So, I finally almost finished the game, and if not for my PS3 kicking the bucket, I would have. Fortunately, I decided to spoil the ending for myself on Youtube, so I’ve seen pretty much everything.
What the hell Square Enix? This is not Final Fantasy. Hell, where’s the amazing linear plot you boasted? Incredible gameplay? Anything you promised this game would have? It’s not there, or somehow, I missed it/the game’s totally linear structure failed to point me in the right direction of ‘fun’.
In what appears to be an attempt to replicate Final Fantasy VII’s formula, the very first sequence of the game is totally action and battle packed. You’re tossed into the world, and you adapt, FAST, or be slaughtered. In FFVII, the intro sequence, which fleshes out the player’s initial perceptions of Cloud and Barret’s characters, along with the Avalanche side characters quite well, takes maybe 10 minutes of reading, and maybe 30 minutes of gameplay. In Final Fantasy XIII, the characters just run around, attack stuff, blow crap up and be all awkward without good character explanations for any of their motivations until after the fact, for HOURS.
Moving on past the bad introductory storytelling, the characters are introduced, and motivations revealed throughout the course of the game. Not a bad plot device… for a novel.
Final Fantasy XIII is ultimately, written like a book. It reads like a book, it feels like a book, and it would probably make one of the greatest books/stories I’d ever read. The melding of this novel-like story with gameplay though? Horribly dry. Part of the advantage to a novel form telling of a story is the attention to detail created by the writing as well as some details left to the imagination. However, FFXIII clogs the meat of the story with slightly above average gameplay. Why is this a bad combination? Consider if your favorite novel had about 100 pages of pointless filler where they typed, ‘Walk, walk, walk, slash, slash, slash’ and you’d have Final Fantasy XIII. The game, devoid of gameplay, being only the cutscenes and storytelling would make a wonderful movie or book, the addition of gameplay, navigating linear maps with only one route, and battles that involve spamming confirm more than anything else are more of a chore than enjoyment.
Why is the gameplay a chore? Because it doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are for any given battle, it’s a luck of the draw whether you win or lose. You can say, well I can Paradigm Shift to this or that really fast, and I’ll be fine, but there are many instances where a battle I normally 5-star rank it, I can actually game over in as well, even with a pre-emptive strike. The addition of the fact that as long as your party leader is defeated, your whole team loses is also a kick in the shin, as enemies at the end game cast the Death spell, instantly KO’ing (albeit rarely, though it happened to me once with Lightning at full HP) your leader and giving you a game over slap to the face. The game does give you “Resist Death” accesories, but not to the extent that older FFs will give you, ensuring there is ALWAYS a chance to be randomly one-shot by some lame grunt enemy.
Next off the whole RPG aspect of the game? Grinding limits. When you’re level capped at each section of the game, I feel that this is a removal of the role-playing aspect of an RPG. In an RPG, you should be allowed to say, “I want to beat this game by being stronger than I should be at any given point in time, by investing time previously to get there.” Final Fantasy XIII does a great job of giving you a shoryuken to your gut but capping levels, and then not even unlocking the final level of the Chrystarium Grid until you’ve completed the game, so automatically, sidequesting for badass gear is KICKED OUT of the main game and left after the fact.
Given that FFXIII is a SINGLE-PLAYER EXPERIENCE, not allowing players to choose to acquire their ultimate weapons and levels before the final battle is a design change in Final Fantasy for the worse. For many gamers, the satisfaction of a Final Fantasy is the main game, not anything post-game. When you beat a FF, it’s done. Therefore, you allow a player all the opportunities to do whatever they want before the end, as with EVERY OTHER FINAL FANTASY GAME IN EXISTENCE, EXCEPT XIII. For the sake of artificially augmented difficulty by restraining the player rather than creating any sort of situational adversity that can be worked around in combat, Final Fantasy XIII takes all the fun out of traditionally enjoyed JRPG battle systems, and leaves you unsatisfied, looking for more.
Shifting sidequesting to the end of the game, post-credits rather than well-sparsed out throughout the adventure, makes for an incredibly boring game. What I always loved with old FFs was the ability to do something else when I felt like it. In FFVII, as soon as you get the Tiny Bronco, you can choose to continue the story, or do Yuffie’s side quest, or as soon as you have access to Junon Area, you can even go look for Yuffie, who isn’t a mandatory character. In FFVIII, I could always play a few games of cards, or some other questing. FFX had blitzball, and blitzball is STILL FANTASTIC. Even in FFXII, you could choose to take a break and go hunting for monsters. XIII simply says, play this game this way, cause it’s best this way, and they’re so very wrong. I can not help but wonder if this poor design choice was attributed somehow to Monster Hunter and the terrible and pointless grind that it is.
Ultimately, Final Fantasy XIII does not stand up to the test of time. If I don’t lose my save file, I will go back and finish the last battle, and maybe when I’m totally out of games to play (never), go back and do the sidequesting. Was any character memorable for me? Maybe Sazh and Fang. I couldn’t care too much about the rest. Was anything in the story memorable? Hardly. Was the gameplay memorable? Nope. Were there some great epic moments in game? Maybe, but they were drowned by my frustrations. The only memorable thing may have been the soundtrack, but Leona Lewis kills it with her song at the end. Square… just leave the Japanese lyrics with english subs in. We appreciate the efforts and money (more money than effort these days) but, we North Americans can also appreciate well made Japanese music too when IT FITS PROPERLY.
I think Square Enix better pull out all the stops for Final Fantasy Versus XIII, I don’t know how much more JRPG mediocrity I can put up with.