I don’t plan on doing this often but I thought it might be good to talk about this game as I put about forty hours into it and found it to be a highly flawed yet fascinating experiment. Now myself qualify as a big fan of the final fantasy series, having played and completed Final fantasy’s 1 through 10, 12 and now 13. Seven was my very first introduction to the very concept of an RPG and Eight was the first one I ever finished. I have a lot of love for this series so I guess that’s why I can label this with confidence as the worst main Final Fantasy title. Of course going into it I knew this wasn’t going to be a stand out title. I heard many of the complaints about it, all of which are sadly true.
This game is liner, and I mean that in every sense of the word. The majority, if not all, of the game has you running down a straight hallway with little deviations and while your surroundings may change that straight line doesn’t change. People say that 30 hours in the game opens up but what this really means is that at the 30 hour mark you reach a area called the Archylte Steppe and it gives you a taste of what this game could have been. But it’s only one wide open plane, before long you are forced into the corridors again. It is true that final fantasy games in general are linear as you need to follow a path to reach the boss but in those cases at least the path had branches that lead to items and at any point you could just exit the area, climb on an airship and go somewhere else. 30 hours into FF13 you are offered a teleport system but this pertains to a single part of the game and it just allows you to go to other parts of a pretty linear path. In this regard its as though the game is putting in gameplay as an obligation and gives you only the bare minimum to achieve it. Here’s a path, kill everything on it and get to the next part of the story. When taking this into account, the actual gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII feels like padding.
So what about that story then? Surely if the focus was on the story it’s bound to be something special right? Well that’s what I figured. FF13 story has ambition, and I can respect that but it has massive problems. First off, voice acting has not done the series any favors and during this game I had a number of moments where I felt I would think more highly of this story if the lines were not being spoken. Final Fantasy titles have their share of dialogue that sounds good when read but when a voice is put to it can cause it to sound quite stupid. The story itself is needlessly complicated and yet very simple when you get past all the terminology. Humans live in a world called Cocoon which is fueled by Summons/eldions/Fal cie which is under a dictatorship by a pope like figure who has been forcing people to relocate to a survival of the fittest hellish nearby world called Pulse. Our heroes are cursed and given an unspecified mission by a Pulse summon when attempting to fight back against a relocation. If they don’t finish the mission within a unspecified time they turn into monsters. If they do finish the mission then they turn into crystal where they remain till given a new mission. The rest of our story us our heroes wandering about aimlessly trying to guess what their mission is till the big bad shows up and tells them. Though in a game with 13 chapters the villain doesn’t show up until the tenth. So our heroes don’t agree with the big bad, wander about on Pulse and then end up doing exactly what he wants anyway. But everything turns out alright because two characters pull a deus ex machina out of nowhere and save the day. Ladies and Gents, with that paragraph I saved you forty hours of your life. As you can tell by that, a lot of the game is our heroes going about without any direction on what they are supposed to be doing. Most of the time the characters end up committing to some arbitrary goal only to do a heel turn and do something else. One particular moment is when the party goes to Pulse do to the big bad saying so and for no real reason all decide to make their way to Vanile and Fangs hometown in some vague notion that something might happen. What actually does happen is they encounter the big bad again and decide to go back to cocoon basically making the whole Pulse section one big pointless Journey when they are already short on time.
Characters can make up for a lacking story and due to the haphazard nature of the plot I think that’s what was intended. However while some characters have potential, it’s not quite realized. Lightning is an absolute mess of a character. From my understanding and what I believe was intended, she is supposed to be a female version of Cloud from Final Fantasy 7. However Cloud had an arc as well as a character whereas I spent forty hours with Lightning and still don’t get what she’s about. At most I gathered that she’s incompetent, dangerously impulsive and suffers from massive mood swings. In one fmv scene she went from happy to aggressive to encouraging to hopeful and then tears all in the span of about three minutes. She decides to go on a one man assault on the enemy headquarters, convinces a boy to join her and along the way after one single sentence on Summons she does a complete heel turn and begins to try and convince the boy she already convinced otherwise that the attack is foolhardy. She is just a barrel of Mary sue whose actions are purely determined on what the plot needs at that point. Sazh is the best character of the game, being quite likable with a interesting arc involving his son. Some of the best parts of the game involve him and while his son is a bland Gary sue it does give him the most engaging drive in the game. There’s not much to say about Fang. She’s decent strong character who I say some might grow fond off. Only real downside is when the plot forces her into annoying situations such as one where she needs so sort of demotion emotional breakdown in order to gain a summon which involves her saying they should destroy Cocoon instead of saving it. A hissy fit that comes out of nowhere and is immediately forgotten once the summon is beaten. I like Snow, or more I like the idea behind his character. Snow is essentially what happens when you take plot armour away from a stereotypical hero. Snow talks lofty and embraces the risky nature of heroic gambles. However most of the time things which would go perfectly for a action hero, turn out disastrously for Snow. In the beginning he inspires people to take up arms and fight the oppressive army. As a result he gets them all killed, including a party members mother. However not a lot is done with it and he basically remains the same by games end. His relationship with Lightning’s sister is also rather off putting as she looks 14 when he looks mid twenties. Hope is a character who starts of the worst but slowly becomes more tolerable over time. His character arc is given quite a lot of attention but has the problem of concluding too early. He had an interesting chemistry with Snow as Snow mistakenly thought Hope looked up to him when in reality Hope was more interested in killing him for causing his mother’s death. Ultimately he learns to let things go and for the rest of the game becomes a tag along who only says a uplifting speech around the end. Vanile is a very hated character which I can understand as to why. She starts off so alien that I was under the impression that she wasn’t even human and had difficulty with human concepts. Seeing as her dialogue generally made no sense. As the story goes on her weirdness is hugely toned down and any gripes that remain would be about her rather annoying voice. As for minor characters, they don’t make much of an impact. Most of them are there to provide the mains with some sort of revelation or understanding and there are not many appearances from them in the entire game. One particular moment that comes to mind is when a character called Raines showed up as a boss. When he appeared everyone acted familiar with him but I couldn’t recall just who this guy was. I later remembered that he was a man who appeared in one cut-scene for a few minutes about twenty hours ago.
Let me be frank, the Paradigm system may be good for managing fast paced combat but the depth of its mechanics is lower than that of the first Final Fantasy. Here’s the basic rundown, you can assign different roles to each character such as Medic, commando, ravager, etc. Each of these roles is setting the CPU to a certain manner. In this case, Healing, Attack and magic attack. You cannot control your other party members, only the leader. You can switch between six different variations like Commando, Ravager, Ravager or Commando, Sentinel, Medic. You cannot switch the Paradigm of a single character and if your character is set to one role they cannot use abilities from another one. Meaning you cannot have a mage alternate between attack magic and healing without changing the roles of the entire party. Same for you, if you are a Commando then you are stuck using physical attacks. This cuts down the number of strategies immensely but what makes matters worse is that you will barely be strategizing at all. Here are the two things you will be doing for the entirety of FFXIII. Switching Paradigms and pressing auto battle. True you can pick your own commands but it’s often pointless as auto battle picks the best ones already out of your limited move set. And you might occasionally make use of items and summons. But this is pretty much how the majority of fights go in FFXIII, Switch Paradigm, auto battle. The system has been simplified down to the level that they might as well just make the main character a CPU too. Another part of the system to mention would be staggering, where once you dealt enough attacks to a enemy it stuns them and allows you to attack it for a time with your damage dealt being increased the more punishment you dish out while its staggered. This basically makes the battles a rush to stagger your enemies as it is the only time you put out real damage. Due to this in FFXIII, speed is everything.
The the equipment and leveling is equally abysmal. You get two pieces of equipment, a weapon and a accessory. That’s it. No Armour, no shield. Nothing. Later on you can level up to equip two more accessories but unless you are trying to stave off a status effect the difference is negligible. There are also no defense stats. You can level up your weapons and accessories by using materials gathered from enemies which makes getting new ones pointless as they will always be weaker than what you currently have. Leveling is a pain as instead of getting exp and leveling up random stats automatically, you are given something called CP which you use to level up your character up a chain of upgrades to health, attack, magic or gain new skills. The path is strictly liner though and adds only a layer of tedium as every time you gain enough CP you need to go into the menu, and manually level up each of the six characters one at a time. There is different paths for each Paradigm role but you only unlock all the roles near the end of the game and it takes twice as much CP to level up a character in a role that wasn’t set for them and even then they with never learn the same amount of skills as someone who is set in that role. So what your characters are going to be has already been determined by the time you get the option to level them up differently. But the biggest problem is that regardless of how much your character’s stats go up, it never feels as though you have gotten stronger. I could be adding over a hundred points to strength and yet barely be doing much more damage than before. The music is just decent which for a final fantasy game is fairly disappointing. The battle theme is good and the main theme is alright though heavily overplayed throughout the game. For the most part the soundtrack isn’t that noticeable and there is a song played in the Pulse area of the game which is a tune similar to a elevator wait music. The game is admittedly graphical beautiful which is pretty impressive for a game six years old. In reflection FFXIII is a hard game to recommend. It has numerous problems and while it is a fascinating experiment, it misses more than it hits. There were times I enjoyed FFXIII, but for any moment of fun there was three moments of tedium. It wasn’t an easy game to finish and at times I had to force myself to play it. Still while I am glad I played it, I don’t recommend it. I am just hoping FFXIII-2 fixes a number of problems that were in this title.