a lot of bosses. I just hope there isn’t too much to learn. I like intuitive, pick up & learn as you go gameplpay.

  8. anwar /

    I’m sorry but i dont understand why this guy is defending ff13. Square-enix is not paying him(are they?) so is it just for attention? I havent played the game but i’ve heard enough to not want to. The reasons for this is because i loved the towns in the ff games. I especially liked the down time when time stood still and you could just relax and talk to npcs and shop and prepare for the next crisis. And of course i like rpgs because of the decisions you make from choosing what armor to equip to the dialogue choices that give you a sense of control and the sense that you are living in this world – and the belief that your experience is different from everyone else’s. I think square-enix have lost sight of why their fans love these games. They should have just kept all that was good and expanded on it, giving us more reasons to love this beloved series.

    • Moogle /

      and why not defend FFXIII? he’s as entitled to defend it as you are to criticize it. Just because someone has a point of view that goes against the mob mentality you feel the need to put him down?

  9. You are right. But there are people out there who have waited for this game to get themselves a ps3. I guess its just my disappointment speaking. I’m sorry for my negativity and for putting ff13’s defender down. Maybe i will actually like it because of my lowered expectations. Still, I would have prefered if most reviewers were praising it. It is final fantasy after all.

    • Morgan /

      To Anwar: I have read just as many positive reviews of FF13 as negative ones but I tend to side with the positive reviews due to the fact that a few have solid ground to stand on unlike most of the negatives ones.

      To those complaining about towns: Ok, you’ve got one big world above another world called Cacoon and in this place you are considered a terrorist, why in the hell would anyone want to sell to you? You can still talk to inhabitants of this world though, and there are plenty of them, so its not exactly life-less.

  10. joshua /

    I think that ff13 is an amazing game for the fact that it is quite different, the reason there are no towns is because your characters are on the run and have one direct thing they need to do before there time is up and they fail there focus. Going into 13-2 and lightning returns is a bit much but w/e I liked 13-2 just as much as 13. There is no good reason to say its a bad game based on reviews, actually try playing the game before judging it. You may or may not like the gameplay or storyline but how do really know until you have tried it. So stop hating and accept the change from traditional final fantasy games into a more fast paced game.

Leave a Reply