Re-Evaluating Final Fantasy XIII
Editor's Note: I guess I should say this isn't an official ScrewAttack review (if you can call it a review). Now that I got that out of the way, I'd just like to say that this is a mighty fine piece of work and because of it, I think I'll check out some games I haven't played in awhile. Thanks Englishman!
Back in early 2010, I was very excited for the release of Final Fantasy XIII. The series had always impressed, and nostalgic memories of VII, VIII and X fueled my excitement for the game. Add in the hype that was generated at the time and I was desperate to get my hands on it. I preordered FFXIII, paying £40 for the privilege. And when I got the game... well I was pretty disappointed. The reviews for the game generally highlighted the main problems and it's fair to say that I wasn't the only one who was annoyed with the experience. I thought the game was terrible and put it as my second most disappointing game ever. I got to Chapter 11 but gave up in annoyance.
I left the game for two years without thinking about it again. I nearly sold it earlier this year when I cleared out a bunch of my old games, keeping it only because I wouldn't come close to getting the same amount I paid for it. Not long after, I saw a video for the game on Youtube and thought 'Maybe I should try it again?' After blitzing my way through, I managed to beat the game recently. I decided that I'd do a blog, comparing my impressions after first playing it to my recent experiences and see how my feelings have changed.
I'll be looking over three areas in this comparison: Story, Gameplay and Presentation. I'll compare my thoughts from 2010 to 2012 and see how things have changed. There be mild spoilers but I'll try to steer clear of major issues.
On the world of Cocoon divine beings known as Fal'Cie create a land suitable for human beings to live and work, free from fears of the world below, known as Pulse. When a Pulse artifact is found on Cocoon, fear spreads among the populace and the Fal'Cie act to stem the panic by initiaing a Purge of the affected area. This Purge brings together a band of people who have their own motivations. Through their actions, they are branded as l'Cie, beings which are feared by ordinary humans which turn to monsters if they do not complete a Focus. The heroes search for a way to change their fate.
What I thought then:
There's a certain problem with some sci-fi and fantasy where they casually throw out alien concepts and expect the viewer/reader to instantly know what they are talking about. This is something I experienced with FFXIII where terms like Fal'Cie and l'Cie were dropped into the conversation without much explanation given. Yet this was nowhere near as annoying as the pacing of the game. The chapters I played the first time around moved at a glacial pace, with pretty much the first eight chapters being the heroes 'running away from the bad guys'. It was only after the true villain was revealed that things finally started to pick up, yet my patience was worn out. The heroes had gotten fairly tiresome as well. Some like the ex-soldier Lightning (basically a female Cloud), the pilot Sazh and the fairly mysterious Fang were endearing enough to care about but others grew tiresome. Snow (the fella with the big coat) is missing for half the game, Vanille seemed grating for her over-cheerfulness and I considered Hope as one of the worst characters in video game history, mainly for his horrible whinny attitude.
How I feel now:
I still have issues with the fairly glacial placing of the story. If a game contains chapters, it really shouldn't spend nearly three quarters of them just simply going over the character's motivations. Yet at the same time, possibly since I knew that things would go slowly this time around, I could appreciate how these early chapters develop each character. Lightning develops some real emotions (like Cloud!), Snow becomes more realistic though still fairly idealistic. Even Hope changes, going from horribly whiny to... well just normal really. The later chapters also shift the focus from character drama to more widescale 'fate of the world' stuff. It's more cinematic and generally more interesting. I have to admit that the last three chapters are far better and I was genuinely engaged with the story at the end.
FFXIII is basically split into two forms of gameplay. There's the exploation on the overworld, where the heroes work through Cocoon's various locales and there's the battles in the game. The game alters the traditional battle system by only allowing the player to have direct control over one character, with the other two controlled by the computer. The paradigm system allows the player to give each character roles, e.g. one character using magic, one using physical attacks and one providing healing support.
What I thought then:
A lot of people, including myself, had the same complaint regarding the game's world; that there wasn't one. FFXIII did away with a number of traditional RPG conventions like towns, inns and a 'World Map'. The game's experience seemed very streamlined. Shops became accessible through the save system, inns were unnecessary as health was renewed after every battle. Basically, every section was 'start at Point A and fight through monsters to reach B' with very little deviation. The main complaint with FFXIII was that the game was too linear, with many suggesting that it was basically a series of fancy corridors.
I had little love for the battle system either. Only having direct control over one character was a major frustration, as was the ridiculous idea that once that character died, the game was over. The paradigm system was initally confusing as well, though as time passed it became clearer how putting characters into different roles suited some enemies more than others. The Crystarium (similar to FFX's Sphere Grid) helped to develop these abilities, though it also meant that battles were fairly similar until the roles a character could pick expanded.
How I feel now:
The linear nature of the early part of the game simply doesn't change on a second playthrough. While the world may look large, the player is restricted only to a series of pathways throughout, with little opportunity to deviate. However, having the patience to go through these areas is rewarded later in the game. The world opens up and more variety is offered as a result. The game finally seems to offer more freedom in what the player does. Even so, this section comes far later than expected. I'm sure most, like myself, would have given up before reaching this point.
Whilst this remained frustrating though, I began to appreciate the battle system more. The paradigm system creates more focus on having the right tactical set up in each fight, which can get interesting during boss battles when having to switch between set ups on the fly. It also helped that I understood how FFXIII's weapon system worked. When I first played the game I assumed that, like previous FF games, a better weapon would simply be found along the way, so I never really used the upgrade system. This uses materials to upgrade weapons, making them more powerful. As a result, battles were far less difficult. I guess my assumption about how the game would be played hampered my experience the first time around.
What I thought then:
Graphically, I had no complaints with the game at all. The game has a 'future fantasy' look to it which is brilliantly realised with some wonderful looking environments. Character models are brilliantly detailed and defined. FFX was the first Final Fantasy game where I genuinely was wowed by the graphics but there was always an awkward transition between cutscene and in-game graphics. No problems here, with a consistent impressive style. I was significantly impressed.
The audio wasn't quite the same. The voice work was pretty impressive, with a few 'Hey I recognise that voice!' moments. The music though just didn't seem to leave as much of an impression though. Previous FF games had some great musical moments, especially VI and VII. FFXIII just seemed to lack the sort of music to inspire.
How I feel now:
Perhaps I'm showing my age, but the game still looks seriously impressive to me in the two years that have passed. Playing late into the game gives a great look at the open world, as well as some well designed areas in Cocoon itself. A second playthrough also showed me how good the game's cutscenes are, showing off how impressive Square's CGI can be. There's a cutscene at the opening of Chapter 12 which is probably one of the best I've ever seen.
I also noticed that, while most of the game's audio is still fairly unremarkable, there are a few battle themes that really stand out and come close to being of the quality of the other games. They might not be the best ever, but it's not as bad as I originally thought.
Two years ago, I gave up with Final Fantasy XIII in sheer frustration and disappointment. After shelling out full price to pick the game up on Day 1, I felt like I might as well have thrown my money away. The game felt like it had thrown out good conventions for streamlined, linear gameplay and tiresome characters. I felt that the game was one of the most disappointing ever, and went along with the popular idea that the Final Fantasy series was done.
But my recent experience with the game has changed my opinion. The flaws are still there; the characters ranging from good to weak, the gameplay turned from world explorer to corridor wanderer and more. Yet I also found that opening my self to the game's ideas, such as weapon upgrading and the paradigm system, improved the experience greatly. As well as that, some of the issues that bugged me the first time around seemed less troublesome on a repeated playthrough.
So do I still think the game is awful? No not really. It isn't a good game by Final Fantasy standards but a pretty decent game, albeit with some noticeable flaws. Perhaps the best way of expressing my changed views is my reaction to FFXIII-2. When it was being trailed earlier in the year, I simply rolled my eyes in disappointment. Now I've seen it on sale for only £7 and I'm seriously considering it.
I really should consider it. Really nicely done.
Trophies and achievements are for trolling crazy people. I wouldn't miss them if they were done away with.
Do it you magnificent limey bastard!
To be fair, I only found good things about it after picking it up again. Someone else might get it and think it's even worse than I originally did.
Just never played IX before. Might pick it up one day.
No, and his assertion was preposterous at best. I seriously recommend FFIX as it is my absolute favorite (and Hironobu Sakiguchi's favorite) Final Fantasy period. Its a throwback to the old NES/SNES FFs. Its $10 on PSN, well worth the price of one of the greatest fantasies ever conceived.
I commend you for doing something most people can't seem to do, look past the flaws and appreciate its beauty.
Like I said before, Hope is totally fair game. I could find no redeeming qualities in him until like Chapter 11. Anyway, on the point of people expecting like the other Science Fiction fantasies (VII,VIII), its such an unfair, unrealistic comparison. If people look at the series as a whole, there's less Sci Fi and more traditional fantasy. I'm actually really excited about Versus 13 as it will mesh fantasy/Sci Fi/Modern Day.
I have yet to play this game yet FF12 did not do it for me for a myriad of reasons so I'm skeptical in playing this one, especially after hearing what Jared said. Still, it was worth reading this for sure.
Really? Don't get me wrong I view X as having an awesome combat system, very strategy oriented, and like most of the other games in the FF series graphically it still holds up.(ff8 on up basically for this particular subject group) Hell the cut scenes in ff8 still look amazing considering it's only ps1 and that's despite all my problems with that game. I see 10 as an early experiment with some major problems like spotty voice work, focus on the wrong character(changing it to yuna would have made Tidus a lot more bearable, hell maybe even make him a very interesting player to the story) idiotic final boss especially in design, and honestly the story went stupid faster than the speed of light when seymore entered. At least 13 has solid basing over most of X problems, but despite that I look at 13 like I do 10. An experiment. People have said 13-2 is a vast improvement over the first and I can see that as 13 was their base experiment to lean the ps3.
On a side note, to reply on one of your other statements I think the pass X gets is because our standards for what a good game makes has changed drastically past FF10. Most of the reviews I remember on that said it was linear but still gave it a perfect score.
I think I may be the few people who have no problem with Hope, he just seemed to act like a typical teenager. I.e. stupid and much whinier givent he circumstances. Hell I'm surprised he didn't start writing "dark poetry" in a diary after the whole branding bit.
Hmm, maybe I should pick up this game, after all!
1.I thought the story was A-okay, even if there were a few hiccups hither unt thither.
2. I got used to the paradigm system after a while, but I still didn't like it. I get the functional reasons behind controlling a single character and protecting them, but they could've found a better and more logical approach. The upgrade system irritated me. I don't know 'bout y'all, but I had a hell of a time getting money. I was always wary of parting with my materials (once I figured out that weapons had to be upgraded for the most part) because I feared I might need them for upgrading something later, and materials never dropped as often as I needed them. As a result, the materials I did have I was hesitant to sell because I didn't know if I'd get a decent amount of them anytime soon (unless they were specifically meant to be sold).
3. It's Square. Square does pretty like no other. Sadly, with Nobuo Uematsu-sama's departure (as well as the dude who actuall created Final Fantasy, whose name I can't recall now), a lot of creative vision (and in this case master composition) was lost in the process. The music was by no means bad, in fact it was quite good for the most part, but it didn't feel like Final Fantasy to me.
By the by, VII, VIII, and X but not IX? I place VIII on the same level as this, whereas IX is one of my favs. Explain yourself sir! (if you wish, you've no obligation.)
I posted something like this ages ago! It was my first blog post, though I don't really know how to add fancy images etc so it probably got less attention.
It's well-documented how much I loathe the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy and Final Fantasy in general of recent years; however this is an excellent, well-balanced revisit of the game. This reaffirms that the problems I have with this game are the same that I had when X first came out (linear gameplay and some rather unlikeable characters), but another look does reveal some gems for each. For every Tidus and Hope, there's an Auron and Sazh. Do I feel that they live up to the standard initially set by the Final Fantasy series? No, but they are still decent games in their own right.
I am really happy some people can give Final Fantasy XIII a second chance and approach it with an open mind. The game had so much potential but the Japanese always sees emotions the likes Lightning has as negative quality (even though Lightning was cool for punching Snow) and force her to accept the power of friendship cliche nonsense and gave Sazh as little screen time as possible in the sequel due to the fact westerners like him.
As much as I like XIII, Square-Enix shouldn't drag XIII to become a trilogy, XIII-2 could've been an alternate setting and timeline with the same characters but different situations but the developers grabbed the wrong end of the stick.
I just hope for Lightning Returns to be properly dark with immortality as a curse and no Mog.
Possibly. I saw a few reviews just before I got it that ranged from 'It's good but linear' to 'WHAT HAVE THEY DONE, MY BELOVED FINAL FANTASY AARRGGHH!!!' I guess when I started the game I noticed the problems straight away as a result. By the point I gave up I think I still would have been bugged by it's problems even if I wasn't aware of them straight away.
I always liked XIII. I played the game expecting it to open up and it never really did but I got really into the combat system. Which, for a game this linear, was very important. The one thing that really frustrated me was the inability to grind. I hate level caps. Than again, I appreciated the difficulty of this game. Side note, I had a friend quit playing this game on it's difficulty alone. haha
As I keep saying about Final Fantasy XIII: If they combined the story of the original with the less-linear gameplay of its sequel, it would've been a game worthy of Final Fantasy quality.