|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 22 Jul 2010|
While Sherv covered Final Fantasy XIII in his earlier review, I thought I might chime in some other thoughts that I had, since I recently finished the game up myself. As you may recall, Sherv concluded that, though he liked the battle system, some of the character/enemy design, the marks, and the visuals, he felt the story was lacking, as were the characters and the music, and in the end he did not think it was worth playing, looking back. While I agree now with several of his praises and beefs, I came to the end relieved it was over, but also glad I had stuck with it. Why you ask? Well aside from just beating the game, I came to appreciate the amount of work that went into the game, and some of the finer details, even if it wasn’t a complete success.
I guess I should preface this entire thing by saying I’m not even sure I really loved the game or anything. If I’m being totally honest with myself, I see a game that was likely 20 hours longer than it needed to be with relatively pointless boss and enemy padding in several areas to make you work harder than need be. I see a game that was built to be complex and perhaps took too long getting you the information you needed before letting you do whatever. I see a game that despite its length, still somehow seemed small and limited, like it needed another giant open area, or needed more of the world to explore. I see a game that started with intriguing mysteries and characters with potential, and 90% of their conflicts and personalities were ironed out by the time you got to Pulse a little under halfway through the game, making me wonder why either the game wasn’t shorter or their wasn’t more characters or character development.
So, uh, what’s the point of this article then? Well, I beat the damn game and I feel like talking about it. Actually, I think I just have a hopeless appreciation of Square-Enix’s grandiose projects that don’t quite hit like they are supposed to (I did do a gushing article about The Spirits Within, after all). Looking at Final Fantasy XIII, it’s clear that certain things are rock solid. The visuals are amazing. Looking out across Gran Pulse and seeing Cocoon and the wilderness and the sunset in the background is nothing short of breathtaking. They did an outstanding job with colors and unique visuals to set it apart. The game is bright and vibrant, in stark contrast to the look of Final Fantasy XII. The final area in the game is a mindfuck of crazy colors, random platforms, and intricate moving architecture. It’s all kinds of awesome. And lest I forget, the looks of the main characters are unique, detailed, intricate, and memorable. They truly did a great job with their designs.
And the fighting system is just top notch. Changing classes on a dime in order to suit your needs in a battle is genius and I loved the way it made you change the way you think about the typical RPG battle. It made grinding much more tolerable, and you actually needed every class (sometimes you needed all of them in the same battle!), as opposed to many class-based games where you ignore over half of them.
But to get to my point, this game took over 4 years to produce and was rumored to be plagued with development problems (true or not, there are several articles out there saying they needed to cut nearly a full game’s worth of content from the game due to concerns about size, length, and scope). In video game years, 4 years is a very long time for a game, and you can still see some of the conflicted development at times (or I can at least aimlessly speculate since I don’t know for sure).
For example, was the upgrade system really supposed to be such an afterthought? It just kinda exists at save points awkwardly sitting there, with a rather broken way of upgrading. It barely makes any sense and doesn’t encourage you to upgrade anything else you acquire after you start on one weapon. Plus it seems to lock you into one party, as it makes more sense to make 3 characters super powerful than all 6 sorta strong.
Was there really supposed to be no town interaction at all? It seems like the seeds of it were there, but they either yanked it or turned the towns into areas where you only heard people conversing as you walked by (or made it a war zone, in the case of the village on Pulse).
Were the characters supposed to have a bit more back story filled in? I learned more than I ever cared to know about 13 specific days leading up to the cause of the story, but details on the characters’ past seems suspiciously absent, and as a result, it’s hard to really love these characters (except Sazh, that dude rules).
Was the game really only supposed to have one big open area? Who knows. But I find the area of Pulse where you finally gain freedom the most interesting part of the game. From a story telling and pacing standpoint, it seems like a poor idea. You’ve spent over 20 hours battling relentlessly in a very linear fashion, as your characters seem to have gone through hell to get here. Then you land on Pulse and…it’s paradise. Sure, there’s a ton of monsters running around, but they aren’t bothering anybody. They are just wild animals in a wide open expanse of lush green wilderness. It’s no wonder that quite a few people I have talked to just kinda stopped playing here. From what the game sets up for you in the first half, this exposure to freedom and lack of a pressing need to do anything in the mini-sandbox area is almost overwhelming. Suddenly, your back isn’t against the wall in a killing tube, rather, you are free to take mission marks, wander aimlessly, get a little lost, and none of that matters. It’s such a stark contrast that it almost feels like you have won already (of course, if you push forward with the story, you quickly find it returns to the gameplay that defined the entire beginning of the game).
The fact that Pulse is so underexplained makes it even more interesting, even if I have a sneaking suspicion it really was supposed to be more detailed. Humanity is completely absent from this land, even though two of your party members are from here. There’s evidence of old technology and civilization everywhere. Some of the giant monsters have chains on their feet as if they were
imprisoned at some point but their master just disappeared or died and they eventually broke free. It’s haunting and intriguing in a way that made Shadow of the Colossus a game of questions and exploration. For a game that seemed to overexplain a lot of the character’s emotions and motivations, they left an incredible amount of mystery out in the wilderness for you to stumble upon. I grew to appreciate that after I chose to spend more time doing missions on Pulse, as I eventually began finding classic FF characters like Cactaur and Chocobo, among others. FF13 hides a lot of its charm away from you initially, but it’s there if you are looking for it.
It’s just a shame that the game didn’t do a bit more with the second half. I’ll fully admit that I was engrossed in the game for the first 20-30 hours. They formed a great mystery and a ragtag group of characters and then slathered pretty graphics and great fighting mechanics on over top. Sadly, the second half feels like it suffered due to the need for it to be released sometime in the next decade. It’s still what I would classify as a good game, and I certainly have no regrets playing it, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t about sick of it near the end. The battles slowly became more and more time intensive and trying, and when you are just fighting common enemies, this becomes unpleasant when it’s just waves and waves to defeat. And mostly, the story just never got away from “We gotta get here and stop this! But first, we need to battle through these 5 areas to get there!” I was left thinking about the pasts of the characters and where they grew up and how that could have better woven into the story. Instead, they still kinda felt like strangers at the end, which is a shame. So should you play it? I don’t know. You got 50+ hours you really want to kill on something beautiful, fun, but slightly disappointing? Do you play anything with the words Final Fantasy? Well, then I say go for it.