Featured Article: Deeply Puzzled By Final Fantasy XIII - Part 2 of 2
Ray, a longtime fan of the Final Fantasy series, wonders how FFXIII went so wrong
In Part One of this article, I kvetch about the bewildering design choices made by the folks who made the beautiful but empty Final Fantasy XIII. Today I continue my vivisection of the game.
Final Fantasy XIIís summons were powerful and fun to try to optimize. Almost all FF games have summonable creatures to help you in combat. XIIís were very powerful and came with a challenging but fun minigame that you had to master in order to get the most firepower out of your etherial friends.
The summons in XIII are woefully underpowered Transformer rip-offs. Yawn.
Final Fantasy XII took place in a fascinating world that was fun and rewarding to explore. Huge cities full of vendors and quest-givers, swamps, deserts, mines, forests, snowy mountains and more. Each new portion of the map you uncovered helped you piece the interesting game world together. It all felt organic. Each area also had its own minor stories which were interesting in themselves. Even though, like all Final Fantasy games, there was a certain linearity to the story, you always felt that there was a huge, beautiful, and dangerous world just waiting to be explored. The environments were also stunningly rendered on the PS2.
The plot of XII organically drew you into the world, encouraging exploration, providing rewards as you gradually opened up the map.
The world of Final Fantasy XIII is beautiful, but itís soulless and utterly without context. You barely look at it, because it never matters. The only plot in this game, your only significant directive during the entire adventure can be summed up in two words: MOVE FORWARD.
You donít go exploring a buried city because you need to find the answer to an ancient riddle. You donít brave your way across a dangerous desert because you need to find a mysterious ally. You donít visit an eerie forest to ingratiate yourself with the local inhabitants to further your aims.í
You simply move forward, as quickly as possible, to the nearest exit.
Final Fantasy XIII has no towns. No vendors. No significant sidequests. All you ever do on each new map is Ö move forward. The entire game is one big gauntlet.
What deranged designer (or executive? committee?) decided this was a good idea?
All you do in this game is run forward. And watch really long, dull cutscenes.
Final Fantasy XII had a fascinating and challenging combat system featuring ďGambits,Ē or programmable AI scripts you designed yourself. Challenging to learn, but fun and really rewarding once you did.
Instead of XIIís interesting Gambit system, XIII uses something called Paradigms. They are essentially sets of role combinations you can use to adjust what your party (of up to three) can accomplish in battle. Itís not a terrible system, but itís simply not merely as fun to explore and tinker with as the Gambit system was.
Final Fantasy XIIís License system made leveling up and character customization meaningful and truly player-driven. It was fun to plan how you wanted to build your various characters, and immensely satisfying when you were able to unlock valuable abilities youíd been working towards.
Final Fantasy XIIIís leveling system is almost completely linear. Whatís worse, itís got a glass ceiling, which severely limits your ability to grind if you want to grind.
Whatís even worse: You donít even get to character progression until Chapter Three. Yeah, you read that right. The designers make you plow your way through two entire chapters worth of enemies with combat that builds your characters not one single iota. This might be acceptable in an action game, but certainly NOT in an RPG.
So why, you may ask, did I bother to finish the damn thing? Tricky question, actually. I think for two reasons: 1) my completist side still wants to finish all the major numbered FF games (got to get to work on II, III, VI and VII Ė everyone knows XI and XIV donít count), and 2) The Paradigm system made combat just barely enjoyable enough to keep playing.
If youíre a long-time Final Fantasy fan, you may remember that thereís generally still a whole lot of game waiting for you after you beat the final boss in the game. This time around, five minutes after the boss was dead, the DVD was out of my PS3. The characters, story, and world havenít lingered in my mind (and heart) the way they did after I finished most of the other games. (To this day I have very fond memories of VIII, IX, X and XII.)
Naturally I hope thereís a Final Fantasy XV. I just hope that they do not use XIII as a model of what to do next time around. [shudder]
So what do you say? Did you play XIII? Do you agree with my complaints? Letís hear from you!