THE DEATH OF FINAL FANTASY AS WE LOVED IT
This has been one of the hardest reviews for me to write since the beginning of my RPG site in 2003. It’s not that Final Fantasy XIII has left me with mixed confused feelings because it hasn’t I have a clear understanding after 56 hours with the game of where I should place the game in the series ranking and of what overall score it deserves. But perhaps even harder than writing the review, was actually playing through it all.
It took me less than week to finish FFVII, it has taken me almost three months to see the credits in FFXIII simply because I wasn’t very motivated to pick it up and play it. FFXIII marks for me, in truth the last nail on the franchise’s coffin. Oh how I wish it was 1999, and I had just finished playing FFVIII! There is a statement I never thought I would write! Before FFXIII, FFVIII to me was the weakest of the Post FFVI era, but now that has changed dramatically with the arrival of the newest entry in a series that no longer carries the same prestige it did up to the 10th installment.
So what went wrong not just with FFXIII but with the series? A series of events could have led to this, for starters everything changed at Squaresoft with FFVII financial success, but even then one could say that FFVIII and FFXI which were released in the same console cycle as the 7th installment were amazing RPGs in their own right, and could have stood at the top of the series top five which the inclusion FFVI which is by most accounts either #1 or #2 along with FFVII in the series all time ranking.
But Hironobu Sakaguchi was forced to leave Square after Spirits within bombed, Squaresoft lost over 120 million, and Nomura ventured into other Projects namely Kingdom Hearts, the FF series was relegated to “milking” status which began with FFX-2, and has culminated with the Fabula Nova Crystallis which is another way of SquareEnix saying : “We are going to make THREE average games instead of a great one in order to charge fans three times the money they would pay if we only release a standalone FFXIII title, screw the series legacy.” Nintendo has been accused of a lot of things over the years, but at the very least they haven’t messed with and milked my beloved Zelda series to this point.
I consider myself a purist and thus was angered when FFXI was made an online title, because I didn’t feel it merited the number, I was angry when FFXII was turned over to another developing team, but at least that game while not really a Final Fantasy in spirit maintained great standards of quality and was by my estimation a good RPG regardless. The same however can’t be said for FFXIII, and Yoshinori Kitase should have known better than to oversee the butchering of the FF name in XIII. That being said Fabula Nova Crystallis will live on in part thanks to the financial success of the latest installment with over 5.75 millions sold worldwide already.
Needless to say my expectations are ridiculous low for FFXV; FFXIII has managed to destroy whatever hope I had for the series.
CRYSTAL TOOLS OR NOT???
Kitase on post FFXIII release interviews seems to lament the fact that most of the development time on FFXIII wasn’t spent on the title, but on the Square’s proprietary engine Crystal Tools. He claims that it is difficult and expensive to create towns full with NPCs, and because of this FFXIII ( and perhaps future FF titles) will be a lot like FFXIII in their linearity.
Here is where I ask: Why didn’t Square go with the Unreal Engine? If they knew it was beyond them to make a great RPG because they didn’t know how to use their own engine efficiently and quickly perhaps they should have gone with a more seasoned engine, that has proven effective in other next-gen J-RPGs (Lost Odyssey). However not all is bad and evil when it comes to Crystal Tools. The one thing that can be said that FFXIII has going for it is the visuals.
FFXIII is quite simply the greatest looking RPG ever, and while this is not outright seen on the environments, one only has to look at the character models and their facial expressions to realize that the line between CG and in game graphics has been blurred by the Square on this game. The facial expressions on the characters and the details like pupils and hair are unmatched in any other game. The CG still is the best in the business, but I have to say that FFXIII looks as good real time as FFX looked in CG.
While the story in FFXIII is a mess and the characters aren’t at all likable (save for two), the way they convey emotions through the visuals it’s simply amazing, so amazing in fact that in the long and elaborate ending sequences created a tingle of emotion in me, which was surprising considering I didn’t care for much of the cast or any of their predicaments.
Facial animations and character models aside, the game is a good looking next gen, but I can’t find were Square Enix found it difficult to create towns and people…Oblivion is what? 4-5 years old? I never heard anyone in Betheseda complaining that it was impossible to make an open world.
In the end visually FFXIII lives up to the billing and to its name, but that has to do more with Square being a financial power house and in the end FFVII and FFVIII looked better in their era.
MUSIC WISE….NOT AN FF GAME
Aurally the game does a decent job, when it comes to voice acting and music, but music all the way up to FFX wasn’t something Final Fantasy did decently, it was something where it out did everyone else in the market. Uematsu’s departure has hurt this series as much as the departure of freedom of exploration and a good plot have.
Can you imagine Star Wars without a John Williams score? This is exactly what has happened to the FF series. Leona Lewis “My Hands” is the only saving grace in this score, the song is actually pretty good, yeah it is not J-Pop but good music is good music and Leona Lewis’s song is the only memorable thing in FFXIII’s soundtrack.
Where Final Fantasy XIII completes its downward spiral towards mediocrity is on the gameplay front. FFX was in a way more linear than any of its predecessors thanks in part to the omission of a real time world map. However FFX is to FFXIII what Oblivion is to FFX. Quite simply put, FFXIII is not truly a traditional RPG, if we take out the turn based combat and stat progression system we are left with something that is not an RPG at all, and more of an animated on rails adventure.
The problem with FFXIII is not necessarily that it lacks a world map, the Grandia series has made this work before and so did FFX, the problem here is the lack of any possibility of exploration in the game, until chapter 11 (of 13) when you reach Gran Pulse and you get a wide open field in which your only goal is really to battle and battle for hours. That’s it that’s the only time on FFXIII where you can walk away from the predetermined path and do something else than battle for hours towards the advancement of plot, instead you can battle towards….eh nothing, except items, some are useful, some are not. The game however forces you pretty much to battle more than you would like to, because even though the battle system is actually the only other saving grace of the game (apart from the visuals) the game progression system is so slow that the only way you will see much difference in character development is to continuously battle for hours in order to add points in the crystarium grid which is a lesser much more cumbersome version of FFX’s sphere grid.
Add that to the fact that weapons are pretty much useless unless you constantly upgrade them by using items you purchase with ridiculous amounts of cash, cash that cannot be gained from battles but from items usually attained through the battles themselves, FFXIII is best described as a run forwards battle, run again, battle, run again battle, run back and battle and then run forwards again and see if you are strong enough to beat the boss in the area, and rinse and repeat all the way through the end some 50 plus hours after beginning this tedious pattern game.
The battle system is the greatest gameplay asset the game possesses mainly because FFXIII doesn’t really possess anything else. So it is good then that the battle system is fast and strategy oriented even though you can only control one character during a fight and the others are controlled by a preset AI that can be set by the player, this isn’t as revolutionary as Kitase would have you believe in his pre release hyping of the game, Star Ocean, and Grandia have done this forever and dare I say, better. Even then I found some enjoyment in the battles but after the 30 hour mark, I was bored to death by the system, and as you can guess the remaining 26 hours of gameplay or should I say battling were a drag.
Shopping and upgrading is now done through save points, a fact that further accentuates that FFXIII isn’t really FFXIII but more like FF: On Rails Battle Edition. Lost Odyssey is truly much more the successor of FFX than either XII or XIII are.
AND THE FALL FROM GRACE IS COMPLETE
FFXIII could have been saved somewhat from being a great looking mediocre game if the story would have been up to par with the series pedigree, but unfortunately it is not. The plot is the typical crew of people meet up and save the world tale, which is okay FFVII did this and it is the most beloved and fan fic ridden title in the series. But the characters were interesting they all had interesting backgrounds that somehow tied up to the story and the universal plot surrounding the cast was good enough to span a sequel and prequels. FFXIII has none of that, no even bits of humor, the characters animate fantastic but it’s hard to care for them because quite simply they don’t have much going for them. There isn’t even a love sup plot (sorry Serah and Snow don’t count), or a strong main villain to keep the player interested in the story.
Only those who had never played a J-RPG before or any good J-RPG before would be impressed by the sorry excuse for a tale that’s presented here. Needless to say that only Lighting and Vanille stood out from the rest of cast primordially because Vanille was a narrator of sorts on most parts and because Lighting was the main character as she pretty much had the coolest weapon and more importantly the right kick butt attitude needed to get the job done.
This is a pretty predictable tale, with clichéd personalities, I kept expecting until the very end for something amazing or worth having played the through the game to happen, and all I can say is I got Leona Lewis “My Hands” for my efforts. This is officially the worst plot in the history of the FF series after the amazing post FFVI. Perhaps the writers at Square have finally run out of ideas, or perhaps they were more interested in making FF look great than actually be great where it counted.
BUY IT ….
If only to convince yourself that the series as we loved it has died maybe forever, as it stands the Golden Age of the FF series spanned 8 years from 1994-2002 were we got an amazing run of high quality entries. In the end this next sentence describes number 13 in the series perfectly: FFXIII is a great looking RPG, but one that has no soul….Shame on you SquareEnix.
Gameplay: 4.0- Ah where should we start? No world map, no cities, no fun. The battle system is fast paced and strategy oriented, but has been done before. The game is on rails, even the little open area in Pulse is not enough, to save the game’s score. Square has tried to say that the typically lower scores for FFXIII in the west are due to players having become acostumed to games like Mass Effect and Oblivion. Well all I play 95 percent of the time are J-RPGs and even then FFXIII is extremely linear and on rails. Other J-RPGs are linear but they give the player the freedom to explore a world that feels alive and that along with many sidequests and mini games help create the illusion of freedom. FFXIII never ever gets close to accomplishing this.
Graphics: 9.5- Best looking RPG ever, the facial animations are unmatched.
Music: 6.0-Oh J-RPG purists complained and moaned about Leona Lewis being on the score but what they didn’t know was that along with the graphics she is the best thing that happens in FFXIII.
Story: 6.0-Predictable, and clichéd ridden and that goes for both the characters and the plot itself.
Addictiveness: 3.0-If battling is your thing add two points to that score, other wise there is no reason to play this twice…ever the exclusion of a New Game ! + mode really cements this fact!
Overall: 7.0- If you don’t like Leona Lewis subtract two from that score. By tone of the review of the review one would expect that the score would hover around the fives, but really FFXIII is truly a 4.0 out of 10 when stacked against the champions in the series, but one must judge the game not for its hype but for what it is.
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