Final Fantasy XIII review
Mystic Quest 2
I just want to get a few things out of the way. First off, I don't hate Final Fantasy XIII for silly and usually unfounded reasons like linearity, lack of towns and anything else that feels like window dressing. Next, I don't hate Final Fantasy XIII because of any apparent casualizations - JRPGs never really tiptoed into hardcore territory until the first Shin Megami game on the PS2, and if they came anywhere near it beforehand, it was probably mediocre anyway. Finally, I don't hate Final Fantasy XIII because it's linear. By rule of thumb, all JRPGs are linear. You could argue that the older JRPGs at least try to make it look like it's not linear, but I'd counter that with this - the story doesn't progress if you don't go where you're meant to go. It'll stay where it is and you'll never finish the game. JRPGs are story based, which is why they're linear. The only thing I have against it is that... seriously, has anybody from Square played Half Life 2? THAT is how you mask linearity, satisfying both parties! But other than that, to hate a JRPG for linearity is just silly.
No. I hate Final Fantasy XIII because it's shit! It's essentially the Load or Cold Lake of the Final Fantasy series. Just in case you thought that Final Fantasy or Square couldn't go any lower, you know you can do worse - it's called Final Fantasy XIII. But I'm getting ahead of myself, because hey, maybe this might redeem Square... pfft, are you kidding me? I don't know about anybody else, but this game pretty much destroyed Square's credibility! Rather than make an enjoyable JRPG just like the good old days or a refreshingly excellent experience, they decided to *bleep* our wallets with a JRPG that has no semblance of coherency or fun. Nope, this game is nothing more than a collection of pretty pictures with excellent music playing over them (and before anybody has a go at me for saying that this is excellent, you know what, I'm taking what I can get - besides, just because your precious Nobuo Uematsu isn't behind the composition doesn't mean the music will suck). In fact, this should've been a movie - no wait, let me correct myself. *ahem* This should've been SOLD as a movie, because there's so little actual gameplay in it, that it may as well be a movie! Hell, didn't Quantic Dream advertise Heavy Rain as a game that works like a movie? At least Quantic Dream were being honest - in fact, I've found more gameplay in Heavy Rain than in Final Fantasy XIII. In Heavy Rain, you have to use every button on the controller (and even the crappy Sixaxis - by the way, if you're looking into buying Heavy Rain, get a Move and get the Move Edition; much better than the Sixaxis) and press the right one quickly; in Final Fantasy XIII, you hold up on the left analogue stick and just press X. Sometimes press triangle. Hooray.
"But... but you do that in all Final Fantasy games" - well, yes and no. While it is true that you spend most of your time in Final Fantasy games pressing the X button and holding the d-pad/control stick in a direction, typically, you tend to do more than just holding up and mashing the X button. I mean yeah, in fights against enemies, you'll probably find yourself mashing it so you can use the attack command because it tends to be strong enough to put a dent in the enemy's HP. It's only against stronger enemies and bosses that you'll sift through menus to cast spells to either deal more damage to them or heal yourself. That... isn't quite the case in Final Fantasy XIII, because for the most part, you can hammer the X button. Why? Because of the auto-battle command, which selects the best commands for that situation. I guess you could say it goes with the fact that it uses the ATB system just like the Super Nintendo and PS1 Final Fantasy games, in which you wait for a meter to fill and then input your commands, but this just comes across as *bleep*ing lazy - on those Final Fantasies, you had to think on your feet - cast the spell, attack or die? Oops, waited too long - dead. Here, it does all the thinking for you, and all you really get to do is press the X button. So much fun! Golly, I love it when games play themselves while I get to appreciate pretty graphics!
The only thing you really have to do is switch paradigms when you need to access different abilities. Yep, instead of having a dedicated hard hitter and spellcasters, your six comrades can switch between six jobs, like swordsman, sentinel, status buffer/debuffer, black mage, white mage and healer. Aside from the fact that the latter two could be condensed into one class, the classes are basic enough. However, it's not that simple - you have to mix and match between three fighters. What combinations do you want to have? Well, ones that can build off of each other, like ones that can protect and heal, or ones that can *bleep* shit up (whether it's attacking in conjunction with debuffing the enemy or just launching a full on assault, it's up to you) - you have to experiment! After setting up a few combinations, you get to utilize them in battle, and honestly, these are the only "on the fly" decisions you'll ever make in battle, because thankfully, you have to actually press L1 and quickly choose which combination would work best for that current situation. Honestly, this is as close as you're going to get to fast and intense action in this game, and it's quite sad, really, because when you first switch, you have to sit and watch a long sequence in which you switch... riiiiiiight.
It's all to satisfy this thing where you can stagger the enemy. It's basically where if you keep biting and gnawing at an enemy to fill a meter on the top right hand corner, you can "stagger" them, meaning they'll take more damage, and the bigger enemies will actually stagger whenever you hit them. The auto battle command will also select bigger attacks. Usually before you stagger them, it'll select basic attacks and spells, but once you stagger them, it'll kick it up a few notches with second and third level spells. I've neglected to mention that there's no MP - most special attacks and spells are just like the regular attack. The only difference, really, comes in the form of the higher level abilities, which take up more space on the attack meter than the lower level ones. That, my friends, is just silly. Now you can spam whatever the *bleep* you want because hey, zero MP? HELL YEAH - oh, and I know I mentioned that most special attacks don't require MP, but here's the thing: You're not going to be using them often enough. Sure, there's the scanning ability, but...
I get it - it wants to be fast, flowing like a stream and furious like a bull. The issue is that it comes at the expense of strategy, in that THERE IS NONE! Well, except for the Paradigms, but that's as simple as "hmm should I switch to my healer/attacker/buffer combo or risk it and just go for a full on assault". Other than that, you can simply hit auto battle and... that's about it. So instead, let's insert our good old friend, artificial difficulty. So if you lose, it probably means you didn't grind enough, so out you go to fight the same group of enemies over and over again so you level up and either increase your stats or learn new abilities for that class... and for that class only. Sounds great, right? You have to be kidding me!
Just when you think they couldn't make battling any more artificially difficult, they make it so that the character you control (oh yes, you only control one character) is not allowed to die. If your character dies, it's game over. No opportunity for your comrades to revive you - nope, Square can't design actual challenging battle scenarios, so... enjoy your stupid restriction.
I really have no idea what Square was aiming for with this game. Were they trying to appeal to the American market? They already struck a chord with Final Fantasy VII and X (but if we're being truly honest, Pokemon was what really made JRPGs relevant), but then again, American gamers of the 90s were different from today's lot, and you can see it in their respective trends - the 90s had platformers while today has shooters, which would have vastly different audiences. So I go to ask myself... were they trying to appeal to the American market? The answer would be yes, followed by copious amounts of laughter from Square's end because Americans are "oh so dumb" - if we're going by this game, which has a battle system with little strategy that mostly comes down to pressing X... and nothing more. Yeah, Americans sure are dumb!
You may notice that I've neglected to mention that there are no towns, customizing and exploration (and the latter only becomes "available" like 40 hours in). Well, why should I put effort into explaining those when they didn't put a lick of effort into developing them? Here's your comment - a big bag of AIR! There, I've summed that all up for you. Besides, my beef was with the combat engine; anything else is just window dressing. I mean, that's what Square thought; why not think the same way about that?
Oh, but don't think for a second that I'm done; I've only just started. What really kills Final Fantasy XIII is the story. Seriously, nothing about this story makes any sense! Words like "cocoon" and "l'cie" and other such dribble will come flying in your face and you're not going to understand what they mean because they just slap them in your face for no rhyme or reason, save for maybe... I don't know, because they can? In the beginning, they just throw these terms around, hoping that you'll connect the dots on your own, like how l'cie are not human or some shit and how they could bring about the end of the world... It's never made too clear, even after you're done finishing the game. But yeah, about the whole "connecting the dots" thing I mentioned... yeah, since Square thinks people can't make decisions on the fly so they insert some auto battle command and they also think they can't deal with any more strategy than "switch class combos" (or as some would call it, "rock paper scissors"), I don't know they the writers did this. Is it because they're incompetent storytellers? Well, that what happens when you let amateurs with a thesaurus and little actual knowledge in the literary arts write your stories - that, or the older writers are getting rusty.
So while you're getting flabbergasted by terms, you still have the actual story to deal with. From what I could gather, your group of fighters get turned into l'cie by a big monster that they call a fal'cie, and you have to accomplish some sort of objective before you get turned into crystals. All the while, you have to run away from some soldiers who have borrowed bits and pieces of their armor from the Helghast. That's just the basic version, which is what they go off of for a good... 15 hours, so I can already detect a big problem - poor pacing. The thing with an RPG (regardless of whether it's from America or Japan) is that there has to be at least a decent narrative that progresses. Sadly, the narrative progresses for the first few hours and just rolls in pig shit for 12 hours, hardly moving, if at all. Even when it finally progresses, it stops once you get to Jurassic Park and pretty much keeps that up until you get to the final boss.
Actually, while we're going on about "connecting the dots", the main villain isn't some guy with long/crazy silver/blue hair; it's actually some abstract, pseudo-philosophical bullshit! I mean, maybe the idea sounded better on paper, but in execution, it didn't work. Villains aren't meant to be some abstract idea that you wind up feeling indifferent about; they're meant to be schemers, doers, actors, maybe even psychotic - you know what a good villain is, right? Remind them! Well, actually, they do have a villain that demonstrates some basic qualities as he's the sort that'd kick babies and *bleep* virgins, but he gets killed fairly quickly, and we just end up waiting to see if there's anything worth killing not because we want to finish the game, but because we like to see them squirm for what they're done or what they're about to do. Unfortunately, that one villain was the only one, and they just cheaply kept us interested.
Don't even think that our gang of fighters are any better. Nope, our gang of fighters are mostly pitiful characters that don't do anything except aggravate the hell out of you. For instance, Vanille... so peppy and yet so... illegal. She was pretty much made for fanservice, but I think Square ought to take notes from the Dead Or Alive series in this regard because it doesn't work. She's not sexy or kinky or any of that fanservice-y garbage; she's just annoying. Hope could give Tidus a run for his money in how often he whines about shit because everything he says could be condensed to "bitch bitch bitch" (although at least he doesn't participate in a cutscene where he awkwardly laughs with Vanille... oh god, I hate that scene in Final Fantasy X so much). Lightning would seem like the kind of character that takes no crap from anyone, but she just ends up being the kind of person with sand in her *bleep*. Oh, and she's pretty uninteresting. Same for Fang - nondescript, moving on. Snow is the kind of character that gives 4Kids wet dreams, with his super corny or sappy as shit dialogue... I really wish it was at least played for laughs (like anything 4Kids had ever done), but we're meant to take this guy seriously. Yeah, that's not good because it's IMPOSSIBLE to take him seriously and the writing and atmosphere don't really allow you to take it as a joke. It always feels like it's meant to be an emotional moment, and yet... here comes this joker. Crap! Sazh is probably the only good character, with a personality you'll end up liking and moments you CAN take seriously - in fact, some of his emotional moments can really get to you. It's like Sazh should've been on the cover instead of Lightning!
There are three ways you can go about a JRPG - stagnation, deterioration, or a glimmer of hope. Let's face it, JRPGs are on the verge of dying due to the fact that they're all the same, or just poor experiments into getting away from stagnation, but in doing so, they become dog turds that show the JRPG's deterioration. It's rare that the experiment actually turns out to be a glimmer of hope... and unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIII is a dog turd that'll add onto the pile of dog turds that keep JRPGs in the state that they are in; afraid to deviate from the norm just in case it turns out bad (anybody who justifies it with "too different" is an idiot). It's a shame, because had Square decided to fine tune their ideas and worked on the story to make it... make sense and interest us in a more legitimate way, this could've been a good game. Ah well. Just another dog turd on the sidewalk. Then again, that's typical of Square post-Enix merge. If they're not publishing it, assume it's shit, because that's what it usually is.
I still don't understand why linear = bad, though.
About the author
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