I wrote a review for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children a while back. In it, I went over some of its problems—it panders, has too many characters for its running time, and breaks its suspension of disbelief more than once. I also briefly touched on Cloud’s depression, which I plan to talk about in more detail today. Advent Children has a lot of things wrong with it, and as a whole, the movie simply does not work. Cloud’s character arc is one of those things. The movie doesn’t know how to handle mental health issues, and that makes Advent Children more than a little painful to watch at times. Cloud suffers from depression, but his depression never contributes to his character arc in a way that matters. Advent Children uses it to set up his internal conflict, but it never resolves his issues. Instead, Cloud’s depression is little more than a gimmick, and the way the movie handles it really drags on the story.
It’s been almost twenty years since SquareSoft abandoned its Nintendo loyalists for the sexy, polygonal temptations of the PlayStation: in 1997, Final Fantasy VII was released for the PS1 in all its blocky glory.
Platform and graphics aside, the game’s futuristic, cyberpunk setting also marked a new era for the series. While previous Light Warriors marveled at the steam engine between treks on their flightless Chocobo mounts, Cloud, Tifa, Barrett & Co. got helicopters and a spaceship.
But as I was replaying this game recently in anticipation of a PS4 remake in the near future, there wasn’t much reason to ponder over ’90s-era console wars, or fanboy rage at the shift in setting. Instead, I was repeatedly struck by how eerily prescient the whole thing felt. The game still has an outsized reputation in the history of JRPGs and console gaming, but more than anything, it should stand as a grave warning of the realities of 21st century life, as we live through it.
So here’s another belated review of a video game on my part, but are any of you even surprised by this anymore? Just you wait and I’ll have the Arkham City review up sometime next year! Okay, okay, putting all the jokes aside, let’s get right to it.
Now, before we even get into this game, we need to talk about the first one, and quite possibly the franchise as a whole.
So Final Fantasy XIII originally came out only a couple years ago, and it didn’t do very well. Oh, it was successful, but it got a lot a criticism. It’s not even the fact that it wasn’t a good game, but it certainly wasn’t a good Final Fantasy game. Ever since the release of Final Fantasy X, I kind of felt as though the creators were expecting the title to carry the games alone without any real effort being put into the works. The games as a whole have a lot of reccurring elements, and for the Final Fantasy franchise, that’s not bad, but it does give the game makers a lot less room to work with.
For example, there has to a character named Cid, an airship, summons of some kind, a world-wide catastrophe, Chocobos, Behemoths, and a variety of other beasts, etc. Not to mention the romance story that’s been prevalent for quite a few of the games. Also, at some point, the main characters will be excommunicated from and/or used as scapegoats for a powerful organization and spend the rest of the game on the run while trying to save the world from the aforementioned catastrophe. Another similarity is that the lead character will fight with some kind of sword, despite living in a society that has things like machine guns.
And yeah, all of these elements have been repeating throughout the games over and over again. But regardless, each game could still stand alone. Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII both have everything I just mentioned and more, and they are still two very different stories.
As of late, however, the games have been moving away from these things. The airship is all but nonexistent at this point, summons are occasionally absent—especially in the sequels—and that pesky romance has deteriorated into just about nothing since the release of XII. And while I’m all for a story that doesn’t have a romantic interest—because let’s face it; a romance born while saving the world from an all-powerful sorcerer is doomed to failure—by moving away from these things, the games are slowly losing what it is that makes them Final Fantasy to begin with. And that’s not to say that all the games absolutely have to have everything I just mentioned. I can think of plenty of traditional Final Fantasy elements that don’t appear in numerous installments, but those games still have enough of everything else to make up for it in order to deserve the Final Fantasy title.
Now, yes, I thought Final Fantasy XIII was a good game. And no, it didn’t need the airship. It didn’t need a love story between the main character and a girl with magical powers. And it certainly didn’t need Moogles synthesizing weapons to make good gameplay. But this game needed a lot of things that it didn’t have. Yeah, I said it was good, but I’m going to reserve using that adjective as a description for the first five hours or so of playing. There are very few things at the beginning of this game that I can describe as being good, outside of visuals. That the game is boring as all get out for the first part—you know, the part that’s supposed to grab the player’s attention—before becoming enjoyable is not a positive. To be honest, I would much rather play games that start bad and end well than vice versa, but that’s still no excuse for a terrible beginning.
It doesn’t help that it’s near impossible to know what’s going on simply by playing the game and watching the story evolve. I believe I mentioned this in my Trailer Tuesdays: Final Fantasy XIII-2, but let me say it again: having a built-in dictionary is not a substitute for storytelling. At the beginning of the game, a whole bunch of what I assume to be innocent civilians are being murdered by some army called PSICOM during something called the Purge. Why? Well, it seems like a good way to draw a player in, because yeah, having this situation explained to us would be very interesting; however, new players of this game should be informed that an explanation isn’t going to happen because why the hell ever should anything about the situation we need to be invested in be explained to us when we can just read about it on our own time?
And for those who do read about it will also discover that the Purge cannot be explained without learning what the crap the fal’Cie, l’Cie, and Cie’th are. No, not even just that. The difference between the Pulse fal’Cie, l’Cie, and Cie’th compared to the Sanctum fal’Cie, l’Cie, and Cie’th. It’s like a word bomb just goes off, and until a player knows what everything means, nothing makes sense.
The problem here is that all the characters we’re introduced to already know everything about the situation, and therefore there’s no need for them to explain it. Sure, Sazh doesn’t know why people are being murdered rather than dumped down on Pulse, and Lightning, our main character, responds by saying that the Sanctum wouldn’t bother taking the danger all the way to Pulse when it can just get rid of it.
Now, I know those of you who have played this game will know what’s going on, but for those of you who haven’t and just read this explanation, I know you have to be confused, because what I just said tells you nothing. And that feeling of confusion is going to stick with you for the first eight hours of gameplay. It wasn’t until my second time through when I was more familiar with all these terms that I fully understood what was happening.
So not only did we have this problem from the very beginning—which, to be honest, isn’t so much a Final Fantasy problem as it is a storytelling problem in general—we had no sense of the world we were in. Final Fantasy games will span entire globes. Players can run around, explore new areas, chance fighting creatures they can’t possibly beat, you name it. In XIII, we have two worlds instead of one: Cocoon and Pulse. So, yeah, you may be thinking, there’s a lot of exploration to be done.
No, that doesn’t happen. Until the characters reach Pulse, which is over halfway through the game, the path is very linear. There are so many times the characters run through towns and have to stay on the main street, or they go through a forest and there’s only one trail. On top of that, after going through these areas, there was no going back. This is probably why the game didn’t get really enjoyable until Pulse.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 came out to tie up some of the holes in the first one. And according to the ending of this game, it’s not going to be the last FFXIII installment. Now, as to whether or not the sequel deserves the Final Fantasy logo, let me just say that it deserves it a lot more than the sequel to X did. X-2 may have been really fun, but it should have been called Final Fantasy Dress Up. (Though, to be honest, XIII-2 should probably be called Final Fantasy Pokémon.)
However, as a sequel, it didn’t meet all of my negative expectations. It still met some of them with flying colors, but it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Yeah, the makers apparently didn’t learn anything about introductions for this installment. It has a twenty minute intro where shit happens. What shit? Well, now that I’ve played the game for thirty hours I understand it, but actually watching it for the first time, my thoughts were along the lines of: What the crap is this?
It opens with Lightning, our previous main character, fighting some dude. Why? No one knows. What are the stakes? Take your pick. Why do we want Lightning to win? Because she used to be the main character, damn it!
Somewhere during all of this, a boy called Noel falls from a clock in the sky, and he and Lightning proceed to have a nice little chat, as though this is an everyday occurrence. We have the same problem here as before; there’s no outsider that needs things to be explained. Everyone knows what’s going on. When the audience is confused, we need a character who’s confused to relate to, and we’re just not getting that.
Noel eventually goes off to find Lightning’s sister, Serah. Serah is our main character this time. I like this change. We don’t get to see much of Serah in the first game, because she’s too busy being turned into a rock and remains crystallized until the very end. So it is nice getting to see more of her. Another reason that I like this is because I don’t really like Lightning. Had I not played Final Fantasy VII, my opinion would probably be different.
The franchise kind of started going downhill once the personality type of the main character went from badass emo, like Cloud and Squall from VII and VIII, to happy-go-lucky, like Zidane and Titus from IX and X. Even Vaan from XII is pretty abhorrent, especially considering that he has no reason to even be in the party, outside wanting to be a sky pirate. That whole story was carried by Ashe and Balthier. In XIII, the story is pretty much equally carried by all the characters, but Lightning was a means to cash in on the success of Cloud. She is a female version of him. I don’t need a female version of Cloud as my main character. If I want to play as Cloud, I’ll pull out FFVII. If I want a female Cloud, I’ll log into fanfiction.net. I’m sure I can find something. Oh, here‘s one. Enjoy.
What I want from a main character is for that character to be her own person and to not ride on the success of someone else. Even right down to her occupation, she is the same person as Cloud. As I said, I’d like her more had I not played VII, but I did. I don’t hate Lightning, but I am disappointed that there wasn’t more originality to her design.
So I did find playing with Serah much more enjoyable because of that. Our party consists of Serah, Noel, Mog the Moogle, and different monsters that they can tame—like I said, Final Fantasy Pokémon. After his meeting with Lightning, Noel finds Serah and explains that he’s from seven-hundred years in the future, and that the world is dying. Cocoon is going to fall from the sky in a couple hundred years and wipe out most of humanity in the process. On top of all that, because of all the time-jumping, paradoxes have started cropping up and this is only adding to the disaster.
I should mention that the plot of this game has almost nothing to do with the plot of the first game. Remember those words I shoved on all of you: fal’Cie, l’Cie, Cie’th? Yeah, those ones. The entire plot of the first game centers around them and bringing down the government known as the Sanctum. I expected going into XIII-2 that the characters would be adjusting to life without the Sanctum and dealing with issues of massive amounts of people having to move from Cocoon to Pulse, a place that the inhabitants of Cocoon are terrified of. I was not expecting time travel. The two games tie into each other very sloppily. In some ways I feel as though the writers had this all planned from the first one, and in other ways I don’t.
For example, in the first game, it’s kind of implied that Serah can see the future, and this really comes into play in this game. But at the same time, l’Cie and whatnot have nothing to do with anything anymore. It would have been very easy to just cut the first game out and start at this game and very little would need to be changed to do that. I don’t know what the next installment will be like, but this is my current feeling on the matter.
Other than all of that, my opinion of this game is pretty high. Much higher than I thought it would be. So here are a few points I like about it:
- People don’t trust Noel the moment he first arrives. He comes back in time and appears during a bit of a crisis. After saving Serah’s life, he info-dumps on her the whole time-travel thing and the problem with paradoxes. Serah and her friends are thankful for his help, but they don’t believe him at first, as they shouldn’t.
- Serah does not have Cloud’s personality, nor is she a carbon-copy of any other Final Fantasy character.
- There’s no dumbass love triangle. Serah is engaged to Snow, one of the characters from the first game. We only see Snow a couple times during Serah’s and Noel’s journey, and he does not worry about her hanging around another guy. What I like here is that Noel and Serah develop a platonic affection for each other. They love each other, just not romantically, which is not something we see a lot between a male and female character out saving the world. Furthermore, Snow isn’t jealous of the time they spend together. This is refreshing and it makes the relationship between him and Serah so much stronger, because it helps show how much they trust each other.
- It is possible to go back and re-explore areas that I’ve already been to.
- The battle system, which is very similar to the battle system of the first game, is still a lot of fun.
- Mog. He’s a lot of fun in this game, and he does have a bit more of a personality, such as being very greedy and always talking about what he’d do if he were rich.
- Hope’s character is much more grownup in this game. In the first game he was, I think, around twelve, and though I know a lot of people didn’t like him, I liked his character. In this installment he’s had a lot more time to come to terms with his mother’s death and everything else that has happened, so he’s also a lot less whiny.
I would check out this game if you haven’t already. Just be prepared to be really bored for the first hour or so. This is one of those games that just grows on me as it goes on, but it doesn’t have a strong start, unfortunately. Check it out and tell me what you think.