So, it's been six years, give or take a month or so, since the original release of one of the most polarizing (main series) Final Fantasy games ever released. I'm, of course, talking about the Final Fantasy-for-Call of Duty-fans Final Fantasy XIII. The 2009 game saw many changes, most of which attempted to streamline the series and make it more accessible. But, was the streamlined game really that bad, or do (some) fans want to just crap on it because it was (somewhat) different?
The story focused on a weird combination of AVALANCHE-meets-Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers group of magically-inclined (read: forced to be, pretty much, slaves of godlike creatures called fal'Cie) people marked to be l'Cie. The l'Cie are the previously mentioned slaves, as they've been branded by the fal'Cie to complete a "Focus" for the fal'Cie. If the l'Cie don't complete their focus, they become monsters called Cie'th. These said Cie'th are usually the monsters the main characters kill along the way. Inversely, if the l'Cie actually complete their mission, they're turned into crystal. So, it's a catch-22 and you're already given the ending (sorta) from the jump.
Now that that confusing paragraph of crystalized awesomeness is out the way, our story begins in Cocoon, a floating world-above-a-world that's run by a corrupt government (hi Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII) that's based its ruling around the teachings of a divine entity, the aforementioned fal'Cie (hi Final Fantasy X). Cocoon is in a state of "holy shitballs" since a fal'Cie was found on Cocoon.
Our "main" character, Lightning, goes all Cloud Strife on her government-run team in order to save her sister, Serah, who's been marked by the fal'Cie. Unfortunately, Serah still gets turned to crystal (in other words, her mission was complete). Over the course of the game, we meet:
- a non-stereotypical black guy in Sazh (afro notwithstanding)
- a headstrong rebel leader (and Serah's fiance) in Snow
- an annoying-but-still-cute-as-a-button l'Cie who's really the big bad Ragnarok (the entity who was summoned by some of the fal'Cie to destroy Cocoon in order to resurrect their Maker)/one of the true heroes of the story in Vanille a/k/a one of the few video game characters I pseudo-crushed on (BLAME THE AUSTRALIAN ACCENT AND THE FACT THAT GEORGIA VAN CUYLENBURG IS A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN!)
- another l'Cie who was responsible for almost killing every Cocoon citizen in Fang (don't worry, she redeems her sin against humanity in the end)
- and, quite possibly, one of the most annoying characters ever in Hope (seriously, Hope was kind of useless).
Our "AVALANCHE-meets-MMPR" group took off to complete their focus, save the world, and remove their l'Cie brandings. They also discovered, as FF games tend to go, a lot about themselves, grew along the way, made some hard decisions, and ultimately saved the day, through Vanille and Fang becoming Ragnarok, crystalizing themselves, and keeping Cocoon (after a shitshow of a battle against good and misguided) from crashing into Gran Pulse, the overarching world of the game.
All in all, the story wasn't that bad. It was pretty fun to play through and it grabbed me in ways I hadn't been touched by a FF game since VII, X, and X-II (I used to clown X-II, but then I sat down, years later, and replayed it. It's a borderline classic). The thing that threw me for a loop at times was how laughably uneven the dialogue was. It was like watching an "edgy" 4Kids dub one moment, then "unrated version of Akira"-great the next. This uneven dialogue sometimes ruined the story's "oomph." Additionally, the story of the game, if you blink, can become a bit overbearing and/or confusing. And not confusing in a good way. I'm all for complicated characters, but sometimes, you've got to skimp on the complications to make things legible. Finally, the story, while fun to play through and emotionally sound, it feels a lot like Final Fantasy: Greatest Hits than an entirely new experience.
The gameplay was just as uneven at times. The battle system was innovative, while still giving nods to the games of old. However, while innovative, the battle system, when utilized to its full potential, sort of made things uneven. In other words, the game became too easy at points. Yes, you didn't have to grind years to beat the final hidden bosses. But, yeesh. It was like playing Rhapsody (sorry; it's a good game, but it's easy) when you expected Catherine. Additionally, the streamlined nature made the game quite linear in its path. Sure, there were some branching paths. Ultimately, however, the game forced many players to follow the same path, removing some of the adventure of the Final Fantasy series to compete with the Call of Duties of the world. And, yes, it felt more linear than even Final Fantasy X.
Final Fantasy XIII gets a bad rep. And, truthfully? Some of it is warranted. However, was it really that bad? No. Not at all. While not as memorable as some of the other games in the series, Final Fantasy XIII, for what it was, was a pretty decent game. Was it overly confusing and full of retreaded material? Oh hell, yes. But it still made--and makes--for a fun experience with engaging characters. Now, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, on the other hand? Eh...let's not get into that one.