Saturday, January 14, 2012

In Defense of Final Fantasy XIII, and thoughts on the sequel

So yeah, the sequel demo is up on the PSN. My thoughts on the demo follow a quick look back at its predecessor.

Let's get the controversy out of the way: I loved Final Fantasy XIII.


I did not expect good things. The last FF I genuinely enjoyed was FFIX. I thought X was mediocre, and all X-2 had was a fun battle system and some great music.

XII didn't keep my interest for more than five hours(though I'll still finish it eventually).

XIII hooked me from start to finish. The game starts out with a bang, and never lost momentum. None of the cast felt offensive or out of place. I thought they all had a deserving role in the plot, even Serah. Even the most annoying, Vanille, still had a tolerable purpose.



The battle system was fresh and unique, and even though it nickel and dimes the tutorial process, the steady difficulty scale made up for it, and by endgame, if I didn't have it mastered, the resulting failures and game overs were entirely my own fault.



And of course, the game is a visual and audio delight.



Even the ending was an appropriate close, and they even made that awful My Hands song actually strike a chord with me. No small feat.


Now then, the sequel.



First off, this game was made with either major budget limits or a lack of polish time, and I think it shows. The graphical quality is a huge step back. Not just in the actual rendering, but everything from facial expressions to character mannerisms seem like they were phoned in, and recycle the same gestures and features more often than not.

Whether it's because they were rushing this to market or to make it more palatable to 360 owners(for less graphical differences between versions or simply keeping the game on a single disc), the PS3 version suffered a lot for it.

The music, thankfully, doesn't fail. XIII's OST was amazing, and it sounds like they're improving on a great thing with XIII-2's.

video

(Shin Megami Tensei/Persona's) Shoji Meguro would be proud of what the XIII-2 sound team has accomplished here.

There's also a Chocobo theme with deathcore metal-esque lyrics. The less said about that, the better.




The story? You've got to me kidding me. Remove the likable cast in favor of a sexed-up Serah(who I even liked before) and some random pretty boy? For god sake's, Square. One step forward, go tumbling back off a cliff.

That's to say nothing of the actual plot, which reeks of worse nonsense fanfiction than X-2's, and that's saying something.


(WTF, Snow. I thought you were cool before.)

It involves time travel, moogles, and Lightning turning up missing due to T I M E P A R A D O Xes.



And reducing Lightning to a minimal role, when she's the best protagonist the series has seen in years? Are these guys insane?



I'll say this, to be fair: Noel is not nearly as despicable as I expected. He seemed like a genuinely tolerable character. Oh yeah, and Mog's adorable.


So just like X-2, I'll probably just turn my brain off and play it for the game itself. Good thing too, because that's where XIII-2 really shines.


(I'm assuming you played XIII from here on out.)



They dispensed with the BS here. Right from the getgo, the Paradigm System is entirely open. Serah and Noel get a full array of roles within minutes of the demo, and the monsters are recruitable not long after.
I'm still not keen on replacing a third party member with swappable monsters, but for what it is, they made it work, almost akin to a Shin Megami Tensei system. The more you use them, the better they get, and they have nifty benefits, like powerful attacks and even customizable appearances. Much like SMT, I'll probably have to make the tough decision of sticking with who I have or passing them up for newer, stronger ones.

The new dungeons are immense. I kind of liked how linear FFXIII was, and I didn't mind NPCs saying their thoughts as I walked by instead of having to ask for their opinion. XIII was a streamlined experience, and all the better for it.

Let's be honest here: stopping to talk to every NPC in RPGs tends to be jarring and way too time-consuming. XIII-2 really didn't need to bring that back. That said, if you're that person who missed towns and talking to lots of random people, well, this is now the game for you!

Lastly, branching paths. This is new for (mainline) FF in general, and a welcome breath of fresh air. I was genuinely stunned when the game asked Serah to decide how to proceed, and it made me stop and think on it.

As much as I love them, especially for what they add to replay value, they're a completionist's nightmare.

I already preordered the full game's LE(well, to be specific, someone bought it for me as a present in advance, otherwise I would've waited), so I guess I'll see if the rest of the experience can either add to this or ruin it.

In summary:

Graphics: B-
The game is still hardly bad looking, just a huge step back. They took years to make FFXII, with good reason. This looks like it took months.

Music: A
Not sure about the lyrics, but the music itself is wonderful. If you gotta replace Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu is a fine start.

Story: D

WTF. At a glance to wiki, this wasn't penned by Motomu Toriyama, the guy who single handled destroyed Parasite Eve with The 3rd Birthday, but I find it hard to believe he didn't dream up at least some of this nonsense, since he directed it.
This one's just for the gameplay, unlike its predecessor.

Gameplay: A+
FFXIII kicked into high gear on all fronts. This will easily be the highlight.
Replay value will be through the stratosphere, especially if this has Chrono Trigger-esque multiple endings as I've heard.

22 comments:

  1. Well, kinda skipped through the FFX13-2 stuff, cause I've imposed a self-blackout on it until I play it, but I completely agree with you on XIII. Loved it the entire way through, and couldn't put it down. The battle system that people complain about being "too easy" and "automatic" shows they obviously didn't play the game for very long. The only real difference between it and the old ATB system is that it removes the importance of individual attacks and instead places it on jobs and timing; one small mis-step, one extra moment taken to change your paradigms, and that's it, game over. To me, this made the battles a lot more involved, since I couldn't just level up and hold X to auto-attack through everything. People also complain about the story not making sense, and while I wouldn't say it was perfect, I had no troubles following it, so the only thing I can say is stop doing other things during or stop skipping the cutscenes, and it'd make a lot more sense...

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    1. "stop doing other things during or stop skipping the cutscenes, and it'd make a lot more sense..."

      You know assuming you know how other people played the game doesn't exactly help your argument, it lessens it/makes you look worse. People can have different opinions, who cares how they formed them? They are entitled to their opinion.

      I legitimately played through the game, beat it, and thought pretty much all of it was garbage. The main reason I didn't think the story made sense is because the entire game they are talking about they are going to defy killing Orphan and form their one destiny. Final boss? its orphan and theres no discussion before/during/after fighting it where they say "hey remember when we weren't going to kill it?" If you can explain to me why they decided to kill it after all that "fuck it were forming our own destiny" bits please educate me.

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    2. I thought it was pretty clear that they came to the realization that Orphan had to go to free humanity of the fal'Cie rule... Their focus was to destroy Cocoon, which in theory was the same as killing Orphan. However, by banding together and with the experiences they had, they were able to change their focus, creating their own destiny and destroying just the fal'Cie, freeing the people from their rule. Even though Cocoon did survive, though damaged, they still crystallized, because they had complete their own focus, destroying Orphan.

      Basically, they wanted to forge their own path, and they did, it's just that their path crossed over what they were running from; however, the reasons behind killing Orphan were completely different than the originally intent.

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  2. I really don't mean to be harsh but this post is...really poorly written. You say some pretty major things like the story,characters, and ending being good, three things which people criticize ff13 for the most, but you don't back them up. It's made worse by the fact later on in the post you go back to saying they were better than 13-2's characters but again you still don't say WHY they are.

    Then it reads like you are reviewing 13-2 but it's not entirely clear if you are reviewing the demo or the actual finished game.

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  3. I was told how FFXIII was the worst thing ever and played it out of curiosity. I ended up really enjoying it as well. It's got probably the best battle system in a FF game since the FFV job system. I liked the characters, even the annoying ones were only annoying at the start and redeemed themselves later on through some nice character arcs and development. My only real disappointment was the ending which was a real deus ex machina. Definitely not the trainwreck I was lead to believe it was and I had way more fun with it than the critical darling FFXII which I found creative but ultimately an absolute bore.

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  4. I'm always happy when someone else seems to get what was great about XIII.

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  5. Wait, is this a review of the full game or the demo?

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    1. The demo. I have not played the full game.


      As for 13's characters, I thought they all had a key role to the story. None of them felt throwaway or just 'there', and they were all well developed, even the one I despised(Vanille).

      Especially Lightning, as opposed to FFXII's throwaway protagonist who felt tacked on without any real role in the plot, or even something to make him important to the player.

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  6. There needs to be a new term for this. Indiegamer is already taken, so what about Hipstergamer: Liking games seemingly for no other reason than that they're hated by pretty much everyone?

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  7. No, Hipstergamers are hating popular games.

    FFXIII was not irredeemably terrible, it actually is possible to like it legitimately. People accusing others of liking/disliking games for hip points completely clouds anything remotely resembling critical discourse.

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  8. I mostly agree With you on ff13, I didn't mind the linearity and I rpg enough that I found the battle system academically interesting if not fulfilling in it's own right, but the story was nonsense. All of the characters felt like shorthand, all their dialogue felt like it was screaming "CARE ABOUT ME I HAVE FEELINGS".

    The xiii-2 demo was the first thing from SE I've played in years (probably since minstrel song) that started to feel like it might come from the "big messy Idea" Square of Chrono Cross, Saga Fronteir 2, and Radiata Stories, rather than the weird brand-feedback loop they became.

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    1. My problem with FFXIII was that if it didn't have "Final Fantasy" in the name, you'd be hard pressed to convince anyone it was a true FF game.

      Very few references to FF games were included and the battle system had totally abandoned a turn based/"stop and let's think" design. It was "X X X X X X X X X X X X..." for 99% of battles. It also was impossible to just stop and grind when you encountered an enemy too strong (there were limits to how much you could level up at any given time). And items? Ugghh. Certain items couldn't be bought in stores (namely the ones that boosted attack speed/power/etc. before a match started). In a game where a battle could end in mere seconds, the inability to grind for those was unacceptable.

      I would still like to finish the game, but FFXIII has made it very hard for me to like it. Without the FF game, no one would hesitate in calling it a "5 out of 10."

      But tack on FF and suddenly it's an "8 or 9."

      No, it's an average at best RPG and a pretty disappointing FF installment from Square.

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  9. I feel what did bring FF13 down is lack of know and how of creating 3D FF/JRPG in general(proper world structure, level design, encounter system) looking at the scene of Japan all i saw is a weird mix of Monster hunting, MMO , Synthesis based, retro esque and GREE stuff.

    To me, it is really bizarre but not as much as the complete absence of modernization of old school action adventures on console.

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  10. Here's hoping FFV is made by Hiroyuki Ito and the XII team...

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  11. @Scott: Believe me the battle system picks up considerably the longer you play it, so to me, if you have the common impression of FFXIII being "x x x" ad infinitum, you probably have not played it for longer than five hours max. Sorry, I'm really not trying to flame you, just an FYI as someone who has played through the game twice. If you choose to continue, you'll find that the game because incredibly deep and strategtic as it goes on.

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  12. Yeah, FF13 was a much better game than a lot of people give it credit for. There's nothing wrong with a linear RPG, and the battle system was so good that it's worth playing the game just for that alone. I felt that the story was pretty mediocre... not terrible, but not great either. I'm looking forward to FF13-2.

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  13. I really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII up 'til the point everyone-else apparently started enjoying it...when the "linearity" (AKA actual focus and direction) ended and they dumped me in boring open-world sidequest land.

    Where I now suddenly had to grind levels, and I could walk into monsters that could one-shot me via my own ignorance.

    All I could think was, "THIS is the part everyone liked? They didn't like the tight-focused story that didn't dwell on banality like walking around towns chatting while the world is supposedly ending?"

    I pretty much quit about an hour into the open-world stuff, when I ran into a boss and it slaughtered me, and I realized I'd have to sit down and grind levels to beat it. That's not what I wanted from my firm, linear storytelling game that wanted me to proceed continuously through it.

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  14. Yeah, I didn't totally understand the hate for XIII; by my estimation, it was a LOT more fun to play through than XII (which, while not the worst FF game -- the overrated, antiquated 8 or the unplayable 2 easily get that crown... not even going to count X-2 since it's a joke game anyway). God, XII is one of the worst experiences you will ever have with a game. I think the socksmakepeoplesexy writeup is probably the only decent, honest writeup of the game I've ever read since people were too busy jerking off over the HORRIBLE "chess system" (which is like a job system built by 3 year olds) and broken gameplay (hint: every boss except the last one and the hidden ones can be beaten with those special moves; simply switch out one character after doing the 3-person one and do it again... switch out one, do it again.. switch out one, do it again.. there, you've beaten or nearly beaten every boss in the game!) and the worst characters in the history of FF history (I'm not going to criticize that there are somehow two characters named Cid -- which I'm sure the developers didn't notice -- but I do wonder about a game with only 6 members in your team wherein you have members that not one time interact with each other in a storyline context and also seem to completely disappear from the game when you're not playing as them in the last part of the game).... I mean, that's just the start. The most hilarious review I ever read was someone whose mind was just "blown" by a 100 floor dungeon. Like, "WOW! SQUARE IS SO BRILLIANT! 100 FLOORS! SO HARDCORE! 10/10!!!!!!!!!!!" Just about the single worst RPG experience of my life.

    Actually, come to think of it, has Square Enix done anything good since forming (aside from DQ8, DQ9, and WORLD ENDS WITH YOU... and you know, endless remakes and whatnot)? What happened there anyway?

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  15. Anonymous: Say what you want about 12, I'd easily take it over 13 or 10...

    I suppose it's a matter of preference and criteria, but I don't think 12 or 8 are overrated -- they are fairly unpopular with most fans in fact. I'm still puzzled why 10 is so rarely criticized though, given that it's combat system is so conservative, even by series standards, and its cast has similar flaws to 8 or 13, and honestly 12 has a much better cast, although the real main character of 12 might as well be Ashe.

    If anything, 8's combat system was what made the game work for me. And while I like Type-0's better so far based on what I played of it, I liked 12 the most combat wise of any (yes any) Final Fantasy.

    I really don't get the hate for 12. Yes, it's a bit too long, and the final dungeon had it's moments of tedium, but I found its Japanese take on MMO and Might and Magic-eque worlds to be very refreshing.

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  16. FF13 was fun, but it was not a great game. It used operant condition to keep you hooked. Rewarding you with new aspects of the game as you progressed made you feel warm and fuzzy instead of getting mad at the fact that it holds your hand, takes forever to attain leveling up, and there is no exploring.

    Every time I started to feel bored with the game, it gave me something new to mess around with.

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  17. I went into FF13 expecting to enjoy it (and turn Vanille into the strongest Commando). I came out of FF13 regretting ever being born. It was one of my most miserable gaming experiences...but I suppose it's nice to hear that others enjoyed it.

    I just hope that Square-Enix moves past 13 and 13-2 (and 13-3, if they dare) and put Versus 13 out already. I'm ready to start believing in miracles again, Square-Enix...

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  18. Guys, I'm sorry, but I just got done getting to chapter 8 in ff13. Like somebody said above, it is just not a final fantasy. It lacks many aspects that made final fantasy games. I hate the fact that i can't buy items from actual people and that when I'm about to attack and get hit, it cancels my attack out. If i could dodge enemy attacks it would nice. I feel like hitting the x button once every 10 seconds to get a chance to attack then having my attacks stopped is quite possibly the worst aspect of the game. There's not many secret finds in the game or anything interesting that you can interact with. It's super repetitive. I don't even want to finish it. I've completed all 12 final fantasy's before hand 100 percent, but sadly i won't be finishing this one. The battle system on the other hand(well the same hand in this situation) is horrible. It's not final fantasy like at all. Instead of worrying how to kill something, I have to be fast at changing stuff to stay alive and then quickly switch back to damage, very slowly until I break some barrier. Then it's like a cake walk. I don't mind the fast pace of battle. I just don't like the way the battles are played out. The one good thing about this game is the summons. I love how they work and that u can only use them when u have enough points. It's kind of like limit breaks but better.
    All and all i give it a 6 out of 10 for an rpg and a 1 out of 10 for a final fantasy. It's just not the same.

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