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Opinions: Have We Been Too Harsh on Final Fantasy XIII?

June 02, 2013
Phoenix

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Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges that a video game developer can have is keeping its fan-base happy; gamers are a skeptical bunch that don’t tend to react well to change. It is this mentality that makes the task of developing for a long-running, fanatically loved franchise one of the most difficult in the industry. As developers try to find ways to keep the franchise new and exciting they are effectively walking a tight-rope; all it takes is just one wrong step and the series’ reputation is damaged inexorably. Square Enix has had to learn this lesson the hard way after the thirteenth major installment in its long-running and critically-acclaimed Final Fantasy series left many of the series’ fans feeling disenchanted with the franchise. Despite receiving decent critical reception, there is simply no denying that some of the series’ fervor has been dampened in the wake of Final Fantasy XIII, so much so that its direct sequel is one of the worst-selling Final Fantasy titles released on home consoles. But as time moves on I can’t help but ask the question “Have we been too harsh on Final Fantasy XIII?”



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Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to tell you that Final Fantasy XIII is a game that deserves unanimous critical praise and affection, or that it reached the heights that previous titles in the series reached. The reality is that Final Fantasy XIII was perceived by many to be a flawed game with good reason, but as time has passed I feel that most of us have forgotten about many of the things that the game did well, maybe better than any other game has done since. For every mention of the game’s poor gameplay choices, people seem to forget about its stunning visuals and cut-scenes, for every mention of the poor execution of character development, people forget about its phenomenal soundtrack. Final Fantasy XIII was a game with notable flaws, but it’s a shame to see its triumphs being pushed to the wayside as they have.

Perhaps Square Enix is a victim of its own success. There’s no denying that the Final Fantasy series, in years past, was considered to be the epitome of Japanese role-playing-games; you’d be hard pressed to find a fan of the genre that wasn't a fan of Final Fantasy, the two were synonymous. This is largely because the series regularly reached heights that other games in the genre simply weren’t able to reach; with each new instalment the series delivered an exciting new story, an immersive new world, loveable new characters and enjoyable gameplay. As time went on, the Final Fantasy name came to represent games that were complete, quality RPGs lacking in any notable faults or weaknesses (for fans of the genre, at least). The problem with this is that every series will inevitably have its darker-periods, times where the developers get too ambitious and step off the proverbial tight-rope, perhaps we simply weren’t used to having a Final Fantasy game with any notable flaws? This theory is the best explanation I can come up with for the fan-base’s complete and utter fixation on the game's flaws – we simply weren’t used to them, but is it fair to judge the game solely on its flaws while ignoring or forgetting its strengths?

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Final Fantasy XIII was not lacking in ambition, the game's visual component was, to put it simply, stunning. Watching its cut-scenes today is still as breath-taking as it was 3 years ago when the game was first released. While gaming is generally focused on and built around gameplay, Final Fantasy XIII used its visuals to help the game transcend the limitations of being a video game and display a visually immersive world, one that you almost felt you could reach out and touch. Make no mistake, the issues with Final Fantasy XIII’s world design did not come from its visuals or art style, it came from reasons relating to gameplay.The height of Final Fantasy XIII’s visual prowess reached its peak during the game's many CG cutscenes, something the series had been known for previously and perhaps the one element of the game that even its biggest detractors can’t fault. The Eidolon Parade in NautilusSnow and Serah flying through the fireworks in Bodhumthe party’s arrival on Pulse – the list of incredible cutscenes in Final Fantasy XIII can go on forever.

It wasn’t just the game’s visual component that was impressive, Final Fantasy XIII also marked Masashi Hamauzu’s first time at the helm of a Final Fantasy soundtrack (though he had previously worked on Final Fantasy X’s OST as a co-composer). Hamauzu experimented with different musical styles to those used by long-time series composer Nobuo Uematsu and Final Fantasy XII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto. Admittedly, this alienated some fans of the series that were still unable to get over Uematsu’s departure from Square Enix, but I challenge anybody to listen to Final Fantasy XIII’s soundtrack with an open ear and tell me that it isn’t a fantastic OST in its own right. Whether it be the epicSaber’s Edge, the ambient and calming Those For The Purge or the soft and emotional Atonement, Masashi Hamauzu’s score certainly deserves its fair share of praise from fans and critics alike.

So with all that being said, why has Final Fantasy XIII attracted so much ire? Well the answer, in a nutshell, is because of its gameplay. In an attempt to keep the series feeling fresh and innovative, the development team at Square made some bold changes to the series' typical gameplay formula with Final Fantasy XIII; battles could no longer be fled, only one party member could be controlled directly, the game-world became a series of corridors which greatly limited exploration until very late in the game. Director Motomu Toriyama even went so far as to compare the gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII to that of Activision’s popular Call of Duty franchise, no seriously, he did. The game’s story is also quite divisive among the fan-base, many find its characters to be overly-dramatic or the character development to be too forced and unnatural.

Regardless of the reason, it seems that people’s issues with the Final Fantasy XIII seem to have overpowered most (if not all) of the positive elements that the game had, and personally I find that quite disheartening. It brings up an interesting point of discussion: when Square Enix missteps and produces a game that doesn’t quite hit the mark, do we, as a fan-base, praise and support the game for its positives or hate on it for its negatives? Based on my personal observations, it seems that most fans seem to feel that the latter is the most appropriate course of action, but is that really the best mentality to have?

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Some would argue that criticism brings about change; therefore focusing on Square Enix’s failings is the best way to keep the company on its toes. I agree with this to an extent but I also feel that developers react equally as well, if not better, to praise. That’s not to say that I think Square Enix should be babied or that we should be ignorant of their shortcomings. I do believe that we, as fans, have every right to be vocal when it comes to things they disagree with the developers on, but shouldn't we balance this out with praise for the things we approve of? Balancing out praise and criticism, as opposed to focusing on just criticism, sends the message to Square Enix that we aren't just a bunch of complainers. Showing appreciation for good design elements encourages the company to continue to build upon those elements in the future, while still bearing in mind the elements that weren't received as well. Focusing mostly or entirely on negatives, however, can create friction between developer and fan-base – which sours the relationship between the two parties. 

Perhaps the biggest reason to appreciate Final Fantasy XIII’s good bits, however, is simply to enable you to enjoy the game for what it is. In my opinion Final Fantasy XIII is a decent RPG which some notable faults but also some very enjoyable elements. It should have been better but that doesn't take away from its strengths, and when you’re willing to accept its faults and focus on its strengths you’ll find yourself having a much more enjoyable experience with it.

Ultimately, however, my opinion is my own and it is down to each and every one of you to make up your own mind on Final Fantasy XIII and its legacy. Still, I hope that in time more people will be able to appreciate the game and see it in a more positive light, rather than using it as their punching bag to vent their frustration.



Forum Discussion Forum Discussion
Posted By: AnimaMagna
Date: June 04, 2013

I think we can all agree to disagree then. Still, we must all remember that XIII sold getting on for two million more units that its original estimate as of July last year. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a commercial success in SQE's books right now. Although I'm also sure they will count XIV as a total, unrivaled failure.
Posted By: Klesh
Date: June 04, 2013

No I wasn't being serious, I thought "psychotic-delusion inducing rancid coconuts" would have been enough to suggest the light-heartedness of the post :P
Posted By: drsw36
Date: June 04, 2013

@Klesh: lol what a buch of crap. People that liked FFXIII are not mature and are all children? You serious? *sigh*
Posted By: Klesh
Date: June 04, 2013

No, the game is terrible and deserves every last ounce of criticism. If we go around giving points to games that fail because of some lame sense of guilt as a reflection on the overall image of SquareEnix, then we've failed as gamers and we're only hurting the furtherment of the industry because we're giving credit to shallow mediocrity.

-Terrible script.
-None existent gameplay.
-Characters that don't act in any rational sense to the serious events happening around them. You cannot relate to these meandering walking dolls, unless you yourself come from the planet Coocoo too.
-Requiring the player to READ an ingame encyclopaedia codex to even understand WTF is going on in the story. (This is not good storytelling people...)

All of which bring us to the most crucial error behind the game; the abysmal directing... or probably more appropriate, the complete and total ABSENCE of any sort of directing at all. It was almost as if the director was being sent titbits of information via morse code while being stranded on a small tropical island in the middle of the pacific ocean. Throw in psychotic-delusion inducing rancid coconuts as the only form of sustenance for good measure, then you'll have a better picture of the mindset behind the direction for this sham of a game, if it can even be called that in the first place.

I've also noticed a very curious pattern in the people I've had the misfortune of meeting who have openly admitted to liking the game. These people are thankfully children most of the time, and fortunately liking 'glitter' is normally out-grown upon maturing as a human being. Sadly however there are cases where humans are unable to mature, and thus explains where the adults who like FFXIII come from. These are people that have missed the boat at a crucial point somewhere in life. All of their senses of human understanding and communication have been lost in translation with the real world somewhere along the way, and as a result, they're easily taken in by shallow nonsensical gibberish.

Posted By: Q Slick
Date: June 03, 2013

Simply put; when you have a reputation for constantly changing things; every once in a while you're going to screw up. Screwing up is human. Not learning from it turns a screwup into a mistake.
Posted By: NoctisCaelum
Date: June 03, 2013

Personally, I really did not like XIII, period. I have played FF VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2, XII, XIII, and 30 minutes of XIII-2. XIII left a pretty bad taste in me that most likely caused me to not be able to continue/complete XIII-2. VII and VIII were the most memorable due to story and setting. IX, I did not like the weird looking characters.

I am not sure what is the big deal with X. It was the first FF for PS-2 and I was excited at first because if that as well as its improved graphics and voice (less reading!). However, it was too linear almost like XIII and the battle was repetitive. For example, when you begin the battles, the sequences are pretty much the same. For example, this character is faster so I will have him attack enemy B, while the next character cast magic to damage all. The last character does a splash attack and kill all remaining enemies. BAM, end battle. Next battle, same enemies? Ok same strategy, repeat. It was easily repetitive to me and just got boring, but the story was not too bad I guess.

XII, was just an abomination to me. Sure it was not linear, but story? Game play? Sheesh, those just went out of the window. Even though I beat it, to this day I am not sure what happened or remembered much of anything. The battle system was pretty much automated once you have the gambit system or whatever it was called set properly.

XIII, geez where to start buddy? Do note that I did not read the datalogs, so maybe that's why the story sucked to me. I am playing a game though, not reading a book. If you want me to read the datalog, integrate it somehow that makes it natural and seem important. Seriously. The battle system? I just ended up spamming the x button and still won the game. Sure there were times I switched it up with healing and other roles, but the majority of the battles could have been won with spamming the x button.

Why were VII and VIII memorable to me at least? Maybe they were the first FF games I played? I personally think that it was the story and gameplay that made it memorable to me. I was able to seemingly fly/travel around different towns and talk to NPCs to gather bits of information to piece the story together. In certain situations, if I did not talk to a character, nothing is triggered and I would not be able to learn anything and progress, etc. Little things like that made it enjoyable. Also, the settings/story were darker, futuristic, realistic/ relate-able (humans my age). Hence, the reason why I am looking forward to Versus. Versus' main character's personality seems dark and mysterious; somewhat like Squall/Cloud. The setting also seems realistic and futuristic. The story supposedly seems dark also, but I am not sure about the whole kingdom hearts-ish battle system. Maybe if it is done right, it may work.

Regardless, FF XIII may have had a few good points such as graphics, but coming from a person who have played games with crappy graphics (in FF VII I honestly did think Cloud was a guy with hooves at first) I can say that while graphics are important, it will not save a game. FF XIII's one major strong point was graphics, but its method of story-telling was majorly flawed as well as the battle-system/gameplay whether it be the linearity or repetitiveness. This left the game with a seemingly unmemorable weak story, repetitive button mashing, and follow-the-dot-like pathways (almost like FF X). People may find that this is harsh judgement, but these are my personal reasons for disliking FF XIII with a passion.
Posted By: Alan Tryth
Date: June 02, 2013

I've been an RPG gamer for a long time, both Eastern and Western. I started out with titles like Bard's Tale, Might and Magic, and Dragon Quest (a game whose story is essentially summed up in the very first conversation). I've been an avid fan ever since. As the games grew more complex and the stories more involved, I've no doubt my gaming habit became a contributing factor in becoming a story maker myself. From Dragon Quest to Shin Megami, from Ultima to New Vegas, I continued to play because the stories were entertaining, even if not the most cerebral in nature.

I started FFXIII hoping for the best. I had heard the reviews, but in an age where COD fans outnumber pretty much every other core gaming group, I wasn't about to put stock into what my supposed peers were thinking. Five hours passed, ten hours passed, fifteen twenty ... and as I urged Lightning and company through the neverending corridor, I came to a shocking conclusion; I wasn't having fun. I wasn't enjoying the game, the story, the characters ... none of it. Bear in mind that I managed to eke enjoyment out of titles like Okage (underrated gem, in my opinion), Tecmo Secret of the Stars, Septerra Core ... hell, even Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, with it's massively cliche story, still felt oddly satisfying.

Some people say that the game gets better twenty hours in, or 1/3 way through, or something similar, but that's not a point in its favor. Lost Odyssey had my attention from the get-go. Shadow Hearts intrigued me within the first five minutes. Every other Final Fantasy game managed to get it's respective hook into my brain and pull me along for the ride in ... well, let's just say under twenty hours. Twenty hours in, the story was a mass of confusing twists, uninteresting characters, obvious plot-holes, and ... as much as I hate to say it ... badstorytelling.

Some would no doubt try to defend the heavy dependence on reading the codex (or datalog, if you prefer), but it's important to point out that games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Star Ocean 3 (the first console game I recall that had a codex, though I'm sure there were others) managed to tell their stories well without resorting to extra reading. The information was there, but you only had to read it if you wished; info crucial to the plot was relayed in the game itself, through dialogue or simply visual methods.

Ultimately, the linearity wasn't as big a problem for me as the fact that the game had completely failed to get me to care about any of it's characters (something that, again, even Mystic Quest managed to do), with the exception of Sazh, who just wasn't enough to carry the rest. Yeah, the graphics were nice, but I'm not a little kid anymore; flashy lights and fancy scenery don't make up for a good story and interesting characters.

I've thought about it, and have come to the conclusion that the problem wasn't so much the story, as it was the way the game tells it. Instead of beginning where it did, they should've started in Bodhum and introduced the characters more naturally ... give the players time with the new heroes, introduce the world naturally instead of relying on extra reading. Important story info could've been relayed through a more traditional town structure, NPCs, and the cutscenes explaining ideas like the fal'cie and the l-Cie and giving the players some time to digest said info. Sure, it might not be the same action-packed opening, but FFVIII showed that a slow opening could still work (all right, maybe putting all those tutorials in there wasn't so bright, but still).

I wouldn't say it's a horrid game; I did like the combat system, even though the leveling up process needed a bit more customization. The graphics were very pretty, and the more Sci-fi feel of the setting was a nice contrast to the more fantasy-oriented FFXII. As an RPG, it's not bad; in my opinion, it just doesn't stack up well compared to other games of the same genre.
Posted By: Libra
Date: June 02, 2013

I didn't care how linear XIII was, I play through it 6 times already. Compare XIII-2, it make it look like water down version just like x-2. Sure gamplay have been improve but adding a monster catching concept for using them for party members is a bad Idea. The only saving grace was Caius, who was greatest antagonist since Sephiroth to ever existed in the franchise and the fact he won at the end only thing that did that game justice.
Posted By: Kamille Bidan
Date: June 02, 2013

worst game I played this generation.
Posted By: AnimaMagna
Date: June 02, 2013

That's very true. There's too much vital plot info locked away in the Datalogs or in tie-in media that's only available in Japan. And there were certainly flaws in the character plots. The one that stood out for me was the over-quick transformation of Hope from being bent on revenge to forgiving Snow for his role in Nora's death. I just seemed too quick. And why did the l'Cie stick together? It would have been more realistic for them to simply split up, well apart from Vanille and Sazh, who were alright until Vanille revealed her true part in things. But then, Toriyama makes narrative mistakes like that sometimes (like Squall and Rinoa's out-of-the-blue romance).
Posted By: Kitakee
Date: June 02, 2013

I must apologise, when I wrote XII-2 of course I meant XIII-2.
Posted By: Oathkeeper_Sora
Date: June 02, 2013

The majority of people I've talked to (and that's quite a few since I have a reasonably big fanbase on my youtube channel) hated the game because of:

-The linearity
-The difficulty
-Multiplatform (This is actually where most of the hate came from before the game even released)

When I asked how far they got. most said up to Odin and couldn't win or they got to the Aster Protoflorian boss in the gapra whitewood. That's like...not even 1/3 into the game. I mainly found that the people who complained about the linearity were also the ones who found the game hard. Therefore they didn't complete it, missed the story, the character growth and the open world part of gran pulse. Some went as far as to jump on a bandwagon to hate the game. I personally loved it, thought the story could've been more informative than to put a lot of key story info in the datalog. After finding that out though and knowing fully what was going on in the story I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The ATB system reminds me of an updated FFVII battle system. Only I can actually attack as soon as the bar is full. instead of wait for it to fill. then wait for the enemies to finish attacking, THEN get to attack. I prefer the ATB battle system.
Linearity for me wasn't really a problem since in most RPGs if I stop playing them for a while and try to pick back up where I was I have no idea where I am. I recently started playing Legend of Legaia and am completely lost on it already. D'oh!

I enjoyed the game, there was definitely flaws though such as key info in the datalog helping to understand the story, character development didn't happen until later in the game, some Eidolon appearances felt out of place during the story and weren't truly useful in the story until the epic race scene when the party heads back to Cocoon and also a lack of mini games. Things it did right for me:

-Although slightly contradicting, the story WAS good if you kept up with the datalog
-character development. I hated Hope and Snow at the start of the game but by the end I really liked how they turned out.
-Music, such great music.
-CG cutscenes were incredible
-Fast-paced gameplay

That's pretty much it from me though, all my opinion.

(TL:DR version)

Game is good. People that were TOO harsh more than likely didn't stick through with the game until the end (not saying everyone, just a select few)

Posted By: Sarsie
Date: June 02, 2013

I truly, truly loathed XIII-2. I thought it was a FF bastardization, I mean, monster recruiting!? Ugh! Terrible! "Look, we couldn't be bothered creating real party members that would have their own distinct personality and story to enrich this sham of a game, but don't worry because you can instead customize your monsters with bowties and party hats!" - SE trolls.
To be fair, though, I actually thought XIII was a pretty alright RPG, but just not a great FF, and I think that's the problem. FF has such a great history, especially the PS1 releases. They really set the standard for amazing computer game storytelling, characters, music and gameplay, and because of that fans of the franchise are right to have certain expectations for each new entry. X-2, XII, XIII and XIII-2 failed (in a number of different and separate ways) to meet those high, yet understandable, expectations. I don't think we should just accept any old crap. The FF name does -and should continue to- mean greatness! I think I could've forgiven the XIII series more though, if they at least had good soundtracks - that was my biggest disappointment with them. The music was just unintelligible noise, nothing catchy or enjoyable at all!
Posted By: Varnis
Date: June 02, 2013

Short answer: yes

You can't please every fan of a genre with one title, and there are a lot of people who have different reason for being harsh to XIII, linearity is one...it's like these guys never played Super Mario Bros. or something, it's these idiots who go about playing Skyrim for 130 hours WITHOUT starting the first story quest because "ooooohhh there's something on shining about this mountain, I better go climb it" they don't care if a story's good or not...they just want to goof around and act like 5 years old, so of course they hated XIII. Because the game wouldn't let them good off, an that's a good thing, I don't have the time or patience to goof around in a game when I've got 200+ games that I haven't even touched yet.
Posted By: Dashal
Date: June 02, 2013

No, we've not been harsh. Game sucks nuts,
Posted By: Boxtroll
Date: June 02, 2013

awesome post! I actually have a wierd history with FFXIII. When I started playing it the last FF game I played was IX so I had not played anything from FFX-FF12. when I was playing it, I had noticed most of the problems people had with it but I enjoyed the cutscenes and the gameplay didn't bother me. Infact id say XIII and XIII-2 have one of my favorite battle systems in the franchise. at the end of the day though I felt FFXIII was just a okay RPG. Im one of the few that really liked XIII-2. Im glad XIII created XIII-2 I really feel they got it right with the sequel (except the DLC) and it was a step in the right direction
Posted By: Kitakee
Date: June 02, 2013

Absolutely. Personally I think people need to pull the sticks out of their arses and realise that this is actually a decent game. Many complain about the game's linearity, but when you think about it, it actually isn't much more linear than X ever was and X is by many considered to be the best title in the series. Yes, XIII has some flaws but which Final Fantasy hasn't? If you want to somplain about the story being bad and characters being bland and boring ... there wasn't even much of a story to begin with in XII, and there was little to absolutely zero character development. Peronally I think XIII is far superior to XII, story and characterwise.

As for XII-2, I believe a lot of people are missing out. Those are the people who won't bother buying it because they thought XIII "sucked" (for whatever fanboy reason). XII-2 is so so much different from XIII, it's a lot more user oriented and basically they removed linearity completely on courtesy of the historia crux. The story may be debateable, but personally I had so much fun playing it I actually consider it to be a much better game than XIII, in many aspects at least. In a way, it resembles X-2 quite a lot; it serves as a more light-hearted, upbeat sequel to its predecessor that left us with such a bittersweet ending. I think what makes XII-2 and X-2 work so well is the fact that they don't always take themselves so seriously. X-2 was quite a disaster in some aspects (bath scene = wtfbbq and having to cheat to even be able to fulfill the whole point of Yuna's journey is so incredibly annoying), but as a game, it is to this date still the one game in the series I've had the most fun playing.

Go on. Flame me. :P
Posted By: JESUS
Date: June 02, 2013

Phoenix! Bless you!

This is beautifully written. Kudos for standing up for the game. You're going to get flamed for this, but you have my blessing.
Posted By: Ignis
Date: June 02, 2013

We haven't been harsh enough.
Posted By: Blake
Date: June 02, 2013

No. Just no.
Posted By: AnimaMagna
Date: June 02, 2013

Bravo! Someone willing to speak up for the game.
I think XIII has one of the best stories of the lot. Lightning, Serah and Caius are my favorites, but generally I like the whole bunch: although I find Villiers a difficult character to like (partly his costume design and partly the English voice grating a little with what the character looks like and does). Fans felt the same about VIII in a way. I think time will mellow things and it will be accepted as a flawed classic.
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