Final Fantasy XIII: Because the last ten weren’t enough!
Final Fantasy XIII
When the thirteenth installment of the much-loved Final Fantasy series was announced to be under development at E3 in 2006, masses of fans started salivating and planning out their schedule of what they were going to do the minute that they got the disk out of the box. I was included in the throngs of people waving their money and crying out to be among the first blessed number to own this game in 2010. The pictures and videos which were leaked over the Internet showed a gleaming world with glorious graphics and promise of a wondrous story…
… And we got dropped on our heads.
I, for one, felt that the creators of the game had let us all down. Gone were the engaging characters, the interesting music, and the memorable bosses of old. In their place were linear game play, blah characters, and a story that only got really good about five hours in. The fact that you had to wait that long for any real idea as to what the hell you were supposed to be trying to accomplish just made the whole thing feel like you were holding your foot on a grill. Yes, it stops hurting after you keep it there for five hours, but by then you need to have it amputated and people are wondering what in the world possessed you to do such a thing.
The game begins in a floating world called Cocoon, a city inside a giant sphere that is kept up and running by these beings called fal’Cie. Below is Gran Pulse, a land that people of Cocoon are told is a savage waste ruled by monsters and equally savage humans. Again, there are fal’Cie here, providing light and water and other essentials to life. Each fal’Cie is in charge of certain tasks, and the people who are chosen by these beings are called l’Cie, and are feared by normal people. These l’Cie are given a specific task, or Focus, to perform. If this task is completed, they go into a near hibernation as crystal statues. However, if it is not completed within the time allowed, they become Cie’th, mindless monstrosities that wander the dark places of the world wallowing in pain and regret. The characters are turned into l’Cie, and must discover their focus, or be turned …
At the start of the game, you are placed in the middle of a Purge, a procedure that cocoon goes through after anything from Gran Pulse is discovered in the city. Purges end up with people being shipped to the world below and the destruction of many buildings and anything else it may have come in contact with. During the escape from the Purge, the characters come face to face with Anima, a fal’Cie of Gran Pulse, and are branded as l’Cie. The characters are given a vision of what their Focus is, but it is a vague hint at best, and they split into different directions. Most of the game is about finding out what your Focus is, which is difficult given the rather ambiguous nature of the vision the characters have after being changed into l’Cie.
In Final Fantasy games past, there has always been at least one character that we the gamer can relate to and grow to be very fond of. Characters like Wakka, Balthier, Fran, and Tifa… All of them have a back-story, which slowly is told and affects the main story of the game in at least some small way. They all have their own sense of humor, honor, and some different outlook on the world from the other characters. Even the evil characters could make you love to hate them, flat out fear them, or even feel pity for them. In 13, we are given a cast of characters that feel more like cardboard cutouts than people. Most of them feel so two-dimensional that you wonder if they are just automatons trying to pass as humans, and seem to have mood swings faster than a sixteen year old girl. This made it difficult to remember if a character was a fearsome soldier, or a brainless happy doofus.
An example of the character’s seeming mental instability is easiest to explain using the character Snow. He is the leader of a rebel group called NORA who is engaged to Lightning’s younger sister Sarah. He is a big kid in many ways, quick to trust and quick to anger and overly affable. However, sometimes he will do a personality 180 and be aggressive and broody. He is best in the Sentinel role or the Commando, though with his high defense and health scores, I have found it is best to leave him as the former. Then, as what I imagine was supposed to be his ‘little buddy’ character is Hope. Hope is a bit of a wuss, prone to fits of angst and moping while he plots to find and avenge his mother’s death. He is the magical powerhouse and does well in either the Ravager or Medic roles, but has very low health and defense, so he MUST be paired with a Sentinel. Lightening is a hard-ass ex-soldier who has the emotional range of a soup spoon, often being harsh with Hope, who is grieving the loss of his mother. She is a solid damage dealer, doing best as Commando, though she also is decent as Ravager. Sazh is the warm caring character, who is trying to find a way to save his young son, who is also a marked l’Cie. He is a strong damage dealer, suiting the Commando role well. Vanille is a sweet happy girl who has a mysterious past that she shares with Fang. She never truly divulges the whole tale until very late in the game. Vanille is an excellent Saboteur, Ravager, and Medic. Fang is a very serious warrior woman who has traveled with Vanille in the past, and is very protective of the younger woman. She is very powerful, but has a very low magic score, so she is best suited for Commando and Sentinel role.
The battle and level systems are… a little of both worlds, actually. The leveling system is called the Crystarium, which is similar to the sphere-grid of FF10, with the exception of the fact that it is split into six different leveling grids, and then divvied up into ten levels. Each of the six different grids is for a separate Paradigm (More on these in a moment). The nodes here, like with 10 again, supply you with extra HP, MP, strength (both of the magical and physical flavors), new abilities, and extra accessory slots. All six level trees are not accessible at the game’s beginning; each character is limited to a specific role until later, when you can perform a Paradigm Shift.
The Paradigms in the game are fairly self-explanatory and have their obvious pros and cons. They are Commando, Ravager, Medic, Saboteur, Synergist, and Sentinel. Commando and Ravager are your attack classes, Commando being the muscle and Ravager being the magical power. Medic, Saboteur, and Synergist are the support classes. Medic uses white magic to heal the party, while she Synergist throws up buffs, and the Saboteur hits enemies with debuffs. The Sentinel is your stock defender, buffing themselves and drawing enemy fire away from the weaker members of the party. Each character is better at different roles, but all can play any role as needed throughout a battle, and can be changed in the heat of battle.
Battle… Yes, that wonderful moment where you can unleash the fires of Hell on your foes before pummeling them into dust with your oversized blade, or swipe an enemy’s potions before lobbing a grenade while another character is tossing healing spells. I can say that I was not a fan of the battle system in this game. You had control of only one character during battle, and only one. The others would attack or just run about willy-nilly while you tried to keep your asses out of hot water. I found the inability to tell my party members what to do as a huge encumbrance. They would use abilities and spells that had no effect on monsters, not heal before HP dropped to 25% (you are usually screwed by then), and rarely took into consideration the ‘Reflect’ spell, showing some flaws in party AI. I ended up with lots of enemies with ‘Protect’ on them while I was trying to put out the fire in my hair because somebody forgot that the monster also got the reflect buff from us… “Next time,” I thought more than once “I will just roll in barbecue sauce and stick an apple in my mouth and sit right down for them. Wouldn’t be much more of a challenge!”
The world and design of characters itself, is, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. The in-game parts look almost as good as the movies, which is something that I honestly can’t say I have ever seen in a game. The desert areas are bright (almost blindingly so) and gritty, the swampy places are dim and dank… Truly, this is something that the game promised and really delivered on. I spent a lot of time just looking at the areas when I should have been doing something else, simply for the joy of being able to see individual feathers on chocobos and petals of flowers.
I would not say that Final Fantasy 13 is the worst game ever. Oh no, I have seen worse by far. However, given the chance at a do-over for that part of my life, I would have kept that $60 and just rented the game later. I’m a rabid Final Fantasy lover, but this game broke my heart in a lot of ways. Beautiful graphics and cinematography can’t carry a game, and it felt like that is what the developers were banking on.
I’m sorry to say so much bad about an otherwise wonderful game series, but it’s true. Remember, karma always has a way of getting back to you, so be respectful of your fellow gamers. Happy gaming.