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Left to right: Sazh, Seifer, Tidus, Cloudette, Paine and Rikku.

I knew Final Fantasy XIII wasn’t a good game. I told everyone this. I had told everyone not to get hyped up. I warned that review scores would be overinflated because it’s Final Fantasy and not the Tales series or anything by Sakaguchi. I knew this because Square-Enix haven’t made a good game in…What? Ten years? Every ‘big’ game they have made has merely been both pretty and stupid. Oh, and usually sell millions because Final Fantasy is in the title, or characters from that series are.

What can I say? I hold some resentment against a company that made it impossible for me to google or discuss a certain game without getting an eyeful of their terrible retconning, triple belted spinoffs.

In a shameful moment of weakness and hypocrisy, I decided to rent Final Fantasy XIII last week.

By the way, the opening two hours are possibly the worst time I’ve ever had with a game. It wore me down. You run forward in two boring places, each with a really conservative set of textures.  Battles consist of pressing a button twice, waiting and repeating this. Then you’re assigned a meaningless score and a rating for how fast you did that. There is no experience, nor ability points for these first two hours. Since the constant awful cutscenes also show the characters fighting, all of this ‘gameplay’ could’ve just been removed and you’d miss nothing.

Anyway, going in I knew the story was going to be nonsensical anime garbage that beats you over the head with every point it wants to make – something best exemplified by Hope’s speeches. It’s all very ‘Xenosaga’.

But it was the gameplay that ended up being worse than I expected. Yet again, JRPGs reduce themselves to being dungeon crawlers.

Unlike a lot of people, my main issue with FFXII was the fact that it was a 50 hour dungeon crawl. The combat would’ve been great in small doses, but sucks when it’s the entire game. FFXIII is similar. In fact, it’s similar in quite a few ways…

Drab dungeons

Dungeons with a handful of textures repeated for too long.

In FF12 (from here on I’m going to use numbers rather than numerals to save confusion) The towns don’t serve much of a point, the two and a half minigames are half-baked ideas. Even the areas that seem big and open are mapped like dungeons. It’s all just about running through places filled with monsters and fighting them.

That’s also all of the gameplay in FF13.

I thought we were past this in 1998. FFVII and VIII kept dungeons short and sweet (with a few choice exceptions) and the games were better off for it. You want to get on with the story and just have some fun – not play Diablo. Hell, even comparing FFVI to IV shows the improvement with regards to less dungeon crawling as gameplay filler.

Current generation JRPGs seem to have gone the opposite directions. Likely due to graphics improving and costs skyrocketing – space and finance for lots of varied dungeons and lengthy RPGs is much less. So they stretch out all the dungeons to make the games as long as they’re expected to be. It also means more linearity. FFX was a stride in the wrong direction, FF12 and 13 are hikes.

The same way the Tomb of Raithwall in FF12 got boring, a lot of the dungeons in FF13 tend to copy/paste textures for the entire area you’ll spend hours in. As pretty as Lake Bresha or the Tesseracts looked the first time you got there, you can’t tell me you weren’t sick of them by the end. Don’t expect the story to advance while you’re in these places either, the story is usually between locations.

For the record, I’m all for simplistic and linear dungeons, I find them much more manageable and fun than Phantasy Star style labyrinths. But it’s when that tunnel stretches on for an hour that things start to go awry.

To be fair, in Palumpolum (no, seriously, that’s what it’s called) the game stops copying and pasting textures and puts some variance into the ‘dungeon’ and it makes a huge difference as you go through all kinds of different city environments. Even places with actual people!

Oh, the wonders of modern technology!

I'll give you a minute to spot the parallel.

Then there was this area in which everyone had told me the game stopped being so shockingly linear and got good after 30 hours of the same thing.

But it was exactly the same kind of thing as FF12’s open areas.

Do you remember that Wild Saurian in the Dalmasca Estersands? You know, you had to avoid the big T-Rex monster that could kill you in the first area of the game? The exact same gameplay is in FF13 – on Pulse, you avoid the big things.

Sure, it’s less linear than the rest of the game. There are directions to run in other than forward, but it’s still just running around fighting stuff for no reward but ability points. (or Crystarium Points, more accurately)

It’s a bad sign when the best part of the game in the first fifteen hours is a two minute segment in which you run across a gorgeous beach, go into a bar, talk to someone and then run outside to the pier.

Poor storytelling

FF12 had a terribly inconsistent narrative. With the bizarrely unnecessary Ondore memoirs spoon-feeding you information that should’ve been told through creative exposition, or that you knew or that you didn’t need to know.

It managed to make talking to people in towns completely pointless. All the history and attitudes towards events in cities and towns were exposited in these memoirs, the bestiary or the cutscenes.

Not to mention the overcomplicated, muddled mess of half-arsed national politics  and war. The first disc of Final Fantasy VIII was more political. I mean, how many people remember the difference between Nalbina, Nabradia and Nabudis?

In FF13 the entire story is told through cutscenes. All of it. It mostly cuts out talking to the civilian populace and giving the world any texture or personality. There are a few parts where you can talk to people but the game even has to recycle their pointless dialogue.

Vanille’s (think Yuffie meets Rikku meets Selphie, take away a few IQ points, add one bafflingly Australian accent) narration breaks immersion just as much as the memoirs in FF12, even if it doesn’t break the pace as much.

Much like FF12, all interaction that could be in-game is put into cutscenes. Even simple things like making save points shops, takes away valuable interaction and keeping a distance between the player (or viewer, rather) and the world of the game. There’s no interweaving gameplay and story here, it’s all clearly segregated.

If FFVII were done by the FF13 team, the entry into the Sector 1 Mako Reactor would be all cutscene, down to the fights. Then the Reactor would be half an hour of corridor with no Materia or EXP. Then planting the bomb, running away as the timer counts down, rescuing Jessie and getting out of there would all be in cutscene form.

People can claim this is ‘streamlining’, but if you can get all the story from watching just the cutscenes, it defeats the point of it being a game.

In those hateful first two hours (and take some time to think of the great movies you could watch in two hours) all the story got across was:

  • Cloudette is a bitch.
  • Sazh is pretty okay.
  • Tidus’ mom died.
  • And I THINK, I’m not sure but I THINK that Seifer wants to be a ‘hero’. It’s hard to tell with such masterfully subtle characterisation.

All the rest of the words hurled at you (l’Cie, fal’Cie, Focus, PSICOM, NORA etc.) are meaningless until about ten hours later by which time most of them have been explained through constant flashbacks with a weird day count. It’s like the whole thing starts in medias res, without ever properly just sending you back to the beginning. It’s flat out bad storytelling.

The Occuria and the fal’Cie

They’re the same damn thing.

nuff said.

Other story-related similarities

  • Replace the Nethicite MacGuffins with the Focus of l’Cie.
  • Replace the Pharos with Taejin’s Tower.
  • Replace the airship combat at the end with magical summoning deus ex machina. (both endings even involve the same “oh no falling thing will kill people”)
  • Dalmascans have American accents, Archadians have British accents. Coccoon has American accents, Pulse has Australian accents. (although they British up some villains)
  • The dialogue of FF12 jarringly turns to bizarre and faux Shakespearian about halfway through. FF13 saves this till the end boss.
  • “The reins of history back in the hands of man.”/”Humanity’s fate rests in its own hands!”
  • Mark hunting/Stone missions. (technically gameplay but shh)
  • Oh and SPOILER: you fight Cid.

Xemnas and Quistis there have about as much personality as Zargabaath and Drace. If you even remember them.

Gameplay flaws

Delete as applicable to game: These Espers/Eidolons, such as Belias/Brynhildr are totally pointless, they don’t do much damage and cost too much of your Mist charge/TPs. And you need them for Quickenings/Libra. They sure look purty by 2006/2010 standards though.

FF12 had the gambit system, which people seem to forget was optional. It helped to remove some hassle in fights, but could be a little unbalanced. Well, FF13 has that big shiny Auto-Battle button. You’ll be hitting that for the entire game. All your other interaction is the troublesome but somewhat clever paradigm shift.

In FF12 magic was useless outside of buffing and the occasional aerial enemy. In FF13 you can’t aim cure spells at more than one person at a time. You barely have time to assign actual commands (instead of hitting auto-battle), never mind paradigm shift troubles – like getting attacked while shifting to a cure paradigm. Why can’t you just pause and select roles for each character, instead of set paradigms anyway?

Perhaps it’s worst sin; FF12 was designed with places like GameFAQs in mind. Remember the license board? Remember the Zodiac spear – those random chests every walkthrough told you not to open so one chest in an optional dungeon with the hardest enemies would contain the ultimate weapon? Yeah, the devs said this was to build community. It was actually incredibly stupid and evil.

FF13 is nowhere near as bad as 12 in this regard, but still: Eidolon battles.

Finally, this is a small issue, but both games throw distracting text at you at certain points. FF12’s just adds to it’s uneven presentation. In FF13 thinking about your star rating for how fast you won a fight is an immersion killer.

Music

The music in Final Fantasy 12 was largely forgettable. There were some nuggets of gold in there though. (Ending Theme, Theme of the Empire, Sorrow – Imperial version, White Room, Rabanastre Downtown, etc.)

Although a lot of people disagree with me, I found that when the music in FF13 wasn’t forgettable it was offensively bad.

From droning about ‘stepping into the rainbow’ or ‘making wishes come true’ (I wish I was making these up), to the frightening lyrical Chocobo theme (‘WE WILL FIND THEM WE WILL FIND THEM’), to the overly sentimental but never quite emotional plinky piano tune.

That said, like FF12, there are a few good pieces in the soundtrack. Fighting Fate is particularly good – despite the games efforts to make you sick of it. There are also some good tracks that are more ambient like like Dust to Dust and Mysteries Abound. Those for the Purge and even the awful Serah’s Theme have good parts as well.

Wonderful worlds

Ivalice and Pulse/Coccoon sure are nice to look at.  Both complete with magical hover technology.

The design of the cities and the FMVs showing them off show a great attention to detail. They each have their dull areas, but for the most part there’s quality work put into building these worlds. It’s a stark contrast to the lazy writing and lazier gameplay design.

Futuristic fashion

Is this a thing now?

Whoops, wrong game.

Conclusion

FF12 and 13 are both full of potential. From Sky Pirates to the cruel machinations of being made a l’Cie. There’s also the shared idea of the interesting dilemma between gods (or god-like creatures) and the freedom of mankind.

To top it off, they both look great, and a lot of their flaws could’ve been easily fixed.

You can’t help but wonder if they’d only kept Basch the protagonist of FF12…Or if they’d started FF13 at the beginning of the story. (I personally think it would’ve been brilliant to open with Lightning killing a l’Cie on duty in-game, before it turns out her sister is one)

But at the end of the day, the potential was missed and when you factor in the gameplay design – they’re just not good games.

What shocks me though, is that so many people that identify themselves as FF fans, have bought into 13 whole heartedly. Despite it being (to exaggerate) basically the same game as 12, which they seem to universally hate. 12 is discounted like IX and XI is in the fandom.

Note that 12 has a nine point higher Metacritic average than 13, which surprises even me.

Is it all down to people preferring Tetsuya Nomura’s shiny, samey, belt-filled character designs like in Final Fantasy X? Maybe it’s because people clamoured for character interaction, so Square-Enix filled the game with cutscenes of these one dimensional and unlikable characters having equally shallow conversations with each other? I can’t profess to know.

What I do know is that the heart, soul and creativity of Final Fantasy left a long time ago. (It’s now continuing in the form of games like Lost Odyssey and Last Story, made by ex-Squaresoft helmsman Hironobu Sakaguchi. The former game even includes an grumpy old engineer/pilot called Sed!)

It just bothers me that Square-Enix make all the money for making these inferior games, while something like Valkyria Chronicles sells about twelve copies.

Seeing the fanbase that reacts well to a game that’s so similar to one they hated, it’s looking like the Final Fantasy cashcow will never die. Now the spinoffs are on their way.

The horse may be dead, but there’s obviously still some beating to be done.

And in two hours (just think of the movies you could watch in that amount of time) all the story got across was:

  • Cloudette is a bitch.
  • Sazh is pretty okay.
  • Tidus’ mom died.
  • And I THINK, I’m not sure but I THINK that Seifer wants to be a ‘hero’. It’s hard to tell with such masterfully subtle characterisation.

All the rest of the words hurled at you (l’Cie, fal’Cie, Focus, PSICOM, etc.) are meaningless until about ten hours later by which time some of them have been explained.

12 Comments

  1. I do agree with the similarities in the two games, but so far I’ve enjoyed XIII much more than XII.

    Both better than IX, tho’.

  2. Good job asshole, all I needed to read was “I told everyone”. You’re a douchebag just trying to down this game and make others not play it… what kind of person does that? A ****ing coward, reap what you sow *****, it IS A GOOD GAME… read between the lines.

  3. XII sucked a lot on it’s own in more ways than XIII, I think… but I’m still only on chapter.. 5? So I need to keep playing some before I fully agree or not. But Vagina’s always right ;D

  4. I think you’re right about most things, but wrong about some others.
    Could the auto battle button be considered a kind of level up button. Something that gives you a little edge over an area of the game you’re having trouble with? That is, if you consider it an optional feature of the battle system.

  5. I agree with this review, both FFXII and FFXIII sucked, but why does people hate FFIX? I thought it was brilliant, up there with FFVII and FFVIII.

  6. I bought FF13 despite some bad reviews. I figured how could I go wrong. I dont care much for 12 but it was not that bad.
    FF13 is a complete junker. I was excited because the combat was pretty cool. Well after say 20 battles then 30 then 40 I was wondering when am I going to get to a town ??

    I was waiting for that moment of discovery that every FF title has supplied and it never came. Just battle after battle in an endless suck cycle that never ends.

    “It gets good about 20 hours in” Well Ive never tortured myself for 20 hours to get to a mediocre reward and I wont start now.

    This is a fail FF game and if they ever make a sequel to this game hopefully people will be wise and keep their money.

    They should just remake 7 8 or 9. Or a new 14 based where 7 left off. Thrown in triad , the coin game, all of the mini games and make a real mega rpg that everyone could love!

    Please Square-Enix do not make anymore of the cookie cutter RPG’s for a brad market that are not even remotely and RPG game. Get back to your roots!
    FF13 is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to and RPG game.

    I took my copy and traded it back to game stop after 2 days of play I could not force myself to sit there thinking it will get better anymore. First time I ever gave up on a FF game.

  7. i agree with you entirely.
    the main problem is, is that the visuals look fantastic. nut the narrative can get redundant and the fights repetative. Hope is a whiney little shit. Sazh as you pointed out was the only decent character. the others were not that good.
    the characters had no back story which we could follow like in some of the other FF games.
    i only played 4 hours and that was enough for me. i could never get myself to play any longer because it was boring. but you are wrong to a certain extent. the KH (kingdom hearts) isn’t too bad the only good games SE have made in a long time.

  8. To be honest…12 was cheaper to buy than 13. So perhaps ego and pride keeps certain ppl from admitting that the cheaper game was actually BETTER. I personally hate both. But would play ff12 over 13 ANY DAY. I own both and I’ve never beat EITHER of them. both are just stupid, boring and pointless. And no matter how hard i’ve tried (with 12 i tried at least 5 times, 13 only 1 time but i did get to the end boss. I was like meh whatever why do i care?) I’ve never beaten them. I mean wth is up with no money and the license crap for skills simple ? maybe a turn off definitely. but at least i had options with 12. With 13 I feel like i have no options. It’s less than an interactive movie even. The only good thing about 13 was the graphics? But i don’t remember asking for a pretty face with a hollow soul? Whatever they both fail but in the end I lost the most $ with 13 so therefore I hate it most.

    omg i HATE hope!

  9. best ff game for me. ff7 and ff8. both has a deep story gameplay and mini games (cards, chocobo.) well Im still hoping that they will (square-enix-w/e) create games like this again. hopefully.

  10. 12 was much better then 13, much better.

    • I agree! Mainly because 13 was far too linear, both in exploration and in stat/skill development. You just didn’t have any freedom there. Heck, you couldn’t even fight the BATTLES the way you wanted. If you didn’t do it just the way the game developers intended, you’d get penalized with a low or no star rating which meant you didn’t the best chances at items dropped after battle. There was never any feeling good after a victory. You either felt relief that the game patted you on the head and gave you five stars, or regret that it didn’t.

      And also the annoying characters. Good gawd, I didn’t think it could get worse than FF10. But I was wrong. It seems they went out of their way to make Vanille especially annoying.

      Despite this very… elaborate article on what (barely noticeable to most) things that 12 and 13 have in common, actually playing one and then the other is like night and day. FF12 was the last great FF to date. FF13 is probably the worst they’ve ever made.

  11. “Square-Enix haven’t made a good game in…What? Ten years? Every ‘big’ game they have made has merely been both pretty and stupid. Oh, and usually sell millions because Final Fantasy is in the title, or characters from that series are.”

    FF12 was a GREAT game. People probably DO buy them all because they’re Final Fantasy games, but 12 deserves every bit of praise it got and then some!

    On drab dungeons… I disagree that earlier FFs were much better. They still had you going through drab areas for long periods of time; it was just part of the adventure. You can’t truly appreciate a gorgeous open area full of color without there also being areas that are not particularly fun to look at. I’m so glad Square Enix will NOT be taking your advice any time soon.

    You say 7 and 8 kept the dungeons short “with a few choice exceptions”. Well so did 12! For most of the game, you don’t really have to spend hardly any time to get to your next cutscene. In fact, you don’t even have to get into battles if you don’t want to. I loved 7 and 8 and would probably say they’re better than 12 overall, but I was much more annoyed traveling through their battle-infested zones than in 12.

    “The towns don’t serve much of a point, the two and a half minigames are half-baked ideas.”

    Translation: You didn’t like them. Fine. I didn’t like them either. But the towns serve just as much point as they ever have in previous installments.

    “Even the areas that seem big and open are mapped like dungeons. It’s all just about running through places filled with monsters and fighting them.”

    This is quite the meaningless criticism. First off, the areas in 12 ARE big and open! Compare it to ALL other Final Fantasy games. Sure you get a nice size field to run around in FF7 and all those before it. But compare one map in any of these games to most maps in FF12 and tell me how many steps it takes to get from one side to the other, go ahead. Secondly, FF12 is no less like “just running through places filled with monsters and fighting them” than previous games, with the exception that you no longer have to get sucked into another screen (just, out of nowhere) whether you intend to fight or escape. IOW, it’s BETTER than it’s ever been.

    “It also means more linearity. FFX was a stride in the wrong direction, FF12 and 13 are hikes.”

    Anyone who says/implies that 12 suffers from ANY more linearity than any other FF either has never played it or is just a big fat liar.

    “Then there was this area in which everyone had told me (FF13) stopped being so shockingly linear and got good after 30 hours of the same thing. But it was exactly the same kind of thing as FF12′s open areas.”

    And more of it much earlier would’ve made 13 a great game, just as it did with 12.

    “Do you remember that Wild Saurian in the Dalmasca Estersands? You know, you had to avoid the big T-Rex monster that could kill you in the first area of the game? The exact same gameplay is in FF13 – on Pulse, you avoid the big things.”

    So?

    “FF12 had a terribly inconsistent narrative. With the bizarrely unnecessary Ondore memoirs spoon-feeding you information that should’ve been told through creative exposition, or that you knew or that you didn’t need to know.”

    Nothing wrong with narration in video games, and certainly nothing inconsistent about the narrative.

    “It managed to make talking to people in towns completely pointless. All the history and attitudes towards events in cities and towns were exposited in these memoirs, the bestiary or the cutscenes.”

    Not even close to being true. You learn a TON of interesting things by speaking to people in towns and elsewhere.

    And if you didn’t understand 12’s story, that’s actually something you should bash YOURSELF for. It’s rather simple.

    “Much like FF12, all interaction that could be in-game is put into cutscenes. Even simple things like making save points shops, takes away valuable interaction and keeping a distance between the player (or viewer, rather) and the world of the game. There’s no interweaving gameplay and story here, it’s all clearly segregated.”

    So?

    “People can claim this is ‘streamlining’, but if you can get all the story from watching just the cutscenes, it defeats the point of it being a game.”

    Not at all. The point of it being a game is that you can play it… Well, you’re still playing it, aren’t you?

    “Xemnas and Quistis there have about as much personality as Zargabaath and Drace. If you even remember them.”

    I do, but it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t. They were peons, not main characters in the story.

    I’ll grant you the esper/eidolon criticism. Both were useless, IMO. But then now that I think on it, the only FF I ever really used them in was 8.

    “In FF12 magic was useless outside of buffing and the occasional aerial enemy.”

    Not at all, I use it on regular enemies all the time.

    I agree that the random chest concept was dumb and shouldn’t have been in the game. But the License Board? Seriously? I never had to look up anything. I just scrolled around on the board and it told me which licenses were for Augments, Spells, Shields, etc. I just kept on in that direction and voila! Found every license roughly where I expected them to be.

    “The music in Final Fantasy 12 was largely forgettable. There were some nuggets of gold in there though. (Ending Theme, Theme of the Empire, Sorrow – Imperial version, White Room, Rabanastre Downtown, etc.)”

    That’s pretty much how I felt about ALL Final Fantasy games. I enjoyed and remembered a few tracks but the majority of them were just there, not bad but not especially good either.

    “Note that 12 has a nine point higher Metacritic average than 13, which surprises even me.”

    Why? Practically everything was better in 12, minus graphics.


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] have Call of Duty in the name, it would probably be averaging at least ten points less. It’s Final Fantasy all over again and that just might be the worst thing of all. « Top 4 plot flaws video [...]

  2. [...] Final Fantasy XIII – because some people actually had expectations. Yeah, for a Square-Enix game. I know! [...]

  3. [...] This conversation also presents us with pointless dialogue choice number 2. Slowing down just to say “we have to keep moving” is dreadfully reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII. [...]

  4. [...] of her début  in jeans, a t-shirt and a leather jacket. Evidently Square-Enix is bringing their usual [...]

  5. By The End? « Grimly Enthusiastic on 15 Apr 2011 at 5:08 pm

    [...] Final Fantasy XIII sucks a lot like XII – An unrestrained rant, has some interesting comparison pictures and was one of the most popular posts on the blog. [...]

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