FFXIII cast from left to right: Snow, Vanille, Fang, Lightning (center), Sazh, Hope and Serah.
It took a while, but I finished the game Final Fantasy XIII. I disciplined myself, and avoided looking up any details on the Internet about the story, and so when I finally finished the game, I was really touched by the ending. If you don’t plan on playing the game, you can see the ending here (skip to 12:00). I thought it was a very beautiful story about friendship and finding one’s true home.
I’ve been playing Final Fantasy games since the original, and to me this is one of the finest. It was different than previous games, and this annoyed some FF fans,1 but I really liked the format, the tighter story-line, the futuristic setting, and so on. It was refreshing and new, and still had that brilliant creativity that sets Final Fantasy apart from other games.
The story is set in a world that is actually two worlds: a floating, utopia called Cocoon that is isolated from the larger world below named Pulse. People of Cocoon live in a kind of high-tech “bubble” where their needs are provided for, but they also live in constant fear of the wild and dangerous world of Pulse below.
The people of Pulse, meanwhile, fear and hate the “nest of vipers” floating in the sky. Wars have been fought between them, and for Cocoon, they fear any contamination from Pulse that would shatter their society. Both groups are manipulated by god-like beings called Fal’Cie (fal-see) who can “brand” someone to do a special task. That person gains great power, but if they don’t finish their task in time, they become a tortured soul, a monster. If they succeed their task, they become crystal and sleep until they’re needed again. So, being branded by Fal’Cie is terrible either way.
Thus the story begins right in the middle of a “purge” where Cocoon citizens are being taken away because they are “contaminated”, but otherwise, the player has no idea what’s going on:
The characters are what made this game so great I think. There are six main characters total, which is less than other Final Fantasy games, but I think that this gave Square Enix more opportunity to develop them more fully.
In the beginning, the characters are forced to work together to survive, but often don’t like each other, but over time they come to understand one another, and their friendship deepens. But what was interesting was the particular relationships between characters.
For example, the main heroine, Lightning, is very angry at Snow because he wanted to marry her sister Serah against her permission, and she blames him for not protecting her before she was lost. Similarly, the young man, Hope, blames Snow for the death of his mother and nearly kills him at one point. Snow is very cocky and can’t control his mouth, so he tends to annoy people a lot, but as the story progresses, they realize that Snow is also very sincere (if maybe a bit naive), and he becomes a leader of the group and a kind of older brother to Hope. Also, Lightning influences Hope a lot too. At first, she is full of hate herself, and Hope wants to kill Snow, but Lightning sees what she is doing to him, and talks him out of it. In the process, she learns to open up as well.
Speaking of Hope, he starts out the game very angry and unable to handle the situation. He had been a spoiled young man and was resentful toward the others, but Vanille was always very kind to him and helped him even when he might not have deserved it. I liked Vanille’s character because even though she carried a terrible burden,2 she was always very sweet, positive and kind to the others.
Similarly, the relationship between Sazh and Vanille was interesting. Sazh is the oldest member of the group, and has lost his son in the conflict, and so he takes care of the young Vanille until he discovers her terrible secret. Sazh is deeply angry and depressed, but he learns to forgive her and even rescues her at one point. Sazh is one my favorite characters because he’s the most human in many ways (speaking as a father myself). Sazh, as a father, cares about Hope and Vanille and wants to protect them even though he failed to protect his own son, and stays within the group, even when things get very difficult. Being a father myself, I can really appreciate his more mature, fatherly relationship to the younger members.
The relationship between Lightning and Serah also parallels the one between Vanille and Fang. Lightning and Serah are sisters, but their relationship is cold and distant, while Vanille and Fang grew up in the same village together, and suffered the same fate. Fang is very protective of Vanille (like Lightning to Serah), but the two maintain a very close friendship even during the most difficult times.
All of these struggles and relationships made the story really compelling for me, and the ending very moving. It was one of those classic stories where it’s all about the journey, and how they learn to forgive and grow together.
Gameplay was quite different than past FF games I played before. I remember the old games where you had to pick each character and what they were supposed to do in battle. FFXIII changed all that using a ‘paradigm’ system, where they characters knew what to do (and usually made good choices), so you had to determine what was the best strategy.
It took some getting used to: I kept ignoring the “auto-battle” command and kept picking individual attacks, then I realized the computer was doing a better job.
Once I figured this out, i could spend more planning strategy, and switching strategies quickly (or “paradigms” as they call it) when needed. This was necessary too because I died a lot. Usually when I play Final Fantasy games, I might die once or twice, but in FF13, I must have died at least 20 times within the first few chapters. It forced me to stop being lazy and pay attention to what was going on, and start being more disciplined with strategies, and that helped in later chapters where I died less often, and got better about experimenting with strategies. This really made it fun for me because the last two chapters are grueling. Each fight is long, and dangerous. If you don’t know how to use good strategy, then you’ll just get crushed.
Also, I have to say the game’s graphics and sound were gorgeous. I usually don’t care about such things (I still play games from 20 years ago, so I don’t really care about graphics), but the artwork, scenes and such were inspired. As I write this, I am enjoying the FF13 soundtrack too. :)
When I was a kid, I loved FF1 because it was a good adventure. The story was pretty thin, but it had a lot of imagination, and gave a good challenge. Like old NES games, there wasn’t much room for error: if you made a mistake, you died and would have to start over. But as time went on, FF games had stronger and stronger story (FF4 and FF7 were my personal favorites), but the patterns started to emerge. FF9 was the last one I played3 and I never finished it. I liked the characters and such, but I just felt I’d play it before.
For me, FF13 was a big break from earlier FF games and it took me a bit of time to get used to it, but I could feel that they were doing something different, inspired. FF13 had a lot of imagination, like the older FF games I used to play, and I am glad they changed things because even though I am a Final Fantasy fan since the beginning, I felt the old format was running its course, and needed to try new directions, but still keep the same “soul” it had in past games. For me, FF13 succeeded in preserving that “soul”, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Regardless of what critics may say, I enjoyed the game a lot, and felt inspired by the story.
P.S. Kind of a double-post today. :)
1 I think people who disliked FF13 typically fell into two groups: those whose focus was gameplay only and didn’t like (or didn’t care for) the tight story-line format. The other group are those who just miss the old FF-style worlds, and couldn’t handle the change.
2 Vanille’s story makes a lot more sense when you play it through the second time also, especially the early chapters. What she says and expresses takes on a different meaning. Very poignant.
3 Always wanted to try FFX, but that was after I graduated college, and didn’t have much money. No Playstation back then. ;)