Why Final Fantasy XIII Is A Bad Game

-Noel Villa

The game begins thus: A pointy-haired K-pop star and a snarky black man are on a train to sabotage the government. Sound familiar? Don’t let the similarities to previous Final Fantasy games faze you, though, for Final Fantasy is a very different game. Now, you can call this a review, and I will briefly state what makes the game good in some aspects, but I cannot let the critic in me turn soft, because I believe this is a failed game, and I will devote more effort to explaining why the game doesn’t work.

I will say now that the game’s primary selling point is its engaging battle system. It’s a facet of the game that has been praised several times because of how it took from FFXII’s battle system and improved upon it, aiming for swifter and simpler, yet flashier battles. It’s a positive development on the turn-based system that adds a touch of modern action-gaming into the fray. Now, the pros of this new system can also turn out to be its cons, mainly because of the battle’s over simplification. Now, and more often than is comfortable, all you have to do is mash the Auto-battle command. Of course, there is a bit of macromanaging via Paradigms, but generally, mashing X with an occasional R1 is as complex as it gets.

The graphics too, are worthy of note, and we can trust Square Enix not to screw up in this regard. The areas are detailed and well-designed, and the linearity is excusable, given what the game tries to be: more like an interactive story-telling experience. Though the only bad part I see in this is that the vast backgrounds give the illusion of largeness to the game, when in fact, the environments are constrained into single pathways that limit free exploration, thus making the world they crafted an utter lie.

The soundtrack is a great departure from traditional Uematsu BGMs and transitions into something more theatrical and Hollywood-esque, following the trend of modern symphonies, with a touch of J-pop influences here and there. The change of sound comes at the cost of BGMs becoming less catchy and less memorable, but it aims to set the mood for various areas more effectively.

Now, to the beef of this review. There is so only much that could be said about what a game can fail to bring to its audience, and I completely understand Square Enix’ need to innovate in an ever-changing paradigm of what is perceived to be good game design. Change is what keeps a franchise fresh. But there is a critical difference between failing fan expectations (which is unavoidable), and setting out to do something but utterly failing in that aspect. A significant reason why Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t do well is because of how the plot unfolds.

Now, I am a fan of in medias res, and I especially like it when I’m taken right into the heat of things at the onset of any work of fiction. And indeed, this game does that. The extremely confusing terminologies used in the very beginning of the game were devices that led to the discovery of things soon after. But there is a limit to how stuck up your high fantasy can get without sounding lofty and self-indulgent. First impressions are always important; they are what keep readers going but if a constant flurry of seemingly nonsensical fantastic jargon muddles the audience right at the get-go, what else will there be to keep them playing the game? The gameplay? The paradigm system was introduced quite a way into the story, and instantly, they failed to hook the readers before they even revealed their selling point. And besides, the use of these narrative devices wasn’t justified at all, seeing as how the script seemed to have been written by a fifteen-year-old.

There was a lot of promise in the whole thirteen days aspect as a flashback device for further exposition, but it generally collapsed on itself, exactly because of the reason that information came in too late into the story; too late, in fact, for me to care about why things were going on.

This is a story about justice, about discrimination and about creation. These are the themes that the story revolves around, but the game fails as well in the presentation of these things. There is something called show, don’t tell, and if you want to convey some sort of message, you don’t let the characters say it for you. Much of the exposition dealt with the characters explaining things to other characters in hopes that the reader will piece together the context of the story. But I didn’t see the direct and early application of this information. How much do people hate the l’Cie? There was only one scene wherein people were physically shown to be afraid of the l’Cie, and this was during the Palumpolum raid already halfway into the game. More than immersing the audience into the story, it holds up a barrier that prevents people from sympathizing with the characters and understanding the gravity of the situation. And immersion is what fantasy has going for it in the first place! Immersion is why I should tolerate your story about l’Cie’s on the Purge because the Sanctum is sending them away from Cocoon and onto Pulse all because they found this one fal’Cie on this one Vestige in Bodhum and now they must fulfill their Focus by summoning Ragnarok. It’s a good story, believe me. But it was told so badly, I can’t help but lower the Final Fantasy franchise even further into its grave.

And as if to add insult to injury, none of the characters were appealing, and none of them were complex enough for me to attach to, save for Vanille, who was the only character who had something to hide from everyone else. (Plus, her Aussie accent was pretty hot.) Oh, but they all change, right? They have their own inner demons, which they face later on in the game, so that makes them complex, right? Wrong. The ability to change does make them dynamic, but saying that the FFXIII characters are complex is like saying Dead Space is a scary game. What makes Dead Space work is the element of surprise, and cheap tactics like surprise are enough to get weak-willed people “scared”. The same goes for FFXIII; change is the illusion of complexity and upon further inspection, one will see how paper-thin these characters actually are.

They work with completely childish logic, and are so adamant about the things they decide to do, that unnecessary drama is created. It’s like watching two children fight over who ate the last cookie. Take Sazh and Vanille’s argument into case: He finds out that she was indirectly responsible for turning his son Dajh into a l’Cie, and this drama arises out of nowhere, during the Nautilus arc, where Vanille runs away and feels sorry for herself, and Sazh seeing that the only option left was for him to kill her, goes completely out of character and points his gun at Vanille. There was no prior foreshadowing as to what he would’ve done if he found the person responsible. There was no outright anger to merit him the option of wanting to murder his own teammate because of something that could never be remedied.

Hope and Snow’s arc: the same thing. We only get a glimpse of Hope’s mother Nora for a while, and there was no time to get emotionally attached to her. So when she died, I didn’t give a damn. And here comes Hope, thinking that he has to avenge his mother for something that wasn’t Snow’s fault at all. And he goes about this, maybe hoping that the death of someone was what his mother wanted? Don’t say it’s because he’s a child; I’ve seen younger children act more mature in other works of fiction. His age does not justify his warped sense of justice.

Fang. Ah, Fang. More like deus ex machina. Remember that part where she tried to turn against the whole party because she wanted to stick to her Focus? Now tell me: where did all that motivation come from? And I mean potentially enough motivation for her to go against her friends, because from what I saw, she was doing pretty well with her teammates up until that part, which I guess the writers decided was the perfect time to bring out Fang’s “inner conflict”, since all of them have to go through it like some mandatory unrelated side quest for the story to proceed.

The concept of justice that these characters have is absolutely juvenile. It’s as if the storytelling had to force these sorts of drama simply for the sake of having an emotional climax for each of the characters. It’s an illusion of narrative completeness that is obstructed by the characters’ false emotions and incessant whining. If I had to describe Final Fantasy XIII, I’d call it a TV drama for the morally degenerate, with occasional button mashing.

It’s not about being a Japanese RPG that is different from the Western conception of the RPG. In fact, the more Motoru Toriyama should be ashamed of this game, since he focused on the story, and the game chiefly fails because of the story’s below average presentation.

Final Fantasy XIII is that type of game in which you must lower your critical radar to enjoy the game, because I won’t deny that the gameplay was enjoyable. I stuck with the game till the end because of the gameplay.

Now, if you’re the type who’s easily enthralled by a dramatic storyline and branching character interactions, then don’t let this review stop you. Try it out, by all means. I have encountered people who did enjoy the story, for reasons that baffle me to no end. Although I will never accept Final Fantasy XIII as a good game, the fact still stands: to each his own.

Give us your opinion on Final Fantasy XIII, won’t you?