Final Fantasy XIII Reader Review
This review was written by a gamer that has been playing JRPGs since the SNES era and with these being his top 5 JRPGs to date:
- Final Fantasy VI
- Chrono Trigger
- Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
- Final Fantasy XII
- Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
"If the player is watching non-interactive movies more than actually playing then it's not a game." ~ Shigeru Miyamoto (Director: Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
"If a games designer chooses to have the story be the most important part of the video game then he must find a way to tell it interactively to the player. Even if it's a strictly linear and pre-scripted story, there needs to be some form of interactivity from the player when it's being presented. To have the most important part of a video game not require any interactivity from the player is a serious game design mistake." ~ Fumito Ueda (Director: Ico, Shadow of the Colossus)
"The most important part of a RPG is the player feeling like they are taking the role of a character in a fully realised fantasy world. They can explore, visit various towns and places, talk to people, customise their character, collect various items, and defeat monsters. The story is not the focus of the experience and is only there to make the atmosphere of the fantasy world more interesting and engaging during the course of the game." ~ Yuji Horii (Creator of the JRPG genre)
"Although the FF series has greatly advanced over the years, it's still a RPG. FF tends to be mostly story driven so I always try to balance the experience by putting more effort into the RPG gameplay." ~ Hiroyuki Itou (Director: FFVI, FFIX, FFXII)
FINAL FANTASY XIII (FINAL FANTASY is referred to as "FF" for the rest of the review) is the latest main series FF from SQUARE ENIX (SQUARE ENIX referred to as "SQEX")and has been developed for the past 5 years by Product Development Division - 1. FFXIII is a game that numerically follows FFXII but the game is nothing like it as FFXII was made by a completely different development team called Product Development Division - 4. FFXIII instead is an evolution of the game design of the last main series FF by Product Development Division - 1 called FFX. However, the decision to skip the gaming innovations of FFXII and go back to the incredibly restricting and interactive move-like game design of FFX is ultimately the downfall of FFXIII.
FFXIII is an interactive movie with RPG elements. This is not a video game and it doesn't even try to pretend it is one. It's unashamedly a CGI movie with a stylish battle system and pretty character growth system tacked on. Summing up the game is really that simple.
The leader of Product Development Division - 1 is called Yoshinori Kitase and he studied to be a Film Director before he joined SQEX. He has openly said in interviews that it's the intention of the games made by his division to play like interactive movies. After FFVII: Advent Children (a CGI movie released on DVD in 2005) was made he said in the making of bonus footage contained on the DVD that he, "Always wanted to make something like this." The problem with Yoshinori Kitase is that he values film and cinematic qualities over gameplay and good game design and that mentality has greatly affected in the game design choices of FFXIII.
Firstly, what is the game design of a RPG?
It's about the player feeling like they actually have a role in the story and the world they are playing in. Therefore, what needs more depth is the story being told in a way that the player actually feels like they are taking the role of the character in the story. The player must also feel like the world of the story is a real place in which the player characters can fully interact with.
That's the definition of a Role-Playing Game. If it just has a deep story that doesn't mean it's a RPG as any video game genre can have a deep story.
The game design in FFXIII is atrocious and a shining example of why games will never become a majorly respected art form. If you want to make a film then make a film; if you want to make a game then make a game. If you want to make a hybrid then go for it but don't call it a video game but instead an interactive movie and if you're making interactive movies then don't classify yourself as a games designer. I don't know why this beautiful medium that's built on interactivity as a foundation has people that keep using lengthy non-interactive cinema scenes as the main focus of the game. If I want to see pretty CGI from SQEX that I can't interact with then I'd watch FFVII: Advent Children Complete or FF: The Spirits Within on Blu-ray in 1080p.
A film is a motion picture so no matter what the director tries to do it will always primarily be a visual moving photo. With a video game, it's interactive computer entertainment so no matter what the director is trying to accomplish it should be focused on the interactivity as a foundation. It can tell a deep story but it must first embrace the interactivity just like film must first embrace being a motion picture.
FFXIII has been in development for almost 5 years and yet it appears that most of the focus was put on story and graphics. The bad thing about this is that story and graphics can both be done in cinema. Interactivity can not be done in film and as such is what needs to be focused on and perfected in order for games to really stand on their own two feet as an art form. FFXIII doesn't even try to present any form of interactive story telling and is instead a story that is presented to the player like a film.
The game structure is simply running down beautiful but alleyway-linear maps and then getting into some non-seamless battles and then watching a long and non-interactive cut-scene. This repeats for almost 40 hours of the game. You eventually reach a huge open environment near the end of the game but that whole big area is completely bland compared to the superb art direction of the alleyway-linear areas and it is also thrown in far too late into the gameplay experience.
Graphics, Atmosphere and Immersion
FFXIII is the most beautiful video game you will ever set your eyes on. The Art Direction is superb but it's expected as it's by Isamu Kamikokuryo (who was Co-Art Director of FFXII by Product Development Division - 4) but sadly Kamikokuryo has not been able to show the full extent of his talent. When he worked on FFXII he was allowed to design fully explorable locations and cities. With FFXIII he has been restrained to design alleyway-linear maps and his art just used mainly as background with no real feel of immersion via exploration and discovery.
Also, sexy graphics do not make a good game and even though FFXIII is so damn sexy to look at it really doesn't play like sex. It would appear that Product Development Division - 1 focused so much on graphics that they didn't bother to focus on immersion. The majority of the locations in FFXIII resemble a movie set as they are straight to the point with no real breathing space. You often feel that if you could move away out of the alleyway-linear maps you'd bump into the camera crew and set decorators. The world just doesn't feel like a real place at all. It has nice sci-fi atmosphere but you never feel fully immersed and that it's a real place, instead you feel like it's just the setting of a film and that you have only one direction to move in that the film director has planned for you.
Product Development Division - 1 has even axed the towns, shops, conversable NPCs, side-quests and other JRPG staples. People say it's been streamlined but I instead say they have just removed it in their pursuit to make the game feel more like an interactive movie.
FFXIII is a shining example of a game that refuses to stand proudly on both legs as a video game and instead leans heavily on the film medium for support. To think this game took half a decade to produce and what we have is an experience that is not revolutionary is a crying shame. FFXII, which was released on PS2, is more innovative and more revolutionary as a RPG than this game is and it was released on far inferior hardware.
What hurts more is that FFXIII has game design that is worse than JRPGs released on even the SNES. That is embarrassing for a game that took 5 years to make. It's clear that the majority of the time spent on this game went on the graphics and story presentation but none of these aspects are important to make a great gameplay experience
The bottom line is simple: If you're buying looking for the sexiest and most beautiful looking interactive movie ever made then buy this without hesitation. If you're looking for a RPG with more than pretty graphics and instead with also good RPG game design and interactive story telling then you should pass.
4 / 10