Featured Article: Deeply Puzzled By Final Fantasy XIII - Part 1 of 2
Ray, a longtime fan of the Final Fantasy series, wonders how FFXIII went so wrong
Iíve played a lot of Final Fantasy. Not everything in the canon, but Iíve done pretty well. Iíve completed I, IV, V, VIII, IX, X, XII, Tactics, Tactics Advance and Tactics Advance 2. You could fairly say that Iím Down With that Final Fantasy Thing.
Final Fantasy XII is my favorite in the series. Thatís worth mentioning, because Iím going to reference that game quite a bit in this discussion of the deeply weird, vexing, confounding, and confusing Final Fantasy XIII.
I remember how mixed the reviews were when FFXIII was released in March of 2010. I also remember being dubious of them. Such criticism! Of a big-budget, main-numbered Final Fantasy game! Surely they are being too harsh?
Turns out, they werenít.
Playing Final Fantasy XIII was such a head-scratching experience Iím surprised my scalp isnít riddled with bald spots.
Again, Iím going to ruthlessly compare this game to its immediate predecessor, a game in which I think Square Enix got almost every last thing right. Better than right.
In XII, the prelude and backstory exposition are brief, tantalizing, and effective. Then, periodically, the game stops for story-driven cutscenes that almost always make sense and move the story forward. And it's a good story, involving mistaken identity, old grudges and a complex political struggle.
In XIII, the game constantly stops dead for endless cutscenes that meander and wander tediously. I felt like I was watching a string of late 80s music videos in which theyíd forgot to include the songs. Particularly in the first few chapters, the game is so peppered with overlong flashback sequences that I nearly gave up on the game.
Oh, and I forgot the biggest problem with the plot and story. Despite all the scores of minutes spent in these soporific scenes, the plot makes absolutely no sense. I never understood what the real relationship is between the two worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse. To be fair, I have since actually researched the damn thing on the internet and come to a slightly better understanding, but the game never makes it clear.
Even worse, the charactersí relationship to the plot, to their own pasts, and to each other are muddy, unclear, or nonsensical as well. You never have a good understanding of why this particular group of badly-costumed individuals run around with each other, risking death every three minutes.
The characters in FFXII are clearly drawn, with interesting backstories. I really felt invested in the fates of the sizzling-hot and badass bunny-eared forest Amazon Fran, the sexy rogue sky pirate Balthier, and even scrappy urban orphan Vaan.
In XIII, not so much. The backstories of the characters are so muddled and muddied, I stopped caring pretty early on.
Recent games in the series tend to have one character whoís a chirpy, peppy young girl whoís a bit annoying. In XII it's Penelo, and while she isnít my favorite, she didnít make me want to claw my eyes out with a rusty spoonÖ
... which brings me to XIIIís Vanille. Oh, Vanille. How do I start? In Vanille, the game designers have taken the stock ďchirpy young femaleĒ archetype and ratcheted everything up so far past eleven on the dial that it practically ruins the gaming experience. Vanille is the single most annoying game character I have ever experienced. In fact, sheís one of the most irritating characters in anything that I have ever experienced. She makes you long for the return of Jar-Jar Binks. Yeah, that bad. Her mincing walk makes you want to kill people. Her consistently inappropriate reactions to situations makes you want to kill her. And her ridiculously inconsistent and annoying accent and constant infantile nonverbal vocalizations (even during combatÖ donít ask) makes you want to kill yourself.
I simply donít get how this could have happened. Perhaps the crazy Japanese gamers love Vanille. But arenít games with budgets this large tested during the localization process in the major foreign markets? I find it quite difficult to believe that Square Enix ever showed this character to test groups in North America and Europe because there is simply no way they wouldnít have gotten a chorus of lusty ďplease make this character die screaming in a fire.Ē
The only reason that this loathsome creature didnít completely ruin the game for me is that eventually, I was able to leave her out of my fighting party. But I couldnít escape her during the endless cutscenes, during which she had a crushingly voluminous amount to say.
Japanese games are weird. Thatís just how it is. But XII kept the weirdness under control.
XIII wears its weird as proudly as Bjork does. Example: One of the main characters sports a 70s afro in which a baby chocobo lives. Why? Who knows? Does this weirdness ever pay off? No, not really.
And, as mentioned above, the entire story and backstory is one big waxy, smelly ball of weird.
Final Fantasy XIIís music was thrilling, epic, and energizing.
In XIII you have to listen to various versions of the same vapid pop song over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.1
In Part Two of this article, Iíll complain about Final Fantasy XIIIís game world, combat and leveling systems.