Final Fantasy XIII Isn’t Bad Like You Think It Is

For our birthday a couple of weeks ago, we procured for ourselves several new video games, among which was a copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2. We started playing it and got about 5 hours in, but we were having so much fun that we decided to go back and play Final Fantasy XIII again before we got too far along.

We don’t typically like role playing games that much, what with the emphasis on overwrought story and all, but we like this game a lot. Some people don’t. Let’s look at some common criticisms of the game and why we don’t agree with them.

It’s too linear

This criticism holds that one of the bad things about Final Fantasy XIII is that it takes away the player’s agency by essentially forcing them down a series of tunnels. There’s no way to break from these tunnels until the latter half of the game, which keeps the player from exploring and inhibits them from having Fun. Here’s a quote from the Wired review:

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Final Fantasy XIII is relentlessly linear. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Many other RPGs are linear in the metaphorical sense, but the vast majority of this game is literally a straight line. Like the internet, it is a series of tubes in which you run forward, forward, ever forward, fighting battle after battle, breaking only to watch the lavish story sequences.

First of all, we would like to use that guy’s Internet. It sounds more exciting than this shitty one we use.

Secondly, unless you’re playing an open world game like Just Cause 2 or Grand Theft Auto IV, the game you’re playing is linear. Let’s take another Final Fantasy game, like Final Fantasy VII. The argument here would be that you get a great big world map to explore and lots of cities and people to discover at your leisure. The problem is that most of the time, there is a barrier keeping you from going any further than the game wants you to go to. These aren’t literal walls that you have to overcome, but come in the form of a big nasty snake in a sand pit you have to cross or a river that can only be forded with the help of a six wheeled automobile. If you haven’t talked to that one guy in town yet, the earthquake or whatever won’t happen. These strictures are not released until the latter third of the game, when you get an airship that can go anywhere at anytime and you can engage in a bunch of sidequests.

Fat Pipes

Final Fantasy XIII just hits you over the head with what it wants you to do by “forcing” you down these pipes. The only difference between this and earlier games is that the pipes are actually skinny and direct you where you need to go, rather than just being a big circle with one town and one exit. Like the older games, the world opens up in the final third and players can do optional sidequests at their leisure.

Skinny Pipes

Really, the critics seem to be complaining that the pipes are skinny rather than fat. Also, what the hell does “linear in a metaphorical sense” mean?

The game doesn’t let you grind

The leveling system in this game is based on a grid called the “Crystarium”, where you use experience to move your characters along a line to various nodes. When a node is reached, you level up. Also, those damn pipes again.

The problem people have is that the Crystarium only lets you level up to a certain point, after which you’ll have to complete a story-related event to open up another Crystarium level and become stronger.

One level of Lightning’s Crystarium

There are a few problems with this. The first is that grinding is something people complain about in RPGs all the time. The most boring thing in these games, people say, is that in order to progress, you have to spend hours killing the same monsters over and over again to level your characters up. By only allowing advancement to a certain point given the player’s story position, the need for grinding is essentially eliminated unless you’re going for some rare end-game items. Granted this is definitely a matter of taste, but if you’re complaining that the thing you were complaining about before has been fixed, then you’re just looking for a reason to complain.

The second problem is that, due to the amount of experience you need to upgrade as the game progresses versus the amount of experience monsters give you as you progress through the story, it would be impossible to grind in this game without a significant time commitment. Rather than letting you find this out through trial and error, the game just tells you you can’t level up anymore by not allowing you too. We can appreciate that.

Vanille is so cute.

The third problem is that the main method of strengthening your characters in this game is actually through leveling up your items as opposed to your characters, which runs counter to everything that RPGs have been teaching you since you were small. However, if you’re playing this game and you’re not enhancing your weapons, we won’t say you’re playing it wrong, but you’re certainly creating a lot of hardship for yourself.

The final problem is that this system just makes sense within the world of the game. Your characters just became magical people who can mess things up real bad, but since they just became magical people, it makes sense that they would get better at being magical people over time. This lends the game a much better sense of progression of in game time than other rpgs, where you could theoretically spend 50 hours leveling your characters up to an obscene, unnecessary level. You would then hit another story trigger and as far as your characters were concerned, only 15 minutes would have elapsed. That’s just ridiculous.

The story doesn’t make any sense and I don’t know what these dumb made up words mean

In a lengthy RPG like Final Fantasy XIII, an entire world has to be constructed to support the 40 hours of story. This world has to have it’s own lore that makes sense within the context of itself. We have seen two approaches to the presentation of this lore:

  1. Your character, who is usually a long time resident of the game’s world, has to ask basic cultural questions to everyone he meets. These cultural questions are things that, presumably, anyone in this society would already know the answers to because they live in the culture. When you assume control of your character, a lobotomy is performed on them to remove all cultural knowledge.
  2. Information is presented to you in some kind of encyclopedia. The game, assuming you’re keeping up with your homework, will use culture specific words that you won’t understand if you haven’t kept up with the reading.

Final Fantasy XIII opts for choice two. Do your reading and it will make sense. Whether you like the story or not is up to you, but whining about how you don’t know what’s going on is just silly.

The game plays itself

Final Fantasy XIII uses a battle system called the Paradigm System. You control the lead character out of a party of three and can either select specific actions for them to perform or pick “Auto-Battle,” in which case the game will select the options best suited for your opponent based on the weaknesses you’ve learned about from fighting them previously.

Paradigm generation screen

There is also the matter of controlling the party as a whole by making sure that everyone is using the Paradigm you want them to use. These are roles like Commando (physical damage), Ravager (magic damage), or Medic (healer). The Paradigms are what you should be spending most of your time controlling. Prioritizing your Paradigm configurations so that you can best heal, stagger your opponents, or buff is what you’re meant to spend all of your time doing in battles. That’s why the game picks commands for you. Since your character can perform as many as 5 actions in a given turn, there’s just no time to queue up all your actions without a monster eating you. Again, we don’t want to say you’re playing it wrong, but in this case, you really are. Concentrate on Paradigms, not your lead character’s specific actions. They’re designer to take care of themselves.

So there you go. We think Final Fantasy XIII might have gone off better if it hadn’t been released under the Final Fantasy banner. They could have called it Cocoon: Dumb World Forever or Don’t Ever Use Hope Because He’s Obnoxious. When you reach the thirteenth iteration of a series, people know what to expect and surprises upset them.

In closing, seriously, Hope is obnoxious:

Grant, we wouldn’t want to have a picnic with any of these people but Hope is just special with his misanthropic ability to complain. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said:

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