Home > Gaming, Opinions (Gaming) > Gaming: 1,300 words on 13 hours with Final Fantasy 13

Gaming: 1,300 words on 13 hours with Final Fantasy 13

I’m completely cheating here with the 1,300 words thing. If you discount the captions under the images and the opening two paragraphs (which are just recapping the first article) then it’s 1,300 words. The word count was too close for me not to try though.


Many attacks throw up multiple damage numbers at once. Combined with the chain gauge, ATB gauge and health bars the information can fill the screen, and are treated as much more important to watch than the actual fight.

The last time I wrote about Final Fantasy 13 I explained why I thought the game’s opening three hours didn’t do what they needed to. In addition to the deliberately extreme linearity the game didn’t explain itself properly (forcing the player to read the text entries in the Datalog for explanations of core terms the story is built around), and the combat was both dull (lacking choice and requiring no skill beyond tapping X repeatedly) and pointless (awarding no XP or other reasons to actually go through them). I concluded:

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.

Now that I’ve sunk another ten hours into the game I figured I would revisit those points and see if things have improved. After all, ten hours is longer than most games that aren’t RPGs or open worlds and during that time developers tell an entire story arc and take the player through a series of dramatic events. Square’s Motumu Toriyama cited Call of Duty as an influence in how they told the story (removing towns and shops to keep up the pace) and thirteen hours would get you through the entirety of both Modern Warfare campaigns at normal difficulty, through intense firefights, helicopter and snowmobile rides, nukes and EMPs, betrayals and deaths and vengeance.

A Final Fantasy game is unlikely to ever deliver that sort of pacing and excitement, certainly not as long as Square has the player stop repeatedly for in-game or CGI cutscenes. Not only is Final Fantasy 13 no exception, by thirteen hours the story still isn’t explaining itself properly. There are less unexplained terms now that the primary concepts have been established but character motivations aren’t explained at all. At three hours in all the characters were together, but for no real reason they have since split into three groups, with Snow staying by himself, Lightning and Hope going in one direction while Sazh and Vanille go in the opposite direction, for reasons that aren’t clear.

When you have a large cast of main characters separating them can be a good thing, giving everybody their chance to shine and develop without being overshadowed, but the game just isn’t doing that. There are some hints of it at times, with Lightning and Hope developing a veteran/rookie relationship as Hope learns to stand up for himself and Sazh becoming a sort of father figure to Vanille after being separated from his son, but for the most part it’s just, “We’re here. Let’s go somewhere else.” There are still lots of cutscenes and lots of dialogue but the game isn’t saying much, showing a tremendous disregard for the amount of time Square expects the player to invest in their game. By this point there isn’t even a clear enemy, which adds to the lack of direction in the story and absence of clear motivation for the characters.

The game is still incredibly linear and by all accounts that isn’t something that changes for at least another seven hours, but I don’t really find that to be a problem.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with linearity (though I do prefer RPGs that let me go off and explore) and I don’t find the loss of towns to be affecting my enjoyment of the game (and there are occasional encounters with civilians and cutscenes that show there are other people in the world that aren’t in your party or their enemies). There was one odd moment in the game where I was navigating a series of linear floating walkways (a style of environment Final Fantasy 13 uses often) where Lightning mentioned that I could use the light beams that appear ahead to help me navigate, even though the area was so linear that it would be impossible to get lost.

The Chain Gauge

This is the chain gauge. To 'stagger' an enemy and deal high damage the bar has to be filled, and different combat roles affect the gauge in different ways.

Something that’s faring a lot better than the story is the combat, as immediately after the three-hour point the party become the cursed l’Cie, which means they get to access magic and the role-controlling paradigm system. Essentially each character has access to certain roles which each provide different functions. Commandos are power characters that deal damage and slow the decline of the chain gauge, Ravagers use magic attacks to build up the chain gauge quickly but can’t slow its decline, Medic’s heal and revive, Synergists boost the party (protecting against damage, boosting their attacks), Saboteurs weaken the enemy (increasing susceptibility to damage and elemental attacks, slowing them, etc.), and Sentinels protect the group by drawing enemy attacks. When not in battle you can customise a selection of paradigms using different combinations of roles and in battle you can switch between paradigms in an instant to adjust your strategy.

It’s a good system and it works well but its biggest problem is tied into the story, namely that you rarely ever have a full party. As the system is built around requiring a commando to slow the chain gauge and a ravager to build it up you can’t help but end up primarily in those two roles, only switching one of them out into a support role when you need healing or a quick buff/debuff. It’s a system crafted around three party members in a game that has kept the group to two members for the past eight hours, as if Square doesn’t trust the player to understand their system enough to handle three people at once.

That apparent lack of trust stems even further. At five hours Snow suddenly meets Shiva, his eidolon (creatures you summon for powerful attacks). It’s another event that isn’t explained in the story (this leaves me wondering if actual explanations were part of what was removed when Square cut huge chunks from the game) but after defeating her and claiming her as an eidolon Snow disappears from the story and you don’t get to use the eidolon. By thirteen hours he’s just coming back into it. Likewise, Lightning claims Odin as her eidolon later on, you get one tutorial fight showing how to use him but then you switch to controlling Hope through the next few areas and don’t have access to Odin (this also creates the odd situation where if you’re controlling Lightning and she loses her health it’s game over, but if you’re controlling somebody else Lightning can spend the whole fight dead on the floor and it’s not important. The player character only matters because they’re currently the player character).


Both Sazh and Vanille talk about Sazh as if he's an old man, constantly referring to him being old, talking about stopping for rests, and so on. He looks about thirty.

I closed the previous post by saying that the few things the game had done right were in the characters and the graphics. Visually the cutscenes still impress and the game has some nice areas, but as I mentioned above there are a lot of areas that are basically floating walkways in large, empty areas, which makes them look like game maps rather than real locations that people might actually live in and navigate. A lot of the enemy designs are like that too, strange formless mixtures of technology and organic that haven’t proven very memorable so far.

The characters are faring much better. Two of the characters were quite irritating at the start – whiny Hope and ridiculously chirpy Vanille – but both have improved. Lightning has taken Hope under her wing and is training him to fight and be more sure of himself, though he’s still incredibly hung up on the loss of his mother and having his revenge on Snow. Vanille, much like Selphie in Final Fantasy 8, is slowly suggesting there’s more to her cheerful nature and that she may even be connected to Sazh’s son becoming a l’Cie, the event that ultimately lead to Sazh’s involvement in this quest (not that a clear quest has emerged yet). The other three characters, Lightning, Snow and Sazh, are all still likeable (Snow maybe a little less so, but not by much) and Fang, who has started appearing in cutscenes but hasn’t been controllable yet, seems like fun.

What the game hasn’t managed to do is yet is make me really enjoy it, and while it’s not awful I’m just not hooked in any way. The story isn’t doing anything for me to want to see it through, with no clear villain, no concrete goals for the characters and nothing happening that’s particularly interesting. I’ve not played a Final Fantasy game where that’s been the case before, which probably says a lot about the mistakes Square have made with this entry.

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  1. August 15, 2010 at 17:02

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