Reasons why I enjoyed one of the most hated Final Fantasy games and reason to give it a try if you haven’t yet.
I know this will get me a lot of flack but I like Final Fantasy 13. I like it a lot. It is probably in my top five favorite JRPGs ever. Even worse, many of the reasons I like it are commonly mentioned as reasons why others hate it. I know for a fact that my love of Final Fantasy 13 was spurned on by my ever growing hatred of many of the classic features of the JRPG genre. The one I played right before it was nearly the straw that broke the camels back. It was Suikoden 4 and it was one of the worst games I’ve ever played. (Note: This one is a bit long because I explain why many of the negative arguments about FF13 are wrong or didn’t bother me while stating its positive features. For a quick summary of why you should try the game, check the end of the article.)
Many classic JRPG features were poorly executed in Suikoden 4. One of these was open explorable world. The setting was composed of bland cities and large stretches of ocean. While each city had its own theme, block by block each city looked the same. Forgot exactly where the weapon shop is? Well feel free to wander aimlessly through this maze of boring brown walls. The towns were tied together with a terribly sailing system. The controls were awkward and sailing anywhere spawned random encounters. Due to that combo it sometimes took me up to twenty minutes to get from one island to another nearby island. An open world that was both a pain to explore and not worth the effort softened me up for Final Fantasy 13.
Yes, Final Fantasy 13 is just a chain of long pretty corridors and yes, the shops are just a list of menus you can access at any save point. That doesn’t bother me. Aside from being sick of poorly implemented exploration, two other genres I like might explain why losing the ability to wander didn’t bother me: Tactical JRPGs and Shooters. In Tactical JRPGs, all shops are just menus which are available at towns and movement from location to location is as easy as selecting it from a list or clicking on the locations icon on the map. And as for shooters, they can often be corridor after corridor of guys to shoot and if the shooting is good or the plot is interesting, I won’t even notice until someone points it out. If exploration is done well, I don’t mind it but I definitely don’t miss it when its gone.
My favorite part of all of Final Fantasy 13 is the combat. Some JRPGs have good turned-based combat like Persona 3 which actually requires strategy but most just require you to use your biggest attacks as often as possible and remember to heal periodically. FF13 has rapid combat that requires strategic thinking to succeed and get a good score. Each enemy has its own elemental strengths and weakness. As well as paying attention to those as you select your abilities, the best way to hurt any mob though is to get them staggered. Enemies become staggered once you have filled their combo bar. To build a combo you need to use both of the two types of damaging classes. Ravagers build up combos fast but the combo points they generate fade rapidly. Commandos generate less combo points but they keep the Ravager’s combo points from fading. Aside from Commandos and Ravagers there are classic classes like Tank, Healer, Buffer and Debuffer. Each of the characters can be several of these classes and you can switch their class actively in battle which you will need to do often to keep up your combo while keeping your party alive. I hear it is possible to use a tank, a healer and a ravager and slowly grid your way through each fight. Not only will this not give you a good score on the fight but it is not any fun. The combat of Final Fantasy 13 when done correctly is strategic and some of the most fun I’ve ever had in JRPG combat.
Another positive thing about the combat is that none of the fights are random. Similarly to Persona 3, you can see all the fights in your path. Also like Persona 3, not only can sneaking up on the enemies give you an advantage in the fight versus them but if you try, you can avoid certain fights all together. Random encounters don’t allow you to attempt to get a strategic edge and they force you to load the whole fight before it will allow you to run away to avoid that particular fight. Well implemented visible encounters can add a lot to JRPG combat, forcing you to pay attention and plan ahead as you cross the terrain.
One of the biggest complaints I hear about Final Fantasy 13 is that the characters unrealistic and drama queens. For a prime example of unrealistic character reactions, all I need to do is refer back to Suikoden 4. Near the very beginning of the game, a horrible accident occurs which kills the protagonist’s mentor/father figure. One of the other characters interrogates the main character to see if he killed his mentor. Sadly, Suikoden 4’s main character is a silent protagonist so it goes something like this.
Other Character- “Hey you there, you just killed your surrogate father figure, didn’t you?”
Protagonist- *blank monkey-faced stare*
OC- “I can’t believe you would do that. If you didn’t kill him, just say something.”
Protagonist- *Blink Blink*
OC- “Well since you don’t object…For your horrible and unforgivable crimes which we’d exonerate you of if you’d just say it wasn’t you, we will banish you from the only home you know and love.”
Protagonist- *blank monkey-faced stare*
It is hard to feel sorry for a guy who won’t speak up to keep himself from a lonely existence of eternal banishment. Though an extreme example, this is what unrealistic character reactions to tragedy look like.
When people say that Final Fantasy 13’s characters are overreacting to everything, I feel that most people don’t understand the seriousness of the events that occur at the beginning of the game. To say it in the most basic terms, they have become their cultures equivalent of demons. Specifically, they are banished from their homeland after being cursed to follow the orders of a deity of an opposing nation which is often referred to as hell. All of the events of the game happen within hours after this traumatic and life changing experience occurring. On top of this, one character just lost his mother, one lost his girlfriend, one lost her sister and one thinks he will soon lose his son. If you expect them to react calmly, then you have no concept of how grief effects a person. The characters of Final Fantasy 13 are just dealing with their recent tragedies in a natural and human way.
Though the characters of Final Fantasy 13 start out as standard JRPG stereotypes, each of them grows and changes, resulting is better characters then many JRPGs offer. I’ll focus on the three most hated characters and quickly without spoiling anything explain why they are better characters then most people give them credit for. I’ll start with Hope, my personal least favorite character. Hope begins the game as a weak and sniveling whiner. I often joked that Vanille was holding his testicles for him since she was always trying to help him stand up for himself. Over the course of the game though, Hope changes from a pussy to being on a vengeful rampage to coming to terms with all that has occurred and growing up a little. Even though early on Hope made me want to choke him, the fact that he grew and changed as a person made him a better character then I expected.
Snow is another widely hated character but I liked him the instant I met him. For one, instead of being the classic Cloud-angsty-and-too-cool-to-care-about-anyone, he is deeply devoted to his girlfriend much as the main female character of JRPGs often is to their boyfriend/love interest. Seeing a male character who really loves his girlfriend instead of thinking of her as disposable is a nice change of pace for any type of male character let alone the angsty world of JRPGs. He also is an optimist. I feel this is where he got on most people’s nerves but it was apparent at least to me that he was pretending to believe everything would be alright so as to bring hope to himself and the rest of the team. Snow belongs to the school of thought of “fake it until you make it”. His frequent declarations of how he is a hero so there is no way anything bad can happen scream of a positive mantra repeated so as to hopefully make it true. Snow did sometimes annoy me but his willful positive attitude and love of his girlfriend helped him stick out from the classic JRPG male stereotypes.
My favorite character and another of the most hated is Vanille. Based on the reviews I read before playing Final Fantasy 13, I expected her to be the classic Zany character, always doing or saying something silly to the point of being annoying. Instead I found her immediately likeable. While Vanille does say some odd things from time to time, it becomes increasingly apparent as the story progresses that she say them because she struggling with her own problems while lying to the rest of the group about them. She doesn’t want them to worry about her but she also doesn’t want them to figure out her secret. This causes her to react to questions in odd ways or pause momentarily before she says certain things, particularly when she is lying or trying to make the others feel better. Vanille is a character whose depth gets revealed as you continue through the story, saving her from being just that annoying zany character.
I will say it loud and say it proud, I enjoyed Final Fantasy 13. The combat was some of the best JRPG combat I’ve ever experienced, I grew to like all of the characters who were neither as shallow nor as irrational as some people said they were and I didn’t mind the corridor structure of the areas you cut through. I hope that this article convinces a few people who disregarded FF13 due to all the negative hype to give it a chance.
In summary, play Final Fantasy 13 if you:
-Like your combat strategic and fast
-Don’t mind running down corridors for most of the game
-Hate random battles and like to be able to avoid entire encounters before they even start
-Are sick of many of the standard JRPG features, especially due to experiencing them done poorly recently
And don’t play Final Fantasy 13 if you:
-Want to tape down X to win all your fights
-Are unwilling to comprehend that tragedy effects characters’ reactions
-Love every JRPG as long as it is filled with your old standbys of turn-based combat, open world setting, a must-save-the-world plot and angsty teens with lots of buckles no matter how poorly any of these features are executed