Sunday Soapbox: Where does Final Fantasy XIII fit now?

For clarification, this Sunday Soapbox editorial has Riddles opening, and then Ethos responding to Riddles in the same article. Enjoy.

Riddles –

Beautiful FFVI-inspired art.

Beautiful FFVI-inspired art.

There was a time when Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series was the definitive console RPG experience.

There was a time when a new Final Fantasy meant a new landmark in the RPG landscape. Final Fantasy VI encapsulates the 2D RPG experience to the button. Final Fantasies VII-IX not only defined the RPG experience for the PlayStation generation, but for the entire genre. Final Fantasy XII, in my opinion at least, is the definitive RPG of the previous console generation.

But my, how the times change.

Final Fantasy XIII represents a big change for the series in more ways than one. We’ve already been over the drastic changes that have been made to the battle system, the world design, et cet – but in truth, that’s only half the story.

Final Fantasy XIII is a very good game. Few people are denying that. I’m certainly not denying that – sure, I’m only twelve hours in, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having a ton of fun with the game. But Final Fantasy XIII isn’t that definitive RPG experience any more. The king has been dethroned, and Final Fantasy XIII feels more like an experience specifically tailored to series fans, rather than an all-encompassing, definitive RPG.

So, why is this? Why has Final Fantasy lost the potency it once held?

Poor Serah.

Poor Serah.

There are a few reasons. First and foremost, we’ve already seen a lot of RPGs this generation – Square Enix was a little late to the ballgame. Just to cite a few examples, BioWare has already given us three fully-featured role playing games – Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect 2. It’s a bit too early to start handing out awards for this generation, but in my eyes, those three games define the role-playing experience of the generation. The worlds are huge, detailed, and steeped in pages and pages of lore. The battle systems are both deep and accessible, appealing to the new generation of gamers while avoiding ditching RPG combat conventions entirely. The storylines are epic, emotionally charged, and incredibly well-written.

Three years later, along comes Final Fantasy XIII. The world isn’t huge and sprawling. The level of input from the player is minimal.  The writing really isn’t that impressive, and neither is the storyline.

One word I would use to describe Final Fantasy XIII is “safe.” Despite the many changes that have been made, many of them – if not all of them – have been made in the interest of remaining “safe.” The game focuses exclusively on what Final Fantasy has always done right: the battle system.

In fact, it’s the only aspect of the game that doesn’t hold the player’s hand. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Final Fantasy XIII dumbed down – but it doesn’t take the risks that, say, Mass Effect does. It tries too hard not to frustrate the player. And, in doing so, it removes nearly every vestige of actual role-playing.

It’s a bit of a disappointment, to say the least. I won’t lie: as much as I’m enjoying Final Fantasy XIII, every time I play, I’m struck with an odd desire to play it’s predecessor – Final Fantasy XII.

Take it from here, buddy.

Ethos –

Finally got it right! ...except the theme song.

Finally got it right! ...except his theme song.

Y’know, it’s interesting, Riddles. I would actually say that this game is the best written of the series while at the same time agreeing with you completely in saying that it’s not that well-written. Final Fantasy has never had fantastic writing, Bioware just exposed that with sensational writing that was previously uncharacteristic in the industry. Final Fantasy was always able to draw people in with rare character focus and the pure depth of the worlds.

Now, I have a slightly different perspective than you because I’m farther in. The game world has opened up, and there have been some incredibly intriguing plot twists. This is actually the most I’ve been into a Final Fantasy story since IX. Something just clicked in me very recently that has endeared me to Final Fantasy XIII more than I expected with the opening – oh y’know – 30 hours, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

What we are talking about is how the trail-blazer is now behind the pace. I think some of that has to do with the perspective of Square Enix in general recently. They’ve had so many flops this generation that I truly don’t think anybody was taking Final Fantasy XIII as seriously as they would have otherwise. And as much as it maybe shouldn’t, that makes a big difference. Trying to look at the game objectively at this point in the adventure, I’d actually like to take a more positive stance.

Gorgeous.

Gorgeous.

I don’t think Final Fantasy XIII is as behind the curve as the company’s reputation dictates. There has been some very questionable choices regarding (lack of) exploration and stopping to smell the roses, but there are other areas where I don’t think any other game this generation compares. While not technically the best, Final Fantasy XIII is my favourite looking game, hands down. Everything is intricate, varied, and often beautiful. There is a lot more that could be done in the first half to connect you to the world, but the art style did a damn good job. Enemy design is unrivaled, character design is on par with the best of the series, and once you get to Pulse, even some enemy pop-in won’t stop you from being completely blown away by what you see.

And I guess that’s the moment where everything changes for this title and its place in this generation. Should you not be too bitter from the linearity of the first half, Final Fantasy XIII is an experience that cannot be found in any other recent RPG. The world is the sprawling size of the lands explored in XII, the fully opened up menu system blows the watered down RPG mechanics of Mass Effect 2 away, and the excitement of the pure fantasy world to be explored will bring back nostalgic feelings of Final Fantasy at its best.

Yes, Square Enix is still a little confused, and that shows in a lot of the decisions in this highly scrutinized game, but factor reputation out, and play all the way through, and I think Final Fantasy XIII has a legitimately earned place in the top RPGs of this generation. And this is coming from a huge Mass Effect fan.

Still, while the characters and story are great, it would be nice for Square Enix to get some Bioware caliber writers and to stray from the melodrama just a little bit. It gets to be too much; ruining some perfectly good scenes.

This has gone on way too long, what do you all think? Is Square Enix setting the pace? Just keeping up? Way behind?

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49 Responses to “Sunday Soapbox: Where does Final Fantasy XIII fit now?”

  1. SiliconNooB says:

    Way behind. The game is quite fun and addictive, but it’s just too stripped down to think of it being anywhere close to a definitive leader in the genre. The pacing is way off, and I feel like I’ve been kept at arms length from the characters and story. I just find myself hard-pressed to care about the characters or their plight, it all feels a bit silly really.

    -At any rate, I find myself mostly agreeing with Oliver’s summery, and find myself sadly resigned to the fact that Squaresoft’s golden era of JRPGs has been over for nearly a decade without me willing to concede the fact. Oh well, things could be worse, they still make some fun games (and some shitty ones), but even so it’s hard to play XIII for long without getting a creeping sense of melancholy …

  2. SiliconNooB says:

    This insipid melodrama feels a million miles away from Cloud dressing in drag to gain an audience with the Don …

  3. Ethos says:

    Wait for Pulse!

  4. Ethos says:

    And let’s be honest, FF has been soaked in melodrama before. 8 and 10 drown in it just as much as 13 does. It’s had to be toned down for a while now.

  5. SiliconNooB says:

    They were, but at least it felt like the writers game a damn, these characters feel like hollow tropes half the time, without much in the way of chemistry. It feels like for the majority of this decade Japanese (non-Atlus) developers have been increasingly retreating behind clichés to the extent that the characters are scarcely more nuanced than morality play archetypes of the middle ages … it’s just another way in which their industry has languished.

  6. Ethos says:

    Hrm, I agree that Squeenix needs a lot of lessons from Bioware, but I didn’t really connect with the cast of 8 or 10, so I’m really into the cast of 13…for the most part. I actually find these characters to be less of clichés than those in 10. Of course, Snow’s a dunce, and Lightning needs to grow up, and they’re all way too dramatic, but the game seems to realize a lot of that and doesn’t let the characters get away with it just because “that’s the way they are”.

    But I will admit that there’s a story-telling choice involving Sazh that I truly despise. It’s gimmicky, goes against his character, and just shouldn’t have made the cut.

  7. SiliconNooB says:

    There’s no denying that the characters in FFX were clichés, but they were clichés with chemistry and narrative purpose, they were clichés who had to deal with several dramatic conflicts/plot-points which resulted in interesting interactions on their part, the XIII characters just feel like they’re going through the motions. Personally, I just wish that FF games had never made the transition to voice acting, it was easy to forgive a lot more as text …

  8. Ethos says:

    @SN – Oh, I agree with you there. If FF9 was voice acted, that game would be terrible! But I guess it’s just a matter of personally connecting then. I liked the cast of FFX well enough, but I didn’t connect in the way you did, so I felt at a distance from them as you do with the FFXIII cast. But again…wait for Pulse. I have a feeling it’s going to change some minds. Maybe not, but if any part of the game can, Pulse can.

  9. Andogo says:

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned the lack of a love subplot.

    FF13 is pretty. The visual design seems to be more geometry based, without too much emphasis on textures and bump maps, which I’m expecting to see in later installments (compare FF7 and FF9, or FFX and FF12). But people expect pretty from SE, and, in this generation, it’s become par for the course.

    In past generations, SE had been able to rely on the fact that Japan dominated the RPG market. Thus, issues with localization and plot (every single one was about adolescents saving the world) were masked because every other competitor in the field suffered from the same problems. FF’s advantage was that it had the brand, the graphics, and the combat system.

    FFX was the most recent “memorable” FF. Whether it was advertising dollars or character design, FFX was memorable — and profitable enough to spawn a true sequel. FF13 hasn’t seen the same kind of advertising money being tossed at it, but even it it did, its main cast isn’t really diverse enough to appeal to a wide variety of people. FF13 has some cool characters for the 18-25 crowd, but you don’t get any contrast. FFX had the dumbasses: Tidus, Wakka, Rikku, and they were balanced out by the “adults”: Auron, Lulu, Kimahri. And then you had Yuna, who was the Mandy Moore character in this situation. Here, you have six people: grumpy, emo, slutty, whorey, cocky, and black. Which’d really speak to me if I were a high schooler, but I haven’t been one in 7 years. Wow, I’m old.

    SE’s localization has hit that awkward spot between “so bad it’s charming” and “this so pretentiously well written it could be on HBO”. And what with the all-or-nothing cutscenes (can’t skip lines) being fully voice-acted, it really makes you aware that the story could be told with so much more effectively if the scenario designers had traded quantity for quality.

  10. Andogo says:

    Also, seriously, what game director would honestly say “so for the first 30 hours, they’re just going to be on rails, really, and then BOOM, EVERYTHING. Can you imagine it? I can’t. So let’s just do it, print it, ship it, and see how it does.”

    “Too little to do between battles you say? Let’s just toss in a couple more dialogues about their feelings. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, AAH, I AM A GENIUS.”

  11. SiliconNooB says:

    Well that’s crazy Moto for you …

  12. Ethos says:

    @Andogo – I’ve thought about the lack of love, but I’ve been okay with it. I think Fang and Vanille have sexual tension through the ass, but obviously that’ll never be. Snow and Serah sapped enough for the rest of the gang.

  13. SiliconNooB says:

    I also noticed the lack of a love plot, but didn’t think that it was something I could legitimately complain about …

  14. Riddles says:

    Just to weigh in,

    Final Fantasy HAS always been steeped in melodrama. Nobody denies that. But melodrama was a lot easier to forgive a) ten, twenty years ago when most videogame writing was utter garbage and b) when we were kids. At age 20, in a generation when quality writing is expected, Final Fantasy XIII’s over-the-top melodramatic bullshit just doesn’t cut the mustard.

    And I have to disagree with you, Ethos. I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that the game is somehow “aware” of its melodrama, and the effect is ameliorated as a result. The characters seem like they’re “getting away” with their melodrama well enough.

    And also, the game isn’t even close to the best written of the series. Have you guys already forgotten about FFXII? The plot was practically non-existent, but the writing was uniformly excellent. The opposite can be said for XIII; I actually give a shit about the plot this time, but the writing needs work.

    And about the lack of love plot, might I again reference FFXII? And FFVII? And FFVI… and really, every FF other than VIII, IX, and X.

    (What I’m saying is that, other than those three games, Final Fantasy has never really had a heavy focus on romantic subplots.)

  15. SiliconNooB says:

    @Oliver- FFXII didn’t have the best writing of the series, it had the least writing coupled with the best localisation. XIII has the most painful writing of the series though.

  16. Andogo says:

    @Riddles – You’d say FFVII has no romance subplot? I’d say it’s not present to the same degree as FF8 or FFX, but there were loads of sexual tension in the air, even if Cloud was still at the “girls have cooties” stage of emotional development.

  17. SiliconNooB says:

    Good point, one of the reasons that the death of Aeris was so shocking was because Squaresoft seemingly telegraphed their intent to have Cloud and Aeris end up together to their entire audience, and then messed with our expectations by suddenly eliminating her. It might never have come together, but there was definitely something there, and then later there was something with Tifa also, I actually really enjoyed that sense of ambiguity.

  18. Ethos says:

    Yeah, VII was all about the romance, Riddles.

    But you’re right, XII did have the best writing, and XIII DOES get away with a lot of melodrama. I’m just saying that they do get called on it from time to time. Snow gets punched and Lightning has to backtrack her angry stubbornness. But you’re right, overall they get away with way too much. Emotional speeches are looked at with sincerity by the other characters when nobody would just listen to that. I mean, I suppose they’re in a dire situation, and sometimes the point of the speech is really good, just…yeah, hike up the writing.

    And SN, while XIII’s writing definitely CAN be painful, it’s not more painful than VIII’s. Imagine THAT shit was voice acted?

  19. SiliconNooB says:

    Ah, but it isn’t …

    -All the FFXIII characters seem to be bi-polar … they really only have a two track emotive range, they’re either neutral or their behaviour is absolutely cranked up to 11, with seemingly no middle-ground.

    -I don’t mind emotional melodrama, but it has to be earned. A game can have big emotive outburst, but it first needs to have a few low-key sequences at various points leading up to it in order to provide some justification. In the case of XIII however, SE were clearly uninterested in laying the groundwork, and instead throw these melodramatic moments at us thick and fast, with nothing for me to help contextualize them in a more favourable light.

    SE HAS LOST THE ABILITY TO WRITE INCIDENTAL DIALOGUE!

  20. Ethos says:

    There’s some, but yeah. The two need to be swapped. Absolutely. Although a lot of stuff gets better on Pulse, don’t expect that to change, unfortunately.

  21. Riddles says:

    VII was not, in any way, about romance. The relationship between Aeris and Cloud was playful and occasionally flirty, but always entirely platonic. And then she died, and that was it.

    If it wasn’t obvious enough before, Crisis Core makes it especially clear that it was Zack Aeris loved, and Cloud was merely a pleasant reminder.

    And Tifa? Please. That bitch has been throwing herself at him for how long now? And has that subplot gone anywhere? No.

  22. Ethos says:

    Bah-ha, I love how Riddles says “VII was not, in any way, about romance” and then goes on to explain all the romance in the game.
    Doesn’t need to be a happy couple for there to be love and attraction in the air.
    Unlike XIII in which the only sexual chemistry is between Fang and Vanille, and XII when nobody has genitals.

  23. SiliconNooB says:

    *Facepalm* @ Oliver’s wide-eyed naivety.

  24. DarthGibblet says:

    I don’t know, to “VII was not, in any way, about romance” sounds suspiciously like “there is no exploration in Metroid.”

  25. DarthGibblet says:

    *to me

  26. SiliconNooB says:

    THERE’S NO ROMANCE IN FF!

  27. Andogo says:

    I think Riddles’ stance on romance is of the “it doesn’t count if you just splashed around in the kiddie pool” variety. There is no love without consummation, yes?

  28. SiliconNooB says:

    That’s just silly.

  29. Riddles says:

    @Andogo – yep, that’s more or less what I think.

    Also, if anyone could give me a single example of when Cloud recognized and/or cared about Aeris’ so-called romantic advances, I might change my mind.

  30. Ethos says:

    That’s pretty retarded. Unrequited love stories are some of the most powerful love stories.

  31. Andogo says:

    Hah, unrequited love is usually just the euphemism emo authors assign to the creepy obsessive behaviour of their creepy obsessive protagonists. It isn’t love if the other person isn’t in a position to give informed consent.

    Now, Millenium Actress is a pretty good example of non-creepy unrequited love, but it is also a Satoshi Kon movie. Which is to say, it’s pretty fucked up even without creepy obsessive people.

    FFVII? That’s a case of some guy giving off alien pheromones while being completely dead in the pants. Sexual frustration was pouring our of Aeris and Tifa like a thick chunky ooze, but he was too busy thinking about a) the alien or b) the androgynous psychopath. Hell, even Jessie was ready to jump his bones at the beginning of the game, but Cloud was too busy being “…”. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if you’d call that romance, but certainly, sexual tension, it was there. Unlike FFXII, which was about as titillating as …wait, why is there trance music playing outside?

  32. Ethos says:

    Sexuality IS a massive part of romance, fucked up or not. And while I’m many things, I wouldn’t call myself creepy and obsessive and I’ve had unrequited love with a best friend.
    Yeah, FFVII isn’t a showcase in maturity, but it’s often about love.

  33. SiliconNooB says:

    Yeah there’s a whole three-way schoolyard infatuation triangle going on, Oliver’s just being bloody minded and/or isn’t fully able to understand the complexity of human affection due to the emotinal neglect of a mother who cannot remember him.

    -Sexual intercourse is the least important aspect of a romantic storyline (unless you’re reading hentai).

    -Honestly, I think VII had a much more successful romantic sub-plot than did VIII.

  34. Ethos says:

    Oh god, absolutely about the VII vs VIII thing.
    And I said, sexuality, Noobington, not the actual act of sex. And sexuality is a huge fucking part of romance, whether explicit or not.

  35. Andogo says:

    Non sequitor here, but there was mention of sexual tension between Fang and Vanille, and there’s definitely some tarzan-jane business going on here. But also, holy crap, I know it isn’t voiced by her, but that makes the fourth Claudia Black character I’ve seen in as many blockbuster games recently (Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins), wtf?

    Sarcastic, with an accent, is that sultry and sexy and hot hot ull cum ur pants? Is that all there is to it these days?

  36. Andogo says:

    @Ethos I know you love Pogo, but Hayley Williams is like… an 11 out of 10. But I’m sure you’re 5 stars out of 5. You’re just not in the same realm of interest. Sexual interest.

  37. Andogo says:

    Compounded monthly for an annual rate of 2.15%

  38. Ethos says:

    Firstly, Andogo, that IS bizarre about the re-occurring character thing.
    As for everything else you said: Whhaaaatttt the CRAP are you talking about? I have an Andogo translator device, and you’re still not making an ounce of relevant sense. Hell, you’re not even making IRrelevant sense!

  39. Si8liconNooB says:

    Definitely some character similarities, but they don’t really sound the same.

    @Ethos- My last post wasn’t refering to yours, it was directed @ Oliver, who seems to be under the impression that a relationship has to be physical for it to even exist … (IMO human sexuality is the basis for most human things).

  40. Riddles says:

    @Noob: I pretty clearly stated why I don’t view FFVII’s “triangle” as a romance story, and I never said it was because Cloud and Aeris didn’t bang.

    This thread’s over-analysis of FFVII’s non-existent love plot is almost comical. Even IF Final Fantasy VII WAS a story of unrequited love, (which it’s not, because Aeris didn’t love Cloud, as I’ve gone over) it certainly isn’t a “powerful” one in the least… unless you connect a whole bunch of dots that aren’t really there, which is what you guys seem to be doing.

  41. SiliconNooB says:

    You’re right, there is no exploration in Metroid. Would you like some crayons?

  42. Ethos says:

    Bah-ha, well I wouldn’t be that harsh, N00b, though I ultimately agree.
    FFVII obviously wasn’t able deep love like IX did well, or X started to do well, or like VIII failed to do. I’m not saying it’s a deep and powerful story of unrequited love (I was stating that unrequited love CAN be very powerful), I’m saying that FFVII is often about romance.

    Even if Aeris is just channeling her feelings for Zach, that doesn’t mean it’s not romance, even at the basic flirty stage.
    Plus, I don’t give a shit about Aeris. Like Andy (and you) were saying, Tifa and Jessie and tons of people are throwing themselves at Cloud. He’s as uncomfortable with it as a 6 year old.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that love and sex isn’t ignored in FFVII like it is in XII and XIII (unless you include the dead husband and frozen fianceé). It’s presented in a believable way ala IX, and I’ve always liked VII for it.

    Riddles, I don’t think there are many dots, and I don’t think any character had a deeper connection than they had, I just think it’s a little bit ignorant and oblivious to state that “VII was not, in any way, about romance.”

    Although, we’re probably mostly arguing semantics at this point.

  43. SiliconNooB says:

    Romance wasn’t it’s core theme, but was quite prominent during several sections. It’seemed as though Squaresoft were doing their level best to set Aeris up as Cloud’s love interest before they pulled out the rug out from under us.

    “If it wasn’t obvious enough before, Crisis Core makes it especially clear that it was Zack Aeris loved”

    … And right after that Aeris Joined a convent fer the several intervening YEARS, and welded shut her minge …

  44. DarthGibblet says:

    hehehe, “minge”…

    I’ll agree with Riddles, though, that it is comical how long this thread has gotten about something thats completely off topic. I think that actually says something about how much Final Fantasy still matters as a series. No matter what your thoughts on FFXIII, we can still debate for HOURS about the past games, they’re that important in our minds (I’m just as guilty of this as anybody, even though I haven’t really contributed much to this particular thread, sorry). No matter what happens to the FF series or how the subsequent sequels turn out, the series is still important, if just because of it’s past entries, and it always will be.

    Personally, I’m glad they tried something new with FFXIII. We’ve all talked about the “death of the JRPG” and how the genre really hasn’t evolved, and it seems like FF is at least trying to stay fresh. Hopefully FFV (or vs XIII) can learn a lot from XIII’s development (particularly the battle system) and address the complaints. In the mean time, I’m having a great time with XIII, even if I doubt I’ll ever replay due to the extreme linearity of the first 1/2.

  45. SiliconNooB says:

    I think the story is pretty poorly put together, it’s conceptually good but I just don’t care about it.

  46. Andogo says:

    I still have problems buying the “because it happened during a cutscene” excuse. Honestly, really? Nathan Drake has shitloads of shit happen to him during cutscenes, and y’know what? He soldiers through, ’cause he’s Nathan-fucking-Drake. How is it that Final Fantasy characters can have a PLANET smash into their faces and yet somehow be susceptible to something as simple as falling 100 feet, with various canopies to break their fall? How? Did potions and Cure somehow drop out of the collective consciousness?

  47. I miss you FF so much :( says:

    I’m missing so much FF… wow man its hurt… When I was 14 years old,
    ive met FF VI …man, that totally changed emotionally my life emotionally. The drama,
    super depth history,the music, the world, the monster, cities… and especially the characters .. Ah the characters … It’s like a family that I had and will never return to me…
    This game, FFVI made me feel a world Parallel to our called Final Fantasy… has a fantastic history and
    very intense atmosphere. Final Fantasy “CLASSIC” has more DRAMA than ROMANCE.
    The registered trademark of the FF stories was his Fantastics frustrating Dramas. Final
    Fantasy 7 came back with a futuristic story about the decline of the world by
    the war and the capitalism. A History with highly mature point of view and
    philosophical about our world was Final Fantasy 8, showing the conflicts between “young adults”
    and the felling that they had to face the world too early, with their secrets of childhood and
    tralmas …
    sooooooooooooo…….¬¬ Final Fantasy 9 .. returned to zero, all childsh and stupid ..
    From there I jumped FF10 and FF11, and then met FF12… LOL for love of God, who
    praises Final Fantasy 12 hit his head with great force!!! FF12 was a
    frustrated trying and failing to merge with Star Wars wtf was that ??? .. Squaresoft team was
    all drunk and drugged when they had this stupid idea? Copy the way
    a film by taking out all the originality of the series FF? For me FF series
    ended .. Its just a bunch of #&@%¨$ !!! .. never mind.. clones are just false advertising and mass advertising and exaggerated, saying to all the world that the the new version of FF is the best of all …
    Wen i think in FF i get super melancholy cause FF died for it stupidities of its creators.
    FF remained just in my memory

    Fantastic and Epic, R.I.P. Final Fantasy.

  48. Andogo says:

    ^This was biutiful.

  49. Ethos says:

    Greatest comment on the site.

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