written by David Steffen
I have been a loyal fan of the Final Fantasy series of games for a long time. I played the original Final Fanasy on my brother’s NES. The first one in the series I really got into was Final Fantasy VI which I knew as Final Fantasy III in the American numbering scheme, released for the Super NES in 1994.
For those who aren’t familiar with the series, they are a series of menu-controlled turn-based RPG games. They are a series only in the sense of their naming. Except for one or two exceptions, the games do not have any continuing plotline between them. Each game starts afresh with a new world, new storyline, new game mechanics. The quality of the series is a bit uneven from game to game, but even the lows are pretty good, and the highs are really really good.
So, with great anticipation I picked up Final Fantasy XIII more than a year after it was released, and gave it a chance.
The verdict: a waste of $20 (at least I didn’t buy it right away, or it would’ve been a waste of $60). In the low points of the other games in the series, it is generally because of bad difficulty balancing, so that you have to do to much experience building to be able to make progress. Here, the biggest problem was that the game was just boring, right from the very beginning, and it lacked all of the good qualities that made the other ones appealing.
I played Chapters 1 through 3 of the game, which took maybe 4 hours, and made note of many flaws, many of them too much to take for much of a game, but all of them together and I just gave the game up entirely:
1. The map was entirely linear. Often there is a short introductory linear section to help you get a feel for the game and to help get the plot rolling, but never for this long. Final Fantasy is about exploration. Making everything linear ruins it. All it is now is boring fight scenes bridging the gap between cut scenes. Attention Squaresoft: cut scenes are not the point of the games.
2. The fight sequences are set up in such a way that the player isn’t really needed. You get extra points and extra items if you beat enemies fast enough. You can set your secondary characters to class behaviors so that they will do certain things automatically. So you have to waste huge amounts of time just button clicking your primary character while the other characters behave automatically. There’s very little reason to pay attention.
3. The game is over if your primary character dies. There’s no reason for this–there are items that bring characters back to life, and your secondary characters should be able to revive you. There’s no reason for this, and it makes it so that a momentary slip-up at any point can stop you.
4. The save points are so frequent, it just adds to the lack of challenge. Maybe they added more of them when they realized the #3 thing was too restrictive.
5. The motivation of all the characters is just completely unclear right from the beginning. The game takes place in a war-torn district of a city. Squads of troops are coming through with the intent to wipe out the entire population, and some pockets of rebels have set up a resistance to save who they can. One rebel, by the name of Snow, asks for volunteers. Among the volunteers is a mother, who ends up dying in an attack, falling off a bridge even though Snow tries to save her. Her son, Hope, for no reasonable reason, decides that Snow is to blame despite his obvious efforts to save her.
6. The game’s inciting incident depends on all of the characters being incredibly stupid. All of these people know that approaching the magical artifact called the fal’Cie will end badly. Everyone who approaches it has a chance of being turned into a l’Cie, and given some kind of quest. If you fail to do the quest, you are punished by being turned into a zombie-like monster. If you complete the quest, you are..um… rewarded… by being turned into a crystal statue. So, it seems pretty clear that the obvious path is to NOT APPROACH THE DAMNED THING. Yet half a dozen of these characters all decide to it, for little to no reason, when they know full well the consequences. How am I supposed to relate to these people?
7. The plot summaries don’t match the actual visible events. For instance, Hope, the young boy who I mentioned in #5. In the actual cut scenes, the boy seems a bit standoffish and understandably grief-stricken. Then, after each section ends, there’s a summary opened up in the menu to read, and in those summaries it talks about this kid as though he is filled with rage and desparate for revenge. Which didn’t come through in the actual game. I can only assume that the person tasked with writing the summary had no direct contact with the people who directed the cut sequences.
This reminds me, I’ve played all of the games in the main linear numbering series of this game, from Final Fantasy I – Final Fantasy XIII (excepting Final Fantasy XI because it was not really a Final Fantasy game, being a MMORPG). I should write up a summary about which of the games are the best and why.