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December 15, 2012

Final Fantasy 13: Target's a Target (Part 4)

So.  Let’s talk about this game again.

I know it’s been…what, half a year since the last post dedicated to this game?  And I’m pretty sure I promised that I’d be hitting some of the high notes (relatively speaking) well before that.  But I got distracted by other stuff, and then the next thing I know, I can’t quite summon up enough bile to give the game a licking.  That’s not to say I’ve forgiven it by any means; it’s just that I couldn’t bring myself to summon the right bile.  It would have been lukewarm at best, I think.

That problem no longer exists.  I’ve played through a few hours of Final Fantasy 13-2, and…hmmm, what’s the best way to describe it?  A disappointment?  A disaster?  Dead on arrival?  Dumber than a lobotomized turkey after several decades of inbreeding?  Well, any one of those would likely do.  What I’m getting at is that for all of 13’s faults, 13-2 is on a whole different level of terrible.  Is it worse than its predecessor?  Well…there’s a lot I want to say about that game, and I will.  Believe me, I will.

But in order to talk about that game, I want to tie up some loose ends.  I need to wrap up this game first…and then, maybe I’ll be able to make fewer jokes at its expense. 

And then I can start making jokes at 13-2’s expense.  Circle of life, I guess.

(It goes without saying, but there are going to be SPOILERS.  You know, if you care.  I certainly don’t at this point.  I seriously -- like, I can’t even bring myself to care.  I don’t -- I really don’t feel like -- I AIN’T EVEN MAD!

…Okay, I am a little bit.

Excuse me; I need to smoke the equivalent of the combined weight of China’s population in cigarettes.  And if I’ve done my job right, by the end of this post you will too.)

Most defensible indefensible character ever created: Hope
You know what?  I…I actually don’t think Hope is as bad as people say.

Don’t get me wrong -- he’s still bad, and he’s still annoying, and he’s still as contradictory and malformed as all the rest.  But the way people talk about him, it’s as if he’s single-handedly responsible for turning FF13 into a complete mess; all this, because he has the gall to be afraid and confused and angry about the loss of his mom.  Seriously, people?  Seriously?  Yes, he is a bit of a milquetoast, but what would you have done if your mother essentially died before your eyes, you got exiled from your home and the life you cherished, you’re about as likely to be invited to a party as a leper carrying the plague, and you’re forced to go on a road trip with Vanille?  Cut the kid a little slack.

To be fair, my (relative) tolerance of Hope is probably because I see things that could have been, instead of things that were.  If nothing else, Hope has a story arc, which instantly puts him above virtually everyone else in the entire cast -- and he occupies one of maybe two slots for having a story arc that almost makes sense.  At a base level, he goes from a loser eager to cling to his mother’s leg to a child thrown into a world he can’t begin to understand, dives into a scheme to take revenge, realizes the error of his ways and his own weakness, and ends up toughening up so he can give himself the future he desires.  That’s all stuff that could work in theory, but in practice, it suffers.  And it suffers from the very get-go.

The trigger for Hope’s arc is the death of his mother Nora, which is fine in itself.  The problem is that the events and thoughts that come from it are all completely ass-backwards.  Snow (rather stupidly) expects the refugees he’s supposed to be protecting to take up arms and fight alongside his little resistance group; rather than stick by her son and protect him, or at least be near him and give emotional support, Nora decides to grab a gun and play soldier.  It’s no surprise that she ends up getting killed (likely a consequence of being over thirty in a JRPG), and Hope is rightfully shaken…but here’s the thing.  Nora was the one that abandoned Hope.  All the hate and anger he projected onto Snow was completely and utterly misplaced; it should have been on his mom, because -- again -- she abandoned him.  What is the purpose of a subplot where Hope plans on killing Snow, someone who admittedly had a connection to his mother’s death, but ultimately isn’t the one at fault?  Moreover, what is the point of a subplot where murder is the intended outcome when Hope is a fragile, scarf-wearing little snot with a boomerang and Snow is at least six and a half feet tall and punches the shit out of gods?  Where the hell did he get the idea to start toting around a knife and enacting vigilante justice?

Oh.  Well, that explains it.

Thankfully, Hope does toughen up well before the game’s end, meaning that some character development DID go on (seriously; compare and contrast Starting Hope to Ending Hope).  By then, however, the damage is done -- and to take a note from the guys at Penny Arcade once more, “why can’t I start with characters that are gold, and refine them into platinum?”  Why did Hope have to suck at the outset, instead of being cool from the start and awesome at the end?  More to the point -- and this is what I meant when I said “seeing what could have been” -- why wasn’t Hope the main character?  Surely the target audience has more in common with him than some pink-haired super soldier (wish fulfillment be damned).  He goes through character development, albeit development that needed work.  He has a different take on the world, and a much fresher perspective compared to Lightning.  His backstory, while lacking in pizzazz, could have injected more meaning into the story.  What was his life like before things went awry?  What’s his relationship to his mother and father?  What about friends and his home life?  Why a boomerang?  We see glimpses of it, and looking back I’d say I’m more interested in that personal element instead of the bullshit gofer system created by the fal’Cie and the developers.

Seriously, this is not a hard concept.  One of 13’s biggest failings was that it tried to give us six fleshed out characters when its narrative structure and writing ability could barely handle one.  If it had put its focus elsewhere -- on one, and ONLY one viewpoint character -- then it might have been better off.  That’s not saying the other characters wouldn’t get fleshed out, or that switching perspectives between multiple characters isn’t impossible; it’s just that whatever you do, you have to do it adroitly.  If you can’t, then don’t.  Make it easier on yourself by working within your means.  Simplify.  Do what you can do, and don’t chase after something you can’t.  Of course at this stage I’m starting to wonder if there’s any talent to be had in the entirety of Squeenix HQ…but that’s neither here nor there.

Perennial winner of the “Did you know this character was black?” award: Sazh
Oh, Sazh.  Oh, Sazh.  Oh, Sazh, Sazh, Sazh.

Let’s see if I can trace the great and mighty Squeenix’s thought processes here.  First of all, you start by making an older character -- one you make black, with an afro and guns, but I’m willing to let those slide.  You give him a chance to be a deep, engaging character with a unique perspective on life and the world by virtue of his age and his status as a father.  You give him a few “episodes” to stretch his legs and flesh out his backstory (though you try and play straight his attempted suicide -- really, who are you trying to fool?).  So of course you try and treat the character -- one of the most popular characters, as it turns out -- with a bit of decorum, right?  A bit of dignity, and not just poor attempts at comic relief?

That’s not how Squeenix does things.  It doesn’t matter if Sazh is an inherently tragic and serious character; as the oldest and blackest member of the party he’s relegated to comic relief.  He’s clumsy.  He falls over.  He can’t do any of the cool moves his comrades can.  His summoned creature’s big damn super attack has him getting flung out in spite of presumably being well-secured in his seat.  They needed a buffoon, and they gave that role to the worst person possible, the one who could have been anything but the buffoon.  He could have been the leader.  He could have been the main character.  He could have been the mental and emotional support the group needed, with his rationality bringing everyone together.  He could have been this storied, decorated character whose service in the military might have made a compelling backdrop, or given us a better look at the world.

But naaaaaaaaaah, I guess that would have been too much work.  Why call in Denzel Washington when you can bring in Chris Tucker?

Hope you haven’t been holding out for a villain: Jihl
Probably the biggest deathblow dealt to Sahz and his arc -- and by extension the entire game -- is how the developers handled Jihl.  I remember how, prior to release, there were articles on Kotaku and other sites that painted her as a villain.  And honestly, I bought it.  Based on design alone, she seemed like a foil, a counterpoint to Lightning -- refined and charismatic, but underneath that cool exterior hid the heart of a true villain.  And expectations were fulfilled; Jihl met Lightning’s stoic aggression but general goodness (?) point-for-point with her patented “antagonism with a smile”.  She screws with the heroes at a few junctures, but more importantly messes with Sazh’s son and pushes him into despair.  Getting revenge on her should have been the high point of Sazh’s arc, and the game’s apex.

Apparently Squeenix didn’t share the same sentiment, because they off her without so much as a boss fight.  No payoff.  No resolution.  No evolution, either to her character or to anyone else’s.  She just gets unceremoniously booted out of the game to be replaced with…nothing.

People, are you starting to understand me here?  Do you follow why I hate this game so much, and keep making jokes about it, and time after time after time find new problems and issues and boneheaded decisions to point out?  The game is a failure on so many levels.  Characters that are either terrible or get kneecapped by their creators’ incompetence.  A world that is at once abstract by way of ridiculous art design and assets but overwhelmingly simplistic by way of being a straight line from start to finish.  Gameplay that you can almost entirely clear while asleep, as long as you have a functioning thumb and index finger.  A story that not only manages to start off as dead on arrival, but somehow manages to go even further past the mortal coil into some hypothetical level of supra-death.  Millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours spent to create this, and it was all a waste of time; it’s like they started painting the house before they’d even built the foundation.  And somehow, somehow, SOMEHOW they not only managed to get enough money to make a sequel out of nowhere, but make a sequel that manages to be as bad, AND MAYBE WORSE than the original game.  AND NOW THEY’RE MAKING ANOTHER ONE.

Damn it all…why was I born a gamer?

Uhhhh…: Cid and…uhhhhhhhhhh…the other guys
I thought about mentioning this earlier, but decided against it: I’m pretty much talking about this game from memory now.  If I make a mistake somewhere, or if I neglect to add anything important and discussion-worthy, say so in a comment.  But the reason I bring this up is because I want you to understand where I’m coming from here.  My memory is pretty good, relatively speaking.  I mean, I can remember both big details and slight nuances from FF10, and I haven’t played that game in years.  Same goes for 12; I didn’t play much of that, but I remember a fair share of details here and there from my brother’s playthrough.

But for the life of me, I can’t even begin to remember what Cid was trying to do.  Or what other characters were trying to do.  Or their importance on the plot.  Or their names.

The most concrete thing that I can remember about Cid is that he was a pain-in-the-ass boss fight.  I mean, if I think really hard I can kind of remember some details.  Like, he was in a position of power…he might have been working for the pope…he helped the party get to some place as part of the gods’ divine edict…and then tried to kill them for some reason.  And then he died…and then came back to life, I think…and died again.  But in the grand scheme of things, I couldn’t begin to tell you what his effect on the plot was besides giving the party a morale boost with his death, I guess (which begs the question of what would happen if he killed them, especially given that it took several retries for me to beat him -- wouldn’t that screw up the gods’ plan as well?  Why do they even need the party if Cid can turn into some crystalline angel?). 

And he’s not the only character.  There’s that recurring boss and requisite white-haired villain Yaag (Or Yaarg, or Yaar or something) who’s all about the loyalty and flies in a ship named after a FF7 boss, but that’s about it.  I remember Snow’s resistance buddies, but I didn’t know half their names until 13-2 -- or more reasonably, when I turned the subtitles on.  And they’re all pretty one-note.  Gadot is the hot-headed big guy.  Lebreau is the sassy woman.  Maqui is the tech guy, maybe.  Yuj is blue-haired and replaceable.  There’s Hope’s father Bartholomew who gives his soon a morale boost and then disappears for the rest of the game, and I can’t remember even the basest reason why his cutscenes were important.  And there was some guy in The Cavalry who I guess was important, but I don’t remember why or what he did or even what his name was…or even if he was in The Cavalry.  Just that he was serving under Cid or something.

Conventional knowledge suggests that using the word “forgettable” to describe anything usually isn’t done as a compliment.  But that’s about all I can do to describe these people, the ones who should have had the potential to make the game fantastic.  Good.  Passable, even.  But the most I can say is --

Oh wait, I remember something else about Gadot!  He had this weird-ass battle stance where he crouched to the ground like a monkey while toting his gun.  Somebody call the army, this man is a military genius!

Oh, hey, let’s talk about this evil pope dude: Dysley/Barthandelus
You know, I’m suddenly reminded of Chrono Trigger

It can’t be any deeper than the first hour or so of the game (if that) before you enter a church in search of the missing Marle.  It only takes a few seconds of investigation before the nuns praying nearby reveal themselves to be horrible snake-women.  Easily dispatched snake-women, but horrible all the same.  It’s not exactly a taxing encounter or even one of the most memorable in that game, but it makes me wonder: why are religions in games so often painted as evil?

This isn’t just a problem with Final Fantasy (even though it turned out that FF10 had an inherently-corrupt system orchestrated by sorcerers and the undead to ensure eternal life).  Tales of the Abyss?  The pope -- the fat old one, not the horrifically-effeminate young one -- uses deceit and essentially warfare to fulfill an outmoded prophecy, and goes so far as to turn into a blubbery mass of corruption.  Tales of Symphonia?  The angels are running the show, as part of their gambit to find the perfect host for their leader’s sister as well as ensure that the life-choking flow of mana between worlds remains undisturbed. And let’s not even start counting how many games focus on killing gods -- gods that turn out to be malevolent, power-hungry world destroyers. 

What I’m getting at is that the malevolent god angle has been well-worn.  It’s okay to use the idea, but you have to do something with it.  You can’t just say “evil god” or “evil pope” and leave it at that; you need to add in a personal touch.  13’s take on the trope is to make the evil pope a smarmy, overconfident nihilist who offers dime-store philosophy lessons and assertions that everything’s going according to his plan to the party.  Oh, and he turns into Lightning’s sister Serah in one cutscene.  And…that’s about it.

You know, now that I think about it there’s something that kind of bothers me about religions in games: why is there only one of them at a time?  Hear me out on this: just off the top of my head I can think of about five major religions in the real world.  And there are who-knows-how-many minor faiths spread across the globe -- and even more across different eras.  So why is it that video games so rarely have more than one at a time?  Why hasn’t there been a separation of church and state?  If the one religion is connected to everything, and the one religion falls by virtue of its corruption crumbling its organization from the duress or its key figures either ousted to be vile schemers or vehement gods/monsters, what happens to society?  Does it fall apart?  Do lesser religions take its place?  Do the people accept new faiths after the old and trusted one turned out to be a well-kept lie? 

…I like how I’m supposed to be discussing the game’s main villain, but I’m more eager to talk about the ramifications of societal upheaval via ruptured religions.  But then again, that’s pretty telling about the nature of the game.

Did I mention that his boss form is a giant face-wall robot that takes what feels like minutes to get through, even if you’re firing on all cylinders?

Just a taste of things to come: Serah
I know that a while back I took shots at Squeenix for making Serah the lead for 13-2, but it’s possible that I might have been too hasty.  After all, I hadn’t played the game, and there was plenty of time for her to prove herself as a viable and valiant heroine when given the chance to strike out on her own.

And then I played the game, and realized that I wasn’t too hasty.  But I’ll get to that.

It’s worth noting that Serah -- one letter shy of “seraph”; very subtle naming convention there, guys -- can’t be in any more than five percent of the overall game time.  She’s there at the start of the game, yeah, and you’ll see plenty of her in flashbacks…long, long, long flashbacks…but in the grand scheme of things she’s marginalized.  Yeah, she sets the story into motion (kind of), and drives a couple of motivations (Lightning and Snow well among them), but really?  She’s just someone to angst over.  Also I have a hard time believing she’s even close to being of age.  It certainly doesn’t help that in the sequel she has not only barely changed in appearance, but the camera seems to go out of its way to ride up her legs and into the Promised Land.  And zoom in on her chest.  Or cut off her head to add more focus to her chest.  And as soon as one cutscene ended -- I kid you not, without even touching the camera -- I got a hyper-zoomed view of Serah’s chest.  Again.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going off on another tangent, but honestly?  That’s because there isn’t much to say.  Serah’s a nice girl who falls prey to a cruel fate, but loves her friends and family regardless.  She’s scared and worried, but accepts her fate and is turned into a crystal because of it.  And that’s about it.  More importantly, I want to talk about Serah -- what little there is to say -- as a record for posterity.  Remember my words.  Remember all that there is to know about Serah here, in the context of 13.  Because oh, lordy, lordy, we are gonna come back to this one soon enough.

…Also, how did Serah make it through Hanging Edge alone and unarmed?  Lightning and Sazh pretty much had to engineer a train crash and revolt, and Snow had to charge in with a small pocket of guerrillas.  Why and how did she make it past a war, monsters, ruins, and more completely unharmed?  And without a vehicle?  And presumably to the altar of the gods?

One for the road: Lightning
And here we are again.

Real talk: you guys know me by now, right?  You know what I’m going to say.  At least I hope you do, because I’ve been kinda talking about it for the past couple of months.  But whatever; if you’ve been here before and have read my work, then my next words should be obvious.  If you haven’t, then consider this a very informal, very basic, and very variable primer on how to tell a good story.

The reason why characters exist in a story -- the main character most of all -- is to prove ideas within that story.  Characters put forth, interact with, and ultimately prove or disprove the ideas made inherent by other characters (antagonist or otherwise) and events in the story.  In many ways, the main character defines a story by virtue of those interactions; you can think of it as building a story’s theme, but it goes just a step or two further than that.  The main character sets the tone, the expectations, the hopes, the stakes, and countless other things -- especially by way of clashing with an antagonistic force, be it a person, an event, nature, or even an idea.  That, more or less, is what it means for a story to have a spirit.  And time and time again, a good story will establish its spirit with aplomb.

Lightning doesn’t.  If someone asked you to chart out Lightning’s growth and character development over the course of the game via line graph, could you really do it?  Could you point out her highest and lowest points, from moments of sudden realization to her trips into despair and hopelessness?  Moreover, could you do all that WITHOUT looking at a wiki?  I sure as shit couldn’t.  I could point out pretty much the exact moment when I should have given up on her, and I can point out the exact moment I realized I wasn’t dealing with a character as much as I was a sword-wielding swath of carpet, but everything else?  Nothing.  Nothing remarkable.  Nothing to make her endearing or exciting beyond punching Snow and slapping Fang, and those are hardly worth praise. 

She’s just a character designed to be a cool, drool-worthy badass…except somehow she manages to fail doing that, too.  Sure, she does some flip-de-loops and goes boosh-boosh-boosh at the start of the game, but what does she do after that?  She’s being strung along by the gods, and at the outset is more than willing to let it ride.  She folds her arms and grunts at the silliness of her party members, but offers no alternatives in return.  I’m hard-pressed to remember any time she used anything beyond brute force to accomplish a goal; she may not be as recklessly gung-ho as Snow, but I don’t remember her offering any better course of action to anyone at any time (doubly so when she ends up adopting his reckless gung-ho style at the end).  I STILL have a hard time believing that she liked anyone in the entire game besides Serah, and even that’s a stretch given that she outright abandoned her; She may become tolerant of Hope and Snow, but that’s not saying much at all.  And her relationship with Sazh, Vanille, and Fang is tenuous at best.  Given that, how am I supposed to believe this character has any drive, any desire to protect her “friends”, and any motivation?

It gets worse.  I have repeatedly expressed that several other characters could have been the lead -- the REAL lead, not just someone on the front of the box in spite of being part of an ensemble.  Hope, Sazh, Snow, even Vanille -- any of them could have done the job with a rewrite here and there.  The reason why is the clincher: if Lightning wasn’t in the game, not much would be lost.  Sure, conversations would change here and there, but what does Lightning add to the story that no one else could?  She’s not the chosen one; she’s just another l’Cie that gets picked up for gofer duty.  She is very easily and very literally replaceable; as long as there are people, they can be turned into l’Cie to do the jobs the fal’Cie can’t be bothered to do.  You could make an argument that by extension, NONE of the other 13 characters matter either, and that’s very true.  But even if it’s just by an infinitesimal measure, they manage to offer something more.  Anything more.  Sazh and Vanille are there for laughs and heart.  Snow is there to be a big blustery hero.  Hope is there to give us a coming of age story.  Even Fang offers more; if not for her, there’d be no connection to the past or to Pulse.  But what about Lightning?  What does she give the player?  What does she offer to justify fifty, maybe sixty hours of gameplay?  What does she do to make her character, her game, her company, and her very genre justified in its existence?

Maybe you have an answer to that.  And if you do, that’s great.  Again, let me hear it in the comments; I’m more than eager to hear someone try and prove me wrong.  But as things stand -- just as they have for years -- I cannot, in good faith, in my heart of hearts, give my blessing to Lightning or her game. 

There is just so much failure in one game that I could write a good half-dozen more posts about it.  I could mention how the development was troubled, or how the demo that came with Advent Children Complete was the first time they actually pulled the gameplay together, or how they ended up falling way behind, or any number of grisly background details.  I could talk about why exactly the gameplay was a failure, from the lack of impact and feedback to the brain-dead combat system, and go even further into why the world itself is a master class in poor decisions.  But I won’t.  I can’t.  I know they screwed up.  Squeenix knows they screwed up.  Gamers all over know they screwed up.  Even if you’re one of those who thinks the game is all right, you have to suspect that something is amiss.  For a game in such a vaunted and acclaimed and beloved -- beloved -- franchise to have turned out such a poor product is…it’s just…sad. 

Actually, scratch that.  You know, now that I think about it…it’s kind of funny.  I keep saying that I’m not an expert on the franchise because I didn’t play the original six games.  Or the ninth, for that matter.  But I got into FF7.  I got it.  I was younger back then, so the nuances are lost, and there are events I’ve probably forgotten.  But I got it.  It was something special, you know?  It wasn’t perfect, I know that for sure.  Now more than ever.  But it was something that was worth aspiring toward.  It was something that went beyond just being amazing; it was inspiring.  It told a story that I was eager to follow, and I remember dragging a stool over to the desk just so I could peek over my brother’s shoulder and watch as he started his disastrous first playthrough.  For a while, it went beyond just being a game; it was something that I was eager to experience every day after school. 

My brother borrowed the player’s guide from a friend, and I pretty much tore into it -- in fact, I’m pretty sure I might have helped knock a few pages loose.  I wanted to know what happened -- and even if I did spoil one or two details, I still wanted to see what happened for myself.  In the flesh.  With my own two eyes.  It was going to be something amazing -- and of course, it would all lead up to one fantastic ending.

It took him a few tries, but my brother finally beat the game.  And I cleared it on my own not long after.  The ending was everything I’d hoped for, and more -- a fine sendoff to a fine game.  And honestly?  I would be lying -- telling one hell of a bold lie -- if I didn’t admit that FF7, and the JRPGs that followed, inspired me.  They’re not exactly a guide to good storytelling, I know, but the basics -- the intent -- were still there.  A sprawling, fantastic world.  Brave heroes, willing to traverse it and overcome their failings, and bond during their journey.  A heinous threat that could hit close to home, and push everyone and everything to their limits.  Ideas that would stick with me long after the three disks had been slipped back into their sleeves.  And most of all, memories.  Fond memories.  Memories that I could preserve, and look back upon with a smile.  I could go, “Hey, I remember that one.  That was pretty much my life for a while, man.”  And I think somewhere deep inside me, I took that lesson, that feeling to heart.  “Hey, maybe I could do something like that someday.  I mean, I like books.  I like reading.  Why not?”

A part of me wonders where I’d be if not for video games in my life.  I’d probably be pretty boring.  Probably not as funny.  Probably a bit more fun to be around at parties, though.  But I have fond memories of certain games, and it’s likely that those memories have given me the impetus to be something more: a storyteller.  One who can put a smile on peoples’ faces, with tales of heroes and adventures and triumph over evil.  Do I owe everything that I am to Final Fantasy 7, or 8, or just the series in general?  No, of course not.  But they affected me.  They affected others.  So did the other games.  So did the very concept, the very essence of the franchise.  It wasn’t just around to steal money from dumb kids looking for cheap thrills and pseudo-philosophy.  It had a purpose.  A reason.  A spirit.  A character.  A heart.

It had those things.  And now it doesn’t.  Now it has this.

See?  It's funny, because I learned the truth: every hero dies someday.


  1. That Random Game BloggerDecember 16, 2012 at 4:52 AM

    Sazh is the only character I actually /liked/ some of the others eventually grew on me (though I'm not going to say I actually liked them). But as you pointed out, Square-Enix decided to play him as comic relief which is really NOT the way to go.

    If anything he was the only serious character out of the group, the rest of were so self-absorbed or just down-right moronic that they seem like parodies of character arch-types.

    Specially Vanille and her 'I want to be like Cloud Strife' attitude.

    Regardless, I don't think the game was terrible, just terribly mediocre :P

  2. Yeah, that's a point I was going to bring up at a later date -- they DO seem like archetypes and nothing more, and are almost certainly parodies of them at that. Whether this is because of troubled development or plain ineptitude is hard to be certain of for sure...but then again, the fact that the developers let things get this bad, or get so far into its production without the proper care, smacks of ineptitude in its own right.

  3. Great read. I found the statement about FF13 trying to fit 6 complex fleshed out characters trying to fit in a story that can only barely contain one particularly profound. That said, I'm going to compare FF13 to FF8 for a second.

    They are almost polar opposites in my eyes. Early on 8 I looked at the characters and their early nuances and was sort of 'meh' about them. The battle system seemed different and I was pretty intrigued, As the game went on, I found that I really disliked the Draw system and started to wonder why I even bothered playing the game.

    The reason was the characters had grown on me and despite the plot floundering... they felt real as characters. Squall had real character growth as well as the rest of the cast. If I was playing the game for an interactive soap opera, it would have been a perfect game. But... it's not. It's a mediocre RPG with great characters and amazing ambiance.

    In 13 it was the opposite. Everyone in the cast left a good first impression with me. I agree with you about Hope. When I played 13 it was fairly new and the Hope bashing hadn't begun. Early on I connected quickly as I know the pain of losing a parent. The glaring exception was Sahz of course. But with my experience with Anime and knowing Japan's track record I took it with a grain of salt. By the end he was my favorite character, and his son is just so adorable.

    What won me over (albeit slowly) was the battle system. Just like 12 when I got into the battles I found myself micromanaging the fine details. Personally I wish they would have kept to Gambits, but the Shifts get really fun when the battles get hard in the last hours of the game.

    It's almost like someone at square had the gall to say: "Really, how fun is it to select the Fight command over and over." I give them respect from a gameplay stand point for that. However the story was dry and the friggen novel they expected you to read to understand things on the start menu... yeah... Totally agree with you there. At least they didn't lose their luster with monster designs and area renders. The game just lacked heart.

  4. Oh, man, FF12...looking back, I'm not sure how I feel about that one. I mean, I would gladly recognize that it's good, and I don't mind watching the action -- gameplay, story, or otherwise -- for myself. But for some reason, I just couldn't play it myself. The Gambit system didn't feel right to me, though that might have been because I was coming off of the direct-combat systems of a few Tales games. But I like it (even though I can't say it's my favorite); Basch was cool, and Balthier was cool, and I remember laughing like crazy when my brother's Basch went absolutely BERSERK and slashed a boss eight times in a row to win the fight.

    But I get what you're saying about 13 -- yeah, it did lack heart. It's a game that I feel should (and could) work in theory, and the framework is there. It's just as if everything is shifted slightly to the left or right of the line, where everything should be if it wants to come together for a great game. The ideas are there, the world is there, the gameplay is there...if nothing else, the developers deserve some credit for putting anything together in spite of troubled production. But it just feels so off on everything that it seriously damages the whole product. And maybe the fact that there was potential, and that it's one of those "so close, yet so far" situations is what's the most depressing of all.

  5. FF12's gambit system made me feel like a genius general. You set them up just right and grinding levels is sipping tea as your men carve a path through foes. Boss battles usually require Micro management but there is something satisfying about winning a hard boss battle without controlling anything but the point character.

    The thing about 12 is you CAN do everything yourself. You can turn it into a standard FF Game and in that light it's fairly cookie cutter. But I'd like to point out that Final Fantasy Tactics was one of the longest games I've ever played, and not for good reasons. This is like FFT for impatient people.

  6. Final Fantasy Tactics? Why are there so many FF games I haven't played? Motherfuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu- oh, well, I played Dissidia for a while before my PSP inexplicably burnt out, so there's that.

    But back on topic. In retrospect, I probably should have given FF12 more time than I did. Given that I have some fond memories of being a top-class CO in Advance Wars, I don't mind a little strategy-doo here and there. Plus Basch. Basch and Balthier and Ashe, and a little Fran on the side, and maybe even Vaan. And maybe get the Zodiac Spear with little more than extrasensory clairvoyance.

  7. I went back and read all four parts. FF13, what a horrendous way to represent JRPGs in this generation. Dear sir, I commend you for suffering through this detailed character analysis (of sorts). Hopefully the blood pressure will not be a problem for a while.

    For years I wanted to play a JRPG, but I never knew what game to try out first (and if I had the console to play it). Because of the [once good] reputation of Final Fantasy, I thought I could try there. Thanks to the internet and my PS3, I can at least try FF7. Otherwise, I've been watching play throughs and reviews. After watching someone play FF8, I could say I was interested from start to finish despite the lack of logic in the plot.

    Otherwise, I only played one Final Fantasy game. A cashier at Gamestop was trying to impress me and he gave me the collector's edition of FF12 for $13.00. Even though the game is very dry and slow paced (the combat was annoying too), that deal was too hilariously good to pass up. Once I heard the reception to FF13, I sighed in relief that it was not my first taste of the franchise.

    Still very curious about Versus XIII though. Sounds extremely interesting, though I still bet it will not change fling SquareEnix out of the hellhole they dug themselves.

    Meanwhile, Spoony's extremely long and epic review-rant of FF13 will keep me entertained for a while.

  8. YES. You don't know how long I've been waiting for Spoony to take down FF13 -- he's been teasing it and teasing it, but nothing for months. And then it starts, and it's just like...like the clouds parted, and a ray of sunshine started beaming down. (Question is, who will he cosplay as in the finale?)

    In any case, I am more than eager to forget that this "Lightning Saga" ever happened, even if Squeenix isn't. 13's a bust, but I'm still a little hopeful about Versus 13...to an extent. That one's been in the works for...what, going on seven years? Ignoring the fact that that's an extremely troublesome time to spend on one game announced so long ago, I'm worried that the writing is on par with vanilla FF13. At the very least, I hope they spent those seven-ish years pounding out a good story. That seems like the first thing you'd want to make for an RPG, but, well, here we are.

    Also, if you're looking for a good JRPG, go with one of Atlus' games. Persona 3 and Persona 4 are fantastic. Devil Survivor and its sequel are fantastic, too. If you can track it down, pick up Devil Summoner 2. There's a crap-load of options for you beyond just Final Fantasy; in fact, one of these days I need to make a list of good -- and underrated -- JRPGs. Anyone who thinks the genre's dead or overly-cliched has NOT been paying attention. It's that simple.

  9. Oh, please do! I'd greatly appreciate a decent list.

    From my perspective the JRPG genre seems "dead" because Final Fantasy (and Kingdom Hearts to a degree) is the only series that gets a consistent abundance of publicity. Once 13 came out, I heard of no other JRPG until 13-2 came out. I only learned of Atlus and the Shin Megami Tensei franchise after 'Catherine' came out.

    The only other RPGs that get any attention are typically only available for the PC and/or is a MMO. Or the rest are "western" RPGs.

    Otherwise this generation is swamped in enough shooters that it seems no other genres exist... or matter. It's not the PS2 days anymore.

  10. JRPGs are only dead in the sense that Squeenix's bumbles this generation have carpet-bombed their credibility. I'll get into this a little later when I start doing posts about FF13-2, but for now I'll just say this: they're moving into the realm of self-parody. The problem is, people are laughing for all the wrong reasons.

    Honestly, I'm baffled by the complete lack of attention the Tales series gets. Those have been (and still are) consistently good JRPGs since their US resurgence with Tales of Symphonia. Consistently good stories, consistently good character development -- story-wise and gameplay-wise -- and consistently good combat...combat that does away with that seemingly-hated "turn based combat". Nobody has a right to say JRPGs are dead while turning their backs on things like Tales of Graces f and the upcoming Tales of Xillia. And even if they did, they can't just ignore the releases on the DS and PSP. Or do those just not count?

    Whatever. There are good games out there; you just have to look for them, you know?

  11. Have you ever heard of the blogs fyeah controversial entertainment and fyeah controversial characters? They are kind of hit or miss(mostly miss). The former did a defense of FFXIII. What if you ever get a chance to read it could you say what you thought their defense?

  12. Never heard of those blogs, but I'll be sure to give them a look at some point. Still, I can tell you upfront that even if I strongly, strongly, STRONGLY disagree with opinions about this so-called Lightning Saga (*fights to keep organs in check* ), I'll respect those that would defend it...assuming they can make a strong case for the game and not just say "I like it because it's pretty" or something.

    Like I've said before, I wish I could enjoy the game like others have, and I don't mind reading up on why people feel the way they do. That in mind? Well, this blog would be a hell of a lot less interesting if it (and I) didn't have a figurative arch-nemesis to constantly do battle with. It's almost as if I'm typecasting myself by constantly talking about Final Fantasy.

    Then again, those posts seem to get the most responses out of people. Hell, I practically forgot I wrote this post until I saw that you commented on it. So...hey, I guess I'm doing something right.