Was going back to Final Fantasy XIII a mistake?

If anyone can remember back to the heady days of late May, I was on a pretty big consumer high just after finishing the Final Fantasy VII Remake, so much so that I had to hold myself back from writing a half dozen pieces about how I loved different aspects of the thing. The game had built up so much enthusiasm for the franchise in me that I found myself scouring through the other available entries in the series to try and get myself a similar high.

Man, this must be how gambling addicts feel during their low points…

As the title of this post may suggest, I made the questionable discussion to go back and play one of the games I’d already finished in the past, at the point of re downloading this game not only did I intend to go and play Final Fantasy XIII, but go and play its two sequels that I never played back in the day. Well, let me tell you, there’s nothing like 40 hours with something to act as a cold shower to take all the romance out of that feeling.

 

The Setup

Final Fantasy XIII feels like an oddball of a game to me, in that, playing it immediately after playing Final Fantasy VII made me realise how heavily it borrow from the older game, in terms of its characters, setting and world building. Of course, by the time it’s over, the parallels have become a faded memory, but the early hours of the game lean on them hard and fast.

Let’s not beat around the bush here; Lighting is girl Cloud. Not to be reductive about it, but she shares so many traits with Mr. Strife even outside of her weather orientated name. She’s a soldier, she’s standoffish and is a total badass. You could argue with me saying that these are traits held by many an anime/video game protagonist.

But a few similarities can be brushed off as coincidence, but when they compound in number like they do here, it’s hard to ignore; the technological/industrial setting, the lightly comedic black supporting character who uses firearms and has a child he cares deeply about, the “terrorist” group who are actually the good guys, the setting being a false sanctuary created by the government who are the villains of the piece. It’s intentional and I refuse to hear any arguments otherwise.

It’s odd though, because while these parallels are rife in the early hours of the game, the original story soon swoops in and take control, rendering all these references as some kind of odd on-boarding tactic to entice players of the PS1 game into playing this one.

Which I find very weird considering the fact that early part of the game is probably the strongest part of the game in terms of character and storytelling.

 

The Animelodrama

Unlike every other Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played, where there is a clear main character. In XIII, all six of the playable characters ends up sharing the role to some extent, each having their own stories and personal issues they need to resolve by the time they all come together and start saving the world, which is the point in the game where I feel like my interest in it started to fall away.

In the beginning, all of the character are pretty unlikable, for some reason or another. Lightning’s standoffish attitude, Hope angst and cowardice, Snow’s obnoxiousness and pigheadedness. They’re a bunch of relative strangers all thrown together by fate and forced to overcome their personal drama so that they can come together and save the world.

Thus, for the first 20 hours, the characters are separated and each doing their own thing, for better or for worse. Mostly for worse. But here in lies the aspect of the game I enjoyed the most. Jumping between these characters, learning about their personal issues and seeing them manage to overcome them while journeying through the endless corridor.

At which point I realised that FFXIII would have made a much better anime than it did a video game. You’re almost entirely playing the game to see the cut scenes and the story develop, because I cannot fathom why anyone would stick with this game for its gameplay. The entire reason I ended up staying with it for close to 40 hours is because the characters had gotten their hooks into me and made me want to see the resolution.

The sad thing being, that once the characters reunite, with their angst and issues mostly resolved, by the 20-something hour mark, the game becomes much more focused on its gameplay, with story making less and less important contributions as time goes on. Which is the last thing you want dragging you along in this game.

 

Bar Maintenance

Final Fantasy XIII is a game of managing cooldowns. One in which you maintain bars and switch things around once a particular bar seems in need of a top up. While some level of challenge does eventually present itself in the game’s later stages, for the most part, the game almost plays itself, giving you an option to just auto-select the most optimal move based on your current role.

For the game’s first two hours, there is no agency in combat, you don’t have access to magic, and so just spamming auto attack is your only option to grind through long, pointless encounters. And they make you fight a lot of them, which made all the worse by the fact that you’re not even levelling at this point and the money earned from the fights is hardly worth the time it takes.

Eventually you gain access to the role system, which gives you some degree of customisation towards how you play, but only so far. As you get deeper into the game, the gameplay becomes a matter of pure meter management, mitigation and optimisation. There is little to no active participation in the game, as you charge from one long corridor analogue to the next so you can get that extra snippet of story.

It’s a highly tedious system, one that is a far sight from the fantastic combat of the FFVII Remake. One that ended up breaking me when the game’s previously very linear heavily implied I would need to go back and grind to be able to defeat the game’s final challenge. Something I was not prepared to do, as the game had spent the prior 40 hours conditioning me to just forge forward and not grind at all.

 

Was this a mistake?

I’m not sure how I feel about this game at this juncture. I feel like it might be a Stockholm kind of syndrome or something, in that, because I invested so much time into the game, It’s kind of grown on me in some ways, like a parasite. If there’s one thing I can say for certain though; it’s that I’m heavily burned out on it now, and Final Fantasy in general.

I think… Final Fantasy XIII is a bad, albeit a very beautiful game (for its time). All of the aspects of the game I enjoy would have made for a fantastic series of Anime, focusing on the story and appearance of the Eidolons, which feels like something plucked from Digimon or Jojo.

When I started playing FFXIII, I had planned on jumping right into the sequel after finishing it. Now, I can’t even muster the energy to finish this one. I’d say that this game was the first step in Final Fantasy’s decline, how it lost its way. But then we got the VII Remake, which is fantastic. I guess this was a palet cleanser if nothing else, one that stopped me from going out and buying a bunch of other JRPGs I would probably never get around to playing.


 

Sorry for the lack of images in this one. But my internet has been so catastrophically slow today that WordPress won’t let me physically upload the images.

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