Post-mortem? Is that the right word? Whatever, all I know is that I wrote an unnecessarily long essay on a game I didn’t exactly love. So here you go.
Ostensibly I wrote that last blog for reflection on my cheevo and tro tro habits while discussing the games I played. Instead I waxed indulgent about mostly nothing while making up some not-words. The result being that I didn't really say all that much. Mission accomplished. I like to read the sound of my own words, and I really like to make words whose sole purpose is to please me. Unfortunately for me, this time I actually have something I want to say, making this endeavor much less fun for your narcissistic author.
Final Fantasy XIII
Yo! Final Fantasy XIII's terrifically named sequel comes out in less than a week, right? That's a thing. And Final Fantasy XIII kinda clawed its way up the pile to being kind of a thing again, right? Well I sure hope so because, in the span of two weeks, I put just about a hundred hours into that fucker.
So why did I replay it? Because I had lost my post-game save when my PS3 decided to explode a few months ago. Why did I want to play it in the first place? It started with me looking at the incomplete trophy list, eyeing the tide breaker, Treasure Hunter, and saying to meself “that's doesn't look so tough.” Oh boy. Oh boy! Oh fucking boy am I bad at making these judgement calls. S-Ranking Final Fantasy XIII is a different sort of hell. Whereas Limbo and Ico both demand the absolute apex of player skill and manipulation, FF13 asks only for your time. All of your time. S-Ranking FF13 is much like cruising towards the center of a black hole, past the point where gravity literally pulls time and space towards the center, and everywhere you turn you face that inescapable doom. I spent the first fourty hours of FF13 completing the story.. The next sixty I spent working towards Treasure Hunter. Most of that time I spent killing turtles. So many, many turtles. But, in the doing, I feel I have obtained for myself a perspective on the highs and lows of Final Fantasy XIII.
I will not try to break this into a list of “this is good” and “this is shit.” Everything has problems, everything has not-problems. I'm basically going to break this shit down and analyze the fuck out of everything, good and bad. I can NOT guarantee quality.
The Shit You Do
The combat system, a sort of evolution to the Active Time Battle mechanic FF fans are familiar with, has its virtues. Most significant, Square managed to streamline the list of available abilities. Every single command has a purpose, and every spell, buff, and debuff has its place. Even poison, poison, the red headed step child of all Final Fantasy spells outranking only Toad, has its place in strategy. The inability to grind means that strategy and an understanding of the system is vital for any difficult battle. Lack of control over your party member, while certainly a bummer for fan of micromanagement, gives a feeling coaching a team, which somewhat appeals to me.
However, you can safely ignore all of that in 90% of the fights. From chapters 1-10 you could just Rav-Rav and then Com-Rav or Com-Com your way to victory. In chapter 11-13, I found myself just using a party of one synergist, Sahz in this case, and two commandos and finishing most fights with trash mobs in a few rounds. The fact that there are trash mobs period drags the combat down. Most strategy boils down to buff me, debuff him, and stagger. Some areas required I switch someone to a sentinel role, which I appreciated. The only times I used other strategies were when I needed to cheese a guy because I was fighting it too early. Though the fact that you can kill bosses you are grossly underleveled for by using an unorthodox strategy speaks to the importance of tactics over stats, which again I appreciate.
You definitely can't just spam auto battle in all cases. Try fighting a Shaolong Gui without turtling an tell me how that goes. The problem is that most of the time you can, and I feel that devalues the overall experience of the combat.
Speaking of things that start with C: Corridors! Final Fantasy XIII is linear. But that is not the problem, or at least it's not the whole problem. A linear design does not damn a game, just look at most of the shooters released in year. Battlefield, Uncharted, Space Marine, Modern Warfare. These are all great games that are linear. No, the problem I had with FF13 lies not with the linearity of the structure but with the overall structure itself.
There is no pacing in Final Fantasy XIII. You don't spend most of your time in dungeons, you spend all of your time in dungeons. It is always on, with not a single break until that blessed chapter 11. The basic formula for good pacing: high intensity, low intensity, high intensity etc. Dungeon's and towns. Fighting shit and bullshit wandering around. Dark, emotional moments and light hearted, funny comic relief. Square made FF13, believe it or not, a very high intensity game. You are never given time to chill the eff out. The only instance I can think of is the festival Sahz and Vanille attend. You know, the one with the chocobos. This complaint sounds a lot like “the game doesn't have towns wah!” but it's more than that. I don't care if the game never had a single town. I wouldn't care if XIII-2 didn't have towns. I just want some pacing, I want some low moments. Look at Chrono Trigger, you don't spend all that much time in towns. Hell, you can't even really enter towns, just individual buildings. But you will never fight a random enemy while on the world map. You can aimlessly wonder around and relax a bit in between dungeons.
Chapter 11 has some of that, with a lot more scenes dedicated to silly comic relief. I appreciate that, but there's not enough of that. So many dungeons were just mind numbing. A branching path and some dead ends would have done nothing to help that.
Even when the game does branch out, the world feels so much emptier than it did in the other games. Most damning is the complete lack of endgame content. No super boss that drops the ultimate weapon, no secret dungeon, nothing. Yeah, you can grind everyone’s stats to max after you beat the game, but for what? To kill turtles. But why do you want to kill turtles? So you can kill tutrles more easily. But why do you do that? So that you can get Trapezohedrons and craft the ultimate weapons. Why do you want those? So you can start killing more powerful turtles. Why? BECAUSE FUCK YOU!
Over Exposit, Under Exposit
The writing is not terrible. The characters and the actual plot have good things and bad about them, but the presentation itself does not break the game to the extent many seem to feel. From my experience most people talk about the way the game drops you into this world filled with these bizarre terms suchs as “fal'cie” and “l'cie” and “chocofros” with no context, explanation, or exposition. The only way to make heads or tails of all this nonsense was to keep referring to the novel they included, the infamous datalog.
Ah, and there it lie in slumber. The datalog, so much like Mass Effect's codex, yet so detrimental, poisonous, cancerous to the experience. I posit that the quality of the writing and the vibrancy of the world would have been much greater had the datalog simply been omitted. Nothing more done to the script, just the excision of that device. A lot of people say that without the datalog the plot, the characters, the environment are incomprehensible, but I disagree. If we just listened, the script provides enough cues and implications to understand most of what transpires. Yes, at first l'cie has no meaning, but it's clearly a bad thing to be, and as the story progresses it becomes clear what exactly it means to be l'cie. Most of the elements are contextualized pretty well, I say. So why is it that most seem to need the datalog?
Well, I wager that most people do not need it. Despite what cool kids on the internet will tell you, people tend to be pretty smart, so it's not a case of lacking the intelligence necessary. Square Enix never asks you, never challenges you to immerse yourself and mentally explore. The lack of mental exploration of this game, of needing to puzzle out of learn about the absolutely dazzling world of Cocoon and Pulse on you own, does more harm than the lack of physical exploration. In fact, Square doesn't just neglect it, they outright discourage any mental exploration. By including the datalog and essentially saying “if you ever find yourself confused, please stop thinking and just read this.” And we listen, because why not? It only makes sense. Why would I struggle with a puzzle when the answer is being presented to me on a silver platter?
After every important cutscene you will be alerted to the new datalog entry explaining (in the present tense which I found infuriating!) exactly what happened, why it happened, and what the implications are now that it has happened. When an event or action drops some vague implication about a character, you'll find a new entry explaining it all in detail. It immediately becomes clear that you don't even need to really watch the cutscenes to understand what's going on, and any value they hold disappears. In explaining everything in detail, Square made the actual game look obfuscating an confusing. They built a wall between the player and their world when I'm sure they just wanted everything to be easy to understand.
Now, all that said, how is the acutal story? The plot is pretty simple at first:each of the characters are brought to something called a Vestige for different reasons, and there they find a god-like being called a fal'cie from the underworld that is Australia AKA Pulse. The fal'cie makes them l'cie, servants with extraordinary powers, and are given a focus, a task they must complete or risk becoming zombie-like cie'th. After that they split up, each running from the military that's on their ass and trying to figure out what to do.
The story itself is not terribly well written, keeping in mind what I said about the datalog. There's no sense of focus and the characters are always just running. Which is fine, there's a way you can tell that story. But there's not much to say about the first 20 hours; it all seems like build up to when the party regroups, meets the villain, and the actual plot is revealed. And everything in the ending is legitimately incomprehensible.
The the writing is certainly character focuses as opposed to plot focused, with more emphasis placed on character interaction than plot advancement. Not necessarily a bad thing; I tend towards those sorts more anyway.
Lightning is not the main character of FF13, despite receiving the main billing. Just as much screen time is devoted to Sahz and Hope as is Lightning, and certainly more character development. Square billed Lightning as a female Cloud, and they're right. Superficially, at least. A cold and emotionally distant former soldier who rebells against he employer with the help of a sassy black man. And that's where the similarity stops, as well as most of her character. For most of the game, Lightning's just kind of a bitch. Needlessly so.It seems like Square wanted her to be mysterious, but after the third time she let the group move on without her while she crossed her arms and pouted, only to follow them a moment later had me rolling my eyes. Yeah I know she's military, but so is Sahz (pilot, though its never mentioned outside the datalog) and he's not an asshole! Maybe she, like Cloud, has some insanely fucked up trauma in her life. Maybe the superficial stand in for Sephiroth, Yaag Rosch, burned down her home town too. We never learn what her deal is, and the only character development she undergoes is when Hope teaches her what love is and she stops being a complete asshole.
Lightning, like every Final Fantasy protagonist, is a generalist who doesn't specialize. She gets all of the -strike commands as a ravager, she holds up as a pretty good commando and actually makes for a decent sentinel, despite having no guard skills. She's a terrible late-game medic, though, which confuses me since she has medic as a primary role. She makes up for it as a decent saboteur, learning multi-target debuffs.
Speaking of Sahz. Sahz. Saaaahz! I like Sahz. I liked him from the moment Square announced him. Most likely because I liked the idea of a black main character who wasn't a hilariously bad caricature of Mr. T. No, Sahz resembles Will Smith instead. The calm, fatherly Will Smith who occasionally shows the zanyness of his youth. But then I actually played the and found out that I still like Sahz even after about 140 hours (my original playthrough lasted 40 hours). He's the straight man, the guy who tries to keep an even head when everyone else is going crazy. Even during his own emotional moments he doesn't descend to the same levels of melodrama the other characters do. Really, the best thing I can say about Sahz is that he almost seems human. How grand a coincidense that he's a father, like one of my other all time favorite characters, Nier.
So it really sucks that he has the lowest stats in the entire game. With the exception of HP, every character beats him in every way. The only thing he really has going for him is that he's a better healer than Lightning and the best synergist for most of the game. In the late to postgame he's easily surpassed by Hope as both a damager and a buffer. That said, in all cases where a strategy called for buffs I used Sahz, because stats aren't that important and ability wise the two are mostly interchangeable. Also, because fuck Hope. Though by the numbers he's beaten, his ultimate skill, Cold Blood, makes him a pretty brutal ravager, especially after an enemy has been staggered. One Cold Blood an a staggered enemy can drive the bar up to 999.9% pretty reliably.
Hope. Hope, Hope, Hope. I hate Hope far too much. I think everyone does. I once had a friend say to me that he hated Hope and wanted Hope to die. I never did learn if he was talking about the character or was having an existential meltdown. I wonder how that guy's doing in Florida. Anywho, Hope whines. He's a whiner. He's a kid, apparently prepubescent if his cameo in a 13-2 trailer are any consideration (his voice dropped 37 octaves in a few years? Sounds like highschool) so his disposition is believable. I just don't want to watch a 12 year old being 12 years old. I don't like watching 12 year olds being 20 year olds. Other games and shows do the whole “little kid having his mind blown” thing much better. I've watched like two episodes of The Wandering Son and that does the whole 12 year old being 12 years old thing much better. What I appreciate about Hope is that he's the only one who's willing to say “what the hell, guys?” After everyone becomes a l'cie, they are all like “kay” and he's the only one who is freaking out over it. That character can be written, but Hope only comes across as annoying.
What I will say in Hope's favor is that he is one of the most versatile characters for most of the game. He's one of the best healers and ravagers in the game, and the only character who has protective buffs for the first third. His secondary roles are nothing to brag about, though he does get Ruin immedietely, making him a passable commando. He learns all the same buffs as Sahz, and benefits from a higher magic stat.
Snow is the bastard love child of Zell and Seifer from Final Fantasy VIII. I just want you to think about that. You liking what you're seeing? Okay, moving on. Snow is the hyperactive, college fratboy asshole who insists on be the center of attention at all times. He clearly thinks he's the main character, but lacks the confidence and aplomb with which Balthier takes that title from the true protagonist. I can't exactly blame Lightning for punching him so many times or Hope for wanting to drive a knife in his back. That said, I like Snow. He's like Kamina, he's always upbeat and insanely optimistic in a way that the other characters, except Vanille, just aren't. He is such a cartoon character, and it's a joy to watch him being all crazy. Maybe it's just because I'm also an asshole in college, but I appreciate that part of his character. What I don't appreciate is when he stops being a cartoon character and becomes a soap opera character. Every scene concerning his very weird relationship with Lightning's sister Serah (yeah I know she's supposed to be 19 or something, that doesn't stop the fact that she's fucking Snow when it looks like she should be playing doctor with Hope) he switches from Kamina to Fabio. In the scene where Hope finally confronts him, Snow enters drama school mode so fast and so hard that you can feel Oscar shaped boner Troy Baker had to have been sporting during that recording session.
Snow’s probably the best sentinel you can have on your team. He’s usually better at taking damage than dealing it, but he’s still one of the stronger characters and his faster casting animation makes him good for powerplaying a ravager. Otherwise, he doesn’t have much going for him. My turtle strategy required him for spamming daze, but the argument can be made that Sahz is better for that role given his longer animation, but that dives into a realm of insanity that few care about and I fear.
Vanille. Vannile? Vannille? I don’t fucking know. Vanille, from my perception, stands only second in most hated character by the community, right under Hope. I didn’t hate her. Now, what exactly does she have going for her than being every one of my fetishes rolled into one oh so fuckable ball? She gives some energy to the cast! Besides her and Snow, everyone else is kind of a downer. I get why they were written that way, and I appreciate it, but I also appreciate the levity that Vanille’s saccharine bullshit injects into the situation. The problem is that often enough she comes off as irritating as fuck. For me, it’s less the mannerisms and more the voicework. I’m sure that Georgia Van Cuylenburg is a perfectly competent actress, and this performance is hardly the worst I’ve heard. But something about it rubs me the wrong way, whether it’s the accent or it’s the pitch or whatever. Otherwise, she is the second most Final Fantasy ass Final Fantasy character. It seems that, at least since VII (probably before) every game has needed its perky, cheerful, jailbait fanservice girl. Vanille is that, no question. But even then I feel her behavior is kind of justified.
Vanille is the primary healer of the party with Hope. I’m pretty sure only they learn Curaja, which is vital down the line as the characters’ health bars grow. She’s also the first to learn deprotect and deshell, so you’ll want her for bosses and the tougher mobs. Most important, for endgame in any case, is that she learns Death. The nice thing about Death in this game is that, more than any other game in the franchise, a lot of enemies are vulnerable to Death. Even when Death doesn’t stick (which is most of the time, given its base 1% success rate) it still does a lot of damage. There are a few enemies that you can kill before you ought to with the help of Death. Otherwise she has one of the highest magic stats.
I have little to say about Fang. I never felt she contributed much to the party dynamic or that she had much of a personality besides really, really liking Vanille. She kind of goes crazy at the end, but then doesn’t. I don’t know. That ending was weird.
What I will say is that she is a fucking beast. You will be breaking the damage cap regularly with her in the postgame, and I’m pretty sure she’s the only one I’ve gotten to hit 999,999 on one hit. She learns the pretty vital slow spell early, and makes for a good sentinel. Hell, she and Vanille are the only ones to get the -ra variants of the synergist spells. You want her in your team, and probably as leader so you can use Highwind for massive damage.
The Fal’cie, and really the mythology FF13 has as a whole, were pretty interesting. I would like to learn more about these things in future games; probably Versus 13, as 13-2 doesn’t seem to go into that stuff. The Analect dtalog entries you got for completing missions added some of the depth that Cocoon and Pulse were missing. And Dysely/Barthendelus made for a convincing villain. More than the other villains in the series, he seemed to really have his shit together. But maybe I’m biased; I just can’t hate a good voice.
Sooo gooood! I just love it when a villain sounds like he's having an orgasm with each word.
You still reading this? Jesus, guy. Okay, I’ll end this. Final Fantasy XIII is not terrible. If fact, I would go as far as to say it’s pretty good. I did not decide to put another 100 hours into because I hate it. I know I say a lot of shit here, but that’s because it’s easier to be negative than it is positive. I like playing FF13; I find it’s combat compelling; its characters act almost human, which is a rarity in any video game, and the plot, if convoluted and annoying at the ending, is fun to follow. The game isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t deserve the rap it gets. What I think is that time will go on, Final Fantasy XV or whatever will come and earn everyone’s bile, and people will look back and take another look at 13. It’s already happening with 12; everyone (or at least it seemed) hated that game when it came out, but if you look now a lot of people seem to either be changing their perspective on it or coming out of the woodworks to support it. I think something similar will happen with Final Fantasy XIII.
I won’t go into either the news or the demo for 13-2, because fuck you this blog is overlong enough. Maybe I’ll do something on that, but not for a long time. And I don’t think I’m going to do anymore super long analysis on average games.
Though I did just beat Dragon Age II.