Fighting Final Fantasy XIII - Episode 2: Yo Square, How Do You Make A JRPG Without ANY Good Characters?

Author's Note: Fighting Final Fantasy XIII - Episode 1: This Game Has The Worst Introduction In Video Game History!

Part 11: Where The Fuck Are We?

To everyone who made fun of me for liking the relationship in Final Fantasy VIII, I dare you to defend Snow and Serah's.
To everyone who made fun of me for liking the relationship in Final Fantasy VIII, I dare you to defend Snow and Serah's.

Everyone is a l'Cie thanks to an unnamed fal'Cie. Try saying that sentence five times fast. A series of flashbacks follow the conclusion of chapter two, and I hate Final Fantasy XIII's flashbacks. They represent an attempt at world-building but are contextless from top to bottom. These moments are our only opportunity to see the character's before the events of the main story. Unfortunately, the present day rarely builds upon these scenes. Likewise, what we witness doesn't feel paramount to the underlying narrative.

Let's use the flashback involving Snow and Sarah as a case study. We watch Snow profess his undying love for Serah, and ask for her hand in marriage. It's undeniably a beautiful scene. There's a sense of whimsy as Snow guides Sarah through the fireworks show. However, I have to ask what's gained from including this cinematic. We already know Snow loves Sarah. Why not introduce the origins of their relationship? We only see the pay-off of their romance and none of the preamble. It's a romance angle best suited for a daytime soap opera.

GAWD! If this game were entirely a dream, that would be the best!
GAWD! If this game were entirely a dream, that would be the best!

Moreover, the flashbacks are told thematically instead of chronologically. Following Snow and Serah's moment, the next cutscene depicts Lightning boarding a train with Sazh. The cinematic afterward involves Hope spending time with his mother. Chapters come and go before the stunning conclusion to Snow's marriage proposal. In fact, IT'S A FIVE HOUR LONG GAP! AND FOR WHAT? All we learn is Lightning did not approve of Snow marrying her sister! This development has nothing to do with the main story!

The most damning part is the story's inability to use its flashbacks to its advantage. Stop and think about everything we learn about Snow's connection to Lightning. Through the flashbacks, we learn about their acrimonious relationship. Does the main story take the time to have the two settle their differences? NO! Does Lightning surface her regrets about Serah? NOPE! Do Snow and Lightning get a scene to address their pent-up drama? Absolutely not, but at least there's a scene where Lightning punches Snow in the face!

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! WHAT DO THE WORDS COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH EVEN MEAN?! SOMEONE SEND HELP!
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! WHAT DO THE WORDS COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH EVEN MEAN?! SOMEONE SEND HELP!

The last thing I will say about the flashbacks is they do a terrible job of creating a sense of place. This problem plagues the entire game, but these cutscenes cast a spotlight on the issue. Final Fantasy XIII feels like an assemblage of parts instead of a livable world. Many of the flashbacks take place in the seaside city of Bodhum, but we don't know where that is in comparison to the rest of the world. To add insult to injury, we see the cast interact with one-off characters that are never properly introduced.

Let's stop and look at the framing for chapter two. After the branding of our party, the cast stands on a frozen lake. A title card informs us it's "Lake Bresha." It's a beautiful vista shot, but that's it. Where is this location in comparison to the train tracks from earlier? How did we get here? What happened to Anima? The game never answers these questions, and our ability to role-play is limited. Lake Bresha exists in isolation to everything else, and the same sentiment applies to every level. The game expects YOU to do the legwork in knowing where you are after plopping you into a new environment.

Part 12: Final Fantasy XIII Waits Until Chapter Three To Become A Game

WHY IS EVERYTHING BLUE IN THIS GAME?! DID SQUARE FORGET THERE ARE MORE THAN FOUR COLORS?!
WHY IS EVERYTHING BLUE IN THIS GAME?! DID SQUARE FORGET THERE ARE MORE THAN FOUR COLORS?!

Once chapter three begins, Final Fantasy XIII finally opens up its gameplay. It starts by introducing its class system. Each character starts with two classes that suit their individual strengths. For example, Lightning kicks off with the "Commando" and "Ravager" classes. It's a decent start, but we're stuck repeating the same gameplay rigmarole we're all too familiar with at this point. Regardless if Lightning is a Commando or Ravager, you're better off selecting "Auto-Battle."

Then, there's the "Crystarium." After playing the game for HOURS, it rewards you with experience points. Characters have an individualized skill tree for each of the game's classes. I know I've used the term "skill tree" when referring to the Crystarium, but that gives it more credit than it deserves. If anything, it's a poor man's Sphere Grid. Each Crystarium, much like the rest of Final Fantasy XIII, is linear. There are no choices to make and the end goals are static. It also requires a gargantuan amount of patience before getting interesting.

Anyone who says the Crystarium is
Anyone who says the Crystarium is "good" is lying to you, and wants you to regret your life choices.

I will admit I enjoy the Paradigm system. Being able to seamlessly switch classes is liberating. All the same, the system has its fair share of issues. The problem is the game doesn't open up its mechanics soon enough. The first three levels of the Crystarium are as dull as bath-water with the supporting classes feeling especially ho-hum. The Synergist and Saboteur feel limited outside of boss battles. Finally, the entire system doesn't feel balanced. Some characters have more points to use on their Crystarium than others.

These nitpicks are all ignoring a pressing issue with Final Fantasy XIII's class system. Filling out a list of paradigms is a colossal waste of time. Maybe it's just me, but I hated having to run through every permutation of my possible Paradigms and parring them down to the most potent. Why the game doesn't automatically fill out a list of Paradigms, is beyond my comprehension. For fuck's sake, I would have taken a "Save Paradigms" feature! It's also a bum deal when the game throws you into a boss battle with a new set of characters, and you only have four pre-selected Paradigms available.

Aw shit, will you look at that! The game plays EXACTLY THE SAME even with the Crystarium! What a wonderful game.
Aw shit, will you look at that! The game plays EXACTLY THE SAME even with the Crystarium! What a wonderful game.

Furthermore, I'm not a fan of the Crystarium. Navigating the system isn't intuitive, and it's too linear for its own good. Skill trees should provide thoughtful choices that impact how I use my characters, and that's not the case in Final Fantasy XIII. There's also too much overlap between the game's classes. I get there's a difference between Ravagers and Commandos, but I don't understand why those two jobs aren't combined. Other jobs require tremendous amounts of patience and due diligence. Characters like Hope and Vanille don't bear fruit until the game's penultimate chapter.

We are dancing around what I think is the most substantial problem with Final Fantasy XIII. Whoever thought character levels should be attached to your story progress, and NOT how much you play the game, is a moron. There's no other way to put it. It's fucking asinine your characters are stuck in arbitrary level caps until you complete chapters in the story. How does that encourage players to explore the mechanics? Even worse, you don't get access to the final level of the Crystarium until AFTER you beat the game! FUCK THAT NOISE!

Part 13: Playing This Game Sucks!

I take back everything I said last episode about Snow, Sazh has the worst script in the game.
I take back everything I said last episode about Snow, Sazh has the worst script in the game.

I found chapters three through five to be a bore. The forced character pairings are the root cause of my apathy. During chapter three you are graced with a party consisting of Lightning, Vanille, and Sazh. Sadly, you only control Lightning. During what is ostensibly the game's "tutorial level," it STILL throttles your gameplay choices. By my third or fourth battle, I felt proficient using the Commando and Ravager classes. However, the game doesn't allow you to swap party leaders and try the other characters.

Everything feels like an endless cycle of repetition! Each environment replicates the same template. You have a starting point, ten or twelve trash mobs, a boss, and an endpoint. Walkable paths snake around the environment to stretch the game's length. While the skyboxes are beautiful, they are stunningly superficial. There's a shocking lack of interaction between the player and environment due to the absence of genuine exploration. The levels also lack a framework.

To the two of you who told me to start reading the codex, what part of this is worth my time?
To the two of you who told me to start reading the codex, what part of this is worth my time?

Around the Anima boss battle, I grew fed up with the companion artificial intelligence. For those that do not know, battles feature parties of three, but you only control one character. The supporting party members are computer-administered avatars. This arrangement is the origin of many headaches in Final Fantasy XIII. The AI is dumb. There's no nice way to put it. Not only does the artificial intelligence prefer casting multiple uses of low-tier spells, but they are suspiciously afraid of using items. The latter of these issues is especially problematic when status ailments come into play.

The lack of direct control over the supporting characters causes the paradigm and crystarium systems to lose their value. Even if you unlock powerful abilities, there's no guarantee your companions will apply them. For example, the game struggles to play as a Medic. I cannot begin to count the times a computer-controlled medic healed one character to full health while leaving another at low health. It never knows when it should split the difference. Another example of the AI's shortcomings is its refusal to use area-of-effect spells. 90% of the time, the computer prefers to cast several uses of basic magic instead of AOE versions of the same spell.

I just love looking at the mindless bullshit I am bound to grind away at for ten minutes.
I just love looking at the mindless bullshit I am bound to grind away at for ten minutes.

The computer never utilizes critical gameplay mechanics. The game incentives you to time your attacks during boss battles. However, you can only do that with your character. There was nothing more frustrating than watching my computer-controlled partners run headfirst into an enemy, get walloped, and I'm the one who popped a Phoenix Down. The worst part is your supporting characters refuse to spread their attacks. When pitted against groups, the artificial intelligence zeroes-in on the enemies you're attacking. Too often, the early battles devolve into fighting monsters one at a time.

But the worst is yet to come. For some reason, if the player controlled character dies, the game ends. This happens regardless if your companions are alive or not. Even if you have a fully leveled "Medic" as one of your supporting characters, they are not allowed to resurrect the player. This rule is TOTAL BULLSHIT! During the early portions of the game, I felt like I played far more conservatively than necessary. Instead of taking advantage of staggered enemies, I used several turns on healing.

Part 14: The Forced Moments Of Sentimentality Are Terrible

Why is anyone listening to Snow? Seriously, why do the characters just run with what he says?
Why is anyone listening to Snow? Seriously, why do the characters just run with what he says?

After a bit of faffing about, our party finds itself branded as l'Cie. As they were cursed by a Pulse fal'Cie, Sanctum's military is in hot pursuit. While making their way through Lake Bresha, they collectively discuss their focus. Conveniently, everyone experienced the same premonition. No one knows what this dream means, but Snow surmises they are destined to protect Cocoon.

Eventually, Snow locates a crystallized Serah. All we understand is Serah achieved her focus. We don't understand what her focus is or how it relates to our party. In an odd way, I enjoyed Snow during this scene. Snow is one of the few characters you can empathize with in the story. He is driven entirely by his love for Serah and wants to believe he can save her. He cannot fathom his focus not being interconnected with Serah's. I guess that's why I accept Snow's illogical grandstanding. He's a meathead, but his actions are in service of the story.

This is a great question the game drops like a ton of bricks in the next scene.
This is a great question the game drops like a ton of bricks in the next scene.

What commences next is a whole lot of NOTHING! There's a quick aside where the characters lament the totality of PSICOM's purges, but they don't investigate the matter further. In the next twenty minutes, we experience dozens of trash mobs and two additional tutorials. There are major lulls in-between the story sequences, and I felt like I was tolerating the combat in order to see the cutscenes. Regrettably, the cutscenes don't improve things. Our characters don't receive proper introductions, and the environments are not scaffolded. The game also uses Sazh to inject groan-inducing levity.

Herein lies my issue with Lake Bresha. In general, Lake Bresha feels like a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive environment. Outside of teaching the player several mechanics, it brings nothing to the table. For example, Hope constantly frets about turning into a Cieth. Instead of conclusively resolving the issue, everyone agrees and moves on to a different topic. Speaking of Hope, he mentions once he'll never see his father, but he doesn't revisit this fact until chapter nine. The game is too harried in its introduction of plot elements. We are told Pulse l'Cie are bad, but none of the characters extrapolate why. Instead, you have to flip through the codex and read the entries on "Pulse l'Cie" and "Sanctum l'Cie."

THE TEMPLE IS ON FIRE?! WHAT IS THERE TO SEE IN A TEMPLE ON FIRE?!
THE TEMPLE IS ON FIRE?! WHAT IS THERE TO SEE IN A TEMPLE ON FIRE?!

The best example of this problem is the temple after Lake Bresha. While there, we fight trash mobs, defeat a dragon, and find a spaceship. There is no forward progress in understanding the world or characters. This sequence takes twenty minutes, and NOTHING HAPPENS! Considering how far into the game we are, you'd at least expect one scene where the characters introduce themselves, but this scene NEVER COMES!

The game cuts back to Snow after Sazh pilots everyone out of Lake Bresha. Snow is predictably surrounded by an army of soldiers. After a brief fight, two metallic monsters erupt from Snow's arm. These monsters are called "Eidolons." While the Eidolons are visually brilliant, fighting them is a crummy experience. The main conceit of these battles is each Eidolon wants the player to take advantage of a specific class. In this case, the Shiva Sisters want to see Snow's Sentinel abilities. Consequently, these fights are often battles of attrition. Eidolon confrontations devolve into performing the same move several times until a meter fills up.

The Eidolon battles are zero fun, and I dare anyone to defend their inclusion.
The Eidolon battles are zero fun, and I dare anyone to defend their inclusion.

It doesn't help these battles are timed. At the start of each confrontation, the boss casts "Doom." Additionally, there's a ton of trial and error. Eidolons perform a variety of party leveling abilities if you are not prepared. And it's never clear which abilities fill out an Eidolon's "Gestalt Meter." Finally, what are the Eidolons? Are they fal'Cie? Why do they erupt from your body? Who put them inside your characters? Why is any of this nonsense happening?

Part 15: And Now I'm Watching A Thirty Minute Cutscene!

Lightning, Sazh, Hope, and Vanille attempt a quick getaway using their newly acquired airship. For once, the game uses its cinematics to clue us into the world. We watch a news broadcast detailing PSICOM's recent purge. It's about as banal as it sounds. There are early hints of the story's eventual antagonist, but his introduction comprises of a few spoken lines. Likewise, it's hard to sympathize with the characters when we do not know what a "purge" does to its victims.

Also, I forgot to mention the Eidolons are Transformers. That's a thing.
Also, I forgot to mention the Eidolons are Transformers. That's a thing.

Characters repeatedly remind us Sanctum is up to no good. We watch them decry Sanctum's purges and authoritarian leadership. Nonetheless, we never see Sanctum commit a war crime. Instead, every NPC from chapter one disappears without a trace. Maybe they were purged, or maybe not. Where's Shinra when you need it? Remember when Shinra committed several acts of genocide in the name of capitalism? There's no early attempt to frame Sanctum as the game's antagonist. Sanctum's leaders are villains because the game says it.

Then there's Galenth Dysley. No one will argue Dysley is a nuanced villain. He runs a corrupt authoritarian government because he's evil. As a frame of reference, think back to Yevon from Final Fantasy X. The leaders of Yevon were evil, but their actions were in the name of something. They believed they were preserving humanity. Dysley's actions never introduce a complex metanarrative. Dysley is evil for the sake of being evil. Plus, his master plan is a bunch of convoluted nonsense.

Oh boy, I can't wait to see how this
Oh boy, I can't wait to see how this "well-intentioned extremist" becomes a typical Square-Enix villain.

At the start of chapter four, we are graced with three flashbacks. The first features Lightning talking to her former commanding officer. I want to preface you only know the name of this one-off character after consulting the codex. The next flashback shows Lightning volunteering to be "purged." The final flashback shows Hope spending time with his mother. Why is this game such a juxtapositional nightmare?

Does this game think I am stupid? Why does it use a cutscene to remind me Hope loved his mother? I FUCKING KNOW! HOPE'S BEEN GRINDING IT INTO MY EYES FOR HOURS! I don't need a cutscene to remind me! The scene involving Lightning and Sazh isn't any better. We don't know what convinced Sazh to follow Lightning. Moreover, we don't understand why Lightning allows Sazh to trail her. These characters are guided by a red thread of fate and nothing else. You have no idea what their thought process is, and there's no sense these characters have inter-personal relationships outside the story.

This game was developed during the early 2000s, and HOT DAMN does the story remind you of this fact!
This game was developed during the early 2000s, and HOT DAMN does the story remind you of this fact!

The most damning thing I can say is how un-Final Fantasy everything feels. Despite my histrionics, I love the franchise's value in creating organic worlds. Sure, the series is guilty of using trope-laden characters, but they serve a purpose. Even the fish out of water moments in Final Fantasy X had a function. They exist to establish an alien world, one, unlike any we had seen before. Final Fantasy XIII has several high-poly characters pantomime emotions within beautiful skyboxes. The character's backgrounds are left up in the air, and it's impossible to care about them! The same goes for the world Final Fantasy XIII inhabits! Everything is easy on the eyes, but I don't understand how Cocoon functions as a society.

Part 16: Every Fucking Level Is The Same Fucking Shit!

Wait, we're honestly done with this character? He's seriously never coming up again?
Wait, we're honestly done with this character? He's seriously never coming up again?

Sazh crashes the ship after a brief encounter with a fal'Cie. After regaining consciousness, the party finds itself at the "Vile Peaks." This location is ostensibly a technological garbage heap. Despite its distinctive look, it plays exactly like the first level. I am four fucking chapters deep and every environment plays the same! What the fuck were Square thinking? The game has beautiful art assets dripping with potential, but all it does is sequence them into a series of corridors.

Chapter four kicks off a considerable lull. Until chapter ten, the game focuses on pre-selected parties of two. The previous three chapters introduced the basics of the combat using pre-determined groups of three. The first of these combinations is Lightning and Hope. It is a balanced pairing, but you end up commanding Lightning once again. Other pairings aren't so equitable. While Sazh and Vanille's set pieces are among the narrative's strongest, neither are effective damage dealers. Then there's a Vanille and Hope tandem.

I want everyone to know killing these owls added a
I want everyone to know killing these owls added a "lot" to the story.

I want to say Vanille and Hope are only together for about twenty minutes. Nonetheless, they are NOT complimentary in combat. Hope is a Medic/Synergist and Vanille is a Medic/Saboteur. It takes forever to kill anything with the two of them. Even worse, some of the early groups lack a commando, and these pairs cannot take advantage of the staggering mechanic. These issues underscore the sloppy nature of Final Fantasy XIII's class system. Sooner or later, the characters gain access to a third class, but the game just gives it to you after completing a chapter in the story.

Think back to Final Fantasy IX. There are two summoners in that game, and there is a reason for that limitation. Both summoners are the last remnants of an extinct race. The ability to summon creatures isn't something anyone can learn. Steiner and Zidane don't become summoners when they reach level fifty. Final Fantasy IX uses its gameplay to inform you about the characters. The only value to Sazh being a Synergist is he can apply buffs. The only value to Lightning being a Commando is she can maintain an enemy's stagger meter. And the list goes on and on.

I take back every shitty comment I made about the Final Fantasy VII minigames.
I take back every shitty comment I made about the Final Fantasy VII minigames.

It's not all doom and gloom in the Vile Peaks. At some point, Hope locates a lumbering robot and pilots it through waves of enemies. I enjoyed this scene more than I am willing to admit. During this minigame, our interactions don't devolve into grinding away at streams of monsters. Speaking of which, the scene is short and allows you to make progress in record time. That's what I call a "win-win!"

Something I was not especially happy with was Lightning's Eidolon battle. The lead up to the confrontation is just as rancid as the battle itself. After piloting the robot, Hope appears winded. Lightning, having undergone a massive character transformation, declares Hope "weak" and attempts to abandon him. After calling him "a hopeless child," Odin bursts from Lightning's chest. Upon defeating Odin, Lightning learns the importance of friendship and plans to toughen up Hope. I don't know where to start with this scene.

There are also weird times when the game reminds you Snow exists. These scenes stick out like a sore thumb.
There are also weird times when the game reminds you Snow exists. These scenes stick out like a sore thumb.

I want to highlight the herky-jerky nature of Lightning's characterization. The Eidolon battle begins after she attempts to cast away Hope. This declaration occurs after Hope single-handedly defeated dozens of enemies while piloting a Tyrant. Lightning's dismissive comments somehow summon a giant Transformer. After the battle, Lightning seemingly wants to raise Hope like her son. In less than twenty minutes, Lightning changes her outlook on Hope TWICE! These character transformations occur solely for the sake of the script. Everything happens because the story demands it.

Part 17: The Gapra Whitewood's Drained My Lifeforce

I have come to a startling revelation. Final Fantasy XIII is what a Michael Bay directed video game would look like. Final Fantasy XIII is pleasing to the eyes but mostly without substance. Its story is downright incoherent and relies too heavily on melodrama. Furthermore, both exploit the male gaze and cannot resist using a person of color as comic relief. The similarities are uncanny!

I would like to nominate Hope for
I would like to nominate Hope for "Most Punchable Face" in video game history.

I forgot to mention the game's justification for breaking up the main party. After messing around with some trash, a tidal wave of debris falls to the ground. The debris creates a wall that splits everyone up. Lightning can jump miles into the air and float in suspended animation! Somehow, this wall of garbage is impossible to climb. The contrived nonsense doesn't stop there! When Lightning acquires Odin, her first reaction isn't to chase after Sazh and Vanille. Instead, there's a mountain of trash and each group goes its own way.

Lightning and Hope make their way to the Gapra Whitewood, and this level is downright painful. It features three astonishingly long corridors, repeats the same three enemy designs, and culminates with a bullshit boss battle. It takes an hour to complete, and at no point adds anything new to the story. If forced to say something positive, I'd say the Behemoth encounters allow you to play around with the juggling mechanic. I understand controlling Hope is intended to be empowering, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Also, I'm going to skip a brief set piece involving Sazh and Vanille because nothing of consequence happens.
Also, I'm going to skip a brief set piece involving Sazh and Vanille because nothing of consequence happens.

Around this point, I grew tired of the game's enemy designs. I admit the designs are distinct and fit with the narrative, but that doesn't change the fact they are LAZY! Each environment has four or five possible monster types. Some of the enemies are palette-swapped versions of previously encountered baddies. Everything looks like shit pulled from Square's design playbook. The soldiers look like Deepground from Dirge of Cerberus. The robotic dogs look like the wolves from Final Fantasy X. Behemoths look like high-resolution versions of the Iron Giants from Final Fantasy VII.

Finally, I want to talk about the art design of the Gapra Whitewood. The level is the same blue crystalized nonsense we saw in chapter two! Why is everything blue in this game? Does Square not know tertiary colors exist? Every level features an overbearing color filter. Worse, the corridors all look the same. It's as if Square created one level's worth of art assets and copied those assets ten times over.

Part 18: Hope Is the Worst. THE. WORST.

Are you fucking kidding me? Is this game seriously using the sleep talking your recent traumas trope? What the fuck?
Are you fucking kidding me? Is this game seriously using the sleep talking your recent traumas trope? What the fuck?

A story summation of the Gapra Whitewood is rather easy. Hope says he wants revenge on Snow. Lightning tells Hope to grow up. Lightning gives Hope a knife. Hope broods about Snow in a corner, and Lightning tries to figure out where they need to go. That's all that happens for AN HOUR, and Hope is insufferable the entire time. He does not let up with his pissant antics. Hope's character arc is by far the most trope-laden godawful nonsense Square has ever written.

In a desperate quest to build sympathy, the game employs every cheap storytelling device imaginable. In an earlier scene, the game plays one of the oldest tricks in the book. After Lightning acquires Odin, she and Hope rest before continuing their journey. Hope falls asleep and starts crying out for his mother. Trust me, it doesn't get any better. Interspersed between Hope and Lightning's conversations, are vignetted flashbacks to Hope's mother. I cannot emphasize enough, Hope's story arc is trash. It's crap. It's shit. It's poop from the butt.

You sure are HOPELESS! Heh... okay I'll let myself out.
You sure are HOPELESS! Heh... okay I'll let myself out.

When the game attempts to manifest Hope's trauma it does so without grace or tact. I'd go a step further and say the use of Hope's anxiety is exploitative and offensive. Additionally, Lightning's responses to Hope are equally reprehensible. When Hope shares vulnerabilities, Lightning posits life is better without friends. When Hope falls down, she commands him to get stronger. When Hope shows signs of mental instability, SHE GIVES HIM A FUCKING KNIFE! When Hope fixates on the knife, she brushes it aside as no big deal.

I get Lightning's mantra is she's a cold and collective loner, but that doesn't excuse her conduct. Lightning lectures how grief should be confronted with violence and Hope eats these speeches up like candy. The game treats trauma and anxiety as simple maladies best remedied by personal willpower alone. I'm not sorry for calling that out as an irresponsible and harmful message. If JRPGs have taught me something, it's emotionally compromised teenage boys on quests for vengeance shouldn't be given weapons! Isn't that right Atlus?

I present the
I present the "Trash Boy Hall of Fame" class of 2018!

Even if we were to remove the game's exploitative use of trauma, I don't "buy" Hope's perspective. We've spent a decent amount of time with Snow to know he's not a murderer. This issue wouldn't have been a problem if we understood Hope's psyche. The game fails to surface what convinces Hope to think Snow is at fault. All he does is loudly exclaim "Snow's gonna pay!" Consistently, Hope fails to progress as a character. His only emotional states are silent brooding or loud wailing. And no one fucking talks in this game! Lightning doesn't take the time to have a level-headed conversation why murdering one of our party members isn't a good idea. In fact, the concept she is a positive maternalistic role model for Hope is laughable at best.

Part 19: The Bosses Fucking Suck

At this point, I can safely say I hate this game. The characters suck. The world is shit. The story is incoherent. The combat is stale. Top to bottom, Final Fantasy XIII is a complete bore. These issues might explain why I think the boss battles are cruel and unusual punishment. Not since the likes of Final Fantasy X have I felt a game's "cheapness."

Including bosses when the player is limited to two characters is questionable. While only a few are challenging, they feel like another padding technique. As mentioned earlier, some party groupings struggle to take advantage of the staggering mechanic. This problem is worsened when several of the bosses only take damage when stunned. Equally frustrating, employing common sense strategies isn't an intuitive process. Very often, the character you control doesn't get to make the decision about healing or buffing. You are instead at the mercy of the game's artificial intelligence.

I hate the bosses in this game. I hate them so much.
I hate the bosses in this game. I hate them so much.

Part of why I dislike Final Fantasy XIII is it feels like a simulation. The gameplay obfuscates any sense of emersion. As @thatpinguino put it, "playing Final Fantasy XIII is like spinning plates." You spend more time looking at bars and meters than the action on the screen. More often than not, I had my eyes on my character's health meter and planned accordingly. The action set pieces are busy work. Each battle is unrelenting and lacks opportunities to breathe and absorb your surroundings.

Back to why I think the bosses are cruel. Bosses with immunities have always been a pain, but they are especially heinous in Final Fantasy XIII. During the early phases of the game, your characters only have four or five moves. If a boss has a single immunity, that represents the loss of a quarter of your options. During one such encounter, I threw a fit when I noticed a monster immune to Fang's Saboteur abilities. It was immune to ALL OF THEM! I spent HOURS getting her new moves on her Crystarium and it was all for naught.

I want to mention there's a glitch in the PC port of FF13 where scanning Eidolons reveals nothing and you have to guess which attacks fill their meter.
I want to mention there's a glitch in the PC port of FF13 where scanning Eidolons reveals nothing and you have to guess which attacks fill their meter.

Bosses are the most frustrating part of Final Fantasy XIII. This statement includes the Eidolons. With large swaths of the game outside of your control, it feels like they value luck more than skill. Sometimes there are highly specific windows of opportunity when attacking a boss, but the AI always charges head-first. It doesn't help there are several bosses who can instantly reverse status effects. The process of getting the buffs you want is already an arduous process. Seeing an enemy erase up to ten minutes of hard work, is demoralizing. And don't get me started about the bosses who can ignore entire character classes! Do not worry my children, we will talk about Barthandelus in the next episode.

Part 20: I Guess Snow Is A Character?

I want to start off by saying I think Fang is one of the best characters in the game. She's a no-nonsense go-getter and isn't afraid to share her thoughts about a problem. Her interactions with Snow add levity without any smarmy baggage. Why her introduction is mostly non-interactive, is beyond my comprehension. In fact, the Lindblum feels like a wasted opportunity. Here the game has one of its most awe-inspiring locals, and it does nothing with it. The same could be said of the Lindblum's officers.

Gee, look at all this beautiful artwork I couldn't be fucked to care about!
Gee, look at all this beautiful artwork I couldn't be fucked to care about!

It baffles my mind how little the game gets out its art assets. We're on an airship the size of a city and it only has three scenes. It's commanding officer, Cid Raines, is a paper-thin stock character. Like everything else in the game, his introduction is tucked away in a codex entry. Even then, our time with him is so limited its hard to feel invested in his evolution. Every character that isn't part of the primary cast has an introduction and conclusion. That's all they have! At best, they pantomime emotions and add momentary splashes of narrative flair. However, it's impossible to call any of these characters "memorable."

I can tell you my favorite merchant in Final Fantasy X. It's O'aka by a mile. I can recite the names of merchants and soldiers from Final Fantasy IX, and I haven't played that game in two years! Do you want to know why that's the case? Because they felt like "REAL" characters! They were charming and memorable in their own right. Why the FUCK do I care about "Rygdea" from the "Calvary?" Honestly, I had such a hard time remembering Rygdea's name I ended up calling him "SPACE COWBOY."

Goddammit! I still have to talk about two more of these GOD AWFUL flashbacks!
Goddammit! I still have to talk about two more of these GOD AWFUL flashbacks!

God, Snow's breakup flashback is fucking horrible! It's HORRIBLE I tell you! What does it add to the story? Players run around as Snow searching for Serah on a beach! Serah explains she's breaking up with Snow because she's cursed. It seems like she doesn't want to drag Snow into her l'Cie nonsense, but OF COURSE, Snow professes he'll find a way to "make things right." Snow's been repeating this soundbite since chapter one! I AM FUCKING SICK OF IT! PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP! I just want Snow to say something different. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, please give Snow more than three lines to repeat the next four chapters! IT'S DRIVING ME INSANE!

Then there's Lightning's flashback during the Gapra Whitewoods. During this cutscene, Lightning disapproves of Serah's marriage to Snow. It's strongly implied Lightning regrets how she last treated her sister. It adds some depth to Lightning, but it's not without its limits. Like the rest of the game, Lightning's turmoil functions at a surface level of metacognition. If Serah means that much to Lightning why doesn't she mention her outside of the cutscenes? The game is happy to present a grimace on Lightning's face but doesn't take the time to internalize why she feels those emotions. It's "Writing 101" in its rawest form. Speaking of the writing, WHO THE FUCK WROTE THIS TRASH?

WHY IS THERE A COMIC BOOK GUY REFERENCE IN A FINAL FANTASY GAME?! WHY?!
WHY IS THERE A COMIC BOOK GUY REFERENCE IN A FINAL FANTASY GAME?! WHY?!

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