If you’ve been following my Twitter you know I’ve had some unkind things to say about the newest edition into the Final Fantasy franchise: Final Fantasy XIII. I said it was “awful” and “the worst Final Fantasy ever”, and I still stand by it. Maybe I’m not the best judge since X and XII were two of my favorites, but XIII could never hold a candle to those games, and for the haters out there who say I’m being biased, trust me when I say I really want to enjoy this game. I do. If I could just ignore my criticisms and say this is another fine SquareEnix RPG I would, but the fact is that when I boot up the disc I groan.
“Well Chris, you slim sexy slab of man you, why don’t you just stop playing?” I would if I hadn’t promised myself that I would finish this game or swear off the series forever. I’ve played Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, VII, VIII, X, and XII, and I’ve yet to beat a single one of those games. I refuse to consistently poor money into a franchise I never finish, so XIII is a do-or-die. Either I beat the game, or I never spend another dime or hour playing a Final Fantasy game. It’s just misfortune that I made that promise on one the worst game in the franchise.
Before I hit on the negatives, allow me to praise what I can about the game, and to be fair there’s a lot. First off, presentation wise this blows every other Final Fantasy out of the water. Granted its only real contender was XII, but the look and feel of XIII is outstanding. Graphically it might be the best game on consoles. Aside from the odd hiccup where the designers forgot to texture fingers and handles, the game looks damn impressive, and the music has been pretty good. Not the best in my opinion, but damn good nonetheless—with the exception of the main pop song. Why they used a remix of the song for a random dungeon I will never know.
Also, I find the combat to be very enjoyable. I know some people find it clunky or boring, but I enjoy it. The game focuses on strategy instead of power leveling to overcome your shortcomings. If a boss is kicking your ass it’s because you’re playing too offensively, or too defensively. You need to quickly utilize the different classes in a combination to protect, heal, debuff, and do damage. I love that, and by and large the system works well. That isn’t to say the combat isn’t flawed. One big problem is the Stagger System. Basically if you do enough damage to a target to fill up their “Stagger Bar” then the target becomes “Staggered” and a staggered target has its defenses plummet, and it’s exposed to more effects. This works well when you can use it, but there are some enemies who are ridiculous to kill without the Stagger system. These enemies take forever to stagger unless you get a preemptive strike on them to boost the Stagger bar before the fight, and without doing that a fight can take eight minutes of hitting “A” over, and over, and over.
But again, the combat isn’t the problem. No, I enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII’s combat. What I don’t enjoy however are the characters. To me, the cast of an RPG are the most essential element to enjoying it. What separates an awful game like Luminous Arc from a great game like Fire Emblem is the fact that Fire Emblem’s cast is always excellent. Normally Final Fantasy doesn’t have this problem. Sure not every character is a winner, but there was always one character I could get behind—like Auron from Final Fantasy X or Red XIII from Final Fantasy VII (so many Roman numerals…). In Final Fantasy XIII however, I hate the entire cast. All of them. Every single character is unbearable, and I could go for hours about why I hate them, but I’ll keep it brief so that this doesn’t take forever.
*WARNING: The following contains SPOILERS for Final Fantasy’s piss poor excuse for a story.*
Sazh – Enjoyable now, but for the longest time his sole character gimmick was being “an old man”. Every phrase out of his mouth talked about how old he was, and I’m sorry Square, but being old does not define a fucking character.
Vanille – Least annoying character to me, but suffers due to a weak supporting cast. My main problem is I feel dirty playing with her. She looks like she’s 14, yet dresses like a stripper and speaks almost entirely in grunts early on, so I feel like I’m playing a hentei game or something.
Snow – Too stupid for his own good. I like bull headed bravado, but Snow is just stupid. His constant “I’ll save everyone” stuff gets old quick, but it gets really old after he let a mom die, and then manages to condemn her son to a short life time of prejudice, violence, and fear. Eventually this is… somewhat justified, but I had to play twenty hours to get to that point. Even then, he’s still borderline retarded. Also, his weapon is patches. God Final Fantasy is weird.
Lightning – The game’s villain in my opinion. Sure she’s supposed to be the protagonist/anti-hero, but twenty hours in and the game really hasn’t set up a villain, and Lightning has done some downright vile shit. She pretty much admits wanting to commit genocide on Cocoon after she gets branded, and she contemplates starving thousands of civilians all in a mission to do… something. Her motivation is kinda well... not there. Also, she plays the role of Palpatine in letting a small child give into his anger and become a killer. Our hero everybody…
Hope – Early on his response to every single problem was to fall to his knees and complain about it. Great. But after that he goes on a revenge plot to kill Snow, yet after having time after time to kill him, or at least confront him, he continues to say “not yet”. Jesus, Snow is such a fucking moron that the only thing the guy could do to make himself any more open would be to paint a big fucking target on his chest. Twenty hours into the game, Hope FINALLY does something. TWENTY HOURS. It feels like so much longer when the rest of the cast is so awful. God I fucking hate Hope.
So yeah, the characters are awful. I didn’t mention Fang because it takes you forever to get to her, and because she looks to be the one character I can enjoy for the time being. Part of the problem I have relating to these characters is because I never spend more than an hour or two with any given character. See the linear path the game follows means you don’t pick your party. Instead each area follows through with a set party, until you get to the next event which switches you over to another party. This, as you can imagine, gets old very quickly. There are times where you’ll spend hours with your party, and times when you spend fifteen minutes with your party. I honest to God walked down a hallway, and then had my characters change. I ask, what is the point? WHY WOULD YOU MAKE ME WALK DOWN A FUCKING HALLWAY JUST TO SWITCH MY CHARACTERS?! I ASK YOU GAME, WHY!? SO I CAN SOMETHING FROM THE TWENTY FEET I WALKED DOWN? THERE WAS NO STORY OR EXPOSITION, SO WHY NOT CUT TO THE FUCKING CHASE!? WHY!? DEAR SWEET JESUS WHY ALL THE FUCKING PARTY JUMPING!?
… Ahem. I apologize. I’ve gotten over most my anger, but the party system still bugs me. But I’ve been neglecting the story all this time, and the story has always been the bread and butter of Final Fantasy… or at least Square thinks so. Personally I’ve always thought Final Fantasy tried way too hard with its stories, but damn, I wish they had tried at all this time around. Again, I’m a little over twenty hours into XIII, and honestly, I don’t know what the story is. There’s no “but” or anything. There is NO story. I mean for the last twenty hours the characters have just been meandering around different areas doing nothing! There’s no motivation, there’s no goal, there’s just nothing! Why I am in this forest? I don’t fucking know. Why are we in the sewer? I don’t fucking know. Why are heading to this city. I DON’T FUCKING KNOW!
I can tolerate a lot of things, and I’ll tell you now I’m not a gaming snob. I don’t have some chip on my shoulder where I look down my nose at games and talk about how they aren’t good. I usually try to enjoy the games I’m playing, but Final Fantasy XIII is beyond enjoying. I don’t care how amazing your graphics are. I don’t give two shits how fantastic your music is. I couldn’t care less if your combat is enjoyable. If you’re an RPG, and your characters are unlikable and your story is non-existent, then YOU FUCKING FAIL!