The Following content is an opinion
Do not allow it to offend or cause problems, such as flame wars. These opinions are also not the official opinions of Final Fantasy Answers, which can be taken to be a neutral point of view.
Inspired by Locke's recent blog on Aerith, I've decided to make a little evaluation of my own. If you've read my previous analysis on a certain silver-haired psycho, you might have realised that I'm a big fan of the Squaresoft era of Final Fantasy. So, without further ado, let's begin.
Final Fantasy XIII has quickly become one of the series most popular games. It has spawned a sequel within a few years and even crammed it's foot in Dissidia 012's door, with the game's iconic heroine Lightning appearing as a playable character. Not only this, but rumours of a third instalment are floating around the internet despite the fact that Final Fantasy XIII-2 hasn't even seen a global release yet, as of this moment. So, I ask why this game is so popular. What makes this game, above all other twelve main series titles, so successful in such a small amount of time? It's certainly introduced many next generation gamers to the world of Final Fantasy, but that's not necessarily a good thing.
I'll start by listing what I thought the game did well.
Although not many, this game did prove to have certain reasons as to why it deserves it's popularity. Remember, these are just my opinion. These do not reflect the community's views on the game.
Yes, that's right. My number one thing about what this game did well. The man with the Chocobo in his fro, and the name that I always spell wrong. Sahz is one of the very, very few characters in this game who's story and personality develops throughout the storyline. This, for me, is a major reason to like him. These games strive off the storyline. I could care less what the graphics look like or if characters have voices. Hell, I played through Final Fantasy VII despite the I-want-to-tear-my-eyes-out graphics and cutscenes where the characters would stand still for half an hour as walls of text ran down the screen. And that's because the storyline was amazing. It made every tiny flaw obsolete.
Back to Sazh. He was kind, he was funny, he actually acted like a normal human being in most situations and he knew how to speak and think for himself. He had real motivation and a real storyline which developed over time, leading to the brilliant climactic scene at Nautilus where he and Vanille have a stand off (best cutscene in the game, easily). Sahz showed real emotions, not just the same boring raspy-voiced bitchiness (yes, we all know who that is) throughout the entire game.
The only issue I had with him was his lack of screen time. Sahz is shown heavily throughout the first half of the game, but after Nautilus he takes a back seat along with many other characters, such as Hope and Snow. Just saying this now, if you dislike Sahz, stop reading this blog.
The second best reason to play this game. Vanille is hated by many for her happy-go-lucky attitude and her likeness to characters like Selphie Tilmitt. But those people were obviously too busy staring at Lightning to even realise what an interesting and in-depth character she really was. Vanille's happy outlook on life was all just an act; a way of hiding her true feelings and cynical personality. She was a very interesting character for the fact that she had everyone fooled, even Fang, for the majority of the game. This level of personality depth is shared by no other character in the game, making Vanille something unique.
Another thing I like about her is her voice. Yes, the Australian accent that so many of you deem fake. Well, guess what, I'm Australian and I can confidently say that the majority of female Aussies sound just like Vanille. Not to mention her voice actor is Australian. I don't know when people will learn that Paul Hogan is not a typical Aussie. We don't sound like the Crocodile Dundee, nor do we act like him. Vanille's voice was a breath of fresh air for me, having to sit through American video games and television which portrays us as country bumpkins with thick accents who wrestle crocodiles and eat at outback steakhouses. For once we had an Aussie with a real voice.
On a more technical note, Vanille was great in combat. Give her the right weapon and you have a strong healer who can quickly cast status buffs on the whole party, and she had the Death move which, if done right, could take down even the strongest creatures within a hit. I am so glad that Square-Enix decided to pair the two best characters in the game.
This is one point where a lot of you will give a funny look at your computer monitor and claim that I obviously don't know what I'm talking about. I know, I know, Barthandelus is one of the series least liked villains. But I think that people don't give him enough appreciation. Forget the fact that he looks like an old guy in purple robes. Forget the fact that he only fights you when he transforms into a giant head while opera music plays in the background. Let's leave physical attributes out of the equation and focus all on his personality and his conduct throughout the storyline.
First of all, who would have thought he was the main villain, when you first see him addressing the crowds on that little monitor in Sazh's airship? I didn't expect him to be a Fal'Cie, that's for sure. Those are the kinds of twists that make a Final Fantasy that much more enjoyable. Things that you don't see coming, like when you learn that Zidane was an artificial being designed to destroy all life on Earth. Those are what keep me interested in a game. Sadly, it was the only twist of it's kind in Final Fantasy XIII.
On to his motives, Barthandelus was a very clever villain. Perhaps the most clever in the series. He controlled the party's entire actions throughout the game without them even realising it. Even when they defeated him at Orphan's Cradle, it was just a means for him to release Orphan and destroy Cocoon. Barthandelus was, despite what anyone says, a magnificent villain. To actually create the world in which the majority of the game is set, just so that he can cultivate it and destroy it to bring his God back to the world shows that he's a far better villain than many. Ultimecia's grand plan was to sit in the future and possess Ellone... but because Ellone is not a Sorceress that would never have worked. See how Barthandelus actually thinks out his plans?
Okay, I know I said that graphics and voice acting don't mean anything, but if I didn't include them this would be a very short list. The graphics, especially in CG cutscenes were done beautifully. Every location was unique and every character had the finest details polished to perfection. It really made the game a lot more tolerable, because at least I had something nice to look at while characters such as Snow and Hope flapped their gums incessantly (I got nothing against Snow, but he was a bit of a loudmouth).
And the voice acting was also spot on. I couldn't have picked better voices for the characters myself. Except for maybe Lightning; her raspy tough-guy voice was kind of grating after a while. But I'll get to that later. Expect a lot of criticism aimed towards her.
Environments were, as I stated above, all hand crafted and uniquely designed. No matter what you think of the game, you have to appreciate the effort that the designers put into making each location interesting and different. It made the long walks and narrow escapes from horrible monsters much prettier to look at. I will admit though, I absolutely loved the hand painted background of Final Fantasy VII-IX, but I know they're never coming back.
And speaking of monsters, although I enjoyed the days of random battles (despite the fact that I used to use the no encounter junction from VIII) I will admit that they would severely ruin the atmosphere of a scene when you'd be caught up in the excitement and then be suddenly interrupted by a Goblin. In XIII, the enemies contributed to the environments and they were also avoidable, making hard battles optional.
Upgrading Weapons and Items
Although this was considered pointless by some, and only serves as a minor role within the game, I enjoyed finding and buying objects to use for upgrading weapons. It served as a fun little pastime when I would be looking for something to do and avoiding those stupid, stupid Cie'th stones (I hated those crappy little side quests).
One thing that I really thought was stupid, though, was the fact that depending on what path you'd go through to get the ultimate weapon for each character, the weapon would end up with different stats. An ultimate weapon should be an ultimate weapon; there shouldn't be variations on it. How was I supposed to know which gun to level up for Sazh to get the best outcome?
Also, I think anyone will agree with me when I say that it seemed almost impossible to find the final catalyst to upgrade your weapon to its final form. I read that the easiest way to get one is to disassemble your ultimate weapon, which gives you two... but that's counter productive considering the only reason you want them is to have an ultimate weapon. Oh, stupid Square-Enix.
This was enjoyable. Albeit pointless, but it made fighting strong enemies that much more rewarding. Sure, every character will end up identical if you put enough CP into their Crystarium. Sure, the game could just use the traditional system of levelling up which actually gave you an indication of where you're at in the game. And yes, it did suck that you'd need 100,000CP to learn something like Firaga, when you only get about 1000CP from an average battle. But there was something so satisfying about maxing out a role.
Now, if only they had improved it so that each character ends up distinctly different instead of all being carbon copies. That would make the game so much more enjoyable.
This may seem like a cop out, as I stated before that Dysley is a good character no matter what he looks like, but Tetsuya Nomura really did a good job with his characters. I will admit, from an artistic point of view, Yoshitaka Amano is far, far, far better than Nomura. But as far as designs go, Nomura has more of a handle on what does and does not work for a character and their personality.
No disrespect, Amano. You're still awesome.
Okay, here's where all the Final Fantasy XIII fanboys and fangirls had better stop reading. I left this section for last, because it's going to be very long. I'm going to state it outright. As a game, I hated Final Fantasy XIII. I was terribly disappointed and I will never understand who decided that it needs a sequel because frankly, the game had humiliated itself enough as it was. No disrespect to any XIII fans in the audience, but if you want to know what Final Fantasy is really about, go play Final Fantasy IX. XIII is a disgrace to the series; Square might as well have called it something else altogether and left the already dying Final Fantasy series with some respect intact.
Now, if that hasn't scared off you Final Fantasy XIII fanatics, then I warn you, you're in for a hell of a lot worse if you keep reading. Any Lightning fans should be warned, she is going to be heavily criticised in the next section.
May I remind fans once more that my views do not reflect the views of the website and we are all entitled to our own opinions. I don't expect anyone to agree with me unless you feel the same way about the game.
Here we go. This character; this pathetic, poorly written, violently bitchy and horrible excuse for a heroine is what sealed the game's fate in my eyes. She ruined the game. Her awful personality and weak storyline which doesn't even compare to some fan fictions brought the entire game right down to the bowels of hell. I cannot stress this enough that she is by far the single worst character in all of Final Fantasy history. The very name Claire Farron tarnishes all that Final Fantasy stands for and leaves bad impressions in the hearts of original fans like myself. I'd even go as far as to say that Lightning makes you appreciate characters like Don Corneo.
Anyway, enough insults. I think the Corneo thing explains to fans just how much I hate her. Let's move on to why I hate her. Okay, so Lightning looks cool. She's good in battle. Her Eidolon is the most useful. I'm not ashamed to say that as far as a party member goes, I couldn't go into a battle without her. But what does that say about her character? Absolutely nothing. I will never, for the life of me, understand what made her so popular. I'm more likely to reach Enlightenment than figure out what it is about her character that people are drawn to. I'd be inclined to say that they're drawn to her chest, but with the amount of female Lightning fans, that seems out of the question.
So, here we have little Claire Farron. She's a normal child with a loving family and a little sister who she cares for deeply. Little Claire is a friendly and good natured girl. We're off to a good start. Then, she hits her teenage years and her parents tragically die in an accident. Suddenly, Claire's life takes a turn for the worst. She has to join the army to support her little sister, and become a mother figure. Now, here's where things go awry. Instead of being the good, caring sister that she once was, she decides that she needs to be tougher to survive. So she changes her name to Lightning and becomes physically and verbally abusive.
Wait, what? So, her parents die and in order to take care of her sister, she joins the army and becomes abusive? How is that going to help her sister? I thought that being a loving, caring sibling would have sufficed. But no. So, even when poor Serah explains to Lightning on her birthday that she was branded a L'Cie and she doesn't have long to live, Lightning passes it off as an elaborate lie and then insults Serah and Snow, claiming that this was Lightning's worst birthday ever. Um... right. I'm sure if my sibling came to me and said that they had terminal cancer, I wouldn't accuse them of lying to me and then insult them. Yet somehow, Lightning is one of the most popular characters in Final Fantasy history.
Now, the worst feature of Lightning is the constant stream of abuse. It's not just a few certain moments when she lashes out at someone. No, she's constantly seen punching Snow and Sazh, slapping Fang, and generally insulting anyone she meets. For no reason at all. There is only one point in the entire game where she shows any compassion and that's when she hugs Hope because he decided not to kill Snow. Yet everyone seems to take this as a sign that they're romantically involved. May I remind readers that Lightning is 21 and Hope is 14? Unless you condone pedophilia, you may want to rethink that pairing.
As for her character development... there is none. At no point does she ever change throughout the entirety of the game. From start to finish, she's the same bitchy, annoying character. There's only one scene where she has the chance to change. The scene where her and Snow are at the field in Pulse, and Lightning promises to bring Serah back as she cries. But that's it. Straight after that, she's back to normal, completely ignoring her turnabout in the previous cutscene. It's never mentioned again. Hell, even when Serah returns at the end of the game, all that Lightning can muster up is a weak smile. The entire game, she fought the very Gods of Cocoon just to get her sister back. And the best she can do is grin as if she saw something slightly amusing on television. Pathetic.
Now, I think I've covered the main reasons why I hate the very essence of the character. Let me attempt to understand why people like her so much. Maybe it's because she's one of the few female protagonists? No, that can't be right. Terra never got enough appreciation, and Yuna was downright hated in X-2. Maybe people genuinely like her personality? Possible, but unlikely. If they looked any deeper than "She's a tough woman" they'd find out that she's a terrible excuse for a protagonist. It's likely that male fans like her for her physical attractiveness. Very possible. That's the main reason why Lara Croft sells, isn't it? But that leaves all the female fans without a reason.
Wait a minute. Maybe I know why she's so popular. Square-Enix. That's right, the fact that the creators of the game shove Lightning down your throat constantly. Within a few years she's risen to one of the most popular characters; but that's hardly the fan's faults. They don't decide to put Lightning into every single game that Square releases. I guess marketing does work in this instance. People who've only played XIII and haven't had the pleasure of knowing characters like Zidane or Terra are subjected to Lightning at every turn. You can't search Final Fantasy on Google without that pink haired devil staring back at you. Well, to all you people who think Lightning is the best, I implore you to go out and play Final Fantasy IX. That's a real Final Fantasy game, not the crap that Square-Enix passes off these days. Anyway, I've made my point clear. Lightning sucks.
Keeping Lightning in mind, the story was absolutely pathetic and uninspired. The entire game, the heroes did nothing for themselves. Only Sazh and Vanille went off to do their own thing, while the rest followed Lightning to unwittingly do Barthandelus' bidding. But what confuses me is that in a game where all they do is wander from place to place with a cutscene in between, not much happens. I can sum up the story as this.
- The people of Bodhum fight back at PSICOM as the party enters the Pulse Vestige to find Serah.
- The party become L'Cie, and Serah becomes a Crystal.
- Snow is captured by Fang, Hope and Lightning go to Palumpolum, and Sazh and Vanille go to Nautilus.
- Vanille and Fang are revealed to be L'Cie from Pulse and the party is captured and put aboard the Palamecia.
- They fight Dysley who tells them to kill Orphan and destroy Cocoon.
- The party makes their way through Pulse and back to Eden where they kill Barthandelus and then Orphan.
- Fang and Vanille transform into Ragnarok to save Cocoon from falling into Pulse. They become Crystals while Serah returns to Lightning and snow.
Okay, so I just summed up the main plot in seven dot points. Sure, there is some backstory, but it's all minor details. Now, reading the plot, how much does the party do for themselves? They're turned into L'Cie. They're captured. They're ordered to kill Orphan. Huh, it seems that the only time they did their own thing was when Fang and Vanille saved Cocoon. And that's the story.
Not much happens, and the party does none of it for themselves. Also, they're told that by killing Orphan, Cocoon will be destroyed. The party vows not to let that happen... but then kill Orphan regardless. Yes, they carried out the villain's plans after he died for no apparent reason. Last time I checked, Cloud wasn't the one that killed Aerith and summoned Meteor. So, basically, the story lacks any interesting plot twists and is shallow to the point that even the party is guided through the events by the villains.
Lack of Character Development
Here's the real kicker. We're expected to like or dislike characters based on their personalities and the way they evolve through the story. But they lack any of that. You only meet Cid Raines about twice in the story, and the second time you meet him he's unexplainably half-crystalised and hell bent on killing the party. Or Yaag Rosch. He get shot to death when you first meet him, only to come back unexplainably as a boss who, after the party brings him to the brink of death (again), he decides he's going to help them. The one man who spearheaded the operation to have them killed then decides to work alongside them.
Or Jihl. What was up with her? One cutscene, she's shown smiling at Sazh during the Parade, and next thing you know she's beating him senseless with a baton. And then she's killed of after having only a few lines of dialogue. She probably has less importance in the plot than Necron did. Then I can list the loathsome Team NORA, who did nothing at all except for be annoying, General Amodar who appears in one cutscene telling Lightning that she'll be promoted soon before talking about pretty fireworks, Orphan, who is seen only at the end of the game, and is responsible for keeping Cocoon alive yet for some reasons decides he wants to destroy it when he's released from his Cradle.
So, the point I'm making is that these characters had the potential to be better, and make the game a hell of a lot more interesting. But sadly, Square was too busy with Lightning to even give these people the slightest screen time. Unfortunate.
This is one you probably hear a lot of from old fans. The Auto-Battle. Yes, I know you have the option of not using it. But with those fast paced battles where enemies get several hits in while you wait for your ATB to charge, what choice do you have? It's either fumble through your menu looking for the best attacks or just press Auto-Battle and let the game do it for you. Sure, I hated sitting there bored as my characters did the same attacks time and time again, but it was either that or death. I miss the old days of turn based battles, where you actually had to use your brain instead of your thumbs.
And then there's Paradigms. Although an alright concept, I really don't want to have to keep changing all my character's move sets halfway through battle just to heal someone. Either stick with roles or do what Final Fantasy VII did and let you make your own character's specialities. Instead we're stuck with either full offensive, full defensive, status buffs only, status ailments only, healing spells only, or black magic only. I hated having to sit through the paradigm changing animation while a boss killed me. At least give us a chance.
Or what about how when the party leader died, you all died? That was complete bullshit. If I can't control other party members, at least let me switch the party leader upon death. The countless times Orphan used his Instant KO move on Lightning was just stupid. Or the fact that we only have one summon each. At least it was an improvement on FFXII, where summons would constantly die.
A big step away from the brilliant compositions of Nobuo Uematsu. Instead we have what sounds like some teenager got as many classical pieces as they could find and mashed them together. There was no melody, just lots of different instruments struggling for dominance over the other. The only piece that I can legitimately say I liked to listen to was the battle theme. Other than that, what kind of crappy Final Boss music is Nascent Requiem meant to be? I miss the days when the final battle had the best music in the game.
Oh, and Leona Lewis singing some crappy pop song at the end of the game? Go to hell, Square-Enix.
Lack of Towns/World Map
Here's another big issue. The lack of a world map or any towns. It was just constant fighting. You couldn't go back to old destinations, and even if you could it would just be enemy after enemy to fight. I want NPCs to talk to, not random people who mutter a random phrase when you walk past them. I don't want to have to walk through an environment making sure that there isn't a Behemoth chasing me. I just want somewhere to revisit when I have to, where there are NPCs with their own unique stories and sidequests. Not monsters who are out to kill me.
And the linearity was killing me. One path throughout the whole level? I might as well be playing a racing game. Not to mention Nautilus looked nice but they didn't let you do anything there except for leave. Really, I wanted to go do something there instead of wander aimlessly.
There's no gettin' off this train we on 'till we reach the end of the line. I think what Barret is trying to say is, once you began, it was one goal until the end. It was just storyline after storyline. You can't even choose your own pace. The only thing that was even remotely close to freedom was those crappy Cie’th stones which were mildly interesting, but after the first few I thought stuff it and went on to finish the game. There’s a lack of all the little side quests that the other games were filled with. No card games, nothing to collect, not even some stupid random quests that led you on a wild goose chase (Mister Monkey at Obel Lake, anyone?)
So, basically, you were stuck with the story and no way out. Not even some breathing air in the form of a town. Honestly, I'm not going to enjoy the game when it's just the main plot and I'm strapped to a chair and force fed it no matter what. Why didn't I just switch the game off, you ask? Sazh and Vanille, I reply. The game should have been about them.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
I think the title says enough by itself.
So, that concludes my look into the world of Final Fantasy XIII. I don't expect you to agree with me, and I'm sure some of you will be quite unhappy with what I've said here today. I don't expect you to like what I've said, I just expect you to read it through and think about these things before you make assumptions that I haven't played the game thoroughly enough. I think this here proves that I've looked at the game more in-depth than most fans of this horrible addition to an ill-fated series. I fear there is no turning back for Final Fantasy now. It's destined to either go out with a whimper or become something more horrible than it is now. But we'll never get it back to how it once was.
And, for the last time, I must stress the importance of an opinion. This is just my opinion, do not take it for fact. If you're a fan of FFXIII and want to debate my views with me, by all means leave a comment and we can talk.