Final Fantasy XIII’s problem isn’t linearity: it’s everything else
There are some good ways to spend fifty hours of your life. Watching the first season of Game of Thrones, for example. But playing through Final Fantasy XIII? Nope, that isn’t one of them.
The biggest complaint that I’d heard going into Final Fantasy XIII was that the game was “too linear.” There’s really no denying it though – XIII is one of the (if not the) most linear RPGs that Square Enix has brought to market. Squeak Enix has taken a “point A to point B” approach and kicked it up several notches, so almost all of the entire game consists of cutscenes, fighting monsters, and moving forward. Your choices are limited to forks where you can go left, or you can go right, but you still end up at the same spot. There are (technically) no towns, no dungeons, no flyable airships, none of that nonsense. In FFXIII, the entire world is the dungeon. Trippy, right?
This isn’t the big problem with the game.
Truth be told, I was never a fan of walking from Town A to Town B while getting attacked fifteen times on the way. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more appreciative of games where I can just blast through things quickly and efficiently, moving from one chapter to the next. And in that sense, Thirteen (potentially) performs admirably.
It’s just (almost) everything else that fails miserably.
Before Final Fantasy XIII, I finished Uncharted 1 and 2, two supremely excellent games/movies on the PS3. The rough outline for Uncharted could double for XIII, easily. Watch cutscene, go through a few battles, jump around, watch another cutscene. Repeat. Yet Uncharted succeeds where FFXIII doesn’t, for two reasons: an excellent cast/story, and the fierce/fun gunbattles between the cutscenes.
Spoilers ahead. It probably doesn’t matter anyway, though. There isn’t a whole lot to spoil.
So what kind of story does FFXIII have to offer? Well…I’m not sure, honestly. If I could put it into one sentence, it would sound like this: “protagonist from floating world pretends to be outcast to save sister but fails and gets turned into outcast with group of sorry individuals who try to protect an ancient being from being destroyed to prevent Creator from coming and remaking the world but ultimately fail due to the fact that said group decides to attack the ancient being for unknown reasons causing floating world to collapse.”
That was terrible, I know. It was quite honestly the best I could do after playing through the game, reading all of the datalogs, and doing some “quality” research on GameFAQ message boards.
It makes me sad that I can no longer take a SquallEnix game and reduce it to something cohesive, like “girl accidentally gets sent back in time, boy rescues girl, discovers ancient evil sucking life out of planet and destroys it.” Or how about FF7, the previously-undisputed King of Convoluted plots (but actually fun!), which would probably be “washed-out soldier discovers corporation sucking life from planet, recovers from PTSD, defeats bad guy and saves the world”.
Let me try this again.
The story revolves around a female named Lightning “Worst Birthday Ever” Farron, who lives in a futuristic floating paradise. She’s your “strong-willed” heroine, which in SquelchEnix terms means really grouchy. When the game starts, Lightning pretends to be a “L’cie” (basically someone who can use magic that’s also being hunted down and “purged” by the government) to find her sister, a girl who is an honest-to-goodness L’cie. Unfortunately for both parties, Lightning meets her sister only to watch her turn to crystal, a consequence of being a L’cie. Basically, if you’re a L’cie, you have something called a focus – a task from the gods that you have to accomplish. If you succeed, your reward is to be turned into a human crystal. If you fail, well…you turn into a zombie.
So once you turn into a L’cie, you’re pretty much screwed.
It probably goes without saying that your motley cast of characters all turn into L’cie.
In other words, the rest of the game involves you trying to undo your screwed-ness. But wait! There’s more! It also turns out that the emperor is actually a major Bad Guy named “Barthandelus” masquerading as a normal human. He’s a pseudo-god who simultaneously helps your group escape at points while attacking you at prime intervals throughout the game. He is also, in his non-human form, a giant rectangular head. I can’t respect any boss that is just a giant head. Anyway, it seems that one of his goals is to “strengthen” your party, so you can defeat one of the godlike beings that keeps the floating world afloat. If this being, Orphan, is defeated, mankind is doomed, and the Maker will swoop in and recreate the world. Or something.
So what happens? Your party goes through the entire game doing a whole lot of nothing except fighting monsters and moving forward (because you sure as hell can’t go backwards…damn linear story!) You get to Orphan, who’s locked in some funky-looking technoworld, and have a big final fight with Barthandelus. And then you have a big final fight with Orphan. I don’t know why. And then the futuristic floating paradise collapses. And then two people in your party execute some sort of ice attack that prevents the paradise from crashing into the planet, and everyone who previously lived in the floating paradise falls down onto what I suppose is now their new home. Have a nice day!
The story, you might have gathered by now, is not good.
The voice acting is also not good, but it’s not horrible either. I’ve since thought about this, and honestly, the first third of the game I thought the voice acting was absolutely terrible (mostly thanks to Vanille, with her pseudo-Australian fob accent). By the end of the game you realize that it’s not the voice acting that’s bad; it’s the script. And the crap that gets spewed out of some of the characters’ mouths is usually ridiculous, irritating, or some combination of the two. A lot of it, incidentally, reminds me of The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan’s glorified epic.
Character development, normally done well in other Squawk games (well, it was done well in FFX anyway…), is unrealistic, to say the least. Unless you count the fact that every character undergoes a one-time, “flick-of-a-switch” change: Lightning goes from annoying grouch to suddenly-happy optimist. Hope goes from scrub kid to some kind of optimist leader material with choice monologues about saving the world. Snow, the carefree optimist, turns into a carefree optimist. Basically, everyone becomes an optimist. That’s all the character development in this game.
How about the battle system? Repetitive, frustrating and difficult, mostly. This is easily the first FF game where normal battles actually pose a challenge. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, it’s just – well, I’ll let you decide. Boss battles, especially, are the icing on the cake. Hah! Good luck beating most of the bosses on your first try. I have a intimate relationship with the “Game Over” screen, thanks to late-boss-battle buzzer-beater attacks that just happen to decimate my party, allowing Barthandelus (insert your favorite XIII boss here) to just flick his finger and wipe everyone out. Real nice. I still have nightmares about Destrudo.
Reason One why battles are so difficult is because, for most of the game, your characters are broke as hell. You don’t earn Gil for defeating monsters any more – you get a chance of picking up an item. Most of the time that item is a cheap organic souvenir that you’re supposed to use to upgrade your weapons. Problem is, you don’t get enough of high-quality stuff (which are worth more exp for your items) through battles for it to make a difference.
What you are supposed to do is grind at very strategic points during the game, since there are certain types of enemies (usually soldiers) who drop credit chips that are actually worth some money. And money, unlike most Final Fantasy games, is EXTREMELY crucial in this game. Upgrading weapons (of which a GameFAQ is virtually required, no joke) is a costly affair, and without careful planning your group is going to just barely survive until about 3/4 through the game, when a side quest nets you a ridiculous sum of money. Unfortunately, I found this out much later.
Reason Two why battles are difficult is…if the leader of your group dies, the game is over. (and you only control the leader of the group, the ai controls the rest) Throughout most of the game, you don’t get to pick your leader either. Trust me, there’s plenty of room for frustration here.
There is really only one bright spot to such a ludicrous game. And that is presentation. Music, graphics, the interface – these are all done very, very well, and it makes you wonder how much time was spent on these instead of, you know, the story.
My advice for anyone even remotely considering playing this game: go play FFIX instead.