How Final Fantasy 13 improved my life
Final Fantasy 13 has had a highly positive effect on my life. I found myself studying more diligently for finals, effectively boosting my grades to honour-roll levels. I spend more time exercising, socializing with friends and family, and dating a lovely lady (insert winking smiley face) thanks to Final Fantasy 13. The reason being that the disc for Final Fantasy 13 sits there, begging to be played, and the part of me that puts the guilt trip for spending $70 on the game is demanding I finish it before moving on to another game. But the other part of me just refuses to torture myself with a title that punishes me so. So as a deterrent to gaming, Final Fantasy 13 is great!
As you’d guess from this unlikely revelation, Final Fantasy 13 is lousy as a form of entertainment. There are many reasons why. Let us start with the plot. Here is a base summary.
“There is a city encapsulated in a sphere, sheltering itself from the outside world and viewing all foreigners as terroristic monsters. Within both the city and outside world are god-like figures that curse random citizens with a destiny. Feared by the general public, these citizens must either complete their assigned task and become crystallized in peaceful slumber or fail and become hideous monsters. A random group of colourful characters are brought together and cursed by said gods and must attempt to break the curse.”
I challenged myself to summarize the background of the game’s universe and plot in the simplest means possible, as a way of defying the game. Final Fantasy 13 does an outright terrible job explaining its fiction. This franchise has a history of using abstract naming conventions for characters, settings and ideas and FF13 raises the bar in the field of confusing terminology. Why is a destiny called a “Focus”? Why is the outside world labeled under the sweeping term of “Pulse”? The game doesn’t make an attempt to explain these terms for hours, asking the player to read some datapad/codex/thingy so they can be brought up to speed. In turn, the player is spited at the 6 or 7 hour mark when the game finally decides to tell you what it means to be a L’Cie, for example. This is a very badly-paced plot.
Which is a shame, because there are some good ideas buried somewhere within the game. Even if past Final Fantasy games have beaten religious and nationalist themes to death in the past, there’s at least somewhat of a creative angle here. And there are likable characters such as the perpetually jaded Sazh and the perpetually fist-pumped Snow, but their charm is squandered in a wave of dialogue, riddled with the game’s own lingo. All I ever hear is “Fal’cie-this, Cocoon-that”, and even knowing the terminology, I felt like I’ve been bombarded with one cutscene after another that existed for no reason other than for the sake of existing. Final Fantasy 13 feels more drawn out than the negotiations for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.
And don’t get me started on Vanille. This woman does not think; she merely speaks what random thoughts enter her mind. Had she not wielded a magic whip, she would not survive South Central Los Angeles at night. And even then the leather whip will give people the wrong idea.
There seems to be two reoccurring themes in Final Fantasy 13. Either the game is trying to overcomplicate matters, or thoroughly distill them. The combat system, for example, can be rather convoluted if you so choose it to be. There are tomes worth of spells and attacks to learn and use in combat. The idea here is that characters are meant to use attacks in combinations, with some combinations working more effectively than others. What combinations work best against what enemies…I can’t be made to figure out. How should I know if Fire and Blitz works better as an attack than Blitz and Attack, for example. So instead, I opted for the more user-friendly “auto-battle” option, where you just take the game’s word that it’ll pick the correct offensive madness. It’s like Manual Transmission in racing games; it’s there for purists, but why wouldn’t I want the streamlined approach? Because of the Auto-Battle optionm most of my battles consisted of my mashing of the X button repeatedly. How ironic that, in attempting to stray from JRPG conventions with its combat system, Final Fantasy 13 embraces a common JRPG stereotype.
The other issue with the combat in the game is that the game both gives and takes away a considerable amount of control to the player. On one hand, you can only control the actions of the party leader. On the other, each character has multiple character classes, like “Ravager”, “Sentinel” and “Synergist”, which are of course needlessly complex ways of saying attacker, tank and buffer. The game allows players to control the general ebb and flow of battle by changing to different combinations of character classes to dictate different needs, whether it’s full offense or recovering from an ass-whooping. However, the partner AI leaves a bit to be desired; if an AI is the “Synergist”, the buffer, they’ll cast all their buffs on a single person rather than spread the necessary, life-saving wealth around. Likewise, you’ll want your character to be an attacking class, not just because casting buffing spells is not manly enough for you, as your attacks dictate which adversary the party focuses their efforts on. It’s a very strange system that takes too much control out of the player’s hands for no reason other than to needlessly complicate the game.
The way the game handles upgrades is also worded in a matter that makes it seem more complex than it really is. There are a great amount of strange lingo that go into the “Crystarium” system, which is best described as Final Fantasy 10’s sphere grid in High Definition. There is somewhat more depth in being able to level-up separate jobs per character, but the process of booting up and making tweaks to an individual character is slow and bothersome, further damaging the game’s uneventful pace. You can also upgrade each character’s weapons by breaking down items found in the game world, a system I’ve never been a big fan of. I’ve always been scared to death of investing all my resources into a single sword, only to stumble across a bigger sword, for example.
And when you’re not fighting assorted throngs of colourful enemies that underwent a strange evolution (like the tribal-dancing birds…Darwinism in Pulse is a mystery) or fumbling through menus, you are… not really doing much of anything. Someone at Square-Enix decided that silly little details like shops, NPCs and interactive objects were unnecessary and distilled them from the experience. Within the game world, the player can only truly interact with treasure chests and a computer that handles all your saving and shopping needs. After all, we are the generation that communicates, surfs the web, reads, writes and makes farting sound effects with one IPhone. Otherwise, the world is but an empty, single corridor that the player must walk forward on, dueling with whatever monsters enter their path. The world, as visually appeasing as it looks, feels empty and confining, rather than inspiring and alive. And you feel like you are merely walking from one cutscene to the next. Again, in seeking change from the norm, Final Fantasy 13 embraces more of the genre’s stereotypes.
The constant murmurs I’ve heard in the past were that Final Fantasy 13 does get better at a specific point. At the 25-hour mark, the strictly linear paths go away and the player is allowed to explore a sprawling field in any direction they so desire. I did reach that point, inevitably, long since fatigued by the first 25 hours of punishment. But once I found this field of dreams, I ceased to care. All that awaited me were more loosely-controlled battles and more cutscenes with worse-spoken English than Metal Gear Solid 4 (and that’s a huge insult.) At the 28 hour mark, at a difficult boss that no strategy that my Auto-Battle-weaned mind could figure out, I gave up. I tapped out. Threw in the towel. No more Final Fantasy 13, please.
The game isn’t completely without redeeming qualities that would warrant attention from the most devout of JRPG fans; the art style, unorthodox as ever, is still flashy. The fights have a frenetic feel to them, as characters unleash bombastic magic attacks at a quick pace, littering the screen with shiny explosions. The CG cutscenes are ideal for showing off that sweet new flatscreen TV you’ve just hauled home. The orchestral soundtrack is the kind of sweeping affair you’d expect from Final Fantasy. So this game does hit all the right aesthetic notes, if that’s what you value in a video game.
But as virtual entertainment, it’s the biggest letdown of 2010 thus far. The story is terribly paced, the combat is unstable and the game feels very non-interactive and dead. If you’re looking to enjoy yourself playing a video game, this is not the title for you. This is a game that wants to be looked at; to be appreciated for its appearance over its substance. In that regard, Final Fantasy 13 is the Snooki of video games.
Unrelated to Final Fantasy 13 – how the hell do people side with Manny Pacquaio? He is refusing to fight Floyd Mayweather because Floyd wants drug testing…and Floyd is the villain? What is wrong with the media? Hell, why is Larry Freaking Merchant condoning drug use in claiming Mayweather is unfair?