For as long as I can remember I have been a Final Fantasy player and fan with my first entry into the series being Final Fantasy VII. To be honest, I never beat VII though I have always wanted to. In fact, the very first Final Fantasy title that I actually finished all the way through was the next one in the series and my personal favorite; Final Fantasy VIII. I mention that because like VIII, XIII is considered a black sheep of the Final Fantasy family and even though everyone tried to convince me that they were right and XIII was the worst thing to happen since a Tonberry discovered knives (heh heh Final Fantasy joke dur), I’m here to give my side of the argument why I think XIII wasn’t as terrible as everyone thought.
It’s Got A Great Story
“Cocoon—a utopia in the sky.
Its inhabitants believed their world a paradise. Under the Sanctum’s rule, Cocoon had long known peace and prosperity.
Mankind was blessed by its protectors, the benevolent fal’Cie, and believed that tranquil days would continue forever.
Their tranquility was shattered with the discovery of one hostile fal’Cie.
The moment that fal’Cie from Pulse—the feared and detested lowerworld—awoke from its slumber, peace on Cocoon came to an end.
Fal’Cie curse humans, turning them into magic-wielding servants. They become l’Cie—chosen of the fal’Cie.
Those branded with the mark of a l’Cie carry the burden of either fulfilling their Focus or facing a fate harsher than death itself.
A prayer for redemption. A wish to protect the world. A promise to challenge destiny.
After thirteen days of fates intertwined, the battle begins.”
The story in XIII is not as convoluted as previous Final Fantasy‘s and I feel that it takes the right amount of time slowly unfolding. Yes, it does lay on the jargon pretty thick at times but without side quests to distract you from the main conflict it is pretty easy to keep track of what exactly you and your ragtag group of friends is actually trying to do to save the world. It does take a bit to get going though and for many people it is this slow beginning that seems to turn many a person off. Your team also gets split up very early in the game, with each group taking different routes to get to their destination. It’s a nice concept though and I think it works like chapters in a book, where one chapter is with Lightning and Hope and then the next Chapter focuses on Sazh and Vanille and what they’ve been doing.
Yes there are twists and turns along the way and yes some of them you can see coming, but I feel the build up pays off rather than if everyone rushed to the main goal.
Even on my shitty-ass 30′ standard definition TV the game made my eyes cry happy tears. This game is stunning and is something we’ve come to expect from Square Enix over the years and I feel that it doesn’t disappoint. What’s nice is that there is very little difference in the switch from regular game play graphics to battle and finally to cinematics, which helps keep the whole setting seem more seamless than if the characters were a vastly lower quality than the cinematics. From futuristic techno cityscapes to lush, wild forests and everything in between it certainly is a feast for the eyes.
Dat Battle Theme
This theme will literally stick with you even after you have stopped playing. It feels Final Fantasy while at the same time being a whole new composition and not relying on the traditional battle theme. Love it.
Colourful Cast of Characters
Yes, every Final Fantasy game has a cast of characters and yes, they more or less are typical character archetypes (the mysterious magical girl with a hidden past, the quiet one who has personal struggles to overcome and the cold, stoic leader who actually has a heart of gold), but isn’t that why we play games? If I wanted real people I’d play some stupid solider game where people act as regular boring old people. It’s a fantasy world people! The voice acting I feel is great, although some people may find certain character’s voices grating *cough* Vanille *cough,* but I think it works. One thing I did think of when I was playing was that Fang and Vanille are both from Gran Pulse (spoiler), but they both have Australian voice actors, so a joke I made to myself was that they both … “come from the land down under” *rimshot.*
Linear Is Not Always A Bad Thing
I’m not sure where the idea that linear was a bad thing in gaming came from, but I think especially in an RPG where the focus should be on the story, that the game can be linear and it not be a mark against it. Final Fantasy XIII should have a linear story though, these characters are on a race against time for their own lives and for the world, they really shouldn’t be dilly-dallying around in a town talking to millions of NPC’s who say one thing, just trying to figure out where to go next or to hopefully trigger something within the game’s script to let the player progress. That was a problem with many RPG games of the past and if one decides to break out of the mold, I don’t think we should hold it against it. The story is front and center and the game is all the better for it.
Let’s see “Linear story,” what else was everyone else’s problem with the game? Oh right, the new and improved battle system. Yes, you do stick the game on auto-battle and you only control one character during a battle at any given time, but you don’t just sit there while the game plays itself. The battles are very intense and you really have to pay attention. It’s not turn-based and everything happens in real-time. Oh and you don’t have to put the battles on auto-pilot, you can choose to pick abilities instead of the recommended actions. What I find the most fascinating about the new battle system is that when you discover a new tactic or weakness to use in battle, your allies will remember that and learn to adapt in battle. This is especially cool when you meet a new enemy type and your team just starts throwing everything at it and as soon as something seems effective they’ll focus on using only those types of attacks. This knowledge only needs to be discovered once and it’ll be used for the rest of the game. The other piece of the battle puzzle is the paradigm shift mechanic. Each character starts off with 3 of the 6 main classes and like in Final Fantasy X-2 you can switch jobs on the fly. Maybe you’ve just taken a ton of damage so you decide to switch your debuffer into a healer class to heal up. My one small gripe with the system is that you have to switch all 3 characters on the team at the same time with only a select number of paradigm slots available. So if your only Medic (the healer class in the game) is in the slot with two Commandos (warrior) that is your only choice. I should also mention the Stagger mechanic too. Just to sum it up quickly every enemy has a Stagger meter that must be filled to knock the enemy off balance which makes them easier to defeat. Certain enemies are near defenseless when they are staggered and is usually your best tactic to use, especially in boss battles. It just adds an extra layer of strategy to battles and I feel helps enforce the idea that battles aren’t as cut and dry as people seem to think they are.
If the characters didn’t grow that would suck and make for a terrible story, but that isn’t the case with XIII. Each of the characters seems to go through some kind of conflict that makes them grow closer together and as well as change their outlook on their futures. Hope and Lightning in particular change during the story and it is subtle but very noticeable, especially in battles. Call me crazy but I like the little quotes during battles from the characters and I like that the story changes also affect the phrases and tone of voice that the characters use during battles. Hearing Lighting say “Don’t get in my way” then later on saying “You can do it” or “We can win if we stay focused,” showcases a change from solitary lone wolf to a team member who trusts her allies.
Lots of Locales To Visit
Alright yes, 90 % of the locales you visit are nothing more than winding corridors with small forks in the road, but where the length stays roughly the same, the view definitely is varied. You visit such marvels as futuristic cities, to crystal covered mountains, snowy plains, forests, underground caves and dust bowl valleys just to name a few. There is also so little back tracking that you don’t even have time to get sick of the places you visit unless you either die a lot or spend time grinding, which thankfully isn’t needed as much in this game.
Sidequests A Plenty
When you are near the end of the game the world opens up and not only is your whole team together and you’re in control of who is on your battle team, but the side missions open up. I’m not entirely sure, but these side missions are 100% optional but offer nice rewards for completing them. New gear and rare items being your loot. 64 missions are yours to complete if you so choose and it makes a nice diversion if you like that sort of thing.
Something I hate in games is when they take themselves too seriously. Yes, the world is ending and yes, you do have a ticking clock on your life in this world, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a grumpy gus the whole time. A couple characters in particular serve as the comic relief in the game, those being; Vanille and Sazh with Snow and Hope also having a few light-hearted moments here and there. Hope is a wee bit clumsy at times, which fits because he is a very insecure person, something I can relate with. Snow is just full of himself, but oozes charm and then there is Sazh the baby Chocobo that lives in his fro. Sazh seems to have the most humorous scenes in the game, especially when the gang first arrives on Gran Pulse which is wonderfully depicted in the screen cap above. You can’t have dark without the light, you know.
Just The Right Amount of Hand Holding
Now, I’m not a fan of hand holding in games, but at the same time I’m not a fan of being thrown to the wolves with little to no idea of what to do either. I find that XIII eases players into the game at a nice comfortable pace, slowly introducing new concepts and classes during the story. Some people have found that this maybe too slow, but the battle system is complex and deep. At times I found myself a little overwhelmed, especially when the game stopped holding my hand. Practice makes perfect, though as I eventually found my zone and began to fly through the battles and not die as much as I used to. Yeah I still died, a lot, but usually it was because I decided to use a strategy that wasn’t working and didn’t switch my battle plan. Fun fact: I even 5-Starred the final boss, which shows that I had a pretty good grip on the battle system.
Story Is Always Unfolding
From press start to watching the credits, you always have a sense that the story is leading up to something and that the battles you’re doing actually mean something and aren’t just bigger random encounters. Your characters get separated and reunited. They change and grow. You have flashbacks that move the story forward instead of confuse you and when the final cinematic unfolds, you’ll understand why things turned out the way they did instead of saying: “huh? Wait, what just happened?” This brings me to something that bothers me about XIII though, the way it ends wraps things up so nicely that it makes me question the need for sequels. I find it hard to believe that FFXIII-2 was always in the cards for the story that they wanted to tell for the new overarching story that Square-Enix came up with. In fact I feel that XIII-2 was created to appease the critics who didn’t like the linear progression and auto battle system rather than to expand the story. Don’t get me wrong, I want to play FFXIII-2 and Lighting Returns: FInal Fantasy XIII, but I hate the fact that Final Fantasy games aren’t their own little separated stories anymore.
It Reminds Me of Final Fantasy VIII
My final reason for enjoying FF XIII is more personal than universal and it is that it reminds me of Final Fantasy VIII.
I’ll keep it quick:
- Lightning uses a Gunblade, which was used by the Squall in VIII.
- Lighting and Squall are both strong, yet closed off and seem cold on the outside.
- They both had to grow up fast.
- Snow (XIII) and Zell (VIII) are hand to hand fighters, both have wild blonde hair and are both very energetic people that seem to come on two strong.
- Vanille (XIII) and Selphie (VIII) are the energetic, optimistic, bubbly members of their respective teams.
- Both games had a controversial new feature that players either liked or hated: XIII‘s new battle system and VIII‘s draw magic mechanic.
- All characters were assigned a specific summon. XIII each character discovers their summon (Eidolons.) In VIII while you could junction the “Guardian Forces” to the characters.
- Both games take place in a futuristic setting that also contains magic and technology.
- Both games only allow a max of 3 characters in battle.
- Both games show your team mates running around while not in battle.
- Both games feature a point in time when all the characters are all at the same place at the same time before the game begins.
I really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and I even picked it up despite all the negativity out there about it. On my Get Glue I posted something like “FF XIII is definitely a love it or hate it game. I just so happen to fall on the love it side.” All I can say is if you like Final Fantasy games and have at least $20 you really should check it out. It’s definitely a diamond in the rough.
[Written by contributor Shane Peltzer]