Details: Originally released in 2009. Spent about fifty-seven hours beating the game and playing through side quests. Official site is https://square-enix-games.com/en_GB/games/final-fantasy-xiii/
Final Fantasy XII is a notorious game. Many long time Final Fantasy fans point to this game as the exact moment the franchise went into the trash. I finally got a chance to play the game and there are many flaws. Even still, I enjoyed the game and found it to be a solid role playing game. I think the main issue is that most fans went into this game expecting a 10/10, when it’s really more of a 7.3/10.
The story takes place in a world where humanity is divided into two places. Cocoon is a small moon where humanity generally lives in safety. Gran Pulse is the main planet Cocoon floats above and it is a savage wasteland. In this world, god like beings called Fal’Cie rule over the humans of Cocoon and Gran Pulse. Periodically, the god like beings turn people into L’Cie. That means they give these people a single purpose they must fulfill. If they fulfill that purpose, they turn into crystal and obtain eternal life. If they fail, they turn into mindless monsters. The people of Gran Pulse and Cocoon hate each other and war with each other.
You play the character of Lightning, a soldier whose sister has unfortunately been chosen as a L’Cie. You break into the transport train she is imprisoned in hopes of rescuing her and so begins a journey to learn about the truth of the world and of the Fal’Cie.
It is a convoluted story, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from the franchise. It combines elements of fantasy and science fiction, while trying to draw some parallels to real life. It’s high fantasy… perhaps even a final fantasy. I mostly enjoyed it.
The biggest downsides to the story relate to it’s pacing and it’s effect on gameplay. For approximately the first twenty-hours of the game, the game is a linear experience. You walk a few steps, you then watch a cut scene, and then you fight some battles. Rinse and repeat and you have the basic formula of this game. It’s not until after the first twenty hours that the game opens up… to a barren wasteland. There are monsters to fight here and missions to undertake, but there’s not civilization. No towns to explore and no one to interact with.
Traditionally, a role playing game will have a main quest and side quests. Generally beloved role playing games have historically told a great story in the main quest and in the side quests. In terms of pacing, I’d normally play some of the main quest and when I got tired of that story, I would go off and play some side quests to cleanse the narrative palate.
Final Fantasy XIII does not allow this. Maybe they couldn’t figure out how to tell a meaningful story with interruptions, maybe they couldn’t figure out how to fix the pacing. There are rumors online that the developers hoped Final Fantasy XIII would gain a lot of new players unfamiliar to the franchise. In order to do so, the first twenty hours were meant to be a kind of tutorial to the game, welcoming and teaching new players Final Fantasy game mechanics instead of dropping them into the deep end (which is what Final Fantasy games did historically). And indeed, the first twenty hours tries to spoon feed players the game’s systems while telling a meaningful story. Unfortunately, this just forces the story to proceed at a crawl. It gets boring real fast and takes away freedom from the player to explore and decide how they want to proceed.
Gameplay is also incredibly passive. The battle system seemingly takes the elements of Final Fantasy XII and makes it all even more passive. At its core, Final Fantasy XIII uses the old active time battle system. There is a bar on screen that fills in real time during a battle. When the bar fills completely, your character gets to act (that means attack, cast a spell, etc.). Every character, ally or enemy, also has a bar even though that may not be represented on screen and they all act when that bar fills. Thus battles occur in real time, or as each character’s bar fills. During battles, you and two other party members can participate, though there are six total characters you can swap with.
Final Fantasy XIII only allows you to control the party leader. You cannot issue an instructions before or during battles for any of your party members. The only way you can influence their behavior is through “paradigms.” Paradigms are essentially job assignments. Each character can take a job (healer, attacker, spell caster). During battle, you can change the characters jobs, but you cannot tell them who to attack or which spell to cast. All of it is automated.
The end result is that most battles merely required me to periodically mash the A button every time my bar filled. That’s it. You see, the game even allows you to automate your party leader’s actions. So… player’s just mash A to get through the battles. I can see why this was done; it was done in order to draw in new players for fear of the game being too hard. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the game that much easier, it makes it more boring.
Some battles I just got clobbered in and could not beat. Historically, you could find some alternate or creative strategy to defeat the enemies. In this game, you either leveled up your character or tried to figure out what jobs your uncontrollable party members needed to fill. It’s such a lack of options and limits gameplay freedom.
In terms of what’s working for the game, the game looks amazing. It doesn’t just look good technically, by stylistically. The animations are on point. The locations and character design are bonkers. The cut scenes prove again that Square-Enix is one of the best animators in the business. It’s just a beautiful game, made more impressive by the fact this game came out in 2009.
The audio is also impressive. I loved the music. Though the tracks weren’t songs I’d listen to on my own time, they fit the setting wonderfully. Voice acting was a little weird. The actors were okay, it’s just that the dialogue often sounded odd. You can definitely tell that the script was translated line by line, not in a holistic way that sought to make all the dialogue make sense in context.
Overall, I enjoyed the game despite it’s flaws. I think the biggest weaknesses of this game are that the development team wanted to accomplish too many things on a limited budget. The needed a clear focus. The other big mistake was hoping to appeal to new players rather than the preexisting Final Fantasy fan base. The result was a dumbed down game that the internet still hates on to this day. At best, Final Fantasy is a half step forward for the franchise.