Monday, August 19, 2013

August of Games: Day 19 - Final Fantasy XIII

Just some rockin' tunes from the game. The music of the game, and of its sequel, are spectacular, leaps and bounds over the general quality level of the game (which is pretty tough, as the production values of the game are excellent).

Final Fantasy XIII
Developer: Square Enix
Genre (Setting): Fantasy, some sci-fi
Genre (Gameplay): Real-time RPG
What is this game: This is an anime where you play a variety of equally absurd characters and go on an absurd journey with lots of made-up words like l'cie and cie'eth and fal'cie and more. I couldn't explain what happens in this game if I tried. There's a space pope and a guy named Cid who has airships and there's magic and sword-guns and boomerangs and whatever the hell Vanille's weapon is and chocobo chicks and heroics and a black man who dances as he shoots his shiny gold guns. It's rubbish and pure beauty at the same time. It's also like 60 bloody hours long and doesn't need to be at all.
The game mechanically is superficially similar to the other real-time Final Fantasy games - an ATB bar fills and you can use actions when it reaches certain points. XIII has a few additions to the formula that are all its own. One is auto-battle, which is a button you click and the AI will fill in the actions you'll do when your ATB fills. The other is paradigms, which is basically changing your party's classes on the fly to respond to the fight.
Out of battle? Wait, there's supposed to be stuff out of battle? You mean more than running in a straight line? Wow, somebody forgot to tell Square Enix. There aren't even towns!
It features the same "excellent" graphics that you've seen in other final fantasy titles - it reminds me of Advent Children. This is quite pretty, but it also happens to fall pretty far into the uncanny valley, making stuff look, just, OFF.
What's great about it: Here's my confession: this game isn't great. This game is fascinating, but it is not great. If you like convoluted anime-like plots, you'll probably enjoy the story quite a bit - after 60 hours of watching the game I felt little more than fatigued unhappiness at it, but in retrospect I actually kinda like it and think it's worth seeing. The paradigm system is genuinely an interesting mechanic and was a good idea. While the characters aren't GREAT, they at least feel distinct from each other and each feel important to the plot (at least somewhat).
Now let's stop talking about what's actually good in the game and more about why this game is interesting to us as gamers. Final Fantasy XIII is a deconstruction of a bunch of things that are wrong with the current status quo of the JRPG genre, but instead of developing clever solutions, it just highlights the issues by taking the most direct path to removing them. Let's hit a few points:
The big one is Auto-Battle. Auto-battle IS A SOLUTION. There is a lot of people who point it out as "wait, but it's not fun for a game to just play itself! What's the point!?" and they'd be right. However, all Auto-Battle does is speed up the process. The AI selecting what actions you'd use is excellent, and because you don't have to manually scroll through menus to select the actions yourself the game can actually afford to move FASTER without any real loss of effectiveness. Problem: People are completely right that a game playing itself is no fun. But the issue isn't that there's a button that does all the menu navigation for you but that that JRPG combat is so predictable that an AI can do it. The solution is not letting the AI do it but making more unpredictable/varied enemies. Until that's solved, I'd rather Auto-battle, because at least then the battles go faster.
What else? Well, the hyper-linearity. Many JRPGs are very linear, straightforward affairs full of the illusion of choice. FFXIII "fixes" this by just straight pulling back the veil and actually making the game out of straight corridors. It's certainly honest! But it doesn't actually fix the issue. XIII-2 manages to overcorrect for the issue, making the story so nonlinear that the plot suffers from a lack of good direction; at least XIII's plot clearly moved along and told a story, even if the story was really silly and crazy.  But I'll talk about XIII-2 more in a minute.
At first I was gonna try to find a way to express that paradigms are a fix for a very static job and level system in JRPGs, but it's actually an honest-to-god real solution to the issue. The paradigms aren't perfect in the game (often due to the party layouts they stick you with forcing you into certain predictable configurations rather than letting you choose a playstyle), but it was a sound idea.
I'm not sure I would tell you to play this game. I think you should watch this game (I watched Pork Lift and Wateyad's Let's Play of it, available on, and if you have any intention to make an RPG with JRPG elements, it's an important game to understand.
Oh, uh, the music of the game is genuinely good.
How do I get it: Xbox 360 and PS3 only I believe. It's gotta be cheap by now - I wouldn't be surprised at $20 for a new copy.
FFXIII-2 is a direct sequel. It features none of the playable characters from the first game, and has a monster-collecting thing going.. The paradigm system is refined and many imbalances with gameplay are fixed, but the game simply isn't as absurd as the first while not reaching the levels of quality to actually compel me to play all the way through, which is a huge handicap. It is, however, objectively better as a game. The graphics are pretty much the same. The music is freaking FANTASTIC, with a lot of variety. Whether you'll like it depends on what you want out of it. A decent JRPG game experience? Sure, yeah! Silly, ridiculous dialogue, story, and characters? Not as much as the previous one.

I should probably at this point mention that I'm not really a big fan of the way JRPGs do things.

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