Before I begin, please do not focus too much on the title until I discuss the reasoning behind Final Fantasy XIII’s failure. While it was not the hit that RPG fans expected, it was a success with people who are usually not fans of the genre.
I pre-ordered Final Fantasy XIII the first week of March excitedly, waiting for the opportunity to play the game that the world had been anticipating for the past five years. I was really looking forward to the “revolutionary” new battle system and the plot that seemed to explore prejudice, identity, and ultimately, revolution. I attended the midnight release and even purchased the special edition strategy guide – therefore spending almost one hundred dollars to play this game.
You must understand that I have been a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise since I was seven years old but as soon as I put XIII in the Playstation 3, I knew that something was…different. This Final Fantasy was not built for story, it was an action game built for those who normally would not play the game; and therein lies the problem.
Any person who plays any Final Fantasy title (with the exception of the poorly produced Final Fantasy X-2) plays the games for their intricate, dramatic story lines and intense character development. If asked about any of the franchise’s other titles, the person can usually give you at least a somewhat detailed synopsis of the game. Final Fantasy XIII is different.
For those who are not familiar with the game, Final Fantasy XIII is centered around Cocoon, a floating sky city, which sits above a barren planet known as Pulse. The main characters in the game all meet in Cocoon and shortly after become L’Cie – a race of enhanced humans with magical capabilities – that are chosen by Fal’Cie – a race of biomechanical beings that run Cocoon. Every L’Cie has a focus (a mission) that they must somehow figure out themselves and then follow within a limited amount of time or they become Cie’th – remnants of L’Cie who have failed their focus and are basically rotting corpses walking around for eternity.
I did not spoil anything as everything that I just told you is in the synopsis in the booklet of the game, so you would know this before you even start playing the game. The problem is, that is almost the entire story because after you find out this information in the first few chapters of the game (even though it is on the back cover), you spend the next ten chapters running around pointless, albeit visually stunning, environments fighting. When you eventually do arrive at the end of the game, the resolution is never really explained. If I were to give you a full plot description of any other title, it would take me five to ten pages single spaced. If I were to do the same for this title, it would take me half a page, tops. That is a problem because Final Fantasy XIII was supposed to be an RPG.
Now while the storyline was not great (it was actually non-existent) the battle system was definitely interesting. After viewing various trailers for the game over the course of its five year development process, I noticed that they seemed to continuously change the battle system, until they settled on the final version – the paradigm shift. The paradigm shift is similar to the battle systems from previous installments of the franchise in which the player could change their job class during battle, but with a twist. Instead of changing your characters’ classes individually, it happens as a unit with very specific outcomes (you build the paradigms yourself). What this forces you to do in many battles is shift your paradigms at the drop of a dime multiple times during really intense battles. It makes the player feel as if they are in control of the battle instead of sitting back, like in Final Fantasy XII, and having to watch your characters fight by themselves – though I will say that at certain points in XIII you will press the auto-battle button a lot.
I have just stated that the battle system was definitely revolutionary and intriguing but the problem is that when all that you do is fight because the game lacks in stories and cut scenes, you end up with a game where all you really do is fight and level-grind. The character development(though skeletal) was great but the developers forgot to create a story and a game cannot rely solely on its battle system unless it is meant to be a fighting game; that is what Final Fantasy XIII was – an aesthetically pleasing fighting game disguised as an RPG.
This may be fine if you like fighting games or other faux-RPGs such as Final Fantasy X-2, but if you are a true RPG fan, Final Fantasy XIII probably is not the game for you. Consider holding out for Final Fantasy Versus XIII because at this point it may be the only game that can save the franchise’s reputation.