The Final Fantasy series is heading towards the grave.
Everyone has their theory on when that road actually started if they believe that at all, but I'd place the blame on Final Fantasy XIII.
It's not the worst game that I've ever played...it just doesn't seem like a game. It plays out more like an interactive movie than an actual video game.
In short, it was a dull game that started Final Fantasy's slippery slope into mediocrity from it's revered high chair in the RPG circles.
So let's not beat around the bush shall we?
But for the record, I'm giving this game a completely honest analysis and review. If there's anything good then I'll point it out for fairness' sake. That way, none of you final fantasy worshipers can yell at me for hating this game because I hate Final Fantasy. No, I don't hate final fantasy, I just hate shit that acts like it's a game when it really isn't. I hate being lied to.
Before we go any further, let me give you some background for my history with final fantasy. To be honest, I'm going into Final Fantasy XIII as a general outsider, most of what I know about final fantasy comes from research, kingdom hearts and listening to geeks and nerds rage at each other on gamefaqs and other forums. The only final fantasy games that I really played in depth or really paid attention to were Final Fantasy VII and XII and I really liked both of them. I rented X once, but I couldn't get involved in the story past the first few hours.
Which was better than what I could say for XIII.
In short, I was bored with the game within the first hour and couldn't be bothered to play through the 20 or 30 hours that it takes for the game to "pay off". But we'll get to specifics about "hooking in your audience" later. Right now, let's start with a few basics about this game and why it's pretty much a failure as a game, as a final fantasy installment and as a failure for Square Enix.
Problem #1: The Main Character
Look, I don't hate Lightning, I really don't. I actually think that she's a well-written heroine with decent character development and I really like her relationship with her sister Serah.
But...if you ask me, I think Serah should've been the main character of this game.
It doesn't necessarily have to do with Lightning herself, I just don't like how Square Enix is handling her and it all starts with her premiere game.
While I like her relationships with other characters, her character development and her personality and abilities, there's a lot of things about her design that seem pretty manipulative and it started with this quotes about the early development of Final Fantasy XIII:
"Early in development, Lightning was meant to be a flirtatious character with more sex appeal. To make Lightning a more serious heroine in the veins of previous heroes, Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart, Fang's character - which was originally a man - was rewritten as a woman, and some of Lightning's traits were transferred to her."
Notice how two past characters were just brought up while speaking of the development of a game that has nothing to do with them. That's because when you sit down and think about it, all of the design and personality features that make of Lightning were just borrowed from previous final fantasy characters. When you realize this, you can take away those pieces and you'll be left with nothing.
Now it's true that every final fantasy hero will have some similarity with each other since they're being written by the same company. My point here is that the writers weren't really trying anything new with Lightning. Almost everything that makes Lightning stand out has been borrowed from a previous character. It doesn't necessarily make her suck, it just makes Square Enix manipulative by trying to use it's fans nostalgia for their own gain.
You may not have noticed these similarities, but your brain did.
Let's list some of them off:
The Gunblade - Squall
Problems with making attachments to people - Squall
Prone to rash and selfish actions - Tidus
Acts as the unwitting pawn to more powerful villains - Zidane
Female - Terra
Can switch to a sword that can break apart into separate swords - Cloud
Military service - Squall, Cloud and Balthir
Punches people for petty reasons - Ashe
Dons magical armor that reflects her role in the plot - Cecil
Starts her game on a train - Cloud and Zack
Loses a loved one to contrived, shark jumping BS - Cloud
Had to repress her emotions and her own desires because of circumstances in life - Terra
Family Issues - Tidus
A black guy with guns as a party member who she initially dislikes - Cloud
Being followed around by a whiny troubled brat - Balthir
Learns to let go of things and become a better person - Squall, Cloud, Ashe and the vast majority of final fantasy characters.
If you took all of those things out, if Lightning was left to stand alone without any aspect burrowed from a past character...what would make her stand out from other final fantasy heroes and heroines?
She'd probably be naked, wouldn't she?
You see, in the past, Final Fantasy heroes and heroines were different and unique as were their different universes. Some games had more of magic-dominated world, some were more dominated by technology, and some had a harmony of both. As a result, the characters were designed to fit in with the particular worlds that they lived in.
Terra was an uncertain young woman was caught between two different worlds, one of magic and the other of humanity. She was trying to find her place in the mix of things and discover her own freedom.
Cloud was a confused, but well-intentioned warrior with identity issues and giant sword that he could use thanks to magical steroids that were injected into him by a mad scientist. He was also weighed down by past failures and much of his development centered around letting go and living with what he had and the people who cared for him.
Squall was emotionally stunted because he was hurt in the past and decided not to express his emotions out of fear of being hurt again. In his game, he learned that it was okay to be human, to take chances, and to make mistakes. His relationship with Rinoa was the main anchor for him to develop and embrace the feelings in his heart.
Zidane was a bit of a party-boy and liked to chase after skirts. He was also highly emotional and could easily get angry, depressed, happy, and generally friendly to most people that he met. He also felt that he had to prove something and that led him to making some rash decisions without thinking through them.
While some FF fans and gamers will argue that Tidus was irritating as hell and was the worst final fantasy hero, his personality did make sense in the context of the game. He a pampered star who was thrown out of his element and forced into a world that was completely alien to him. At first he didn't want to adapt to survive, but eventually maned up and sacrificed himself for this world that he initially wanted to deny. He was initially very selfish for both petty and understandable reasons.
Some will say that FFXII sucked because the developers made the whole party the main characters rather than just one person. While it could've done a better job, I interpret this as a "take your pick approach" because from a certain point of view, any of of the main characters in XII could've been the main character. My pick would be Balthir because his actions drove the plot more often and he had a lot of relevance to the story as the game eventually reveals. He was also charming, methodical, and was usually able to keep his cool.
He was also the few FF protagonists to use a gun as his default weapon rather than some hybrid weapon.
What about Lightning? Sure, she initially started out trying to save her sister and then the plot changed her goal to finding her destiny which turned out to be saving the world...okay...she doesn't like people...okay...
It's kind of sad because I want to like Lightning on her own merit, but there's nothing that makes her stand out on her own. That's because she was designed with the intention of drawing in past final fantasy fans rather than just making a good character with a good personality and a good story. When you "try" to make something memorable, it just comes out as a desperate attempt for attention. In the end, it just leaves Lightning complete naked...
Which is bad....I think...
Hmmm...hey who wants to strip Lightning of everything from past final fantasy games with me? Be sure to bring plenty of barry white and jello shots-
"Gunblade gunshot rings out"
Okay! I'll get on with the review! Sheesh...that woman can't take a joke...no wonder her sister's dead-
"Gunblade gunshot rings out again"
Problem #2: The Rest of the Main Cast
As with Lightning, I actually like most of these characters. Unlike Lightning, I can like them on their own merits because there's stuff about them that actually makes them stand out.
My favorite character in the FFXIII mythos is actually Serah even though she doesn't do anything in XIII except be a victim to shark jumping bullshit. As I mentioned earlier, she probably should have been the main character of XIII and Lightning could be a secondary protagonist who butts heads with her ignorant and naive little sister.
Now you may think that I'm picking on Serah right in the last sentence, but that's what would make her a better heroine. There's more room for her to grow up and develop on her own merit. Kind of like she did in XIII-2 which I'll say right now...I enjoyed playing that one more than I did XIII. But since Serah's barely in XIII, we'll move on to other characters for now.
Fang's a sexy beast, but also a hardass who doesn't back down. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she was originally a male character during XIII's development, but then Square made her a female to even out the roster.
Sazh is the most human character in the cast. His reasons for being aboard are relatively simple and he's the only who points out some of the ludicrous insanity that the heroes go through. He's also the only one smart enough to use the long-range advantage of a gun rather than try to run up and cut/punch someone.
Then there's Snow...who I have mixed feelings about. I like his personality and his development from stupidly naive to being aware of how naive he is and taking a little more responsibility for his actions. I just hate his weapon of choice, which is essentially a power coat. I'll get to that in a little while...
I despise Vanille...why was she in this game? Really...why? She's so annoying and hopelessly unaware of the circumstances that she's in...how come Lightning never punched her? Up until the very end, she has no real motive for being there and no real relevance to the plot...until the plot decided to give her a role.
Hope...I don't this kid. I feel sorry for how he's grieving over the death of his mother, but that's really it. That's the only real relevance that he has in the plot...his grievance with Snow over the death of his mother. Even then, he never addresses Snow about any of this and just whines to everyone else! How hard could it be to bitch out the guy who got your mother killed? So...you're brave enough to fight demons, monsters and soldiers with guns while using a boomerang that you pulled out of your ass...
But you can't confront the idiot that couldn't hold up your 100 ib mother after he just punched out a dozen several ton robots?
Speaking of which...
Problem #3: The Background Lore
There's just so many things about the background lore that doesn't make any sense at all and is never explained.
For instance, why did Sazh have of a chocobo chick living in his afro?
Where did Snow get his amplifying coat? How does it work? Is it a constant effect? If he bought it...how come no one else has? How come he doesn't use a weapon in conjuction with the effects of the coat? If he stole it, then from who? If the military made it, how come they don't use it? How come Snow can punch out several ton robots, but couldn't hold onto Hope's mother?
Why does Hope use a boomerang?
What is Vanille using during combat? Is it a stick...antler thing that has magic inside of it?
What was that gravity thing that Lightning used in the beginning? How come she never uses it again?
How come the jetpack soldiers always hover close to the ground instead of flying up and shooting down at you?
How is Lightning able to fight a giant robot that just choke-slammed an entire train? How come she wasn't even slightly burnt by it's beam cannon without the protection of magic?
What is NORA exactly? What were they rebelling against? Why were they formed? What is their mantra and overall goal? When did Snow form them and how come Lightning didn't arrest Snow if he's an enemy of the state?
Why did Lightning think that Serah was lying about being an L'Cie when the tattoo was on her shoulder? Why did Snow throw Serah into the water portal thing and then immediately try to pull her back out?
Why does the military use robots if they're easily taken out by a group of rebels with little to no training?
Then we get to the very dynamics and functions of an L'Cie.
What is an L'Cie? Apart from the most horrifically written plot device since the Phantom Menace revealed that the Force is made up of Midi-chlorians? The game actually does explain this one pretty well...but unfortunately, it's all complete bull shit and doesn't make any sense apart from, "The plot said so."
But come on! This is Final Fantasy right? Science Fiction meets Fantasy? If I can accept the idea that one can draw magic from their enemies in the middle of combat; wield impossibly large swords; hold your breath for ridiculous amounts of time while playing water soccer; and ride oversized chickens into battle against summoned demons and airships...can I really call bullshit on the L'Cie stuff?
Yes. I can. Here's why.
So...there's these deity things called Fal'Cie who are a bunch of assholes. Once in a while, they'll find some human and brand them with a symbol to make them an L'Cie. Which will grant the L'Cie magical abilities and their own personal demonic transformer to complete a vague destiny. The L'Cie will only know about their destiny from a series of unclear and disconnected visions. They also have a time limit to complete their destiny.
What happens when the time limit runs out? They'll turn into a horrific monster that must be killed. What happens if they complete their destiny aka focus? They are trapped within crystal stasis for all eternity or until the Fal'Cie want them to do something else. It's even more confusing because if you have enough willpower, then you can grant yourself an unlimited amount of time to complete your focus.
As far as systems of fate go...this is just stupid.
Namely because there is no long-term benefit to the actual L'Cie. If they fulfill their focus, they're screwed. If they don't fulfill their focus, they're still screwed. And exactly how much willpower does one need to actually grant yourself unlimited time to fulfill your focus? Do you age while you're an L'Cie? What happens if you kill the Fal'Cie that branded you? Shouldn't that erase your brand since their power is gone? Or is it a permanent stamp on your body? Will the Fal'Cie come after you if you get unlimited time and refuse to fulfill your unknown focus?
How does this make sense for the Fal'Cie? How can you hold a gun to someone's head and not tell them what you want them to do? Wouldn't it make more sense to at least give them perceivable clues to their focus to help them out? Or how about allowing the L'Cie to get greater power by completing their focus as a means of controlling them? That way, L'Cie will be more willing to work for you because you'll give them more focus' and therefore, more ways of getting powerful?
How come Serah and Dajh didn't get magical powers from being L'Cie? I guess I can understand Dajh since he was a kid, but isn't Serah the younger sister of a distinguished military officer? Wouldn't she have had been taught basic self-defense techniques with a knife? So you're telling me that Hope was competent enough to use magic as a boy with no combat training and a boomerang. But Serah couldn't figure out squat despite being a distinguished student and having a paranoid older sister in the military? Do you realize that without contrivance, this plot could've been so much better?
What ever the development problem was, it better have been a major one to make Square scrap Serah as a playable character because what kind of focus is: Lure your fiancee and sister into a trap to make them in L'Cie? How does that make sense? Apparently, the Pulse L'Cie came out of nowhere and branded Serah...why couldn't it have done that to Lightning and Snow if it wanted them so badly? Then...Dajh's focus was to lure Vanille and his father into a trap...for some reason...
So...they're so petty that they'll brand a delivery boy to deliver pizza to them and then turn him into crystal?
Things like Snow's Coat...Lightning's gravity thing that's never used again...and the myriad mess that's the concept of an L'Cie...they're not only bad and confusing...they're also never explained. Which is why I couldn't get into this game...it never sits down and just explain things! It just throws stuff in your face and expects to accept it because it's final fantasy!
All while trapping you in the hallway...what exactly is the hallway? Some of you already know about...the hallway...and for those you don't...stay tuned because I'll get to that alright. If you think that I'm nitpicking right now? I've only touched on one of the main reasons why XIII was such a failure. I'm only tipping the iceberg of FFXIII's story and that's not to mention the plot or the worst parts of the XIII:
The Paradigm System and The Hallway.
Continued in Part 2...