Final Fantasy has been a franchise that has enthralled me since Final Fantasy VII. Even though I started gaming earlier than that (I remember the days of the Spectrum), Final Fantasy VII is the one that made me aware of this type of turn based role play game. Since the amazingly convoluted storyline, I’ve enjoyed Final Fantasy VIII’s bizarre tale and Final Fantasy X’s romp (I couldn’t get into the story of Final Fantasy IX, altthough I did enjoy its battle and levelling systems). Final Fantasy XIII was interesting, in essence building a simplified form of AI for your party, although once again the story managed to pass me by. Then came Final Fantasy XIII.
My initial impressions
I’ve always loved the systems involved in Final Fantasy, the levelling of characters, unlocking abilities, collecting cards and even the odd well made mini-game (Tripple Triad and Blitzball were both fantastic). I could see where the direction was heading with the system, but it felt like a lack of control. “auto-battle”? Surely part of the skill is in deciding the actions of your characters. Why are my team mates hitting stuff by themselves? Why do I put multiple abilities in my ATB bar? Things didn’t feel quite right. But that’s okay. I’ll just go over to the items and weapons. Wait, those level up as well? Okay… What’s that, the party leader is dead and it’s game over? There was a lot that didn’t feel quite right with this game.
Ploughing through the game (I did compete it), I found the battle system grew on me. The story however was a different matter. When I first played the game, I was plonked into a situation I didn’t understand and forced to fight an entire army. I levelled up and by the end of the game, I still didn’t know who the “real” bad guy was, nor did I know his motivation. Final Fantasy VII had Sephiroth whose genetic legacy was to ride planets, smashing into other planets to steal their life force and become ever more powerful. Final Fantasy VIII had Ultemcia, who wanted to compress time in order to live forever. Final Fantasy X had Sin who was the product of a warped religious system of sacrafice and regret. What was the ultimate goal of the main villain? Power? Immortality? Victim of circumstance? Maybe it was part of a planned expanded universe, but it didn’t grip me.
But knowing things on the second time around, I realise what the purge was. What l’Cie are. What was going on with Vanille and Fang. It’s definitely one of those games that need a second playthrough to understand. And now I feel I understand the battle system more as well. The control comes from managing a team, rather than micromanaging character’s individual actions. They have a mind of their own, and their own specialities. Unlike some of the previous Final Fantasy games, the limit break isn’t the only things that potentially separates the characters. Magic, summons and abilities were often interchangable, but not with Final Fantasy XIII. Nope. You’re forced to think about people’s specialities before deciding how best to fight. Sure you can level up drastically during the last part of the game and unlock all of the roles for all of the characters, but in the end you still end up choosing specific people for specific roles.
I also get the battle system in general more now. Yes, it is more of a hybrid between action and turn based, but it still makes sense. With an arcade style combo system, it adds a new dimension to battles. It’s not just about spamming attack or specific magic. It’s about chaining together moves in order to whittle the enemies down faster. Sure you can just attack, but it’ll take ages to get the enemy to break. You can use magic to speed up the process, but that drains the chain quicker, leaving less time to carry on the chain. While I still feel like it can be button bashing, at least it’s a variety.
I think it’s an under appreciated game. I’m not sure how they managed to squeeze two more sequels out of it (as far as I’m aware, it was not exactly the favourite of the series for most people), but it is worth another look. Although I also feel a lot of the characters were based on amalgamations of other Final Fantasy characters. The most obvious being Cloud. That being said, at least the fleshed out party means you’re not left wondering why this random character decided to join the party.
You’ll get more out of it on the second run than the first, but it does take a while to get going (like not being able to change party members, not being able to level up, not being able to change paradigms and actually acquiring summons), but overall the system is solid. Oh, and it does away with that pesky 9999 barrier.