Final Fantasy (XIII)

April 25th, 2010

Ah, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy.  The repetitive gameplay.  The entirely unnecessary complexity.  The boys who look like girls.  The ludicrous hair.  The inappropriate adventure-wear (isn’t she/he cold in those double-buckled-together stocking/boots and micro-skirt?).  The bizarre plotting.  The incomprehensible emo-ness.  And yet, for all your flaws, I love you.  I love you because of the flaws.  Tis a love affair that, as for many in the west, I am sure, began with Final Fantasy VII, which still remains the quintessential best in the series for me.  And don’t tell me about how number five is actually the best because I don’t need to hear that shit, it’s like someone telling you your wife got around a bit before you met her.

So number VII was one of the best games of all time for me.  X ran it pretty damn close.  XII I liked a lot, although I can’t really remember any of the characters, it’s a hazy fudge of girl/boys and crazy hair.  Didn’t one of them have big ears like a rabbit? Or did I dream that?  IX was enjoyable, but a bit cutesy and forgettable.  VIII was, frankly, a bit crap.  But what this variability indicates is that they’re always twiddling about with the basic formula, tweaking the game system and the style of gameplay, changing up the graphical style, presenting a different world, while various features, particularly crazy hair, remain constant.  I’m a big admirer of this semi-experimentation, and think it’s helped to keep the series (relatively) fresh even if it has resulted in a few missteps.

So how does the latest installment, XIII, fit in?  Well I thought it was pretty good.  Not as good as VII or X, certainly, but better than VIII or IX and perhaps on a par with XII.  Once again they’ve twiddled with the game system and you could probably say it’s somewhat paired down, a bit simpler, a bit more arcadey, if you can use such a word about Final Fantasy, which is probably no bad thing.

The structure’s a bit odd, though.  It basically follows a single path for about 70% of the game before opening out into a single massive free-roaming area then closing back to a single path again.  And though there’s quite a lot of side-stuff to do when it does open out, one can’t help feeling that most of the game feels like a giant introduction/tutorial section, albeit a spectacular one.  The result is that, since you can’t go back and explore earlier areas as you can in earlier games, even if it’s plenty long in fact, it feels a little smaller, a little less epic.  The plotting seems more daft than usual, as well.  Side-characters come out of nowhere then suddenly disappear only to reappear without explanation.  Or without explanation that made any sense to me, anyway.  The actual plot doesn’t emerge until a fair way through, and up to that point moves on the rather unconvincing whims and daft decisions of the characters, accompanied by much emo blather.  They decide to do something momentous for no good reason and ten minutes later totally change their minds.  Possibly while shedding a single, impossibly beautiful crystal tear.  Hmmm.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the best instalments, particularly VII, seemed to have a grittiness about them, a darkness and an unpredictability to characters and storyline that this one seems to lack.  It’s all a tad shiny, perhaps.  The characters really look spectacularly beautiful and expressive, hitting that tricky mix between cartooniness and realism that is the sweet spot for computer game characters, but I found on the whole they were too overwrought for there to be much emotional punch.  Strange how the characters in VII, despite being pixelly cartoons with waving blobs for hands and speech bubbles often containing ‘…..’, seemed to emerge so much more clearly and convincingly than do these ones.  They seem a bit, how to say it, one dimensional.  Unless hotness is a character dimension, in which case two.  Fang is sarcastic and hot with a tattoo.  Vanille is naive and hot with an aversion to clothes.  Lightning is tough as nails and hot, and has hair which redefines the entire concept of chopiness.  Perhaps with the hair she’s three dimensional.  Hope is whiney and hot.  Hold on, is he a boy?  Now I’m confused.  But the whole look of the thing is incredible, not just graphics, but the design and the level of visual imagination, on characters, monsters, and settings, really is second to none. 

So overall a weird mish-mash of frustratingly silly and amazing?  Hey, it’s Final Fantasy.  Over time love changes.  The first unreasoning flush fades and it becomes more everyday, more aware of the other’s shortcomings.  So I see it ain’t perfect.  It takes more work than it used to. 

But I still love it.

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on April 25th, 2010.

12 comments so far

  • murf99 says:

    Sounds good. I still remember playing the first FF back in the early 90’s on NES. It was good. I really fell in love with the series after I played FFII on SNES. I still remember to this day the adventures of Cecil and his Redwings. The last one I played was the one with Cloud (VII I think) about 12 years ago. I haven’t played any of the subsequent ones. I keep telling myself I’m going to start again someday but it takes time to play RPGs which I find myself having little of lately.

  • Pink Ink says:

    It’s like loss of reality for about 20 hours only to discover the tragic and sad ending of something that has bound you for too long while you only intended to discover the tragic and sad ending. (kinda strange lookin back)I think heavy rain is going to be the western version. (can’t say anything bad about that game)

  • Rob says:

    I’m from the West (US), and I’m lucky enough to have begun Final Fantasy with the very first game on NES when I was about 7 years old. I have an aversion to the high-tech, sci-fi type elements in the newer games, so I haven’t played FFVIII, FFX, or FFXIII at all.

    I’ve played about 18 hours into FFXII, but I find the storyline has failed to suck me in, and I really have no emotional attachment to the characters. The story just seems too generic and not personal enough for me. Help a princess in distress restore her kingdom by defeating the evil empire. It is a clear rip-off of Star Wars. Basch is obviously Han Solo, he even has his own Millenium Falcon. Ashe is Leia, and Vaan is Skywalker. I guess Fran is Chewbacca with boobs. I doubt I’ll finish it out.

    I have to say Final Fantasy Tactics is my favorite of the series, if you haven’t tried it, you need to as soon as possible. The storyline in it was just a revelation to me. I was about 14 when it came out, and it came out not long after FFVII did. I actually bought a Playstation for the sole reason of playing FFVII, and it was worth it.

    Based on your writing, I have to imagine you’ll enjoy the storyline of FFTactics. It’s very gritty and heavily inspire by feudal Europe. The storyline is inspired by the War of the Roses in England. There is a remake of it on the Playstation Portable that has some new content on it.

    Make sure you check out FFII and FFIII on SNES, if you haven’t. If you can deal with the sprite graphics, you’ll find a very compelling game — III is admittedly more refined and has a much larger cast of characters / side quests, but FFII is just a classic. If you can’t get over the sprites, there is a 3d remake of FFII on the Nintendo DS you should check out — they added new content to it as well.

  • Stefano Pachi says:

    I haven’t got around to actually playing the game, but most of the reviews I’ve been seeing around agree with you on most points. FFVII did change RPGs forever, at least for me. not only were the characters interesting, the story was very good. I would consider myself to have entered a state of shock with a certain character’s death (no spoilers intended). I just had to stop playing and stare at a wall until I could start believing it. I mean, just use a phoenix down, right? Not that time.
    Anyway, I’m still looking forward to obtaining and playing FFXIII, and if it’s any consolation (not that it is really necessary), I believe Final Fantasy Versus XIII will give us the gritness we long for. Here’s a trailer (in Japanase) from it: (
    Hope you like it.
    P.S. Really looking forward to seeing “The Heroes”‘s british cover (I love the british ones) and reading the book itself.

  • Chris Upton says:

    Aaah! FFVII. Remember flogging loads of these when I worked at Electronic Boutique amidst the dreamy spires of swindon.
    25% staff discounty goodness!

  • ColinJ says:

    Actually, FFVIII is my favourite. Probably in my top five favourite games of all time. Maybe I just played it at the right time in my life, but I felt it was when the series ‘grew up’ a bit.

    The characters looked human and dressed (reasonably) sensibly and I think it has the best free-roaming gameplay of any of the games. And I did love the story and characters, although Squall Lionheart was a bit of a grumpy emo douche at times.

    I didn’t much like the direction the series seemed to go in from FFX where you’re ‘on rails’ for the majority of the game, being lead around by the nose to hit all the plot points the game wants you to.

    In fact, in my opinion the best ‘unofficial’ Final Fantasy game I’ve played since VIII is a game from the creator of FF called LOST ODYSSEY. It’s a four-disc XBOX 360 game and it’s it’s flavoured by these wonderful little short stories that you unlock as you go through the game. They’re revealed as being the lead character’s ‘forgotten memories’ and they’re just beautiful, poignant little morality tales that help raise it above the juvenile excesses that categorises the majority of these kinds of games.

    As for the newly-released FFXIII, I don’t have a PS3 so chances are I won’t play it. But I’ve heard that it takes at least 30 hours of gameplay to actually feel like you’re playing a game. And that goes back to what I said about FFX about being forced to follow the game’s path rather than finding your own.

  • Dan says:

    Couldn’t get to the second hour, thought it sucked. Just not my thing. I’m playing Splinter Cell until Red Dead Redemption arrives.

  • DRFP says:

    Ohhh, FF XIII… What a disappointment!

    It started so well too! Hanging Edge and the crystal sea were great. It’s just that… nothing much happened for the next 30 hours of gametime. Then you get to Gran Pulese and despite it being a great area (I spent about 40 hours there) it’s actually more of FF XII’s offline MMORPG style of play.

    Guh, XIII is okay. It’s pretty mid-tier in my FF rankings but there is so much that’s wrong with it. The Datalog, for instance! Why is so much plot and character development there instead in the cut-scenes?! The cast are all pleasant (there’s no Cat Sh*t here) but soooo little is done with them. Why is Lightning the main character when, like Vann, the story is actually more about other members of your party? Why is the villain so uber-lame (and his motives and methods so bizarre as to be almost incomprehensible?)? Seriously, the intergalactic space-tree boss from FF V is far better.

    Okay, okay, I gotta stop. I was there on release day in Oxford Street getting my copy signed, yes, big FF nerd here. XIII looks fantastic – seriously, the detail in Taejin’s Tower was amazing – and there are some nice bits and pieces to it but it really lacked in certain key areas.

    My faith is on the wane. X was merely okay for me (maybe it was the horrible voice acting), XI I didn’t play as I’m not an MMORPG fan, and XII fell short in key areas (if they hadn’t sacked director Matsuno halfway through it might have turned out great). XIII again is merely “okay”.

    It’s not like the golden age on the PS1. It wasn’t just the FF series that was great back then – everything Squaresoft touched turned to gold. FF VII, VIII, IX (which has THE best fantasy world in a game ever), but also FF Tactics, Xenogears, Legend of Mana, Vagrant Story, Chrono Cross, heck, even Chocobo Racing! Soooo many good games. The company hasn’t been the same since the merger with Enix.

    Eh, but that’s another ramble for another time. I’ll pin my hopes on FF Versus XIII now. That or The Last Story (could you get more of a rip-off name?), for Wii, by FF’s creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, who did Lost Odyssey too (which I would play if I had a 360).

    Sorry for the rant here! Good to know you’re a fan of the series though and that you too continue to persevere with FF despite its recent shortcomings. Lets keep our fingers crossed for next time!

  • Kez says:

    A very strange game. I liked it, but it was weird. It seemed like they looked at all the past games and just cut all the fat.

    No more towns, therefore no more npcs, and the newest tradition no more world map. Cutting all of that probably cut a good 20 hours of gametime, but to me it just streamlined everything.

    The weirdest thing to me though was just how empty the entire thing seemed with no people to interact with, yes damn near all of it was useless conversation but I kept waiting to run into a hub city somewhere and be able to interact with shopkeepers and maybe some tiny sidequests.

    Like I said though, I liked it but it was an odd game for me. I’ll remember it though unlike 12 which I only remember because of this.

  • Johnny CL says:

    I have to be honest, I’ve never been into FF. I tried playing FF7 several years ago on my PS1, and got sick of it an hour through, and never went back. I just wanted you to know that.

    That and “your wife got around a bit before you met her.”

  • RG says:

    OK, funny at all. My Roommate at college said exactly the same. Oh, yeah, not the same, like Joe did, but his opinion ’bout Hope is… more than 100% the same as Joe’s. And he’s right. Yay, Hope is my Dreamboy. But only if the girls all over the world would bash me. Really, an afternoon with some laughs. Thanks Joe ^^.

  • Trey says:

    You have this one right on man.

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