Home > Gaming, Opinions (Gaming) > Gaming: Final Fantasy 13 starts badly

Gaming: Final Fantasy 13 starts badly

Lightning and Odin (I think)

Wikipedia fact: "First appearing at E3 2006, Final Fantasy XIII is the flagship title of the Fabula Nova Crystallis collection of Final Fantasy games and is the first game to utilize Square-Enix's Crystal Tools engine. The game features both futuristic and natural elements; it is set between a land of wilderness and the high-tech world above it."

Much has been said about how much Square Enix has stripped down elements of Final Fantasy XIII compared to previous entries, with a lot of the game said to be little more than a particularly linear corridor and not opening up until the eleventh chapter (somewhere between twenty and thirty hours in), and a slow rate of tutorials that means you’re still being taught mechanics and being trusted with a little more control over combat long after the average retail game would have reached its conclusion. Square Enix themselves have said many times that in their attempts to appeal to the larger audience in the West they based its pacing more around shooters like Call of Duty than either the Japanese role-playing games they’ve specialised in over the years or the Western role-playing games that sell well in the US and Europe.

I’m only just about three hours into the game so I still have all of that to come, but I can’t help thinking that  Square Enix have fumbled the game’s opening in two important areas, the story and the combat. When you’re just starting out the opening couple of hours (putting aside for a moment that for most games two to three hours would be upwards of a quarter of the game’s length and would already have established the main story and built it up through several big events) should set up the story and establish the big threat/antagonist that the heroes have to overcome. Final Fantasy 13 doesn’t do a good job of that, opening with Lightning and Sazh on a train and attacking the city’s soldiers (in a manner that’s very similar to the opening of Final Fantasy 7, actually, down to the way Sazh refers to Lightning as an ex-soldier), while Snow is elsewhere also fighting soldiers.

There’s a lot of talk of fal’Cie, Pulse l’Cie and Cie’th without ever explaining what the terms mean and even talk of Pulse and Cocoon, the two main locations of the game, are mostly treated as things that require no explanation (not least because Lightning, Snow and Sazh are the focus of the game’s start and they already know about these things). To find out what the terms mean you can consult the game’s Datalog, a section of the menu that functions like the Codex of Mass Effect, explaining in detail about everything of any significance that is mentioned in the game. In Mass Effect these entries were mostly flavour text to tell you things that you didn’t need to know but could read about if you wanted to flesh out the universe, whereas in Final Fantasy 13 they’re pretty much required reading to know what the characters are talking about, which is ridiculous when you consider just how frequent the cutscenes are and how many opportunities there are for somebody to explain things. They’re not even complicated things to explain, essentially boiling down to this:

The fal’Cie is a mysterious being within the city of Cocoon who ‘curses’ people, branding them Pulse l’Cie and giving them a Focus, a task they must complete. Those who don’t complete their Focus become the zombie-like Cie’th, those who do complete it turn into crystal and are granted eternal life. Fearing the l’Cie curse could spread to everybody in Cocoon, the soldiers are tasked with the Purge, removing all l’Cie from Cocoon and taking them down to the world of Pulse below.

Lightning and Fang battle a Behemoth.

Wikipedia fact: "The concept for Final Fantasy XIII's battle system is to maintain the strategic nature of command-based battles. The system stemmed from a desire to create battles similar to those found in Final Fantasy VII Advent Children."

Final Fantasy 13 also fails to keep the combat interesting at the start as all the fun parts are locked away from you; there’s no magic until a plot development a few hours in, you don’t have access to the game’s Paradigm system until you have magic, and all you can do is attack (with two of the characters having an area attack move as well). With choice so limited there’s no reason not to use the auto-attack feature (which sets up the best attacks based on the enemy you target), especially as doing that you’ll still beat the target times for each battle and earn five stars (which either don’t actually serve any purpose or haven’t yet been explained). Battles don’t earn you any experience points (or the game’s equivalent) this early in the game so they aren’t even rewarding.

It means that for the first couple of hours of Final Fantasy 13 you’re doing little more than running down linear walkways to the next cutscene trigger to watch movies that don’t quite explain what’s happening or why, going through fights that require no skill and no input beyond pressing a button to auto-battle. It keeps the game from being exciting or interesting and just seems like an enormous fumble for Square Enix’s flagship franchise.

So what has the game done right so far? Well it’s a very pretty game and while Cocoon doesn’t really seem like a practical environment it looks really nice, and the cutscenes are technically impressive even if it seems a little old-fashioned these days to keep most of a game’s story in elaborate CGI instead of incorporating it more into the game. I also already like three of the main characters (the other two less so, as Hope is whiny and annoying while Vanille is one of those ridiculously chirpy children that are always irritating and only seem to exist in jRPGs). Lightning, Sazh and Snow are all likeable for different reasons and I’m interested in seeing where their stories lead. At the point I’m at now I’ve just unlocked the ability to use magic, the paradigm system and stat/ability advancements through the Crystarium, and the plot has had its first major development (with a suitably dramatic cutscene), so hopefully things are going to get much more involving and interesting from now on.

(or the game’s equivalent)

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