Final Fantasy franchise has always been identified with high standards in the video game industry. Every Final Fantasy release is a mayor date in the video game industry ever since the acclaimed success of Final Fantasy VII.
Now let’s recall why has Final Fantasy gained so much fame and prestige. First of all, storytelling (Hironobu Sakaguchi). All Final Fantasies are accompanied with a huge epic, complex, compelling and deep story that allows the player to live and feel the story that the game unfolds. The psychological profiles of the characters move the story and react against the conflicts that the world has always against them. And even the secondary characters appearance is memorable (i.e. Ellone FFVIII, Marlene FFVII, King Cid FFIX, and so on).
Second and third milestone are the music score and art direction. Every single game (Nobuo Uematsu) has more than one memorable song that goes with the gamers for literally all his/her life. The secret of the musical score has always been that it’s so adequate to the world that the game presents and the moments and scenes that are being developed along the story. Who doesn’t live again the death of Aerith, the clash of the Gardens, or the arrival at Zanarkand by just simply hearing to the music. Thank God the architectures and art design has always been constant and solid (due to the excellent work of Testsuya Nomura) bringing absolute new worlds with no boundaries.
And at last, but no least is the gameplay. That little thing that carries the player from the beginning to the very credits by showing user interfaces and character leveling. The battle systems has always remained constant (ATB primarily) except for FFXII which offered a superb battle system. What to say about the truly memorable (and unmatched to date) character development systems like Materia Link, Guardian Force Junction, Job System or the License Board System of FFXII.
With some history in mind now I’ll move straight to the game in scope here, Final Fantasy XIII. Ok this game has some kick ass looking characters, yes. The press and marketing have been unmatched and never seen for a final fantasy game released before, ok yes. It has the name of that incredible franchise described before… but WAIT. There must be something wrong here because most of the beautiful things that a Final Fantasy game has are gone here. There, vanished, just like that. My first thought is… what happened to square-enix? what happened to that company who used to make impressive RPGs. Well it seems gone by now.
Before describing the elements of the game I’d like to pinpoint that this is not even an RPG game in the classic way. It is a new genre that it may be well considered as a failed experiment. The thing here is that this game was hiped, way to much. And for me, this experiment that square-enix did with FFXIII is the most outrageous insult to the game industry in the decade. It is like Square-Enix have traded the nice elements of the franchise for a more commercial and wallet-filler title; thus killing the art of a JRPG.
Remember how rewarding was walking around towns, talking to people, listening to the local gossip of town, buying stuff in the local stores, grabbing sidequests to develop an interesting side story. Well… they’re all gone. As simple as that, there are no towns or anything to explore; 80% of the game main storyline is based on a super linear scenarios (not being exaggerated here) that are like huge bidirectional tubes where you can move forwards and anything else (same stuff appeared on FFX) . That takes away the characteristic open world where you can wander around and train you characters.
But not everything is black and slumber in this game. There are two BIG elements at which this game excels as no other in the market. First one is art direction and graphics. These elements are so well crafted that in more than one occasion you will find yourself stopping for a while and behold the beauty of the world of Cocoon. Facial expressions, voice acting and geographical details are something to remark. Second big weight difference is the amazing battle system. I might say with no doubts that it is the best battle system I’ve ever played on an RPG game. At first it may seem simple but in later stages of the game when the system is fully delivered it becomes an engrossing, complex, fast-paced kick ass system that is in a certain way addictive. What makes it interesting is the speed rate at which everything occurs and the strategy that implies defeating the enemies. The battle system in the best element in the game that stands on it own. I’m sure that as years go by, Final Fantasy XIII will be remembered in the same way for it’s battle system than it was Final Fantasy VII for it’s story.
Music is good, but not at the high level standards that a game of this category deserves. Nevertheless, passable. Maybe i’m going to harsh on this game but I am married with the idea that the writers and in-game character growth developers should be pushed over to the limits as crazy as developers, level designers and artists. Up to this point, I can forgive all those missing milestone elements that the franchise is know for. But there are two things that i cannot forgive Final Fantasy XIII for lacking and that’s why i’m at dis-contempt: Character growth system and Story. Boy, these two are terrible. There are no longer several attributes that are upgraded with the leveling like vitality, luck, faith, dexterity, etc. Nope, all those are replaced only by Strength and Magic which are both of them increased by a ridiculous “sphere-grid” like system called The Crystarium. That thing grows on it own and gives the player the false idea that is actually deciding which attribute (again, strength or magic) to increase; acquiring here and there specific abilities for 1 of the 6 roles available in the grid.
The story is not memorable, it’s just a dull shell of plot line drawn by the main characters who have very well defined goals since the beginning. Old Sakaguchi’s stories are well know for it’s twists and turns for example lets follow FFVII main plot line (oppressed group goes and tries to defeat a macro organization, when they arrive there: Oh shit the president is killed. Which leads to a hunt for the main in the silver hair and you actually don’t really know what are the motives that drive him until the game elegantly unfolds them) well lets say that FFXIII storyline stucks in the part of “oppressed group goes and tries to defeat a macro organization” and that’s it. All the story is based on that simple premise which at some point tries to make a very sad attempt of twist that ends on confusing the player, creating loose ends and dull script organization. Without mentioning the secondary characters who are nothing but fillers.
In the end, Final Fantasy XIII can be considered a failed experiment. Yes the battle system is outstanding but the other elements cannot bear against the greatness of the name that precedes it. If Square-Enix should have called this game anything else but FF then it would have had better critics and the rise of a new franchise. On the contrary they are sinking one of the strongest bastions that hold the video game lifestyle.