The RetroBeat: Final Fantasy XIII deserves — and gets — another chance

Final Fantasy XIII.

If you believe the internet, Final Fantasy XIII is the worst thing to ever happen to a historic RPG series. I don’t agree. Final Fantasy XIII is fine.

Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels (Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns) received backward-compatibility support on Xbox One today. So if you own those games on Xbox 360, you can play them on the modern console. They’ll even look better than they did before thanks to Xbox One X enhancements. Even XIII’s cutscenes will look better, as Microsoft and Square Enix have partnered to improve their video quality.,

So if you haven’t played Final Fantasy XIII before, this is the best time ever to do so. But you probably don’t want to because you’ve heard that it’s awful. Those criticisms are overblown. I like Final Fantasy XIII.

Look, I’m not saying it doesn’t deserve some scrutiny. The story and characters are weak. The cast isn’t likable, certainly not anywhere close a Final Fantasy VI or Final Fantasy IX level. And the plot is … well, it’s convoluted even by Japanese RPG standards. I played it back when it debuted in 2010, and now I couldn’t give you a story synopsis if my retro gaming collection depended on it. I remember there was something about an evil pope … and people trapped in crystals.

Fighting with style

But you know what I do remember? The combat. Because Final Fantasy XIII has a great battle system. It’s like a combination of the classic ATB (active time battle) system the series used in its SNES and PlayStation entries but with the addition of more strategy. In most Final Fantasy games, you only worry about dealing damage and healing. Final Fantasy XIII also makes it important to have a character in a traditional tank role, meaning they must get enemies to focus on them, not the rest of the party, so they can absorb most of the damage.

The fights also look fantastic. Although the combat is still semi-turned based, characters walk around the battlefield and attack each other in a cinematic and exciting show. Final Fantasy XIII still looks as good as most modern games. Few JRPGs can boast better visuals.

Final Fantasy XIII also has one of the best battle songs ever. Seriously, these are some of the best strings I’ve ever heard on a video game track. I get amped up every time I hear.

Some complain that Final Fantasy XIII is too linear. You don’t have a traditional world map to explore. For much of the game, you follow a straight line. But there are areas that open up into wider fields and branching paths. Sure, this is still one of the most linear Final Fantasy games. But is not alone. Final Fantasy X worked much the same way, but it never receives nearly as much criticism.

Final Fantasy XIII also has a slow start. The game throws a lot of cutscenes and story sequences at you up front, and it takes its time unlocking all of the features of its combat system. At first, fighting is simple. It’s not until hours later that you can unlock the battle system’s true depth. These kinds of slow burns aren’t for everyone. Given how much Final Fantasy XIII’s combat has going on (it’s more complicated than what I’ve described, and I couldn’t really do it justice in a couple of paragraphs), I can understand why the game wants to ease you into things.

A victim of hype

I’m not sure why people are so hard on Final Fantasy XIII, but I expect hype had something to do with it. Square Enix announced Final Fantasy XIII in 2006, years before its release. And that debut trailer was stunning. It was too stunning. Square Enix deployed a cheap trick by overlaying a UI on top of a prerendered battle. As good as the actual fights in Final Fantasy XIII look, they aren’t as flashy as this first video promised.

The series was also getting used to the rigors of modern game development. From 1999 to 2002, a new numbered entry in the franchise came out every single year. It was a three year wait between XII and XIII.

So when Final Fantasy XIII came out and it wasn’t the second coming of JRPGs, it took a lot of flak. But now that it’s been almost a decade since its release, maybe we can look at Final Fantasy XIII with more gentle expectations. No, it isn’t the next Final Fantasy VII. It’s not one of the best entries in the series. But Final Fantasy XIII is still a fun and beautiful RPG that doesn’t deserve as much vitriol as it receives.

And before you say anything, sure, an Xbox 360 game can be retro now. Because I say so.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.

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