Was Final Fantasy XIII Really that Bad?

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is going to be released in week and I thought this was as good a time as any to look at its controversial predecessor. As I’ve mentioned before, the internet has an irrational hatred for this game. That is the assumption I’m working on; although, I must admit this could be faulty. The user score on Metacritic for the game is 8.1, which lends the argument that the people who pile hate on the game are actually just a very loud minority. Critics were generally quite warm to the game, as can be seen by it’s score of 83 on Metacritic. Of course any self-respecting Final Fantasy XIII deprecator would of course explain this away by saying that most of the critics were bribed by Square-Enix. The question I have to look at today was whether Final Fantasy XIII was actually a bad game or if the complaints are unjustified. In order to do this, I’m running on several assumptions. Firstly, that the reader actually likes turn-based RPGs; secondly, that the reader likes JRPGs; and thirdly, that the reader is a Final Fantasy fan. Without these assumptions, it is very easy, and reasonable, to hate the game. I’m going to look at the combat, music and graphics, story and characters, and of course the much maligned linearity.

Oh, that plan is still around.
1.) Linearity
Let’s get rid of the elephant in the room first. If you were to talk to any gamer who has even heard of Final Fantasy XIII, they would most likely tell you how abysmally linear it is. Let me start by making it clear that almost every game, RPG or no, is linear. The way most games work around this problem is by giving players the illusion of choice. Bioware usually gives the player a choice of locations to visit in order to make their games seem less linear. Keep in mind, you will be visiting them all, and the order is superficial. This is simply a trick in order to give the illusion of non-linearity. The problem with Final Fantasy XIII is that it does nothing to disguise how linear it is. Until near the end of the game, every environment can, correctly, be described as a corridor. This is not just a bunch of internet trolls. The complaint is legitimate. There are many opportunities where a minigame or two would have been well implemented. Your characters even go to an amusement park at one point. Why wouldn’t have Square-Enix implemented any number of minigames in that location? Corridor environments also limit exploration, and, without exploration, there is little excitement that can be gained from finding a new item or weapon. Later in the game, the world opens up, but by that point it is too late, and the open areas aren’t particularly full of things to do anyway. Linearity may be found in most games, but very few games highlight it as much as Final Fantasy XIII and that was a serious mistake.
No, there clearly isn’t anything fun or interesting to do here.

2.) Music and Graphics

Here we switch from Final Fantasy XIII’s biggest problem to, perhaps, the only part of the game everyone will agree was exceptionally well done. This game was the first main series Final Fantasy game to not include any tracks made my legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu, and the game didn’t suffer at all for it. Quite a lot of music is built around a single theme, which works extremely well. Fortunately this theme was not the Leona Lewis song “My Hands”, which was shoe-horned into the game at the end as a promotional stunt. On the graphics side of the issue, Final Fantasy XIII was, and continues to be, one of the best looking games this generation. While not attempting photo-realistic graphics, the style and design of the characters and environments are superb. Musically and graphically, the game lives up to the extremely high standards set by it’s predecessors.
Bad touch
3.) Story and Characters
This is the most subjective section and whether or not a person likes the story and characters is entirely up to them, and should not impact what others believe. Therefore, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in dealing with this section and keep my feelings towards the characters to myself. In terms of characters, Final Fantasy XIII does quite well for it’s main cast compared to other games. Lightning and Hope’s character arcs involve legitimate character development. Sazh’s arc is a small part of the game, but is probably filled with the most legitimate emotion of the series. Snow is simply a protector archetype and, after his role in Hope’s arc, struggles to be relevant. Fang and Vanille barely have proper arcs of their own, but instead serve as catalysts to the greater story and their ending brings the game back full circle. In general, the cast isn’t bad, but the problems lie with the supporting cast, or lack thereof. Firstly there is no central villain. Several antagonists step-up throughout the game, but none are properly developed, which is a disappointment. Outside of the main cast there are very few friendly characters and these, particularly Team NORA, are underused to a criminal degree. The game also lacks any kind of comic relief, which can make the melodrama hard to stomach at times. In terms of the main story, how good it is depends entirely on one’s tolerance for melodrama. However, it isn’t any more melodramatic then any other Final Fantasy game (Do you realize how melodramatic IV and VI are?). The story is very character-based and how good it is depends heavily on how much you like the characters. From an objective standard: the cast is strong, the supporting cast is very weak, and the story is fine. 
He has a baby Chocobo! Section over, everything is awesome!
4.) Combat
Here is the most important section, as when it comes to video games, gameplay is king. Final Fantasy XIII uses a turn-based system where you only control a single character and the other characters will act based on the roles assigned. The biggest change in the battle system is it’s emphasis on speed. Most battles in the game are easy and require little micromanaging, by rewarding you for beating battles quickly, Final Fantasy XIII nearly curbs this problem. Probably the most unfortunate addition to the combat system is the auto attack option. In practice, the button is useful, but it draws attention to the fact that very little input is required for most battles. This is not at all different from any other Final Fantasy game where most battles were solved by mashing the attack command, but by labelling the command “auto attack” Square-Enix has brought attention to this fact, which is unfortunate. When a tough battle come up, the Paradigm system works very well and requires quick reflexes and strategy much like other Final Fantasy games. The biggest problem with the system is how long it takes to unlock the whole thing. By the time the entire system is in the hands of the player, many will have lost interest. This goes back to the problems in pacing during the early game. 
Panthera, get it… it’s a Panther
Here’s the thing, internet. Final Fantasy XIII was a disappointment. After five years of waiting with constant teasers and people on internet boards saying that it was the only reason to own a PS3, and then talking about how doomed the PS3 was when it went multiplatform, there was no way that it was going to live up to the expectations. However, Final Fantasy XIII is very, very far from being a bad game. At it’s absolute lowest, it’s mediocre, and anyone who legitimately disagrees with that assertion needs to play an actual bad game for reference. Final Fantasy XIII is is not my favourite Final Fantasy, but it also isn’t even close to being my least favourite. It is to be expected that some people wouldn’t like the game, but the absurd level of hatred that Final Fantasy XIII gets is totally unjustified. Whether gaming critics were bribed or not, the Metacritic score of 83 is actually pretty accurate for the game.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

5 thoughts on “Was Final Fantasy XIII Really that Bad?

  1. Absolutely right. The audience reaction for games is always skewed and reactionary. A few years from now with the benefit of hindsight and the objectivity that comes from judging it out of context people will realise this was an awesome game – possibly the best rpg of this gen, certainly the best jrpg.

  2. Firstly thanks for the comment. Many Final Fantasies are treated this way. Ever since VII, people have been very willing to proclaim the end of the series. However, each game after that is considered the best in the series by some of the fans. XII was hated just as much as XIII when it was released, and it's now considered a classic by many. I don't know if XIII will follow suit, but if history holds true, there will be many people who will remember it fondly.

  3. holy shit….someone has finally reviewed this game with an objective and unbiased opinion…IT'S A GODDAMN MIRACLE.This review perfectly sums up my feelings toward the game and I will use it as evidence in all future arguments regarding this game. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS.

  4. My favorite of your reviews: A game I played and had noted complaints about, then read some of the massive trolling on GameFAQs and I cried. Tis is honestly the only objective review I have ever read of this game. Thank you so much for it!No, I don't know why it took so long for me to comment on this.

  5. Your welcome. Looking back on this one, there are things I would have added, but I think I get my point across. There is a difference between bad games and disappointing games, and fan reactions can be really unreasonable.

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