Nearly two months and close to 60 hours later, I’m done Final Fantasy XIII. I’ll write up a general retrospective soon, but I wanted to get my impressions on Eden, Orphan’s Cradle, and the ending out of the way.
The last couple of chapters (and really, the last third of the game) were a bit of a slog for me. For all of the obvious issues with the game’s linear nature, a big upside is that it afforded more control over game balance. Even though I didn’t go particularly overboard on sidequests and never did anything I’d describe as grinding, almost everything after Chapter 11 (Gran Pulse) was easy to the point of just not being fun. I maxed out every character’s main three Crystarium branches before the last boss fight, so I have to assume I was over-levelled.
This came to a head in Orphan’s Cradle, in which most battles took the better part of five minutes (and I got perfect ratings on most!). It was a neat looking area, but man, I was not looking to grind through repetitive, frustrating (those goddamned Dagonites!), yet utterly unchallenging encounters. It had basically no story significance (why were they being randomly teleported into a cathedral?), and was stupidly formulaic. Xenoblade pulled some of the same “here’s a barely-contextualized enemy-filed zone” crap near the end, and it wasn’t fun either. I don’t get why these games were so obviously padded out — I can’t imagine many would have complained about a tight(er) 45-50 hour game.
I’d heard a lot about how challenging the game got near the end, but that wasn’t my experience at all. I settled on using Lightning/Fang/Hope upon arriving at Gran Pulse, and used the following paradigm setup (or something very similar) for the rest of the game:
- COM-SAB-SYN (default if fighting a longer battle, especially after Hope learned Haste)
- COM-COM-RAV (damage dealing/cleanup)
- COM-SEN-RAV (chain starting/maintenance)
- RAV-SEN-RAV (chain building — cycled between this and the previous)
- COM-SEN-MED (light healing and chain starting/maintenance)
- MED-SEN-MED (emergency healing/debuff cleanup)
It was a pretty conservative and often inefficient setup — I’m sure it could have been improved — but it got the job done so well that it didn’t really matter. This got me through Adamantortoise, Wladislaus, and Orphan’s first form without a single game over (though Orphan took over 20 minutes). I gave everyone Diamond/Adamant Bangles (900/1200 extra health) and Royal Armlets (15% damage reduction). Fang got the best strength boosting item I had, Hope got the best magic boosting item, and Lightning got an extra bangle so she (the party leader) wouldn’t accidentally get focussed down. Lightning had a Flamberge (balanced), Hope had a Eagletalon (magic-heavy), and Fang had a Glaive (strength-heavy). All were fully-upgraded second forms — the final forms required a level of dedication I didn’t possess. I know some of this stuff isn’t ideal for the post-game, but I don’t plan on going back.
I wouldn’t be anywhere near as annoyed with this the gameplay stuff if the story had been going somewhere at the same time. Almost nothing that happened post-Palemicia (Chapter 9) really mattered at all. The l’Cie work out their differences, they know what Barthandelus is up to, they vow to stop him, and… nothing. Chapter 9 could easily have transitioned straight into Chapter 12 or 13 and barely anything would have been lost in the process. The character motivations don’t evolve, there aren’t any fundamental story twists, and there was very little character development.
I kind of expected that they’d take the Gran Pulse break as an opportunity to have characters open up, interact more, and maybe discover more about life on Gran Pulse before the war. Most of the story before the group came back together on the Palemicia was about characters working out their differences, coming to terms with their problems, and crystallizing their motivations. Some of it was a bit cheesy and melodramatic (in an endearing Japanese way), but it was a totally legitimate direction to take, and involved some nice arcs and interesting revelations. I can’t come up with a good justification for the way the story ran out of steam 2/3 of the way through. There was some later character development — like the scenes between Fang and Vanille, and the flashback to Serah and Vanille’s meeting — but it was fairly anemic.
With all of that said, I thought the ending itself was satisfying enough. The whole “don’t worry, the Cocoon crew weren’t dead, they just temporarily disappeared or something!” thing was kind of dumb, but hey, it’s a fantasy game, a certain suspension of disbelief is necessary (seriously!). Although some of the broad strokes of the ending had been spoiled for me because I’d seen XIII-2 trailers, I didn’t see Fang and Vanille’s sacrifice coming, which gave it a bittersweet quality. I would have liked to have seen more of what became of the world, maybe behind the credits or something, but it was implied well enough.
I don’t see myself playing FFXIII-2 anytime soon, but I will play it eventually. The combat system, in a tighter game with a better-balanced difficulty curve (both of which I understand XIII-2 addresses), is still fundamentally sound. I want to see more of the Fabula Nova Crystallis world and characters, and having some strong opinions about some of Final Fantasy XIII’s flaws, I’m curious about what XIII-2 changed.