Final Fantasy XIII caught me off guard. I thought I had read more than enough previews, reviews, and first-hand impressions of the game to understand what I was getting myself into, but none of it prepared me for what I actually experienced. I went in expecting to find the naysaysers were nothing more than narrow-minded fans stuck in the past, but what I actually found was they were either too kind or too vague in their descriptions of why FFXIII is a bad game.
It’s not because you only control one character in battle, and it’s not because you walk a straight line for majority of the game. FFXIII is a bad game because it’s simply not made to be played. The game plays itself and exists for the sole purpose of looking pretty.
You might be able to select the commands for the party’s leader to execute in battle, but you’re not really in control of even that one character. The auto-battle command is defaulted to the top of the list because the developers realized there’s too much going on in FFXIII’s battles for you to micro-manage your party like in other RPGs. FFXIII is all about macro-managing your party by assigning roles to your party members and deciding when they switch.
During the first hour of the game, I felt the battle screen was overcrowded with meters and numbers, preventing me from concentrating on what was going on in the battle. It wasn’t until I got fed up with manually assigning my attacks and starting using the auto-battle command that I realized, the meters and numbers are what you need to focus on. FFXIII is basically a text-based RPG, but Square-Enix poured way too much time and money into making the game beautiful for you to stare at meters and numbers the whole time, so they decided to drag out the game’s introduction and tutorials over several hours so you can be good enough to win battles while watching your characters dance and pose while kicking ass.
In between fights, the party explores massive tunnels, bridges, hallways, trails, and other linear paths devoid of life other than the game’s surreal enemies. Occasionally, you get the chance to traverse a population center, but rather than serving as reminders that there’s a world out there worth saving, NPCs function as barriers to ensure linearity and foils to reinforce the idea that your party members are badasses. Everyone without a name in FFXIII looks like they dressed themselves with their feet in a Yarn Barn during a power outage. They’re not nearly as stylish as Snow, who wears a trench coat and snow hat to the beach.
The world’s linearity benefits Square-Enix by saving them from the effort of creating an actual world that’s as pretty as the rest of the game and by allowing them to assault players with a gauntlet of beautiful battles. Of course, this works against players by depriving them of any concept of what the game’s world is like and by never giving them a break from the monotony until hour 40 or so where the game opens up into a massive wilderness of monotony. The entire world of FFXIII is a dungeon full of people and creatures that want the party dead.
The game’s story backs this up. Every person the party comes across wants to kill the Lightning and the gang because they are L’Cie, cursed beings. I thought I grasped the game’s ridiculous lingo early on, but later in the game, a party member referred to a giant flying beast as a L’Cie, ruining my understanding of what the hell was going on. The characters ramble about these things every chance they get, but they don’t actually make anything clear due to Square-Enix’s love for rhetorical babble. They realized this somewhere along the lines and decided to offer data logs, summaries of the game’s plot, characters, events, etc., after each cutscene. I read just one of these (the one for Sahz’s chocobo chick) but only because it was recommended to me on a forum because it was funny. I gave up on FFXIII’s story early on because of this, opting to browse websites or grab a snack during cutscenes instead. Actually, I did that during a lot of the battles too. FFXIII really does play itself.
Not only did FFXIII make me ignore cutscenes (something I never do my first time through a game), it also made me trade the thing back in, a practice I gave up a while back because I felt it just wasn’t worth it, even for games I didn’t really care for. This happened after I decided to give up on the game’s boring open-ended chapter, the supposed “highlight” of the experience. After commencing with the main quest, I was treated to a cutscene so amazing, I was instantly convinced this is what the entire game was made for. Square-Enix probably made this one beautiful cutscene, then developed the entire game around it. It’s the climax to the fifty hour masterbation session that it Final Fantasy XIII. With that out of the way, there was no real reason for me to keep the game. I’ll just watch it on YouTube if I’m in the mood for a quickie.
[Check out my blog BOLDSTATE for more of my views on everything video games.]
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