By Bryan Smith on December 6, 2015 at 12:30pm
Ah, “Final Fantasy XIII.” A fan favorite… punching bag for the series. Or at the very least, this game is the most divisible main “Final Fantasy” game… for many reasons. There’s absolutely no denying that there are flaws with this game. Huge flaws. It doesn’t help that “Final Fantasy XIII” was presented during the time Square Enix was going through a… downward spiral in quality and tried to broaden itself to try and appeal to a Western audience foremost with Edios games.
So today’s “How to Fix” is obviously making “Final Fantasy XIII” better. I’m not one of those who think this game is the worst. It may be the worst main “Final Fantasy” game (as in terms of when the game first came out), but that’s not saying a whole lot. That’s like saying “Cars 2” is the worst Pixar movie. Sure, there’s quite a bit wrong with it, but it isn’t like “Sonic the Hedgehog 2006” for the series. With a good amount of tweaks, this could have been a lot more enjoyable. I like quite a bit with this game, but oh boy, do the things wrong here make their presence known.
Now, considering the “Final Fantasy” games are so reliant on storytelling, I’m splitting game and story fixes. Both areas need heavy fixes separately.
Oh, and SPOILERS to “Final Fantasy XIII,” “Final Fantasy XIII-2,” “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII,” “Final Fantasy X,” and probably several other “Final Fantasy” games are a plenty here. Be warned.
Game Fix #1: Stop with the Hallways
I believe JonTron coined this term a while back.
Of course, this video exaggerated the matter to extreme measures, but the game is one of the most linear RPGs I can name off the top of my head. An RPG that is this linear is a bad thing. Sure, you have your leveling up and experimentation of the paradigm system and the Crystarium, but that stuff is your backbone, as in without that, there wouldn’t be much RPG to your game. Gameplay soon becomes monotonous as you run down this single pass, fight monsters, fiddle with your stats, find items, and that’s about it. There aren’t any side quests, NPCs to interact with, or cute distractions until you get to Grand Pulse. That’s at Chapter 11… of 13.
The obvious fix here is to strip away the hallways and make it more expansive, explorative, and engaging. “Final Fantasy X” had been called linear too, but not to this extreme. There have been people to chat with, side quests, a mini-game involving the made-up game Blitzball, option bonuses, and more starting rather early- probably even before you get your full team.
Game Fix #2: Make Fights More Interesting, Not One Option/Button Battles
The battles also tend to get monotonous. When you fight monsters and bosses, you’re in an active battle system like many “Final Fantasy” before. However, you control only one character, the party leader, and you are limited to abilities that a certain paradigm (basically your class) has. These paradigms can also be switched with a custom list of paradigms selected for each character before battle. While that’s an interesting system, there’s one slight thing to make it all more streamlined- the auto-chain.
What the auto-chain does is that it tells your character, the party leader, to do a list of commands that the game thinks is the best option. Don’t be fooled though, as bosses will utterly destroy you if you only use the auto-chain and nothing else. For regular monsters, however, a simple button press can easily defeat them. True that the auto-chain would be great thing for item/level grinding, the auto-chain clears through a lot of enemies as early as the first chapter when you get your footing.
Considering that the first ten chapters are basically hallways with little to do other than walk to the next cut-scene, find items, and fight monsters, these battles really get repetitive fast. A lot of the enemies don’t require a shift in paradigm as beating the tar out of them or casting spells staggers them, making wailing on them by physical attacks even easier. The simple fix to this is to make the enemies require more thought in them while making the paradigm system super quick to use and more beneficial.
Game Fix #3: Better Implementation of Paradigm System
This slightly applies to the previous fix, but more in the opposite direction. The regular battles tend to get too easy, while the boss battles tend to be more brutal than necessary, especially when trying to go for the five-star rankings. Whereas the regular monsters go down by just wailing on them, bosses require to better utilizing of the paradigm system. While that might not be such a bad thing, this makes things extremely tight and sometimes near impossible to do anything in a timely matter.
The problem occurs when you need to switch to a different paradigm for a particular party member or for the whole party. Say that a boss only does one regular attack before it does a massive, heavy-hitting one that absolutely requires a Medic class. You need to cycle through the menu, get into the paradigm menu, select the one that you want, wait for the characters to do their animations (which shortens after about three shifts), and then go to another plan of attack or defense. You get a few heals in there by your teammate while you pray that the boss doesn’t go after you because you’re low on health. If the boss decides to go after the Medic healing your team, you’ll have to change paradigms again or use a rather limited amount of healing items.
These boss battles rely too much on the RNG factor that you have to pray that the boss decides not to attack when you try to adjust or not to use a particular attack that bones the whole party. The whole cycling of the paradigm system, while it could work in theory, isn’t as fast and smooth as it could be to be useful if you’re too late to even react. There will be times that you’d just throw yourself at the boss numerous times until it decides it had enough and lets you win. The best fix for this is to make the shifts to other paradigms is to make them super seamless. Funny enough, “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII” does make the class system more seamless in battle. Granted, it’s limited to a few costumes per battle, but it’s more reliable than the system here.
But uh-oh, the boss decides to go after you and you die, prompting a game over. It doesn’t matter if your other two party members are alive and well- if you so much die, that’s it. This mechanic is extremely stupid and has no merit whatsoever when every other “Final Fantasy” game, including spin-offs that let you control other party members, lets you carry on. Get rid of this stupid feature.
Story Fix #1: Lightning, Snow, and Hope Need Better Characterization
Oh, I’m sure there’ll be those who might rage at this statement. So I’m going to say that I think Sazh, Fang, and Vanille are actually great characters (despite what other Americans say about Vanille and her voice). Sazh is just a man tired of all of this shit happening around him and is trying to get his son back. Fang, while being a snide and cocky person, would punch a whole through the planet just to get at Vanille, and she literally would too. Vanille is a shockingly great portrayal of trying to mask grief and guilt, as she tries to smile a lot and make others happy while she’s hurting inside. I say these three characters are pretty good.
Can’t exactly say the same about Hope, Lightning, and Snow. Let’s start with Hope. Yes, I know he’s supposed to be timid and goes through serious trauma when he sees his mother dying and blames Snow, a fellow party member. That’s about it when it comes to him though, at least until he follows Lightning’s footsteps. Ironically, he fixes himself closer to the end of the game and he becomes rather bad-ass in “Final Fantasy XIII-2,” where he has a bit of a comedic side and is rather caring. That doesn’t happen while he’s going through his “sad” phase or before it either.
Then there’s Snow. He’s basically the “I’m the hero and everything will be ok” kind of guy. He’s also rather stupid when it comes to plans. Going “guns blazing” into a rebellion, which gets people killed. Gee, that won’t go wrong at all for anyone-
Whoops. There goes Nora. Then there’s the “I’m going to kill you all” line when Snow tries to get people to run away from the party. Sure it works, but the PSICOM sees this and… well, they aren’t going to believe Snow that he and his friends are the good guys. Look, I get people are stupid, but trying to save your lives and completing your overall goal requires some effort in intelligence. The funny thing (not “Haha” funny) is that other than being stupid, brash, and hothead and the heroism/passion, there isn’t much else for him. He doesn’t go through a “oh, I should learn from this and be a better person” phase or even acknowledge his behavior. Static character or not, he’s not interesting if he is willing to do the same thing without trying to change himself for the better.
With that, there’s Lighting. Oh boy, Lightning. In an effort to try and alleviate the vitriol that could be flung at me, I’ll say that in concept Lighting being a bad-ass actually works for part of her character. She’s quite skilled and talented at what she does and she keeps a level head. Notice that I said “part of her character.” Being a bad-ass doesn’t constitute being a good character. Auron from “Final Fantasy X” is a badass character. His toughness and will to fulfill his promise to his friends kept him alive, despite him actually dying. His will refused to let him die and he continues anyways. That is bad-ass.
As to Lightning, she comes off as a little bland. In fact, her character type of being the serious, no-nonsense warrior-lady who opens up to others as the story goes on has been done a lot before and Lightning doesn’t offer that much else to make her unique. Hell, her emotions barely get past the serious-face that she usually has. “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII” even repeats her stoic trait by removing her emotions and turning them into Lumina, turning her back to her rather distant and cold self. Lumina rejoins Lightning and her “emotions” return once more. Sure, she shows some emotion, like joy, sadness, and the like, with others, but those are rare. Her stoic personality is also very prevalent when it comes to her portrayal outside of her main series, painting her character as such without anything else to help.
Speaking of Lumina, here’s some backstory for her and Lightning. Originally, Lightning in “FFXIII” was supposed to be rather flirtatious where her sister, Serah, was supposed to be a bit more serious. That was changed, however, seeing that Serah was supposed to be a party member yet she got scrapped, being used as a NPC instead. While other changes such as Fang being a man were probably for the better, I think giving Lightning that flirtatious side would have added some depth. Having a serious yet flirtatious warrior really hasn’t been done before. It’s rather apparent that Lumina got those traits later on, though. I guess… that’s something.
Look. The bottom line is that a good character is able to show more than just one emotion. I want to see Lightning doing something other than throwing a nasty look at others. The first time I saw Lighting smile with joy (which was rare to begin with), I was genuinely shocked. That makes a character more rounded and dynamic. I want to see Lightning more emotional (as in happy, sad, curious, intrigued) and show it.
Story Fix #2: Show the Story/Explain It Naturally, Not Tell the Important Stuff
Reading or needing supplementary material should never be a requirement to know or enjoy the story. That’s like having a movie, but saying that in order to understand the backstory to the main character, you have to read the accompanying book before watching it. Knowing all the major details is important to conveying your game’s world, but by hiding them in so many text excerpts as the story goes won’t go smoothly.
I’m going to point to The Spoony One, where he took a (much harsher review and observation at the game than I would, mind you), look at “FFXIII.” The datalog stuff becomes insufferable, as most of the information is in there and isn’t explained well or at all during cutscenes and the like.
Video game writers, you are no longer in the era where telling the player every single detail is going to work. Video games are a visual, auditory, and controlled experience where showing works marvels as opposed to telling. Giving all of these datalogs with little to no context is boring. This is a brand new world to explore, yet, other than the datalogs, we aren’t given a clear picture of scope. When and how did PSICOM get funded? How did Galenth Dysley earn the trust of the people of Cocoon to be the Primarch? Did he show (or fake) such virtue that people unanimously thought he was the best person to be it? Say what you will of Seymour from “Final Fantasy X,” at least there his motivations and character were well established as opposed to just being told that he is an important character.
We need more showing, not telling. Convey your message better in your visual medium because we can only go so far with text from the game’s developers telling us what is what.
Story Fix #3: Make the World Come Alive
This somewhat ties into fixing how information is revealed to the player. Obviously the game needs to give the audience information on this world. How do you go about that? Simple: create the world to explore. Remember that “Final Fantasy XIII” is a RPG game, right? This isn’t a side game like “Dissidia Final Fantasy” or the like. RPGs are for players to explore and build the world with actions and by finding out about the world. A player needs a world to explore, so let’s start there.
A world needs people to interact with. “Final Fantasy XIII” is notorious for not being able to communicate with people for a long time. You don’t get that cohesive privilege until you get to Grand Pulse, and that’s rather late in the game. If you decide to go after the endgame stuff then, it’s back to the hallways. Grand Pulse is fully explorable and allows for side quests, where you can find out about Grand Pulse and what happened there by exploring. With Cocoon though, there’s a strong chance the information is going to be in those text blurbs you’ll have to read on your own time.
The fix is simple: instead of having empty strips of lands with only enemies and a few treasure pieces, how about you fill them up with NPCs, areas that characters can examine, and more. RPGs are meant to have interactions, not corridors that only house monsters and items.
Story Fix #4: Game and Story Cohesion
In some cases, having the gameplay separate from the story makes the game more enjoyable. Take “The Last of Us” for example. The enemies, especially the Clickers, can’t see your ally characters- only you. It would get exceptionally annoying if you, the player, had to reset to the last checkpoint because Ellie, Tess, or anyone else got instakilled by a Clicker, which was no fault of your own. That kind of thing should be separate from the gameplay or you’re going to have a bad time.
The opposite applies to “Final Fantasy XIII” sometimes. Take the beginning of the game for example. Lightning shows off her awesome low-gravity ability with the help of Grav-Con Unit to combat enemies and to jump from lethal heights. After one jump, Lightning never uses it again nor during battle. Another example comes in Snow (It’s like the writers had a hard time with this game or something). Supposed, his coat is his weapon, which makes him super strong. He’s capable of punching giant war machine dogs to death while everyone else has to use guns. Yet… he can’t lift up Hope’s mother Nora while dangling for dear life. I have yet to hear any explanation as to why Snow couldn’t have lifted her up then himself. Snow’s coat wasn’t damaged, as he fights enemies letter fine.
It’s these little things that add up. I want to do those things Lightning does in the game. Why can’t I? Snow can probably suplex these giant monsters to death, but can’t in cut-scenes. A little consistency in character abilities would be nice.
Series Fix #1: Ease Off of Lightning
This fix is more geared towards “Final Fantasy” in general than “Final Fantasy XIII.” Lightning as a character has been bombarding representation for “Final Fantasy” like crazy. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, if it weren’t for the fact that she was conceived in 2010 and her character… well; I already stated that up above. Say what you will about “Final Fantasy VII & VIII,” they’ve been around since 1997 and 1999 respectfully and Cloud Strife and Squall Leonheart weren’t plastered onto everything “Final Fantasy” related. They have over 10 years, closing in on 20, for a healthy representation.
She has had an event for “Final Fantasy XIV” called “Lightning Strikes,” been in countless mobile/card games, been the frontrunner for “Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy” (Noruma went on record he wanted Sazh instead), where she only had two years of exposure, been a default character in the “Theatrhythm Final Fantasy” games, and is included as a costume for Aya Brea in “The 3rd Birthday.” Keep in mind, a lot of these only happened in 2012.
Hell, that’s not even counting the two sequels the game got that really didn’t need to happen. Lightning was rather advertised for the second game… despite being playable very briefly and becomes at best a side party member alongside the monsters you can get. Then there’s “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.” Lightning is the first character out of the mainstream series to get a game titled after her… before the title itself “Final Fantasy.” In fact, she basically becomes the equivalent of Jesus in the game and becomes strong enough to be basically being God. If that doesn’t scream trying to push a character upfront, I certainly don’t know what would. This reminds me of another series where a character overshadows the other characters and series because of the creator… Alice from the “Resident Evil” movie series ring a bell?
Look, it’s fine that you like Lightning. She’s not the worst character out there and she can be quite a badass (when she isn’t being overtly stuck-up) when used right. You can’t argue, however, that Lightning hasn’t been pushed into tons of “Final Fantasy” material at any chance. Other characters need love. I want more Vivi and Terra damn it!
Let's Bring the RPG and World Building Back, Baby!
As I wrote this, I found that maybe a “How to Fix” for “Final Fantasy XIII” might be a little silly. Why’s that? Well, “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII” actually addresses a lot of the complaints following the first two games. I shall not touch “Final Fantasy XIII-2,” as that has time travel, and anything with time travel is just a mess to strip apart. “Lightning Returns” felt like going back to form, as I felt cohesion in this crumbling world. NPCs have stories to tell and you can help them. You can explore big areas and find stuff! It’s actually refreshing to see a game that actually takes complaints and concerns and tries to make a better game.
However, it’s important to take notes on why something isn’t so fondly looked upon. “Final Fantasy XIII” was a dark point… darker than the norm anyways, for the series. I hear the linearity of the game was inspired by the appeal of a first-person shooter. Gee, can’t imagine why that might irk some people… “Resident Evil 5,” you have some insight on that?
I think the development on this game had some strong negative affects that ultimately took away from what could have a brilliant game. Along with Serah getting cut as a playable character (in “FFXIII” anyways) and Lightning losing her flirtatious/carefree side, Vanille was supposed to be the main protagonist character- not Lightning. Seeing I think Vanille is a more interesting character (though the first draft of Lightning would have said otherwise), I believe that could have been for the better instead of having yet another serious warrior character who opens up their feelings near the end because of friendship.
Development hell is probably what caused some problems for this game, seeing this was supposed to be a killer app for the PlayStation 3 early on. Seeing that some of the characters are rather despised, the linearity of the game knocked the RPG feeling out, and key points of the story to better understand the world had to be read in a datalog as opposed to the game naturally telling the players, things just didn’t quite add up as well as they should have. “Final Fantasy XIII” came close to being exceptionally good, but not quite close enough to escape major criticism.
So what do you think should be fixed to making “Final Fantasy XIII” a better game? Are there overall improvements to the series that you feel should be made?
JonTron The Spoony One