You know, it’s funny… I have been putting off doing the review for so long. I had originally planned to write it back in February, but kept moving it further down my “blog post planner”. Every week it would get pushed back, because I knew it would be an awkward review to write. It could also split opinions, just like Final Fantasy XIII itself did. So I procrastinated with it so much that almost half a year has gone by from when I originally planned to post this.
Well, I think the time has come for me to actually review Final Fantasy XIII. So, let’s all sit down together and take a look at a game that has been called both “a great J-RPG” and “the worst Final Fantasy ever made”… This should be interesting.
I’ll start this review by stating one thing; in my opinion, the storyline is the weakest part of Final Fantasy XIII. The characters, especially the younger ones, can be very frustrating as you play… And to be honest, the adults aren’t that much better. Also, I never really found myself clicking with Lightning. She looked awesome and acted like a warrior, but her personality just grated on me. She was supposed to be a female version of Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, and they got a lot of that spot on… Sadly, in my opinion, they took the more annoying parts of Cloud as inspiration.
And that’s probably the biggest issue with the storyline of Final Fantasy XIII; it is really hard to connect with the characters. The actual plot isn’t that bad, with some interesting twists every known and then. It may not be on the typical level of quality that you would expect from a Final Fantasy game, but it isn’t actually as poorly planned and written as many say. Really, the issue that most people face is the characters.
Sadly, that doesn’t really improve as you go through the game. Characters do get development, but it never really feels enough to make them relatable. This also takes away from the various scenes that are supposed to create an emotional response within the player. If you aren’t invested in the characters, you don’t really get the emotional attachment either.
The actual story itself covers a variety of different locations, has just enough backstory for you to know what is actually going on, and does throw a few minor curveballs at you. However, it never really seems to hit its stride like other Final Fantasy games. Because of that, I’d have to say that Final Fantasy XIII’s storyline is average, if I am being honest…
Okay, so let’s address the elephant in the room first. Final Fantasy XIII is often referred to as a “corridor simulator”, with many people citing the straightforward, linear design of the game as one of the biggest flaws with it. But the thing is, everyone gets so hung up on it that they don’t really stop and think about it. Sure, the first half of the game is very much a “follow the yellow brick road” sort of affair, where you just go down some obvious paths to get to the next story scene or boss fight. However, Final Fantasy XIII isn’t the only game in the series to play like this.
In fact, whilst Final Fantasy XIII is criticised for it, no one ever seems to mention that Final Fantasy X for the PlayStation 2 was basically the same. You travel down very limited paths, making your way between temples or other areas, guided by the fact that there is very little divergence from the set path. Yet, despite having the same sort of gameplay, in that aspect, Final Fantasy X isn’t torn to pieces for it. This might be because FFX got so much else right as well, but it just doesn’t seem fair to belittle Final Fantasy XIII for doing the same thing that one of the most popular Final Fantasy games did as well.
What I do feel comfortable criticising, however, is the battle system. Not because of the new version of Active Time Battle, and not because of the paradigm shift element (although that could do with improvement), but because of the Auto-Battle feature. In an RPG, where the crux of the gameplay is the battle system, having the option for the game to do it all for you seems a bit strange. Why take away the only true interactive gameplay element an RPG has by making the computer choose everything?
The battle system could have been amazing if the paradigm shift worked smoother (like it does in the sequel, FFXIII-2), but I still would have been put off by the Auto-Battle idea. Sure, you don’t need to use it (I don’t) but it just seems like an odd choice to implement. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s really not a big thing at all! So, you know what? Many people are going to throw fruit and vegetables at me when I say this, but I don’t think Final Fantasy XIII’s gameplay is that bad!
Sure, it may be simplified compared to other Final Fantasy games, but let’s be honest, it really isn’t the worst in the series. Not by a long shot! To me, that (dis)honour still goes to Mystic Quest, without a shadow of a doubt. FFXIII’s battle system could be made smoother, and the paradigm shift mechanic should have been improved like it was in the sequel, but this is still a very enjoyable game. And as I said, you can’t really fault it for the linear world when Final Fantasy X did the same thing and that game is looked at so fondly. Even the Eidolon gameplay is similar to Final Fantasy X (when they come together with the summoner), so it is pretty obvious that the developers took a look from it when putting FFXIII together.
When the first trailers came out for Final Fantasy XIII, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of it. But I just knew that, when the game came out, it wouldn’t look like that in game. Those trailers had to be cutscenes and FMVs, right? Well, I was wrong. One thing that no one can deny about Final Fantasy XIII is that it is an absolutely beautiful game. The character models, textures and animations are all stunning, with gorgeous lighting and perfectly moulded set pieces.
The Eidolon animations look incredible, and whilst they may not have the epic feeling of Final Fantasy VIII, IX or XV, they still take your breath away. Even today, years after release and the move to full HD with the PlayStation 4, Final Fantasy XIII looks amazing.
The developers did a great job on the graphics, and unlike some other games (such as Sacred 3), the game doesn’t really feel like that was all they cared about. Sure, a lot of the overly critical people out there will say that too much focus was spent on the graphics over gameplay, and that may be the case to an extent. However, the game is still enjoyable despite the amount of effort that went into the graphics.
Admittedly, Final Fantasy XIII could have probably had a better storyline or improved gameplay elements if less time were spent on making it look as amazing as it does, but it isn’t entirely horrible, so I can’t berate it too much.
And That’s All Folks
Final Fantasy XIII isn’t the horrid excuse for a game that many critiques would have you believe. It does feature linear world maps, but then, so did Final Fantasy X. The gameplay may not be great, but it isn’t as bad as Mystic Quest, and the game does look amazing. However, it really is a very average game. I once decribed Final Fantasy XIII in one sentence on Twitter, and after revisiting it, that sentence still stands true for me; “it isn’t utterly terrible”.
This is a game that could have been outstanding, but sadly, just ends up being a bit of a mess, but not enough to make it a waste of space. You can enjoy Final Fantasy XIII, as long as you don’t try to compare it to other Final Fantasy games.
Have you played Final Fantasy XIII? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!