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Questioning the 'vision' behind  Final Fantasy XIII-2
Questioning the 'vision' behind Final Fantasy XIII-2 Exclusive
January 31, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

January 31, 2012 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Design

A while ago, I spent a weekend -- mostly while sick in bed -- devoted to watching Red Letter Media’s dissections of Star Wars Episode I, II, and III. These videos are narrated by fictional critic (and serial killer) Harry S. Plinkett. Despite his mental problems, he’s incredibly astute when it comes to movies. These aren’t simple reviews. They’re real criticism -- albeit cruel, sarcastic, and hilarious criticism.

They examine a question that few really thought to ask: why, precisely, do the three most recent Star Wars films suck so much? Sure, it’s widely accepted (including by the author of this editorial) that they do. But it’s so obvious, and the films are so dull, that it never seemed particularly interesting to think too hard about it.

That’s what I thought, anyway, before I spent about four hours watching Plinkett’s mushmouthed takedown of the whole mess.

The reviews scrutinize the source material -- including bonus content from the DVDs -- to meticulously explain every sin committed by the Star Wars prequels and, in many cases, provide a plausible explanation for why things went wrong. What you’d expect to be a simple hatchet job turns out to be nuanced critique.

After watching the reviews, I realized something. Final Fantasy XIII had eerily similar problems to the Star Wars prequels. This is a bit ironic. After all, the series winks and nods to the original trilogy’s (obvious and significant) influence by the recurrence of minor characters named Biggs and Wedge -- after Luke Skywalker’s wingmen.

The chief and most obvious similarity is not something you’d need Plinkett to identify, in either case: hubris. Both were developed by creators who were convinced that whatever they made would be good, that they didn’t address the fundamental flaws in their creative process. This, mixed with the complacency born of having become a pillar of their respective industries, did them in from the start.

But the parallels run much deeper than that.

Characters and Story

If you’ve both seen the Star Wars prequels and played Final Fantasy XIII, you already know that they also lack something fundamental: a coherent, logical story. Plinkett takes obvious joy in pointing out ways the prequels’ stories contradict themselves, bend over backwards to accommodate complex plot points that could have been resolved much more simply, and generally don’t hew to any sort of common sense when placed under the most cursory scrutiny.

So, too, is Final Fantasy XIII welded to its big ideas -- some of which were handed down, no doubt, during the planning of the ambitious but senseless “Fabula Nova Crystallis” meta-series, a cart-before-the-horse content strategy intended to comprise several games linked by shared aesthetics and themes, but neither worlds nor characters.

The fallout of illogical stories hinged on forced plot points is characters who lack believable motivation, and spend a lot of time justifying their senseless actions instead of getting on with things. Sound familiar?

One of Plinkett’s most damning criticisms of The Phantom Menace is that the film lacks a main character -- someone to relate to who might guide the viewer through its complicated, fantastic story. Obi-Wan doesn’t do much, Padme does less, and Anakin doesn’t show up for 45 minutes. Once he does, he doesn’t understand the events that surround him. “Without that, there’s no tension, no story. So the conclusion is that there isn’t one,” says Plinkett.

Final Fantasy XIII does a little better -- the characters have motivations. But though Lightning’s on the cover, she doesn’t have any sort of arc. She doesn’t even really struggle. Hope and Snow grow the most, and their rivalry is arguably at the center of the game’s events, but it’s also resolved halfway through the game. Whenever Final Fantasy XIII builds up tension, it soon lets it out with the wheeze of a balloon deflating.

Worse, the developers are content to shove the characters into situations that have nothing to do with the core story and force them to act in artificial or contradictory ways.

The actual core storytelling is, if anything, worse in Final Fantasy XIII-2, a new entry released in North America and Europe this week that was expressly aimed at addressing fan concerns with XIII. It’s also even more melodramatic and, as the premise is extremely high concept, the character interactions are made even shallower to try and compensate.

Form and Function

What possible motivation could the developers have for pushing characters into artificial situations?

The Star Wars prequels are full of things we recognize from the original trilogy, but divorced from any dramatic intent. For example, Plinkett astutely points out that light sabers are incredibly overused in the newer films, so much so that fights lose their uniqueness and tension -- the constant battles becoming simple, garish light shows. Moments from the original trilogy are deliberately referred to, but without any parallel in meaning, just in form.

So, too, is Final Fantasy XIII filled with Final Fantasy Stuff -- most notably and stupidly, crystals -- and it’s clear that all of that junk is there because the developers assume that it has to be there, not because it enriches the world or the game’s play experience.

“The new films just borrow and recycle from the original ideas, as if there’s no way to create anything new,” says Plinkett. And that’s what hamstrings Final Fantasy XIII, too.

Hell, the game’s director, Motomu Toriayama, asked character designer Tetsuya Nomura for “someone like a female version of Cloud from FFVII.”

That is not vision.

And that’s what suggests that, for all of the ways in which it addresses the demands of disappointed fans, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an unsuitable solution to the fundamental problems with the series.

“Our ultimate goal is rectifying every single point in Final Fantasy XIII that has been criticized by the users,” Toriyama -- who also directed XIII-2 -- told me at last year’s E3. “We actually took those criticisms very seriously, and you'll notice that we tackled them completely and thoroughly.”

That is also not vision.

“But wait,” you say.”Didn’t BioWare do just this, and wasn’t the result one of the finest-crafted sequels of the generation?”

It’s true. Mass Effect 2 is the game it is because BioWare scrupulously identified, sorted, quantified, and then addressed the issues fans had with the original game. But was the original Mass Effect incoherent? Did it lack vision, or was it simply unpolished? I think you already know the answer. There is a vision, and this vision remains consistent across both games. User research is primarily a tool to deal with the software development side of games, not their creative foundations.

Innovation and Growth?

Yes, Final Fantasy XIII-2 offers dialogue choices, a first for the series -- inspired by BioWare, in fact, an insider told me -- but there’s a right answer for each dialogue option, and the reward is just some gear.

This superficial solution is emblematic of the kind of thinking that has lead to Final Fantasy XIII-2.

It seems to be a mishmash of shallow changes and quick fixes. It keeps a great deal of what was close at hand from the last game because it’s convenient, and paints over much of it with a thin veneer. It’s admirable, in all honesty, that the team was able to do this and reap an 80-ish Metacritic in the process, given the baked-in cynicism that is the original game’s legacy.

But does it really show a path forward for the series?

No. It can’t. It’s a cash-in, designed to scrape up the detritus left after a massive production that resulted in a lot of waste (including enough production art for a second game, and an expensive engine that the developer has already deemed all but useless) and do something with it.

But when you address software changes using a flawed framework and flawed assumptions about what actually forms the living, breathing core of your experience, you just end up with band-aids over deep gashes.

I was tempted to call Final Fantasy XIII-2 “an honest try.” There wasn’t a lot to work with, but the developers did what they could. But can it be the light that leads the series back to the path? There’s nothing whatsoever innovative about the game that I can see; the changes signal contrition, not creativity. Square Enix, now spooked, is scrambling to catch up.

“One of the criticisms that we received for XIII was that there weren't enough mini-games, for example, so we implemented more mini-games,” Toriyama told me last June.

Is that vision?

No. Mini-games add variety to a constrained design. Capturing and using monsters in battle adds variety and control for players that the last game, which forced the player to use a set party until very close to its conclusion, lacked. Neither, however, are original ideas, nor are they significantly tweaked from existing designs. And the addition of intermittent dialogue choices and Quick Time Events seem lazily calculated to appeal to Western gaming sensibilities.

If the problem with Final Fantasy XIII was that it was mechanistically created to be a Final Fantasy game, then shoveling more of that stuff into its sequel isn’t the answer. Are Chocolina and Mog welcome, helpful, or appropriate additions? Nope. They’re tacky and out of place.

They’re the team grasping at Final Fantasy-themed straws.

The only thing that gives me hope is that I doubt the creators are misguided enough to think that Final Fantasy XIII-2 will save the series. If they do, they’re in bigger trouble than we think.

As Plinkett ultimately argues, the blackest sin of the Star Wars prequels is that they lack a vision.

Square Enix still has a great deal to prove. While the creative minds behind its global flagship series may have stopped emulating George Lucas at his absolute worst, it seems unlikely, on this evidence, that they have yet found a way to truly touch inspiration.

That would require something much more radical: throwing it all away, and starting fresh.

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Mike Rentas
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I'm noticing a distinct lack of examples in your article, which is a large part of what made the Plinkett reviews so good. What exactly do the characters do that's so unbelievable? Where is the plot forced? Assuming you're willing to buy into the basic premise of these god-like beings messing around with people just because they can (and if you're not, why are you even playing this game in the first place?), everything seems to flow more or less logically, albeit with maybe a bit too much emotion.

I've been playing through 13 again over the past few weeks, and enjoying it quite a bit more than I did the first time. The game isn't about a main character - but neither have most games in the series been. Who was the main character of FF6? Seems like Terra at first, but she's not even in your party for half the game. Celes seems to take over at the midway point, but she doesn't really have much of a story after that. That's not to say they've never done it - Cecil is pretty clearly the main character in FF4 - but this is hardly the first ensemble piece in the series.

Lightning's character arc is centered around realizing that the fal'cie treat people as pets, and that she's been playing into that role. She goes from blind rage to wanting to change things for the better. Maybe not the greatest story ever told, but it's pretty realistic. Same with Hope - he starts out wanting to get revenge on Snow, but he's too scared to take action. He eventually gets over his obsession after a confrontation.

I agree that the characters feel like they backslide quite a bit on their emotional progress once you hit Gran Pulse, but that's a pacing issue more than anything else.

Regarding the complaint that 13-2 "lacks vision" - maybe, but then they'd have called it 15 and set it in a different world if "vision" was the goal. What the title says to me is that they're iterating on what they tried in 13, trying to address the things people complained about. I wouldn't worry that they think this represents the future of the series. How much did 10-2 have in common with 12? Or even 10 for that matter?

If you look at past FFs without the fog of nostalgia, you can make similar criticisms about all of them. Does FF7's story really make sense? Really? In FF9, the cast, led by a blond boy with a tail, flies their airship through a portal to an entire planet made of crystal. What was up with that?

The major element I *do* notice missing from 13, and 12 as well, is the humor of the earlier games. There's nothing like Locke running around stealing peoples' clothes, or Aeris helping Cloud dress up as a woman. The story is much more serious and mature, which may be why some of the more fantastical elements stand out as bizarre. But really, can you point to one thing in the game that you just *could not* imagine existing in another entry in the series?

Cordero W
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Trying to justify the laziness of FF 13's story is a lesson in futility.

Dedan Anderson
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I agree about FF series stories... realism is something i would never attribute to a FF story... i don't even thin they are structured well... so FF13 doesn't fail because of story, i found it to be lacking in the interactivity department, where FF12 had some amazing game systems such as the gambit system, i found FF13 overly linear trek and automatic combat system boring, perhaps it was an attempt to dumb down the experience, or to go a more scripted route (too much COD anyone???), but it flopped and failed... i'm liking what i've read so far on the new one though...

Kevin VanOrd
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To Cordero: Then provide a rebuttal. The poster wrote a very thoughtful reply. To follow up in such a brusque manner does nothing but reinforce Mike's point of view: that without examples, the argument lacks bite. Explain your point of view. Offer a counterpoint. Evaluate something specific.

Mike's response wasn't futile. If anything, it reminded us that a thoughtful individual can provide a second opinion. What we know now is that you find FFXIII "lazy." Show us that you aren't also "lazy," and offer something substantial.

Josh Tolentino
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I don't think it's entirely necessary to insist that every character contain an "arc", (i.e. "development" from one state into another in step with the narrative) to be considered characterful or good. In some ways simply placing characters in "artificial situations" and seeing how they react serves the same purpose. This analysis of storytelling in the TV shows "Breaking Bad" and "The Wire" makes a good point about the two approaches to how stories can establish their characters with and without a traditional narrative arc.:

Now, this isn't to excuse the failings of FF13. Its attempts to establish its cast without the benefit of a proper, traditional arc largely failed or were awkward at best. The "artificial" situations in many places DID feel contrived and unnecessary, but I think that's more a function of overreach on part of the writers than a so-called lack of vision.

Their combination of In Medias Res storytelling, combined with the alien world construction and the distinct lack of arc-based development (on the part of some cast members at least) made for a poor trifecta of stumbling points that ended up with a cast that simply wasn't established enough for their actions and reactions to their situations to feel organic or unforced.

But again, this is more a misstep than the cataclysmic lack of vision Mr. Nutt implies.

Cordero W
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I don't need to provide a rebuttal of any sort. Anyone else will say it just as well as I. I can easily give an argument of why the sky is more richly blue than the grass is richly green, but it still would not change the fact that the sky is blue and the grass is green. My reply is short because there's enough opinions out there that say the same thing.

Nathan Smith
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To 60 Hertz:

There is a difference between realism and believability. A game's world, characters and situations don't require realism, in fact realism can be a turn-off for many people seeking to enjoy the escapism of an RPG experience. Believability, on the other hand, is critical. Believability is what creates that sense of immersion into an otherwise fantastical or incredible world.

Take the movie Inception, for example. There is nothing realistic about the world or situations that the characters find themselves in, but the writers did such a good job creating a strong logical explanation for why things work the way they do in the movie, and the characters do such a good job of portraying genuine human behavior in the given situations, that we, the audience, have little trouble believing that the entire story could really be true.

Believability is really about the audiences ability to relate to some portion of the fictitious events unfolding before their eyes. The difference between the Star Wars prequels and the original movies lies in their inability to convince movie watchers that anything happening in front of them is believable, so audience members remain disconnected from the movie rather than being immersed in the experience. The prequels are littered with artificial moments purposefully designed to "wow" the audience, but their disingenuousness jumps out at the movie watcher and knocks them out of immersion. Final Fantasy XIII shares many of these same disingenuous moments, obviously intended to "wow" the player with their "coolness" but which fall flat without a believable context.

To summarize:

Realism - Not that important

Believability - Important

Relateability - Important

Immersion - Important

In my mind, Final Fantasy XIII failed miserably in the believability department. None of the characters felt genuine, and their motivations seemed to make little sense, as if they were more concerned with their personal squabbles and the impending doom of the world was just a side-show or a job that had to be done, forcing them all together, but which nobody really wanted to do. The story in the game which is supposed to form the primary motivation for most of the characters, made little logical sense and forced you to suspend logic and accept things for being they way they were "just because". Few of the characters even felt like people who, in the real world, would pick up the gauntlet and fight like soldiers for something they believed in. Most of them felt begrudging bystanders who've been forced into helping out against their will. I could go on, but the point is that the game just failed miserably at making me believe in the characters and circumstances presented, and thus failed to immerse me in a positively enjoyable experience.

Dedan Anderson
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@Nathan Smith... we can quibble about semantics but my main point is MOST FF stories to me are pretty craptastic so it can't be the reason why this one was hated so much, perhaps this story was more craptastic than previous entries but i would have to say to me it was the extreme linearity of the game, and i'm a fan of linear games done right, i love SHMUPS and i love RAIL SHOOTERS, but FF didn't offer enough second to second variety to warrant lack of minute to minute choices...

anyway DQ is the crown series of S|E we westerner just haven't figured that out yet...

Dedan Anderson
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"The only thing that gives me hope is that I doubt the creators are misguided enough to think that Final Fantasy XIII-2 will save the series. "

i'm not sure one clunker is enough to say the series needs saving... especially after FF12 and the success of dissidia and the hype for agito and versus (or whatever they are called)...

Simon Ludgate
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And the success of FFXIV.

Oh wait.

K Gadd
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The number of failures is not as significant as their cost. FF12 might have been a 'success' but it was very expensive, not only financially but in terms of the fact that it is known to have burned out some of Square's best creative talent and driven them away, just like some previous entries in the series. Now, alongside this, you add FF13, which alongside the previous problems, actually didn't do as well as expected, upset fans, and cost even more. It's not hard to look at those data points and see a downward trajectory instead of an upward one.

You don't need to wait for the market to reject you to realize that things aren't going well. You can start by looking at your expenses, and more importantly, by listening to your team members in postmortems.

And if you're not even having postmortems, that's probably also a bad sign.

Finally, I should point out that one clunker is definitely enough, because single clunkers have sunk companies as big as Square Enix before. All you have to do is waste enough of your resources on a bad product and it'll kill you in a way that 12 cheaper failures could never accomplish.

Justin Crane
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I think most of the disappointment occurred because the name "Final Fantasy" used to mean something and ever since FFXI we really don't know what to expect from the series. As the author said there are hints to other games in the series but they seem arbitrary and lack any true contribution.

I am going to tend to agree with you when you say that this one clunker is not going to sink Square but this continued experimentation and mutation of the series will eventually cost them their fan base. I am being so ignorant as to suggest that they stop innovating but if you are going to call a game Final Fantasy there are certain perimeters you have to stay inside. One of which is to make it playable...

Toby Hurtubise
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I think most of the disappointment occurred because the name "Final Fantasy" used to mean something and ever since FFXI we really don't know what to expect from the series.


The games are a gamble - both for Square Enix and the consumer.

Though I keep buying them...

Darcy Nelson
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Wow. After reading this, I was assailed by intense feelings of regret for pre-ordereding XIII/2. Then I remembered I actually enjoyed XIII, and I pre-ordered the sequel because of that, not because someone else's opinion of the game influenced me to get it. I guess every game (even a clunker that apparently doesn't push the envelope of the RPG genre) does indeed have an audience.

Louis Sedeno
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Final Fantasy is, what it is. It was awkward then and it still is now. It all depends on the player. I loved most of the older Final Fantasy's and I understand that the latest games don't cater to my taste, but quite honestly the awkwardness that is Final Fantasy is still there. It's just new coats of paint. The combat systems have always evolved and changed.

Although I left Final Fantasy behind me, I say if you find yourself enjoying it then that's all that matters really; and I hope you enjoy XIII-2 as well Darcy.


John Flush
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"It’s true. Mass Effect 2 is the game it is because BioWare scrupulously identified, sorted, quantified, and then addressed the issues fans had with the original game"

Wow, bad comparision. ME2 didn't answer/address any of the issues fans complained about. Instead bioware removed features, completely ignoring the complaints IMO. "Inventory? Yeah, that sucked didn't it - we'll just remove it." - "Over heating guns? Yeah, I can see how someone that is too trigger happy would have a problem with that, how about we make cooling clips (not ammo mind you, that would be wrong) - viola! fixed" - wrong - not only didn't it fit with the universe they established in the first game, it turned every after battle action into a clip-hunt - at least they could have made them med-kits to make FPS fans feel all retro and stuff. ME2 is praised because it added dialog and semi-choice to a 3rd person shooter, not because they actually fixed anything wrong with ME1 the RPG.

Back to FF XIII / 2, it is a JRPG with an 'auto button' during fight sequences, the same characters as every other JRPG in higher resolution, without any exploration options... it doesn't take much to realize where they went wrong with it.

Fiore Iantosca
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I TOTALLY agree your assessment of ME2. The whole ammo system is the dumbest thing they added. STUPID! Real ME fans loved the options to mod their weapons in the game. Second, getting rid of the Mako for...PLANET SCANNING. YES! Another stupid idea. Everyone who hated driving the Mako was just lazy. It lent to the EXPLORATION of a planet.

That being said, I'm enjoying FF13-2 and I can't wait for ME3.

Scott Pellico
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I think you hit a home run with the characters section. You can create the most complex history and story that has ever graced the medium, but if it doesn't have characters that I genuinely want to care about I have a hard time accepting the difficulties they go through. It feels stock and shallow. Something developers have a hard time with.

But that's because it's difficult as hell. I've seen what goes into getting scripts rolling and story moving for a gaming environment, its a difficult job to manage, and I envy the people capable of crafting a worthwhile narrative

The script has to work and make sense. The Voice actor has to click. The presentation during gameplay has to be polished and perfected. So many sides to the same coin.

Pete C
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I'm not sure the staff behind FFXIII didn't have vision - I think the White Engine just went so far off schedule that they were under a time crunch to finish an actual game. In a time crunch like that, I think any vision they might've had can quickly be compromised.

Geoffrey Mackey
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I don't know about anyone else, but I become scared whenever I hear a developers talk about how they used COD as a blueprint (Ace Combat, FF13 and now the new Resident Evil?). Do Japanese developers understand that the reason call of duty is successful is not because it streamlined a single player experience, but because it has fun multi-player. If you stripped away the single player, it wouldn't impact sales. If you stripped away multi-player, no one would buy it. Hence it is terrible to model any game after it. The answer is so simple, but I don't know if anyone else has connected the dots.

Either way, with the metacritic scores I will wait for FF13-2 to have a price drop. I did enjoy the demo so I am hopeful.

Jason Swan
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I don't think these points are true about FF13 so much as they are about the franchise in general after FF7. Each game since then seems to prize themes and spectacle over characters and making an interesting world (which may be some of the strongest points of FF6 and 7, two of the higher notes in the series).

It's almost like they looked at the success of 7, looked at what it did different from the games that came before it (a few cut scenes, graphically impressive for its time, minor focus on a sub theme), and shifted all their focus to those things.

David Holmin
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Final Fantasy 8 may have a bit weaker world design than FF7, but the characters and their motivations and interactions are arguably the best in the series. The Squall/Seifer rivalry, for example, is really good. It's all quite teen angsty, but it's well done and it's honest. The story setup with the Garden and all that is also a great way to introduce the characters in an environment that is familiar, yet exotic, to the player. The school-like setting matches the more down-to-earth characters, but it being a military school of sorts puts a twist on it and makes it more interesting.

FF10 is where (most of) the characters seriously started to lack depth, but it's nothing compared to FF13. FF12 I haven't touched (I hate MMO combat), but it looks bland.

Alfa Etizado
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I don't believe we have to look too deep to find what was wrong with the game. I don't think it was a lack of vision. It was either lack of inspiration or committing stronger to the visuals than to the game.

Previous FF titles didn't have much of a vision either. For an instance, Vaan was FFXII's main character because Square execs wanted something that would sell better. Tifa was created because they wanted a certain character to die, not because they wanted Tifa to exist. The very first FF game was a me-too game riding on D&D lore.

Previous FF titles had a lot of "gratuitous FF stuff". Both VII and VI were littered with crystals, FFVIII was a summon fest. At the same time, FFXIII got rid of a LOT of FF elements, which is one reason people got angry in the first place.

An unjustified reason, I think. But previous FF games have gotten rid of FF elements as well, it wasn't the end of the world. The difference is that they had proper levels and FFXIII didn't.

The entire problem with FFXIII is the level design. Exploring is half of what makes a japanese RPG, and in XIII exploration consisted of pushing forwards. I'd say you easily spend 1/3, or more, of your time walking. In FFXIII walking was terribly boring.

If it wasn't for that other problems could be excused. The 6 hours tutorial, repetitive enemies, Hope. Other FF games weren't perfect either.

Being linear isn't necessarily a problem, it doesn't make a game automatically bad. It is hard pulling out in a series where fans don't expect it, but it can be done. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter did it. In many ways it is like FFXIII: loathed by fans, very different from previous games, protagonists running away the entire time, very linear.

But Dragon Quarter was designed to take all of its shortcomings into account and use them for the game's benefit. For that, it is a good game if one comes at it with no formed expectations. Unlike XIII.

The maps in Dragon Quarter were many times one-way only. However they added small paths for the player to explore and get sidetracked. FFXIII didn't even bother with that, most of its maps were straight corridors.

In FFXIII, all you could do was either dodge an enemy or walk straight. In Dragon Quarter, they made every battle take place exactly where you were, no transition. A game can be a corridor and be fun, as long as it makes the environment part of the battles. Dragon Quarter did that, FFXIII didn't.

In the end, navigating through the corridor world of Dragon Quarter is interesting. Even more so when the game, at times, lets you choose between two paths in the same direction, or when the game lets you take a break from that so you can manage your little ant farm.

Perhaps, most important of all, Dragon Quarter is short, it doesn't drag on. Final Fantasy XIII is some 50 hours long. Dragon Quarter can be lengthy because of its rich replay value, but it leaves the length as a choice not an obligation.

Dragon Quarter knew how to be linear, it knew how to have corridor maps, it knew for how long it could run. FFXIII didn't do any of these things.

Maybe Square-Enix wanted really pretty worlds but couldn't handle doing that with interesting maps, so they sacrificed the maps. This is just me wildly speculating, but it makes sense when I read the reason they made battles take place in its own arena was because they wanted pretty special effects but couldn't handle it happening on the regular map.

All of that said, FFXIII wasn't that much of a terrible game. Arguably, it was better written than a lot of previous FF games. Its battle system was smart using typical RPG conventions, something almost no FF game can claim to be. It was challenging, it was polished, it was pretty. It just wasn't up to par with the series.

Mike Rentas
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Looking back over the whole series, I think it's actually a very good thing that they don't feel bound by tradition. I remember having very serious discussions back when FF6 was released stateside about it being "a very good game, but not really a 'Final Fantasy'" because they pulled the crystals out. Adhering too strictly to a formula results in something like the Dragon Quest series, which may be good games, but all kind of feel like the same game.

Regarding the linearity - I agree they probably took it too far. The length of the corridors and almost total lack of branches make it *feel* rather claustrophobic sometimes. But then, there are plenty of treasure chests you won't come across just running forward - some down little side passages, some behind you. In an abstract sense, it's exactly the same exploration mechanic - you can either make a beeline for the exit, or take your time and poke around the corners, and get rewarded for it. The differences are the scale of the world making it feel like you're running *forever*, the settings being more realistic both in design and representation, and the minimap in the corner of the screen driving home the fact that you're just running down a corridor in spite of all the shiny graphics off in the distance.

That said though, I think the "freedom" in most of the past games in the series is really an illusion until close to the end game, when you can choose the order in which you tackle a set of sidequests. Sure, you can take the airship in FF4 when you first get it and go poke around all the little islands in the world, but what does it get you? Maybe you find a new sword, but the game doesn't progress one inch until you go to the right town and talk to the right person.

The thing that 13 seems to have tried to do in all aspects is streamline. Get rid of healing between battles. Get rid of long dead end branches in dungeons. Get rid of the "search the entire planet for the one person who can advance your quest" thing. Get rid of the need to stop and buy new armor in every town (which actually would be totally implausible given the story). Personally I like it, but I can see why some people don't. Either way though, I'm glad they have the guts to try such an extreme approach. At the very least, they've shown us the far end of the spectrum - so if someone complains about having to worry about keeping enough potions in their inventory in FF16, you can point back at this one as an example of why those little annoyances are important.

Alfa Etizado
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Mike, I thought if the game had made an effort in putting treasures for people to look there wouldn't be so much upset with the game. I recall passing through a few chests and treasures, but they didn't really require any looking.

They were just behind a tree or a waterfall, at most. If you look at a game like FFVI, it is more than a chest tucked away in a distant room at the corner of a dungeon. Pretty much every level has something to keep you interested, they can't be beaten by just walking. On top of that, there was context to make the distractions seem more interesting.

Freedom in games will always be an illusion, but an illusion is good enough. Just doing something you don't have to is satisfying on its own.

I appreciate FFXIII's streamlining, what you said there is true and I think some players are too blinded by traditions to see how FFXIII hit the right notes. I resent the corridors. They could have done the corridors right, like Dragon Quarter or many other games did.

Mike Rentas
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Speaking of linearity and the illusion of choice, I just came across this really interesting article about the Sphere Grid from FFX -

Robert Boyd
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5 hours into FFXIII-2 and loving it. Sure, it's not horribly original, but there's something to be said for a Greatest Hits of RPG Ideas compilation.

And the new trilogy of Star Wars movies doesn't "suck so much." Most of the problems seen in the new trilogy were also in the original trilogy (plot holes, horrible writing, bad acting, etc.). The problem is that people who grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy imbued it with legendary status in their mind and so when the new movies came out and turned out to be just good sci-fi/fantasy pulp (like the first trilogy), they were disappointed. And hey, if nothing else, at least the new trilogy had good sword fights that did not resemble a turn-based JRPG's combat (each side takes its turn).

Harry Fields
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Sorry, the original Star Wars defined a generation of Americans. The new films brought nothing to the table. The originals were ground-breaking and amazing, and the acting wasn't *that* bad, especially for the time and budget. Space Operas simply did not exist, at least in a culturally accessible format, prior to the original trilogy. The prequel trilogy attempted nothing revolutionary, had worse acting, even bigger plot holes and injected so much cheese, it hurt.

ian stansbury
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I didn't enjoy FFXIII. There were plenty of reasons why: too linear, not attaching emotionally to derivative characters, hum drum settings. Its really all of these things taken together that means I simply wasn't inspired to truly dig into this game. I feel that the FF series has begun to change from the open feeling world (which was still fairly linear, but felt open) to the story driven cinematics fest we have now. This probably happened around seven's huge success.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I've beaten every FF except X-2 and now XIV and XIII-2, And I have enjoyed the way the series has adapted and changed over time. The reason I felt XIII was lacking was that it didn't feel excellent in any one category. Make the game purely linear and totally story driven. That's cool but make a game with an awesome and surprising story. Totally new combat system? Great, but make it exciting through the whole game. Playing it I just never felt a connection to any characters. I didn't feel that the story made much sense and honestly couldn't tell you what it was about in detail. I never looked around at the sparkling graphics and said "Oh, wow.." which I realized I could still do after Skyrim came out. Honestly, it wasn't a BAD game, it was quite good, just not for a FF game. Never once did I sit back the way I did with I, III, IV, VI, VIII, or X and say "Yes! this is why I play this series!" And I think that was missing for a lot of other people too.

Christopher Corbett
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All this talk makes me want to dig up FF XII. I thought Square really nailed that one from a game play standpoint; and the story was serviceable. I'm still shocked they moved so far away from the direction that game pointed to. After FF XII they seemed to forget FF sells; and decided it needed more mass appeal...or something. I've played many of the FF games; I don't really recall the details of any of the stories. If XIII-2 addresses the linearity of XIII and has other fun elements; I'm fine with a nonsensical story. Conversely, going to a movie all I have is the story; so maybe not a great comparison to cite Star Wars. Continued aspirations of the industry to be like or better than the movie industry are misdirected I think.

Zon Chen
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I think the main problem with all RPGs is that they are expensive to make, especially AAA ones. If you consider the amount of drafts and rewriting good films and novels go through before they become good, it's much more difficult in game development where software, art, voice acting, and writing are such seperated processes.

This leads to developers being overly conservative, which manifests itself in a number of ways depending on the culture.

Japanese RPGs tend to have very cliched plot structures, stereotypical / archetypical characters, and a less mature teen-oriented story.

But the strengths of JRPGs show up in:

- Their imaginative settings (Each FF is set in a completely new world, often with a different style and aesthetics, Resonance of Fate's post apocalyptic tower, Persona 4's sleepy japanese regional town, etc etc)

- Colourful character designs

- Interesting, often abstract, mechanics

Western RPGs manifest their conservatism via very cliched settings (Dragon Age has a new lore, indistiguishable from D&D and all other Tolkien-based high fantasy, Fallout is a very typical postapocalyptic world, Mass Effect a pretty generic Sci-Fi, etc) and fairly unimaginative game mechanics (since they usually have a nod towards realism.)

Also western RPGs tend to be pretty cliched with their plot settings as well - it's almost always Epic Save The World sort of stuff. (Sure, Persona 4 might have the -structure- of Level Up and Kill the Final Boss, but the story is based on a murder mystery set in a small town... you don't see that kind of stuff in WRPGs outside of subquests.)

Strengths of WRPGs include:

- Aiming at a more mature audience, which also manifests itself in better writing, better plots, subtle characters etc.

- Better software technology, since devs usually come from a PC background.

- More plausible worlds and mechanics.


Really, I think it would be much better if somehow, RPG creation engines and technologies became more developed and widespread, so that anyone can cheaply make one or mod one. This would give developers far more freedom to experiment with stories and ideas. Just like moddable RTS and FPS engines, and Visual Novel engines allowed for a lot of creativity, something similar for RPGs would be great.

Sadly, I dont think it would happen, but at least the portable / mobile world brings us back to smaller, cheaper games without the need for much voice acting or motion capture.