Written by Dragoon 11th November 2017

It's that time of year where we here at Morbid Play turn our attention towards one of our favourite franchises, Final Fantasy. Last year I took a critical glance at one of the series more polarising entries Final Fantasy 12. This year it's time to look at the next game in the main line series that once again divided fans, Final Fantasy 13. Taking a look at its Metacritic score we can see it's currently sitting at 83 with a user score of 7.2 which is lower than the series average for sure but why? Let's take a look at the Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Final Fantasy 13.

The Good: The Visuals

The first thing that'll hit you when you start up a new game is just how good it looks. Square Enix really went all out with the visual aspects of this game with it being the first main series Final Fantasy to release on that generation of consoles and even today, 8 years later, it still looks fantastic. The slowly encroaching sci-fi elements of the series previous entries have pretty much taken over in 13 which is no bad thing. Cocoon, the giant floating continent that the game starts us in, is a beautiful and unique setting. The futuristic cityscapes are detailed and create a wonderful contrast with the verdant fields of Pulse that you explore in the latter part of the game. The characters are also unique and distinct from each other visually but the same can't be said for their actual characterisation which leads into our counter point.

The Bad: The Characterisation

One area where Final Fantasy 13 dropped the ball is the way it handled it's main protagonists. At first glance they seem like an interesting bunch but the problem is we don't really go past that, there's very little attention given to them as people in the story. Lightning is a good character from a design perspective, she's realistically proportioned which is surprising considering she's a lead character in a Japanese game which tend to steer females towards being marketable sex symbols. The issue is she has almost no personality. All her dialogue is dry, her voice actor sounds perpetually bored and we learn very little about her as the game progresses. It's just not what you'd expect from a lead in a game like this. It's all the more baffling when you look at how much Square Enix have focused on Lightning in their media after 13, people have gotten rightly sick of her as she's appeared in multiple games since and hasn't changed all that much.

Lightning isn't the only culprit though, Hope Estheim is another character that drew much ire from fans of the game. He's a teenage boy who loses his mother in a rebel uprising gone wrong and blames the leader of the rebels and fellow party member Snow for her death. This could have been a good plot line but what it lead to was Hope being a whiny brat who straight up tries to murder Snow at one point with little justification. Its understandable that he'd be distraught after his mother's death but it was handled poorly in the story. It's a similar story for a lot of the characters in the game, the only one I felt was well fleshed out was Sazh as he has a very believable motivation of wanting to protect and save his son who's the only family he has left. He's a fun character who also acts as a voice of reason when needed. Sadly he just brings more attention to how underdeveloped his peers are in comparison.

The Ugly: The Story

Oh boy, after the disappointment of Final Fantasy 12's story you'd think this would have been an area of focus this time around but it is certainly not the case. The pacing is awful with longwinded cutscenes breaking up the gameplay constantly and while these scenes certainly look pretty they are severely lacking when it comes to content or depth. The biggest issue with the story is how aimless it is. Similar sounding names are constantly dropped on you such as fal'Cie, l'cie, cie'th etc. It's easy to get lost and it seems like the characters are lost in it all as well. So there are these god like creatures which mark humans with a brand, these humans have to complete a task to avoid being turned into zombies but their reward for completion is being turned into a crystal instead. How do our main characters get out of this once they've all been branded? Both us and the characters have no idea so we just kind of meander about the story until it just sort of resolves by the end. There's also a big bad empire, again, that cause trouble but it just all feels weirdly disjointed. There is no central goal or aim for the player so it's hard to feel invested. The writing is also riddled with cliches which hamper what little substance there is.

The Good: The Soundtrack

I'm going to be honest here, Final Fantasy 13 easily has one of my favourite soundtracks in the whole series. It was composed by Masashi Hamauzu who took over the lead composer role left vacant by long time series composer Nobuo Uematsu after his departure from Square Enix. Those were some big shoes to fill but he did it beautifully, there are plenty of standout tracks on the soundtrack. My personal favourites are the main battle theme Blinded by the Light and the cool techno piece The Sunleth Waterscape, which is also the the theme from my favourite area of the game. The soundtracks are great throughout the whole Final Fantasy 13 trilogy and I'd highly recommend checking those out as well, especially the soundtrack for 13-2.

The Bad: The Battle System

After Final Fantasy 12's deep but somewhat intimidating battle system it seems like Square Enix opted for the other extreme this time around. Everything feels stripped down and streamlined which isn't necessarily a bad thing, a lot of players liked the battle system but it's not something I found to be fun or engaging. You only get to control one party member for a large portion of the game, you do get to switch who it is later on but you are stuck with whoever the focus of the story is at that time before that point. My biggest gripe with the game is how easy it was to abuse the game's auto-battle function, which automatically queues abilities for you at the push of a button. Now that isn't to say the battle system doesn't have some depth, the Paradigm Shift system is pretty cool as it lets you assign specific roles to characters which can be switched mid-battle to suit different circumstances. It's just that it feels limited and uninvolved a lot of the time, I've always been more of a fan of the classic turn based systems of past games so this point is more down to preference then it outright being bad.

The Ugly: The Gameplay

If you asked a group of people who played it what the biggest flaw of Final Fantasy 13 was I'm sure many will answer with how linear it is early on. The first 10 chapters of the game which take place on Cocoon basically have you walking down a very pretty corridor to activate the next cutscene, with the occasionally fight on the way. Now other games in the series worked in a similar fashion, such as Final Fantasy 10, but they had a much better way of presenting it to you with plenty of NPC interactions and events along the way. It just all feels very stagnant until you reach the openness of Pulse which takes much too long to get to. Another gripe is how slow the game is to open up it's systems to the player. The levelling system of the Crystarium will gate you out of advancing your characters past certain points until you push through the story and you don't actually get to pick your party of characters until late into the game. There's nothing wrong with linearity in video games but you need to make the player feel like they are actually accomplishing something, having them run down large, empty corridors with a pretty backdrop in a straight line just doesn't cut it. It should feel like an adventure and not like a tour of an art gallery.

Altogether I feel like Final Fantasy 13 is a game that has some frustrating flaws that could have been avoided easily. It's a game I've always wanted to like and believe me, I've tried, but every time I play it I just get so bored. There's just not enough substance there to drive me forward and keep me interested. It's by no means a bad game and it had some great ideas and concepts that just couldn't be done justice in the end. It will forever be a polarising entry in the series and that's not a bad thing, it always leads to interesting discussions among fans. It's the marmite of the Final Fantasy series, you either love it or you hate it and there is plenty of reasons for both.

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