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