I’m not going to lie. This post should actually be labeled, “Why most people loathe Final Fantasy XIII, and why they’re wrong”….. but that was too many words.
With the third game in the FF13 trilogy being highly touted at E3, it seems to have stirred up old hatreds for the first game of the series. I was a little late to the Playstation 3 party since with my poor-boy university minimum wage earnings, I could not afford a shiny PS3 until two years ago. When I finally bought it, one of the first games I bought was a used copy of FF13. I had heard the talk of this game not being stellar and I was well versed with the arguments against this game before I fed it into my little machine of wonderful times, but this did not deter me in the slightest!
**Warning** I will liberally use spoilers from Final Fantasy 13 in this article. You’ve been warned.
I’ve been a long time fan of the FF series. This series always has pulled me into their world with my fantastical imagination and loved to be able to get to know wonderful characters and save the world from unspeakable calamities. And from this perspective, Final Fantasy 13 did not fail to deliver these items. However… there are many who do not see it in this way. Most people I have run into across the interwebz have had every emotion from jubilation to downright hatred at the mere mention of this game. While it’s easier for me to address the reasons why I love the game and make a post that agrees with most other’s point of view…. I am simply not going to do that. I will take this post up a geeky notch and dive into the critic’s “icky points” of this game and look for the geek gold hidden in its juicy, cherry-tasting core.
The Game is Too Linear
The largest difference in this Final Fantasy as opposed its predecessors is the level design. Most areas you will encounter for the first half of the game will quite literally be traversed by travelling in a straight line from point A to point B. Most would think, “Oh wait! This is an RPG, not a FPS game! I’m supposed to be able to explore vast worlds! Have freedom to do what I want when I want it! How DARE they box me in like some rat in a maze?!” This is where I start cackling like a cacodemon because these critics couldn’t be more wrong.
While there are not many JRPG’s that advocate an open world from the get-go, most western RPG’s lean towards this idea. For me, I’ve never been a big fan of the open world RPG’s because I like my games like a good book. (I haven’t played Skyrim yet, so my opinion is subject to change) When there is the sandox approach to games, I believe it muddles the experience and forces the player to continue to guess what the developer wanted them to experience in their game. While some like this idea, I do not. I don’t have time to wander around wondering if I am going in the right direction. I want to at least have a clear objective and the means to get there.
Now, for JRPG’s, the level/world creation has historically been a bit different. Two schools of thought have prevailed throughout the years. One is to have the world be limited initially, and as the player advances through the story acquiring items and procuring more advanced forms of transportation, the world opens up allowing you to see the whole word by game’s end. This was more effective during the PSone era when previous areas were closed off when you switched disks to dump unnecessary space and open up new areas by the end of the disc. The other school of thought is to have the whole world open to you, but have enemy levels be so insanely high in certain areas that when you make a wrong turn, you get your ever-living butt kicked back to the stone age prompting the “Oh crap, I’m not supposed to be here…” instinct to send you down\ another route to monsters less inclined to destroy you in one swipe…
Case study: FF7. You start in Midgard blowing up a reactor. From there you’re stuck in a confined space with only one way to go. You then are allowed to visit a few places until you go blow the next reactor. After this, all heck breaks loose and you are bumped to another area of Midgard and meet a hot chick in a church. You then follow a linear road back to her house and await the time when you can take a shortcut back to the place you already visited to wait for the next mission. When you finally blow Midgard’s popsicle stand, you think, “Oh joy, it’s overworld theme! Freedom!” Unfortunately you realize that your cage just got a smidge bigger because there was that infernal snake blocking your way onto the mountains ready to shank you with massive fire spells all because you didn’t go visit the local chocobo ranch and tame a chocobo to outrun the snake. This pattern goes on until you get a broken down plane that’s no better than a hovercraft that can’t go on land.
So your cage gets still a tad bigger , but you are still confined to make it to the developer’s next item on their storyboard punch list to unlock the next area. Even when you get the airship, you have the freedom to look most anywhere in the world, but even you must wait till the later part of the game when you get a golden chocobo to finally get full mobility, or full sandbox effect and visit everywhere on the map. All the while, the developer has given you a linear checklist of places you must go in order to complete the story. So, in essence, the story is linear, but FF7 liberally dangles mini-quests and hidden characters through the game to distract you from your linear progression of events.
You are scrambling for your life to get far away from people who want to kill you.
Now we focus on what players are presented with when the crazy long opening scene of FF13 is over. You are scrambling for your life to get far away from people who want to kill you. This means running over ruined highways, down long winding canyons, through yards of junk, and back to a city with, you guessed it, more baddies that want nothing more than to mock your rotting corpse. While doing this, you realize that you must save your friend/sister, avenge your mother, find out who you really are, get back your son who has been wrongly abducted by those who want to kill you, and on top of all this, you’re branded a menace to society just because you have awesome magical powers.
With all of this going on, wandering around aimlessly isn’t the greatest idea. The game’s developers used this story to create beautiful levels that draw you into the character’s plight and allow you to see, for the first time in a FF world, in HD the grand vision the game’s creators want you to see. The linearity of the levels for FF13, while way more cut and dry in where you need to go, allows the developers to keep the player engaged with the tasks at hand and not dangle sweets in front of your face saying, “Hey, I know you have to save the world and all…. but here’s a sidequest to keep things interesting”. Not needed, no thanks. When you finally make to Gran Pulse, you really do see the main arc of side-questing which is the challenges. These take you all over gran pulse and even some are necessary to open up new areas. There are plenty of places where you are thinking “Oh crap, this guy killed my sentinel in one swipe…. time to jam!!”, but you just come back later when you’ve leveled up and conquer all.
I Can’t Beat Bosses Because of the Level Caps!
The level cap, while annoying, adds a necessary challenge that’s been sorely lacking in many RPG games in the past. Once again, FF13 is more cut and dry in its approach of controlling how strong your characters can be. Beating certain bosses unlocks more of your leveling grids and allow you to access more abilities and roles as the game goes on. This happens until you reach your next level ceiling, waiting for the story to progress and have more abilities unlocked. If those who say the cop-out statement at the beginning used two brain cells, they’d realize that RPG’s have had level caps from the get-go.
The governing principle of this thought comes from the Law of Diminishing Returns. You see, game developers know that if someone beats enough enemies, they get stronger. If they get too strong, the difficulty gets too easy and the game tends to get boring. In order to cap off one’s progression, the developers make the EXP necessary to gain a level much higher than the pittance of EXP gained from surrounding enemies. Once you get too high, you’d have to grind for hours to get another level and the +1 to strength usually is not worth the 3 hours of battles fighting light-weights. FF13 gave you bits and pieces of your level grid, much like FFX did with the Sphere-grid Lock spaces, so when you get to a certain battle before the cap is raised you need to work with what you have and beat the boss with skill and a little bit of luck. Most people who complain have major issues with the Aeon battle for Lightning when you only have Hope with you. The game does deal you a bit of a raw hand in the stats department when fighting the Aeon, but it also has a certain skillset that the developers deemed necessary for the player to know before moving on. Yes, the aeon battles were tough, but all battles are possible to beat within the game (I’ve platinum’d it with only two fights that took me more than 3 tries to complete) and all can be beaten with critical thinking and a good grasp of the battle system.
I Don’t Understand Auto-Battling So it Sucks
This complaint shows that the complainer has no need for making his life easier and does not understand a simple in-game menu option to not use what I’m calling the ‘auto-battle button of golden glory’. The game’s tutorial says that the auto-battle button adapts the commands to best fit the current battle situation. Well, let’s be honest with ourselves here. The auto-battle button is just an easy way to speed through battles like the Rush command in the Persona series. In FF13, the auto-battle button should be only used for enemies of small importance or characters in battle who you don’t really care what they do as long as they attack the enemy or heal you (depending on role). I tend to be more of a manger in battle, I like to have full control, but I like to sometimes just be lazy and only focus on one character’s actions and let the others just do what they want. So because of this, I issue direct commands to the one I care about, and just auto the other two. It’s a very simple way to use it, and I believe that some incarnation of this should be in all FF games.
Vanille’s an Airhead and Hope’s a Dope! Square Screwed Up the Characters!
This comment always warrants a facepalm- Especially if the critic loved FFX-2. You see, I have a very hate-hate relationship with FFX-2 for one reason and one reason only. Riku. What they did to that poor girl is just saddening. You take a very smart and attractive girl and ya just had to make her dress like a hooters waitress while spouting more nonsense than the introduction of a modern dance number. It’s just sad. Oh wait, I’m not talking about Riku, I’m talking about Hope and Vanille!
Ok, so initially you control Lightning. She’s a soldier through and through and has been compared to a girl version of Cloud. She meets the characters and eventually gets stuck with Hope. For most, the name “Hope” is just as bleh as his character which is a brooding teen who had just saw his mother fall to her death because some blonde dope had to pick a fight with the big army. But wait- wouldn’t you be brooding too if you just saw your mom fall to her death?! Cut the kid a break! In spite of his whiny attitude, he ends up being the most dynamic character in the game by dealing with his past, mending fences with his father, and growing a spine while saving the world. Compare this to Vaan from FF12. At the opening, Vaan said, “I wanna be a sky pirate” and at the end, he says, “I’m getting to be a sky pirate!”….yup, that’s as static as they come.
Now Vanille’s character flaws require a bit more knowledge of psychology to break down. You see, Vanille comes off as a complete airhead in a skimpy outfit. “Great, creepy dude fantasy material right here” is what you think, but when you see her backstory, your thoughts about her character change rather quickly. For most of the game, she claims ignorance on knowing her past, but she eventually remembers it…. and it ain’t pretty. What some people do to deal with terrible pasts is develop defense mechanisms that allow them to cope with what has happened. I’d venture a guess that acting like a bubbly airhead is her way to put her troubling thoughts away from her current situation and allow her to stay sane. There’s even a few times where she simply breaks down dwelling on her past, only to have her bubbly self trickle out and snap her back to reality. Some drown their sorrows in drink, others just laugh it off. Vanille does just that, and her English voice actor really did a good job conveying both her anxiety and her cheery personality.
Well, that’s about it for my thoughts on the subject. I’m a big fan of this game and recommend that everyone who is an RPG fan try it for themselves. It’s easily found in most game stores for under $15 or one of your buddies should have a copy hanging around for you to swipe for a few weeks. The game literally takes around 40 hours to beat if you do not do a ton of the extra missions and have enough stats to beat the end boss without too much trouble. It took me 60-70 hours to platinum it on a second playthrough (I used a spreadsheet to help out with the Treasure Hunter trophy… the last one most get in this game…) so this is most possible to platinum. If you play the game with the things I have mentioned in mind, I know you will have a rewarding and amazing experience.
And if you don’t… you just simply don’t know what’s good for you!! ^.^
What’d you think of Final Fantasy XIII? Did it offer something refreshing or was it too much a departure from convention?