Final Fantasy XIII: This Time, The Cons
I would most closely equivocate Final Fantasy XIII to Final Fantasy X, the only other FF game that puts you on a linear path while pushing a mixed bag of voice acting. I’m wondering how many people are fans of both and how many are only fans of FFX, because to my recollection, FFX was better received overall. Is it because the battle system did not stray very far from its predecessors? Was the voice acting that much better? Was it the ability to physically control a summon? Or was the world and story just better fleshed out? It’s probably all of these.
The benefit of controlling all of your party’s characters (ala FFX) is to give you a taste of all possible abilities, spells, and attacks while nurturing a personal connection with each character. FFXIII does away with this to a large degree in that by the time your characters develop their few unique moves the player has already settled on the character they prefer to control and will likely stick to that one character. Therefore, specialized moves like “Highwind”, “Last Resort”, “Quake”, “Dispelga”, and character specific Eidolon summons never get used unless the player-controlled character uses these abilities him/herself. The automated AI party members will not use these special moves, which is why I stick to Lightning and her “Army of One” special ravager ability (also because I’m very clumsy as a defending sentinel character, and don’t want to play as a buff/healer-heavy character).
The voice acting was a little more mature in FFX - the lost-in-translation Japanese sighs and gasps at the tiniest of movements were not as noticeable. As Jessica Chobot of IGN put it, “There is more gasping sound effects in FFXIII than an 80s porn. I don’t know how much I can take before throwing it out the window.” This is due to Hope and Vanille’s dialog, which is mostly either constant annoyance or flood of overemotional whining. Snow’s character also suffers in personality as he is an obvious clone of Zell from FFVIII and is constantly repeating phrases about how he’s a hero. FFVII’s characters excelled because they were all tough, strong characters who revealed their softer, wounded sides only when appropriate. FFX’s voice acting also introduced an extra element: a second language called Al Bhed. Characters switched between Al Bhed and the game’s local language (English in my case) and the player could do side quests to eventually translate the Al Bhed subtitles, adding an extra layer to the game’s dialog. The mood fit better with the story as well. Most of the characters (except for Tidus and Rikku) were forlorn, tired, and brave for the sake of bravery. FFXIII’s characters, though faced with a terrible dilemma, still feel a bit shallow about the whole thing as if they’re just rolling with wherever the world takes them without reflecting any deeper than the idea that doing x = y and not doing x = z. I am a firm believer that dialog which may sound great in speech bubbles translates terribly out loud, and FFXIII is a prime example of this. I curse the day JRPGs utilized full voice acting.
Character development was better in FFX as well. FFXIII gives players a good amount of information about the personalities and some background of the protagonists, but we really only know what they were doing up to a week before the game begins, with a few other tidbits here and there. FFX’s characters are delved much deeper, bringing insight not only into their pasts but into their views on life, duty, friendship, and the world - but in a way that felt individual to those characters. FFXIII’s characters feel more like generic anime characters with shallow ideas of friendship and all that but no ideas that could be considered specific to their character. And unfortunately, the villains in the game are not very fleshed out at all, especially compared to the humanity Sephiroth brought to JRPGs, the misconceptions of Sorceress Edea, and the way Kefka continually proved with each appearance that he was crazier than the last time you met him and willing to go farther and farther to acquire more power.
So with all these gripes why am I still enjoying FFXIII? Unfortunately, I can’t give a clear explanation, though I will say this: With all its flaws the game remains good by differentiating itself from its predecessors, and the linearity of the game works incredibly well with the constantly progressing on-the-run storyline. The ATB-only Paradigm control-one-character system is a great way to include battles and stat progression while eliminating the feeling of constant grinding, and the high level character-specific attacks are very satisfying. Past JRPGs often made battling enemies feel like a chore that impedes the story, but FFXIII’s system is fast-paced lets you focus on the story.
The game had me sold at two points, very spaced out from one another: My first fight with an Alpha Behemoth (the first challenging enemy that required paradigm shifts to strategize) and the arrival on Gran Pulse. The latter was so rich with atmosphere that it blew my mind a bit.