The first Final Fantasy game I ever played was FFX. It was also the first RPG that let me appreciate what the genre could accomplish, and how that brute force wasn’t always the best strategy. In hindsight, it was a good starting point; X had a simple battling system, and its summonings were so overpowered that, when in peril, any enemy bigger than my sense of pride could be defeated with an aeon to the face.
After coming to appreciate X, I wanted to reconcile with FF for all the time I’d invested in other series. So, I played every instalment I could get my hands on: IV, VI, VII, VIII, IX. Each had its highs and lows, and I grew to love the series and its old-fashioned, Japanese take on how role-playing games should be made. I had a clear idea of what a Final Fantasy game should be, how to approach them, and how many days on my calendar to wipe clean before passing the splash screen.
Then came Final Fantasy XIII. Graphically, it was incomparable to every previous game; in-game graphics were as detailed as their pre-rendered cutscenes. The pre-release trailer had me the most hyped I’d been for a game in years. Usually visuals don’t mean that much to me, but after my disappointing run-in with FFXII, I hoped that the visuals were merely an indication of the effort Square Enix had poured into every aspect of their latest release.
For a large portion of the game, Final Fantasy XIII prioritises style over substance. It disregards pacing and gameplay in the hopes that the flashy visuals will pre-occupy its players. That being said, I need to pay XIII its dues – it looks lovely. It was released when the PS3 was reaching its peak, and the visuals show just how much the console can achieve. Even better, with the recent re-release on PC, Final Fantasy XIII is set to look better than ever, while running at 60fps – a far cry from the sprites of the original Final Fantasy.
As with any Final Fantasy game, there are a few tracks in its score that are superb. In the beginning of the game, before many attacks or abilities are available, the battle music will keep you fighting, occasionally delaying a battle’s end to hear the crescendo. There were less standout tracks than I’d hoped for, but the soundtrack overall was good enough to keep me from complaining.
Once FFXIII has given the player full control, in terms of both travel and combat, it reveals the potential of a modern RPG. Rather than keeping to the usual attack menu navigation, XIII decides what moves would be best in a given situation, and it’s the player’s job to shift each characters speciality fast enough so that their team can deal, prevent and heal as much damage as possible. It takes a while to get used to, but the automated system begins to feel much more refined and intuitive than the mechanics of yore.
FFXIII has a bad reputation for taking control away from the player. Although I enjoyed it in the battling, I have to agree that the first chunk of the game could really do with a skip option. Final Fantasy games as a whole have always been needlessly long, but until XIII, they were at least involving throughout the first act. They introduced the world, they set the scene and they continually nurtured your interest until the climactic scene before the first disc change.
In XIII, the scene was barely set before the ragtag bunch banded together and set on their
merry angsty way. The plot was as convoluted as ever, but this time it was barely explained in the game’s beginning chapters. Rather than using any form of exposition, XIII has an encyclopaedia explaining the world and its inner workings for you. For any player who doesn’t want to spend the time they chose to play games on reading about the game, it can create a lot of questions about the world and what exactly is happening.
After stumbling through the first twenty hours, running in a straight line composed of a series of fights, cutscenes and bite-sized tutorials, the only thing FFXIII had nurtured in me was resentment. The promise of an open world and a fully-fuctioning battle system barely kept me going, and I gave up on more than one occasion, sure that I would never see freedom. Vanille’s voice actress didn’t help. If this section could have been condensed, or at least have more fighting mechanics introduced, it would have felt worthwhile.
In my first playthrough, I wasn’t able to stomach XIII’s restrictive opening segment and gave up before seeing any of its non-visual strengths. I chalked XIII up as a bad game, not worthy of my, or anybody else’s, time. After giving it another go, and playing it hour by hour whenever I found time, I was finally proved wrong. However, the unprecedented length of time it takes to reach that point is likely more than most players would be willing to waste on wearisome content.
The beginning may be a bore, but if you have the time, it’s worth a play-through for its final acts. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s entirely worth going back to on a console without the fresh appeal of a re-release, but that’s entirely up to the player. There are plenty of better RPGs out there (including ones from Square Enix), but few that are quite as pretty.