Posted by: Ross | June 9, 2010

Article: Thirteen Things Wrong With Final Fantasy XIII

Let me say this: I like Final Fantasy XIII. It’s nowhere near a perfect game, in fact there’s an argument to say that it’s not even a good game. However it does have an unquantifiable charm which made me warm to it. Still, my good will towards the game was sorely tested throughout the sixty hours or so I put into it. Square Enix is a developer which arguably hasn’t kept pace with some of its more progressive Western counterparts, and this game crystallizes (no pun intended) the complaints I have with the company’s output as a whole.

This feature compiles the major issues I had with Final Fantasy XIII, it’s presentation and it’s storytelling. There were other minor gripes which I have left out, and of course there are many plus points I’ve neglected to mention here. For a balanced analysis on everything the game has to offer, I suggest you read one of the myriad reviews floating around the web or the one in this site, though I encourage anybody who has a different view on any of the points raised to respond. So, without further ado, let’s begin:

1. Lack of Cohesion
This is a general issue which encroaches on nearly every aspect of the game. Final Fantasy XIII is the definition of a fractured game experience. I have no issue with cut-scenes in games, and I would take the gorgeous full motion video that FFXIII offers over shoddy real-time storytelling any day. Nevertheless, the game sees fit to play a cut-scene, followed by a three second piece of movement, followed by another cut-scene. It never flows and it’s constantly stop-start, with transitions both in and out of battles also proving extremely clunky.

2. Auto-Battle Dominance
FFXIII’s Auto-Battle system is a very well-executed component of the game’s overall combat setup. My problem is that it’s too good. This may sound petty, but consider for a moment. The AI behind Auto-Battle is smart, in 95% of cases it does exactly the right thing, at the right time, to the right person. The issue with this is that it actively discourages manual combat. Why experiment with your abilities when you know that the game will choose the best one’s for you, and execute them far more quickly? As such, combat dissolves into simply paradigm-shifts and mashing the A button.

3. Battle System Quirks
Whilst I think that FFXIII’s combat system is one of, if not the best that the series has produced, it’s not without it’s fair share of niggles and small, but persistent problems. There’s nothing game-breaking, but things like the inability to move your character and occasionally slow animations can cost you vital time and hit points. In some of the game’s tougher fights, this can mean the difference between life and death, and its supremely frustrating to lose a battle because of pure, blind luck.

4. One Party Fits All
The game’s linear first half sees your party members separated and following separate paths, ensuring you to make use of the characters available at any given stage. This forces the player to experiment with a variety of play styles and actually makes combat far more interesting. Much of this interest however, is lost once all your party members become available. At this point I picked my party based on the paradigms they facilitated, and never once changed it subsequently. I would occasionally mix up my paradigms but there were no battles which required such a drastic change of tactics that a battle team change was necessary.

5. Difficulty Spikes
Despite the well-documented linearity of Final Fantasy XIII, the game does not see fit to exclude that Japanese RPG staple, the level grind. The addictive Crystarium leveling system compensates for this somewhat, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that the game’s pacing is inconsistent and periodically infuriating. Thankfully these difficulty spikes occur infrequently, but the severity of the few I encountered merit their inclusion in this list.

6. Lack of Side Quests
This is a big one. There are basically two things to do in FFXIII: the main quest, and a series of Cie’th Stone Missions. Both will take a substantial amount of time to burn through, but in the case of the latter, boredom quickly sets in. Granted there are a few exceptions, but 90% of the missions, amount to agreeing to slay a mark, walking/teleporting over to the mark, killing the mark and repeating ad infinitum. It’s lazy design, there’s minimal plot attached to any of the quests, and an overall lack of incentive, making them more of a chore than anything else.

7. Uninspired Visuals
This is a subjective point, but I wasn’t sold on the art style in Final Fantasy XIII. There’s no disputing that the game is beautiful: the FMV is incredible, environments are gorgeous and generally everything looks dazzling. Despite all this, I still found FFXIII’s visuals unimaginative. The game goes for a sci-fi/fantasy aesthetic which doesn’t get the best of either world, and ends up looking just sort of generic. Compare it to Bayonetta, a recent game with a not dissimilar visual style, and the lack of personality in the visuals really becomes apparent.

8. Video Compression (360)
This one only applies to the Xbox 360 version of the game, but it’s a negative nonetheless. The visuals don’t take a massive hit on the 360, but the video compression is certainly noticeable, especially in the FMV cut-scenes. It was never more than a distraction, but it felt like something that could have been avoided.

9. Plot Pacing
In point five I addressed the pacing of the game in terms of difficulty, but FFXIII’s narrative structure is equally flawed. The game is split into thirteen chapters (appropriately) yet chapters one to ten feel like they’re an excruciatingly extended introduction. Finally, just as the characters have come together, their motivations established, and their relationships explained, chapter eleven comes along offering a choice. You can either grind and complete missions in a semi-open world, with zero character development or interesting sub-plots. Or you can march straight on towards a conclusion which feels rushed and premature.

10. Banal Characters
The story told in Final Fantasy XIII is not without merit, and there are some genuinely interesting ideas touched upon now again. The problem the game has is that these poignant and touching points are buried beneath a heap of derivative drivel. The characters are incapable of showing any subtlety in their emotions, and while this is somewhat understandable for the end-of-the-world hyperbole which is being banded about, it still grates. With a couple of exceptions (the ending being one) no moments in the game struck an emotional chord, because the characters are so shallow. They’re caricatures and the game really suffers because of their lack of depth.

11. Small Cast
Another character-related gripe is the lack of interaction between party members and other inhabitants of the world. It’s striking just what a lonely experience playing FFXIII can be at times. Aside from repetitive one-liners quipped by your party members, and with no towns or cities to explore, there really isn’t anybody who has much to say. The game’s crying out for scripted conversations like those seen in Mass Effect or Grand Theft Auto IV, if only to add a touch of personality to the characters.

12. Non-Interactive Storytelling
The game takes a neat approach to back-story in that it provides non-sequential flashbacks to the thirteen days before the story proper begins. Though they provide a welcome change of pace, the lack of participation hurts these segments, turning them from golden opportunities for alternative gameplay into just another set of passive cut-scenes.

13. Little Left To Imagination
If games like BioShock and Half-Life 2 have taught us anything it’s that in terms of storytelling, less can be more. In these games each room tells its own story, settings are left deliberately ambiguous, and the player creates as much of the story themselves as the games’ writers and designers. Final Fantasy XIII eschews anything remotely resembling ambiguity or subtlety. Any pleasantly lingering mysteries or questions are answered in the exposition-fest which is the datalog. Or perhaps by a handily placed ‘EXAMINE’ prompt.

So there you have it, rant over. As I said in my introduction, I like Final Fantasy XIII against my better judgment. I just wish that a game with such a huge amount of money and development time behind it didn’t feel so regressive. There’s nothing here which hasn’t been done better elsewhere on this generation of consoles, and in some cases, its bettered by its predecessors going back as far as the early 1990s. For all it’s technological brilliance, FFXIII feels antiquated, and for that, there really is no excuse.

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Responses

  1. This doesn’t seem to be a final fantasy game.a lot of changes were made and as one of the fans of the seres i didn’t like the linear style of the game. Battle system is flawless and it’s easy to beat enemies apart from some bosses that need paradigms shifts. Good points though

  2. I hate it that you cannot move your characters during battles you need to depend on pure luck


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