January 09, 2011

FF XIII quasi-review/extended rant (and general rambling about the FF landscape)

(In case the title didn't already clue you in, big time Nerd Alert on this post)

I picked up a PS3 with some of our Christmas swag, largely on a sense of nostalgia that had been kicked up in the previous few weeks playing FFX and meeting Felicia Day at a signing here in Austin, who did voice work in the new Fallout* game. So I grabbed a copy of the newest iteration of the Final Fantasy series to kick off the console (since X was the main reason I bought a PS2).

*I've never played any of the games in the Fallout franchise but they certainly look up my alley. I picked up New Vegas and Fallout 3 since Gamestop had a buy two get one free deal on.

I haven't actually beaten the game yet but so far it has largely been a disappointment, and I just want to rant about it (laughing). I'm floored by all the positive reviews for the game. A lot of it comes down to what you expect from a game. I wouldn't say I'm expecting any one specific thing from FF - I'm not going to be offended if there aren't say, chocobos or dudes named Cid, and I'm not opposed to them experimenting with the battle system. I have a hard time picking my favorite FF game so I'll compare it in terms of the categories that my 4 favorites do best at: Story/atmosphere (FFVII), battle systems (FFX), environment (FFXII), and challenge (FFT).


This is probably the weakest link in this game. I don't expect Shakespeare by any means from a FF game, but this was pretty awful even by FF standards. I just don't give a shit about really any character. They went from being entirely unsympathetic at the start of the game to being just okayish, for the most part. A lot of it I blame on terrible writing, *especially* with regards to Lightning and Snow (the erstwhile main characters). I spent the first 15 hours or so of the game wanting to punch them (and Hope) in the face for their ham-fisted idiocy. The biggest problem that I had was that their actions didn't seem self-consistent with the universe they live in. For fuck's sake, they were leading an armed resistance against *Genocide* of everyone in their city by their rulers, and yet Snow is crippled with guilt over the death of one volunteer, and Hope is fueled by rage against Snow over his mother's death while trying to prevent it. If you want to chalk it up to extreme loyalty to their societal norms, that's fair enough, but the game didn't sell it at all. In VII, we wanted to hate the Shinra and the game did a great job of introducing us to the enemy through Barret's ecoterrorist organization. Here everyone is just blindly lashing out against an arbitrary and nebulous fate, which still isn't really that established hours into the game. The whole L'Cie 'Focus' would be a much better plot device if they actually gave some direction on what it was. Even after they defeat the Primarch and he tells them their true direction things aren't abundantly clear - I'm still waiting for some plot twist that he lied to them somehow (though the Sanctum fal'Cie motives as stated in and of themselves don't make much sense).

The same goes for Lightning's extreme bitchiness to the rest of the crew early on, doing her best to alienate herself from the rest of the characters. I'm sure we're going to learn more about her own past but if you're going to establish a character you better do it well before the 20-25 hour mark in the game. She's still a cipher. At least with Cloud we got the epic look back on the events in Nibelheim when the crew escapes the ~5-hour prologue of escaping Midgar. They did a decent enough job of her mini-rivalry with Snow in the flashbacks, but even then for people in a society raised to despise L'Cie they both jumped to Serah's defense pretty quickly.

Fang and Vanille remain largely underdeveloped, and the whole Vanille-keeping-memories-secret-from-Fang subplot was pretty undercooked. It seemed like they threw it out merely for an excuse to collect Vanille's eidolon for lack of any other personal conflict.

The only note that they've hit particularly well was the Sazh-Vanille subplot involving Sazh's son.

Overall, if you read the various entries in the game's database the story and the world in general seems pretty cool and carefully thought out. The game has a background atmosphere that looks quite mineable, but it's the details that are terrible. To make a cooking anaolgy, it's like they assembled a lot of top notch ingredients and chefs and made a PBJ.


We've seen many many systems in the FF series over the years, from a turn-based-ish system in the original game, to a more classic ATB-ish one in 5-9, a return to a very turn-based one in 10, and a more AI-centric one in 12. This one builds off the near twitchy ATB system from Final Fantasy Dress Up (i.e. X-2), which was basically a lot of button mashing. I'm fine with adding a bit more automation to the process - after all most of the time you're just attacking, attacking, attacking and it's nice to make a nod to that.

I appreciate many of those aspects of this system and can see the allure of this role-switching based system but the timing in it just drives me nuts. Maybe I'm just old, but the battles generally run waaay too fast and many are largely reliant on luck as much as strategy (anyone who's played this game and has been randomly killed by a bunch of bombs that decided to cook off at the same time knows what I'm talking about). I know you can slow the battle speed down but that just feels like cheating to me. As far as ATB like systems go I liked 12's system better where you *could* leave it on AI, but you could always switch to issuing your own commands if you so desired.

I'd like this game a lot more if you could hybridize, say, two of the roles. Synergists and saboteurs can be pretty useful but it's a big annoyance to bring them out because that's *all* they do. I'd much rather have an offense-oriented class with a few minor abilites, like say a commando that can cast cure, slow, etc but saves the more powerful spells for someone who specializes further in that role. Having to switch in medics all the time drives me nuts because the system rewards speed, so keeping in three offensive roles as much as possible is generally a must. I'm not asking for creating an uber class that can do everything, just saying that it would be nice to have an attacker who could also cast a simple cure spell.

Something else that drives me crazy is the formation switching (and no, I won't call them Paradigms because that's completely lame). I'm all over being able to customize your party mid-battle (it's one of the things I loved about FFX), but having such a long animation to change formations (and having that longer animation happen seemingly arbitrarily) in a battle system that demands speed in insanely annoying. Too many times my lead character has been at/near full health, been hammered by some attack, and killed before I can wait through the animation and for my support character's ATB gauge to fill up and actually cast their cure spell. Gragh.

Speaking of the lead character stuff, the whole "if your lead character dies it's game over" rule drives me nuts too. It just seems unecessary - just do what 12 did and have the 'leadership' shift to someone else in the party.

Overall FFX easily had my favorite battle system* - each character had defined roles (except Kimhari), which they more or less do in this game, and you could use them as you needed without too much micromanagement. But the key difference is that you had time to think in FFX. Your time to think in this game is after you've picked up the pieces and had your ass kicked a couple of times before you figure out how to beat the opponent and/or get lucky (see: just about everyone's eidolon battle).

*FWIW FF8 had my least favorite system, only because it made the game laughably easy. Stupid, stupid junctions.


XII makes a big push for being one of my favorite FF games because of the world it's in. Just exploring the place and wandering around was tons of fun. There was still a larger plot-path you had to take (which started strong but fell flatter as the game went on) but for the most part you were free to explore the world around you (and the hunting sidequests actively encouraged you to do so). As for this game, well, so far it has been a complete railroad-fest of chasing the orange objective arrow, aside from ONE zone on Pulse (which from what I've gleaned from other reviews is basically just a hub for a bunch of Pulse railroad dungeons). This game did bring over the hunting sidequests but so far they've been pretty meh. For one, since they're mostly in the same zone, it makes in pretty difficult to so much as locate your mark.

The primary thing I've seen this game praised for is its graphics. They're pretty awesome but I've never been much of a videophile as far as these go - it's something that's nice to have, but not crucial to my enjoyment. If anything, the graphics are being wasted by the railroading aspects of this game. Everything is just one long chain from one battle to the next, and because you're fugitives/outcasts you don't get much of a chance to interact with society at large anyway. Rabanastre felt like a living city in 12 - here the characters have only themselves to bounce off of so you need strong characters for it to work (see above).


Look, I have no problem with games challenging me. Final Fantasy Tactics is one of my favorite games of all time, and it's legendary for its ability to make players weep with frustration (and that's just for the translation job - heyo!). The Weigraf/Velius battle and the Elmdor battle at Linberry castle are easily the two hardest *mandatory* battles in any game with the FF label that I've played. But despite that this game is driving me nuts at times, either for the aforementioned multiple-bomb-self-destruct scenario above or for some of the Eidolon battles or even some of the monsters-in-the-path battles (Boxed Phalanx = most recent example). Generally I hate grinding but I enjoyed the battles (and leveling up system) of FFT so much that it didn't really bother me. Here, the level-up system feels about as railroaded as the environment. You can get some new skills, but for the most part, meh. There aren't many game-changing skills as you move up the tech tree, just stats for the most part.

In general, with FF games my expectation should be that I, as a veteran of these games, should be able to plow through without a strategy guide/gamefaqs lookup/etc. with little difficulty and simply sit back an enjoy the game. Some bosses should give you a little trouble but when you lose it shouldn't feel like it was at the whim of the battle system instead of your own strategy. Yes, I can see the logic FAIL here but at least in FFT you knew that you could think about what you were doing.

Things I do like

It's not all bad. Easily my favorite thing to come out of this game is its weapon upgrading system. It reminds me very much of the Disgaea one, without the annoying 'weapon dungeons'. So I guess it has that going for it (laughing), My only complaint is that they didn't adequately explain it, leaving me flailing to figure out what catalysts I needed to upgrade my starred weapons by trial and error. I hope they keep this idea going in the future games.

Final thoughts
I'm not done with this game yet, as I mentioned above, but it would take a lot for this to move out of the bottom of my FF rankings (of games that I've played). Right now it would probably be

  1. FF7/FF10/FF12/FFT - tied for excelling in different areas
  2. FF6 - I still hate the world of ruin. FF12 hit my nonlinear gameplay right. This, not so much. Though the first half of the game is probably my favorite FF, if you were allowed to cut them up.
  3. FF4 - Solidly good, no real complaints or praise. The Evil Wall in the Sealed Cave is probably #3 on the difficult mandatory battles list mentioned above.

  4. FF9 - Again, solid but not particularly memorable.
  5. FF5 - Never finished, but I'll admit to being prejudiced against this because I was an old hand at FFT before playing this and loved the job system there a lot better
  6. FF13 - So far this slots in around here.
  7. FF8 - Squall - so whiny. The junction system made this game a complete joke difficulty-wise, and the story was poorly executed. I will cop to my nerdy teenage self loving the final song.
  8. FF1 - Grind, Grind, Grind.
  9. Final Fantasy Dress Up (X2) - pure fan service, but fun if you took the game for what it was.
  10. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest - I'd love to put this higher because it was the first JRPG I ever played and has big nostalgia value, but the game was laughably easy. I still burn through it every once in awhile on an emulator for kicks.