Solo Gamer Reviews

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Defending Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII artwork
Final Fantasy XIII is awesome, and I'm ready for your hate for believing it

With the imminent release of Final Fantasy XV next month, I decided to revisit arguably the most controversial main entry in the entire Final Fantasy canon: Final Fantasy XIII. In case you missed it, I did pen a review of the game back in 2011, in which I boldly declared that it is neither the worst nor the best game in the series, an opinion that is apparently unacceptable for the modern gaming community. The thing is, now that I've played it a second time from beginning to end, I've discovered--while it is still neither the best nor the worst--I love the heck out of it, moreso than I did in 2011.

I can understand where the hate comes from. When most gamers think of traditional role playing games, they think of huge open worlds, customization options, random loot drops, dungeon crawling, and diverse ways to play that fit many different styles. Final Fantasy XIII, however, bucks the very conventions its franchise all but defined in the early 90's, crafting a game adhering to virtually none of them. I love a traditional RPG as much as the next guy, if not more, but if you go into Final Fantasy XIII expecting that kind of experience, you will be woefully disappointed if not infuriated. It dares to be different, and that difference is clearly too much for many Final Fantasy fans.

Orphan, the final boss
Playing the game a second time also granted me a much better understanding of the story, including why certain fights take place

Before you rush to the comments section to question my credentials here, know that I've been playing Final Fantasy since the very beginning. I've played almost every numbered entry in the series (except III and the two MMOs), some multiple times. My favorite games in the series are IV, VI, VII, and IX. I own three different copies of IV on three different systems. I own X-2. I've beaten V, hands-down the hardest one. I mastered Blitzball. I finished the Queen of Cards quest. I've gone through the trouble of getting Knights of the Round not once, not twice, but three goddamn times. I wouldn't have done that if I didn't adore the hell out of the series.

So here's where my opinion gets controversial. I not only count XIII as a legitimate game in the series, I think it's one of the better ones. Of course I'm not going to argue that it's perfect; that the linearity doesn't get tiresome; that Vanille's voice isn't one of the most grating things my eardrums have ever been forced to process; or that the convoluted weapon and accessory upgrade system isn't frustratingly arcane and barely worth it. Still, once you understand what the game is trying to accomplish, a lot of things fall into place.

Even when the game "opens up," it still has a lot of corridors

If you feel annoyed by the unbranching hallways that make up 90% of the game, realize that the characters within the game feel exactly the same way. The entire game is built around themes of fate versus free will, with the characters seemingly forced down an unflinching path towards a goal that is not their own. This point is hammered again and again throughout the narrative (far too many times, if I'm being honest). The characters are aggravated by lack of choice, no matter how many times they try to break free, and that aggravation is perfectly mirrored by the gameplay.

Even the Crystarium, the ability upgrade system I knocked about in my review, reflects this. It's incredibly difficult to push your characters into new roles or give them abilities that aren't in their traditional skill set. The only real customization available to the player is deciding who to put in the battle team and which "paradigms" to utilize in combat (when one can finally switch it up after twenty or so hours). There are weapons, but they similarly lack much in the way of diversity, and while the accessories do come in a variety of flavors, they aren't as powerful as similar devices in other Final Fantasy games (like materia, for example). On top of that, there aren't armors to choose from or even clothing to change (outside of DLC, of course).

Lightning's status screen
Not exactly a wealth of options here

Final Fantasy XIII is swimming upstream when compared to other modern RPGs. For decades now, games have pushed further and further into choices, options, branching storylines, open worlds, and customization, even in genres you wouldn't traditionally expect. XIII is doing precisely the opposite, but it's doing it for artistic reasons instead of conforming to the trends of its time. That's why it gets so much hate, even from Final Fantasy fans. For sure, there are going to be gamers who do not like what it's trying to do; they might understand it, but it doesn't mean they enjoy playing such a deliberately linear game that limits their choices.

What I can't comprehend, however, is why so many Final Fantasy fans are eager to excise it from the series. Can we please not act as though every Final Fantasy game is identical? Their differences outweigh their similarities, and games can differ wildly from one numbered entry to the next. Heck, XI and XIV are MMOs, which as far as this solo gamer is concerned, are in an entirely different genre. If you are somebody who fell in love with other Final Fantasy games and wanted XIII to be more like them, good news: they're remaking Final Fantasy VII, the most popular one of them all. You don't have to play XIII!

But I will keep playing it, alongside all the other games in the series that I enjoy, and I won't bother trying to convince you that my least favorite games in the series should be your least favorite too. We all have different preferences, and one of the things that makes the Final Fantasy series so great and so enduring is its ability to cater to so many of them.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some A-level Gran Pulse mission marks to mop up.

-e. magill 10/20/2016

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