Thank you to the inimitable Cyrus Chi, who loaned me not only the game but the entire gaming system, I was able to continue my quest of playing every Final Fantasy in the main series. I’d heard plenty about this one, particularly the drawback of its linearity, but how would it hold up to the others?
Well, first off, I think this game is best described as the mutant lovechild of FFVII, FFX, and FFXII, in ways both good and bad. It should also be noted right off the bat that this game is utterly and incomprehensibly beautiful. At least if you have a large high-def television. It felt on par with Avatar in some moments, not just a video game. Of course, on my 32″ standard TV, I couldn’t read half the things and the colors were largely indistinguishable. But I suppose the game-makers can be forgiven, since gamers more and more are moving with the decade, unlike poor me.
Also, interestingly enough, playing this game made me re-evaluate my feelings about other FF titles, most notable FFXII, which did not age well in my mind. I had originally put it as my 4th favorite, but after playing FFXIII, which I considered a very good advancement, I’d have dropped FFXII down to maybe 6th or 7th in the overall scheme of things.
I enjoyed 13 greatly. It was a large leap forward (perhaps diagonally if not straight forward) from past titles, and it incorporated many ideas that were totally new to this game. Each game tends to add one or two things, but this one created an entire existence from nothing, only vaguely borrowing from past titles. It actually gets mired in its own ambition a bit. The fact that a datalog had to be included to simply remember half the stuff in the game is a testament to that, even if they try to spin it off as a cool “extra”.
As for the things most people didn’t like: 1) the linearity – it never bothered me. Actually, people seem to forget that FFX was extremely linear until you get control of the airship right at the end, and it didn’t seem to bother people then. Now it’s a big deal. Well, as they’ve done in their past, they over-compensated. FFXII was SO open that I never knew what to do. So they went in the opposite direction. But the reason it didn’t bother me is, based on storyline, it makes sense for it to be linear. In most FF games, you are the pursuer, trying to stop someone from doing something bad. Here, you are the pursued. When would you have time to randomly wander around and do side-quests, and why would you want to risk it in a storyline-sense? You gotta keep running to stay alive. 2) The character of Vanille. I don’t quite get the hate of her – every FF game since 7 has a peppy, mousy character – it’s become a part of the franchise. She is in that same ilk, but if anything, knowing that the cutesy, upbeat attitude is all a charade makes the character interesting, not annoying. Hope, on the other hand, can go suck a gunblade.
Let’s get to the breakdown.
- The characters. The characters were probably among the richest in any recent game. Lighting was probably the least interesting one of the pack, but compared to the other tortured-leads in FF history (Squall, Cloud, Tidus), she’s lightyears ahead, being both deep and relateable. Then you get Sazh who, despite being saddled with the Chris Tucker black-comic-relief character, is one of the most complex and sympathetic characters in any title. Maybe it’s the dad in me talking, but the holy-shit moment that happens halfway through the game (you know which one) was 10x more powerful than
Mooncrabs Aeris dying in FFVII. And this is even after I realized most of the characters are only slight tweaks of prior characters (Snow is Zell but less sucky, Lightning is Paine and Beatrix’s lovechild, Hope is Vann but sans any redeeming qualities, Vanille is every plucky girl character from FFVII on…)
- The world created was the richest, and the mythology to go along with it was so dense that it really would take a sequel to fully explore it (and they are planning a sequel.)
- It is stunningly beautiful to look at. Just running around is nearly as amazing as the cutscenes.
- The difficulty – it was easily the hardest FF title I’ve played. Not counting my adamantoise-hunting, which invariably will end with me dying half the time, I died quite often. Of course, that also leads to one of my least favorite aspects of the game (see first “bad” example below.)
- The story. The characters are justified, if melodramatic, in their quests. And for a story that doesn’t really get muddled until the last chapter, it certainly follows a long tradition of complex and winding stories.
- The star-rating. Finally, a reason to care about the drudgery of leveling up.
- Seeing Titan wandering around in the background made me genuinely frightened. He’s a scary mother.
- If you die, you can just re-start? Really? So I don’t really have to care if I just got a rare item, I can just keep plodding along with no consequences? That cheapened the difficult greatly. Along those lines, auto-curing after battle? Sure, it makes sense as cures come free (and it would just be a time-drain), but it took away much of the strategy of fighting.
- You can only control one person. And if that person dies, you die? Two lame things, there.
- The battle system in general. One review I read post facto called it one of the most complex systems in the history of the game. That’s a laughable assertion. I’d certainly called it “nuanced”, but complex? The problem is: once I discovered a 6-paradigm system that seemed to cover anything I’d want to do, I not only stopped juggling my paradigms, but I stopped switching characters altogether and stuck with the three girls.
- I understand why they made it possible to play AFTER you win the game, that’s a cool idea. But to not be able to even reach your maximum levels until after you beat the game? What the hell is that? That’s putting the sidequests ABOVE the game, not in addition to it. Also, I hate to break it to the company (SPOILER ALERT) but if two of your characters get turned to crystal in the ending video, you can’t then have them continue to fight adamantoises to earn money. It doesn’t work like that.
- Eidolons were pretty useless.
- The T&A in this game was as gratuitous as in FFX2. Come on, Japanese people, not every game is a horny teenage boy, just most of them.
- The music. In fairness, I often played at night and had it quite low, but the god-awful music in the beginning of Orphan’s Cradle is enough to send me into fits. Other than that, it seemed more like generic back-ground movie score music than video game music. Maybe that’s the point, but it seems to have lost character since Uematsu left.
- The battle cinematography has gotten to the point where it is largely unfollowable. I don’t need the static 2D days of yore, but is there an option to have a camera not dart around like a wrestling-cameraman who is shooting a backstage brawl?
- Gil is IMPOSSIBLE to come by in this game. I’m not sure if I feel it’s a positive or a negative, so it just goes into ugly.
This game took me 92 hours and 5 minutes to beat straight up, bringing my 14-game total to 834 hours. I’m still playing the game, gaining gil and building up my weapons to take on extra missions – at least until Cyrus gets bored and takes the game back or Peanut is born. So where does this one fit into my all time standings?
Well, a few side-charts get updated. My least favorite characters list now contains Hope, listed probably around #4. In fact, I’d probably switch around #s 3,4,5. The new list would read, from 10-1: Gau, Cait Sith, Tidus, Paine, Edward, Hope, Quina, Relm and Squall still sucking most. Also, my favorite characters list would also have at least one inclusion. It would probably read: Vivi, Rydia, General Leo, Garnet, Balthier, Zidane, Sazh, Auron, Umaru and Kain, with both Snow and Fang getting notable mentions.
In terms of overall game, I think my favorite games list would also change, fairly noticeably. I think they’d now read, from worst to best:
3, 2, 6, X-2, 1, 8, 12, 7, 5, 13, 9, 10, 4
Interesting, in all my lists FFXIII made it to 4th. It’s just a fourth-best kind of game. I wonder if it’ll hold up, and if Cyrus will let me borrow his PS3 again when the sequel comes out next year.