kickinthehead's Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3) review

FF with lots to like but...

 Final Fantasy 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 8, 12. That’s the order I put the Final Fantasy games that I’ve beat from best to worst. First place is very close though because I like both of those games a lot. You’ll see also that I’m a person who will proudly say that I like Final Fantasy 9 because for reasons unknown to me people seem to begrudgingly say that they like 9, whereas equally mysterious to me people say that they like 8. Now that you know where I stand on these games then you can judge whether my tastes at all mesh with yours.

Visuals – Final Fantasy 13 is really pretty, you know that and I don’t think I need to discuss this. It’s another futuristic gunblade universe with lots of shiny technology. This time there’s only one effeminate looking guy and he’s just a supporting character instead of the protagonist.

Story – This section will contain spoilers but I’ll give you a warning before they start.

Final Fantasy 13′s story is unrelenting with its terminology but unfortunately they don’t compensate with exposition. I’ll try best to sum it up. There are two worlds: Cocoon and Pulse. Cocoon is the pretty world people want to live in and Pulse is the wild world full of monsters. In each world there are two races which are the humans and the fal’cie. Humans are regular people and the fal’cie are godlike beings who support the worlds with energy, food and generally keep things going. Without the fal’cie the worlds would fall into ruin.

Now the problem the game runs into is when it starts flavoring fal’cie. There are Pulse fal’cie, Cocoon fal’cie, Sanctum fal’cie and probably some more. Also the term fal’cie is also its plural form which just didn’t let me wrap my mind around how many there were in the worlds. Anyway, fal’cie can make any human a l’cie which is just a human with a tattoo who can use magic. The thing is that l’cie are given a “focus” which is something they have to do otherwise they’ll turn into a monster. If they do it, they’ll turn to crystal.

This is one of my biggest beefs with this game. No one ever is *really* sure what their focus is, nor do they have any means to really figure out what it is unless they actually fulfill it and turn to crystal. This strikes me as just a really horrible means for the fal’cie to get stuff done. Constantly during the story people flip flop between what they think their focus is, but usually it doesn’t matter what it is anyway in the end. I dislike this part of the story because the world logic is just so shoddy and doesn’t make much sense to me at all.

*SPOILERS START HERE*

So halfway through the game around the 25 hour mark we find the villain. The villain is a fal’cie masquerading as a high member of the Cocoon government. He wants to destroy the world so that the creator of everything “The Maker” will come back and reset things. Problem is the only way to do this is by destroying this one fal’cie called “Orphan” and for no given reason fal’cie cannot destroy Orphan. In order to destroy it they need to get some l’cie to turn into this monster Ragnarok and destroy Orphan. Guess who are the l’cie given this objective?

So what it boils down to is the villain needs our heroes to do something in order for his plot to be fulfilled. So… what is to stop the heroes from not doing this? Sure they’ll turn into monsters but the world will be saved! I’ve seen discussion saying that the villain will just find other humans to do it for him if our heroes don’t, but it’s still a terrible evil plot. Also, during the last boss battle our villain is merged with Orphan and for some reason you’re still trying to kill him… which is what he wants. Also if he wants to die why is he fighting you? The story is totally at odds with the gameplay and this story bit is what made the game go downhill for me.

*SPOILERS END HERE*

What ultimately escalated 13 for me above 8 and 12 were the characters.

 Characters – At this point in the Final Fantasy lore no one is really extending their writing skills past anime story cliches. I was saying constantly during this game that none of the characters are unique in terms of their personality or backstory, it’s all terribly cliche. You have the:

- Strong confident female protagonist (Lightning, Yuna, Garnet, Rinoa, Ashe)
- Hot-headed guy who fights with his fists (Snow, Zell)
- Magic pixy girl who is optimistic to a fault (Vanille, Rikku, Selphie, Yuffie)
- Emo teenager with lots of issues (Hope, Tidus, Squall, Cloud, Sephiroth)
- Edgy female chick (the Eliza Dushku) (Fang, Lulu)
- Comic relief black guy who’s a father (Sazh, Barret)

 Obviously some of these are more cliche than others either within the realm of Final Fantasy or anime, but they’re still cliche.

That said, I think they did a pretty good job with the character interaction, but only in the first half of the game. The first half of this game you’ll be playing with two person parties for the vast majority of the time. The story pairs together the two people who will probably have the most antagonistic relationship so this interaction is pretty well done and interesting. I can say that I feel there has been some actual character development during the first half of the game.

I think the reason it works is because the characters who are forced to play off of each other. Usually having to deal with another person and how they affected your life is more profound than how Final Fantasy world shattering plot devices affect characters. The world being destroyed has a predictable impact, people are sad that things are destroyed and people are dead. Whereas if you’re forced into a situation with someone you really hate because maybe they were the one responsible for a loved one getting hurt that will force you to do some thinking.

So Final Fantasy 13 gets kudos on the job it does with its characters for the first half. Unfortunately when all our characters are assembled into one party the dialogue is far less interesting and each character is reduced to their cliche archetype’s line. It’s like in Lord of the Rings during those scenes where you could tell the writer though “Okay, we need Legolas to say something.” Usually he’d get some stupid expositional “no duh” bit like when Aragorn is planning strategy and he says “A diversion!”

 Just as an example let’s say something happens in the story this is what each character is basically saying during all of them

Lightning – “We have to do this, for the world!”
Snow – “I’m a hero, and heroes don’t let people down!”
Hope – “Come on people don’t feel down, we gotta be pro-active! And I live in a van down by the river.”
Vanille – “Tee-hee!”
Fang – “What’s the point in doing that? Screw it!”
Sazh – “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

I really wanted to like Final Fantasy 13 more but it’s this latter half’s story that really brought it down for me. Which is kind of weird because the thing that does get more interesting is the…

 Gameplay – You can’t read a review of Final Fantasy 13 without hearing about how linear the game is. It’s true, the first half of the game is long corridors, and the second half is some open areas but still mostly long corridors. I read an interview with a producer of Final Fantasy 13 that said they wanted this to be more like a “Modern Warfare” FF game in regards to the story and pacing. Though if that’s truly the intention the game should’ve been shorter. The corridors are structured such that if there’s any section off the beaten path you know it’s because without fail there’s a treasure chest. I liked the characters in the first half so I didn’t mind the linearity much, but in retrospect it’ll definitely hurt replay value especially because of the length of the game.

 The biggest problem with the pacing has to do with the gamplay. Namely, you don’t get the full battle system until you’re about 9 hours in, and then you don’t get access to your full party for 25 hours. This game treats you like you’re dumb and not ready for the complexities of the game or even the experience system until you’re a few hours in. Because of this the first 2-3 hours are an utter snooze fest and really tough to get through.

Also once you get the level up system you see it’s another version of the Sphere grid from Final Fantasy 10. Thing is that this grid is more like a really tangled piece of rope that could just be stretched out to show you that it’s basically a straight line. Sure there are little branches from the main line but they never extend further than 3 or so nodes.

Once you have the battle system I think it’s one of the best ever in a Final Fantasy game. The battle system is deceptively simplistic at first because you only control one character and there’s this auto-battle button at the top which you will spend most of the game using, but past a certain point in the game just mashing on this will get you killed fast. The core of the game are these “paradigms” which are sets of jobs for each character. So either one attacker, one medic, one magic user or maybe two medics and one tank. There’s a lot of variety.

Also there are no magic points in the game, the cost of an ability is how much of your Active Time Battle meter is used up by it. Stronger spells will take more time, weaker ones will take less, but you can still cast either infinitely. Other two party members are controlled by computer AI and a scanning system makes them automatically use magic that enemies are weak against etc. The other part of the battle is the “stagger” meter which goes up when you hit the monster. Magic attacks cause it to go up fastest, but also it’ll deplete faster so you have to balance it out with attacks. Once the stagger meter is full your attacks do a lot more damage and make seemingly impossible grinds come to a quick end.

I think this system is a nice mix of turn based systems of the past and the automation of Final Fantasy 12 where you were basically programming AI for your characters but otherwise not doing anything. It makes battles quick, exciting to watch and at times genuinely nerve wracking as you struggle to heal before the monster’s next strong attack while also making sure the stagger meter doesn’t go down.

 Final Thoughts – I really wanted to like Final Fantasy 13 more than I did. The game is gorgeous, the battle system is great fun, the characters despite their cliche archetypes are still pretty interesting and the world is pretty cool too. Unfortunately the story doesn’t come together as a whole and the villain is really freakin’ lame. I long for the days of Final Fantasy 6 mustache-twirlingly evil villains who are bad just for the sake of being bad. Also they could’ve worked on their exposition more and relied less on the datalog to fill in gaps about the story either missed or missing from the cutscenes.

Also I don’t necessarily need Final Fantasy 7 level amounts of minigames but having other objectives other than the yellow marker on the map do help replay value and break up the monotony of the admittedly fun battles.

Oh, and this is the first Final Fantasy game where battling a cactuar was neither unique in its mechanics or just flat out difficult. Plus no Marlboros?? I understand this world is fantastical as previous games but I think a Marlboro would’ve fit in just fine.    

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