Reflections on Final Fantasy XIII

Those who know me also know that I’m a Final Fantasy fanboy.  Back in 1997, I saw commercials for a video game featuring a character with tall, yellow, spiky hair and a big sword.  I’d never heard of the series before.  Heck, I didn’t even own the console it was being produced for (PlayStation).  But I was so motivated to play it that I took my birthday money, traded in my Sega Genesis, which I adored, and bought the system and a game called Final Fantasy VII.

And 13 years later, the Final Fantasy series still serves as my technological crack addiction.

I hold the series to very high standards (I hold everything to very high standards :P).  So when the newest entry, Final Fantasy XIII, was released on March 9, 2010, I eagerly bought it up and told all of my friends that I wouldn’t be calling them for a week.  I expected beautiful environments, flashy animations, cool characters, and above all, an awesome story.

So how did it fare?  Pretty damn well.  Without giving away major spoilers, I thought I would share my thoughts on the game’s story.

Final Fantasy XIII features what I would consider to be the most intimate story in the series.  Yes, the epic “good versus evil” element is there; it’s about six people who try to save the world.

How is that different from any other Final Fantasy game, or role-playing game, you ask?  Final Fantasy XIII is not just about six people–it’s about six people.  In an age where most stories, particularly in the video game world, focus on the adventure, Final Fantasy XIII focuses on the characters.  We’re talking nitty-gritty here.  Life’s not all “sunshine and roses” for these characters, as one states halfway through the game.  These characters have been intertwined with one another for years without even knowing it, and in that time, bad shit has gone down.  Some of it has been brought on them by external forces, but most of it has been at the fault of the other characters.  To put it bluntly: the cast of Final Fantasy XIII hate each other.  They seriously walk around glaring and loathing with contempt for one another.  There’s punching.  There’s yelling.  They plot to kill one another.  The first half of the game is driven by their uncontrolled emotions and hatred so much so that, as the player, you can’t help but hate some of them too.  And then you actively want to see the characters get their asses handed to them.

Rarely does a Final Fantasy game roll around in the mud like XIII.  Sure, characters have had conflicts before, but not to the degree here.  And because of this focus, the characters are perhaps the most well-developed of any game in the series.  They get up after being punched.  They apologize after an attempted murder.  They learn how to be critical about themselves and understand their faults.  It’s freaking great.

Then, in the final third of the game, the epic part kicks in.  You know: the typical save-the-world bit, and the game comes to a grinding halt.  Haven’t I seen this before?  Like, 800 times before?

I guess it can’t all be perfect.  :P

If you’ve read a game review, you’d know that XIII has been chastised, and in some cases, executed, for its linearity.  There isn’t much room for exploration here, folks, but when that comes at the sake of a good story and amazing characters, should it matter?  (I guess it does when gameplay is the main reason you play games.)   Anyone else remember that other linear Final Fantasy game?  Weren’t its characters and plot also expertly executed?

Yeah, I thought so.

Final Fantasy XIII’s big brother.

In a day and age where most scriptwriters are either too afraid or too lazy to delve into the minds of their characters in any original way, Final Fantasy XIII is a very refreshing change of pace.  The game isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.  It’s exciting.  It’s interesting.  It’s well-written.

Isn’t that what every story should be?

“I will kick your ass.”

[Eric wishes to thank Square-Enix for writing an awesome game, for making it fun, and for bringing back the gunblade.]

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