« | Home | »

Opinion – Final Fantasy 13

posted on September 24th, 2010 by christian

For weeks, I have been trying to write something, anything, about Final Fantasy 13, but the task has proven difficult.  One reason is that anything worth saying about the game has been stated already, and by better writers.  Another is that I continue to suffer from the longest period of writer’s block I have ever encountered.  Recently, I came to a third conclusion about my struggles; you can’t say much about a game that itself has no point. That’s the best way I can describe FF13.  It exists as multiple pieces and components, none of which work together to create a unified experience.

This problem runs throughout the entire product.  Take the environments, for example.  They serve no purpose beyond offering the player a new color palette every few hours.  The trails you take through each chapter are so linear that you can never fully appreciate the splendor, and the dialogue between characters is so far removed from the locations in which they take place that you could plant any given scene in another location, and it would work just as well.  I can’t even say that the environments all look gorgeous, since some of them rely entirely too much of static, hi res background textures and artwork.

The story, which should be the high point of the game, feels similarly disposable.  The early hours of the game are filled with information on FF13’s setting and societies, enough to give the player a basic idea of what is going on. Rather than expound on this information with details or answers, the cast spends the next few hours repeating the same concepts and fears which they (or someone else)  already expressed.  I’m not sure if this is simply a case of the repetition endemic to game and anime scripts, or if it is necessary because the game’s naming conventions are terrible.  In either case, the result of such roundabout dialogue is that the actual twists and revelations feel empty, since it took so long to actually get to them.  It hurts even more when you discover that the game’s text based encyclopedia contains crucial background information which is absent from the cutscenes.  So we wind up with a game that  has to spend too much time explaining the difference between a “Fal’cie” and a “L’cie”, or what a “Focus” is, all because someone couldn’t stop with the made up words.

Meet the first enemy in FF13

FF13’s combat could take multiple paragraphs to explain in detail, but those words would be wasted.  The short explanation is that your party can change classes on the fly in order to use different combinations of abilities.  The goal of battle is to fill up an enemy’s stun meter, which in turn lets you deal significant damage for a short period of time.  Despite claims of being a massive overhaul, combat in FF13 doesn’t feel that far removed from its predecessors.  The level up system is a permutation of FF10’s Sphere Grid, and the boss battles in particular feel like an MMO battle, much like those in FF12.  FF13’s combat is appreciable in theory, since the existence of the stun meter forces the player to pay attention and strategize, rather than simply mash the ‘x’ button.  You will, however, figure out the strategy for every monster in a given area well before the area actually ends.  At this point you’re practically running on autopilot, and yes, you will have nothing to do but mash the ‘x’ button.  If only the level designers communicated with the folks behind the combat.  If only anyone at Square collaborated with each other.  Perhaps then we’d have wound up with a winner, instead of wasted ideas.

I haven’t yet  finished FF13.  I have been told that the game opens up greatly in the second half, allowing for more exploration and better battles.  This doesn’t entice me to push forward.  Rather, it makes me more eager to be done with it.  It has been argued that the first half of the game so a linear and hand holding in order to please the casual players who come to Final Fantasy for the story.  And since these fans are less likely to finish the game, it allows Square to make the second half better tailored to hardcore jRPG players.  This logic is faulty.  If someone plays a game to enjoy the story, they’re not going to stop playing halfway through (this kind of gamer rarely, if ever, walks away from a bad story).  And if someone is interested in the number crunching and level grinding endemic to jRPGs, the last thing they need is a game with a tutorial spanning close to ten hours.  Square would have been better off choosing to focus on one of these approaches.  That would mean making the entire experience an easy, prolonged tutorial, and cutting all of the clutter out of the initial chapters so that the story could be condensed into 30 or so hours (it’s possible, trust me).  The other option would be to throw players into the second half right away, spending five or ten minutes to explain  the events that occurred in the first half.   The story already starts en media res, so it wouldn’t be any sort of stretch.

Square wouldn’t do this, however, because they’re no longer interested in making a good videogame.  Their goal with FF13 was to hit every demographic and every bullet point from every marketing meeting presentation.  All in order to make sure every single breed of otaku and gamer is treated to the whatever stimulus triggers their Pavlovian fanboy response. Square knows that they do business in an age where “girl with glasses” is a feature which will cause a measurable percentage of their consumer base to forgive and and all flaws.  From this perspective, Final Fantasy 13 is a job well done.  For anyone interested in being entertained by their videogames, however, this is poison.  Not only is it constantly boring, but it is emblematic of the kind of approach which is likely to become more common in the industry with every passing year.

4 Comments

  1. chris said on September 24, 2010:

    I could spend a long time doing so, or just say “I agree”. I wasted an entire weekend “trying” this game. I felt sick for the next week, and I’m not sure whether it was the game or the amount of alcohol I had to imbibe to make it seem interesting. I never did finish it (no, it’s not more interesting when it “opens up”).

    Music’s nice, though.

  2. Marie said on September 25, 2010:

    I discovered you guys about a month ago when I was looking up info on Ys. I like that you won’t hesitate to call a spade a spade, and back it up with honesty and thought.

    FFXIII leaves me in a muddle. I positively HATED the first 28 or so hours. 28! And I was only going on at that point because I had paid money for the game and was going to see it through. I felt the characters were intensely unlikeable (save for Sazh, and I felt bad that he was mashed into an uncomfortable mix of “Voice of Reason” AND “Comic Relief), experienced the same frustration with the backgrounds, the disconnectedness of the dialogue…. Something you hinted at is the problem with how the encyclopedia is handled. I have to say, though, that the problem goes deeper than that. I have no problem reading an -engaging- background log – it was part of what I enjoyed about Mass Effect 1. The problem with this one is it was basically butt-cover for how bad the cut scenes are. I was reading the log immediately after the relevant scene to actually get character inner monologue, and sometimes even basic action and detail. Very sloppy.

    So, I would say that up to that point, FFXIII wasn’t just a bad game. It was a -horrible- game.

    Once I was done with the stupid plot, and the insipid characters however….. Travelling all over Gran Pulse and taking on the side missions is a stupid amount of fun. Part of your mileage here will depend on how you feel about the battle system. I really enjoyed flipping paradigms about for maximum efficiency – that scratched some itch of mine and really carried me through the post-game. So much that I went ahead and spent another 70+ hours earning the Platinum trophy. I’ve never been compelled to do that before, so it must have scratched that itch pretty darn well.

    And so what do you have when you’re done? An annoying 30 or so hours so that you can play World of Warcraft, basically. It WoWs quite well, with a better schedule of rewards than an MMO can afford to give out.

    But when I think of Final Fantasy….. I think of Yuna’s journey across Spira, disliking Lulu at first, but really coming to understand her. I think of being freaked out by Sephiroth, and then coming to see why he was so twisted. I remember in the final dialogue Ultimecia gives during her boss fight getting chills when I understood why she was doing the stupid things she was.

    I remember Uematsu’s scores soaring over it all, stirring my emotions, making me feel the adventure. As a sort of tonic to this experience, I’ve been playing FFVI again. Character development could be better, but from the moment you control an enslaved Terra to massacre a village protecting it’s way of life, you know this is a serious tale. And, you know, actually memorable music. It’s weird to me that my game file reads 104 hours, but I can’t hum a note of the soundtrack.

    Sorry this is so lengthy, and rambling. But this seemed like a place were I could try to think out loud about what the heck FFXIII really is, and people would get it.

  3. christian said on September 26, 2010:

    Thanks for the comment Marie. I’ll chime in on some of your thoughts.

    – I agree with you on Sazh. He’s a great character, but he was caught between being the comically “old” man who is anything but, and the genuine “old” man who could pass wisdom to his comrades.

    – If it wasn’t for the encyclopedia in FF13, I’d have never known what Cid’s intentions were. That’s not a good sign for the cutscenes.

    – I enjoy switching paradigms during combat, but I do find that it loses its luster once you know what to switch to, and when, during battle with a familiar enemy. Just thinking about it now, I bet that issue could have been remedied by something as simple as letting enemies heal and buff each other more frequently.

    – I never mentioned it in the review, but the crafting system in the game is a classic Square treadmill. Turns out it’s best to dump organic items into a weapon, get its multiplier up, and then add the more expensive stuff later on. The game never tells you this, and quite frankly I find the idea of figuring such an arbitrary rule to be not only too much work, but unnecessary work as well. It reminds me of how, in Kingdom Hearts, I couldn’t fuse a new weapon, because I had twenty crystal GEMS, but no crystal SHARDS. There shouldn’t be a difference, other than to make it harder to do anything.

    Thanks again, and enjoy the site.

  4. pat said on September 26, 2010:

    good call on going back to ff vi. its probably the best in the series.

Leave a Reply