With Final Fantasy XV coming out very soon, now is the perfect time to give Final Fantasy XIII another chance.
Final Fantasy XV is peaking over the horizon like a beautiful, long awaited sunrise. It’s comes with the promise that it will vanquish the shadow that’s been hanging over the series for quite some time. The shadow I’m speaking of is the memory of the Final Fantasy XIII games. The first game was disliked greatly by fans and critics alike. In it’s wake, comments surrounding the decline of the franchise clogged internet message boards and comment treads.
Of course, some thought the games were fine, but overall, Final Fantasy XIII represented the impending death of the beloved series. Currently, the director of Final Fantasy XV is fearing the worst for the series , assuming that the IP had already peaked. Furthermore, the production team goes as far as to say that Final Fantasy XV will make or break the series.
At this point it’s interesting to know the origin of the series name. Hironobu Sakaguchi put all of his hopes into the first Final Fantasy game for the Famicom. He was at the end of his rope, contemplating going back to college instead of pursuing video game design. The game actually was his Final fantasy, and it was the make or break project for his entire game design career. Now, it seems like things have come full circle again. Square Enix are putting all of their hopes into this title, and the Final Fantasy brand is, if we are to believe the developers, is on the brink of destruction once again. However, I want to argue that the Final Fantasy XIII series of games were not that bad, and that fans should give them another chance before XV is released.
Now, this isn’t a starry eyed fan boy’s plea. I know very well that there are problems with the games. The battle system is more focused on pre-planning than actively being a part of it. Final Fantasy’s XIII’s environments were little more than linear corridors, not feeling epic and open until you got to Gran Pulse, which is easily twenty plus hours into the game. Atop of that, the pacing of the game had serious issues. There are times when I got really invested in the story before the game’s pacing came to a screaming halt as we switched to another group of characters. And the Datalog is probably the most tedious thing to go through if you have video game OCD. After every cut scene, several more Datalog entries become unlocked. While some of them are interesting to read, most of them simply recap what just happened in the story. However, there was still something that kept me going throughout the first game and into the second, and that was the story itself.
The world in Final Fantasy XIII is fascinating. The human sky settlement of Cocoon being controlled by a group of mysterious omnipotent entities known as the Fal’Cie was an interesting concept. Especially when the game reveals the ultimate function of the Fal’Cie-human relationship. There are strong comments on religion and society. Do the gods work for us, or do we work for them? On the surface it seems like a codependent relationship, but it’s really interesting what humans are revealed to be to the Fal’Cie. It comments on our purpose in life, and the characters at one time feeling hopeless about their purpose, and then fighting against destiny to redefine the definition of human in this game is pretty thrilling to watch.
Even though the environments are ultimately really beautiful looking hallways, they function in one way they’re supposed to: they fill in information about the world. Many of the locations on Cocoon tell us how the society functions and how they sustain themselves.
I mentioned the Datalog before and how it dumbly recaps the story just seen, but there are other entries that actually build the world. Even though the Datalog is the least efficient way to impart exposition, there are a lot of entries that focus on world building and show how much emphasis went into making a living breathing society. The narrative becomes more interesting, to me at least, in the second game.
Final Fantasy XIII-2’s story is focused on time travel. The characters, Serah and Noel, travel to the past and distant future. They revisit old locations from the first game as well. One of the game’s themes is correcting mistakes in the past to create a better future. Conversely, one of the oft repeated in-game quotes is “if you change the future, you change the past.” The main reason for jumping around time is so Serah can find her sister, and also prevent a catastrophe that leaves Noel’s future in ruins. However, changing the future to change to past takes on an entire meta-subtext in light of how the first games was received by critics and fans. Keeping this in mind makes the entire experience much more fascinating.
Even though the battle system is roughly the same, and there’s still the Datalog stuff, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a much better game. There’s towns to visit, a lot of side quest to do and the environments are much more expansive and varied. However, the story depends on the first game as humans cope with the destruction of their Gods. Human progress becomes more reliant on academics rather than hoping beings of unlimited power and wisdom will carve out a future for them. Being released from the Fal’Cie’s grasp seems to opened up the world more as even time isn’t a boundary. I may be reading into this too deep, but I genuinely think these games get too much hate for what they are. They’re competent games with interesting characters that were killed by hype. They’re The Phantom Menace of the Final Fantasy world.
Lighting has been lambasted as an uninteresting, emotionless bore with no personality at all. I think the criticism is fair, at first, but she does go through an arc. She becomes more caring, she smiles more and regards Hope with an almost motherly concern. The emotionless shell she starts off with seems like a result of her soldier training, but I feel like she organically develops. Snow learns how to work with the group and not be a solo hero, and Hope matures…kind of. I really like the evolution of the characters and I feel they don’t end up as the same people they started out as. But a game isn’t a game without gameplay, so let me pull out some positive aspects I liked out of the mostly lackluster battle and level up systems.
Instead of simply gaining higher numbers, Final Fantasy XIII brings back the job system with a little twist on it. There are job tracks through which each character can develop their skills and add magic and attack bonus to their stats. Regarding the stats, there are only two: Attack and Magic. Based on those states, you develop the characters in several different roles. The main staple roles that you will be using most of the time are commando and ravager. The ravager specializes in quick magic attacks and the commando is responsible for delivering devastating physical blows. Both are needed to drive the enemy’s stagger gauge up and keep it there. Maxing out the stagger gauge is key to winning a lot of battles. Many of you already know this, and most of the criticism from the game is that the characters perform their roles too well. You can through most battles by mashing ‘auto-attack’ and letting the AI take care of the rest. The bulk of player interaction involves switching paradigm decks, which are sets of parties. For example a paradigm can be two ravagers and one commando (my staple) or a commando, a ravager and a medic. There are also jobs for buffing and debuffing.
I remember when grinding through dungeons in older Final Fantasy titles, and the battles went in a similar fashion, with mashing the attack button until it was over, and the boss battles were the real test. Same with Final Fantasy XIII, switching paradigms at the right time and keeping an eye on all your buffs, knowing when you need to push against the enemy or pull back and heal was pretty engaging. It all starts with the right paradigms and making sure each character has the best role possible. It’s more focused on the pre-planning of battles rather than making up strategies on the fly. However, I feel all Final Fantasy titles share the same features below the surface, and Final Fantasy XIII isn’t wildly different. However, I have to admit, taking away control of your other party members hurt the process, and made many battles seem like an automated spectacle rather than player driven fights. It’s not perfect, but it can be engaging in it’s own right.
Even though Final Fantasy XV will be a stand alone game, the XIII series, Type Zero and XV will all share the same mythos. It might be fun to see what things from the XIII series made it into XV.
I’m not saying the trilogy is perfect, but it was hamstrung by hype out of the gate and if you play it with the right mindset it can be an enjoyable experience. I honestly think it might enhance your upcoming playthrough of Final Fantasy XV, although it’s not required. I’m an odd man out when it comes to these things. I actually like the Star War prequels – take that however you want – and it irks me when I think a product with genuinely good ideas and intentions become so infamous that no one will will give them a chance. There are some cool games out now and coming out soon, but if you have some time to spare, I say give the Final Fantasy XIII series another chance. The mid point can be a slog, but the story and the pay off, I think, is well worth it.