Ten Ways Final Fantasy XIII Could Have Been the Best Final Fantasy Ever: Disc 1
Is there a game more controversial in the Final Fantasy series than XIII? I've been conflicted about FFXIII for a long time. There are moments of brilliance punctuated by confusing ones that deter from the overall experience. Most people fall into the category of "this game absolutely sucks and represents the fall of the JRPG." I respectfully disagree and believe the game had the potential to be the most amazing Final Fantasy ever, falling short for a number of reasons. Rather than listing its faults, I thought I'd try to be constructive and list ten ways I believe Final Fantasy XIII could have been the best ever. In areas where I think FFXIII did a great job, I'll simply describe it and leave it at that. One last note: this is the first part covering the first disc, so I won't be covering anything in Disc 2 or Disc 3. Now let's jump in!
********Warning, there are spoilers!!!********
I. Simplify the fal'Cie
I've always felt story is the most important element of any JRPG. That's why we loved Final Fantasy in the first place— it was a pioneer of narrative. The story of Final Fantasy XIII is really good— if you can figure out what's going on. It took me a long time just to figure out the difference between fal'Cie (why does this name start with a lower case?) l'Cie, and Cie'th (is that pronounced like Sith?). The name Pulse for the surface planet confused me because it sounded like a verb, similar to a character's Focus, which sounded more like a magic spell than something connoting the Prime Directive of the chosen (I'm still confused why the l'Cie aren't directly told what their Focus is). All these titles are thrown around so casually that I felt like a neophyte at a physics conference bombarded with jargon that I didn't understand. There are a lot of really interesting factions at work, a deep legacy that makes for a compelling saga. Would the complexity of the story have been diluted had the fal'Cie been called something simple like the Ancients (as in FF7) and the l'Cie the Chosen?
II. Context For the Opening Cutscene
The opening cutscene was amazing. Beautiful CG, great animation, a visceral, action-packed opening. Lightning is a pretty cool heroine. However, I didn't really have any context or understanding of what was going on when the scene began. As Disc 1 proceeded, I found out that the horror the citizens of Cocoon felt for the fal'Cie from Pulse and the l'Cie was caused by a war hundreds of years ago that nearly destroyed Cocoon. I was fascinated. Why not put that at the forefront so we could understand what was going on in the first scene when Lightning rescued her sister?
Let me use two examples from previous Final Fantasys to illustrate. Remember the opening of FF6 where there's an overview of the entire world and the War of the Magi? It was a great introduction that set the stage for Terra's first appearance. Or to use a more recent example, FF10 showed us Zanarkand first before destroying it, giving us enough context to wonder in a good way, "what in the world is going on?" It took me a few hours to figure out the basics in FF13, and when I did, I was fascinated. Unfortunately, most of my discovery about the story took place reading the datalogs and the load screens. This sort of story-telling works in BioShock and Metroid Prime. Not so much in a Final Fantasy.
III. Is FFXIII Art?
The art in this game is simply stunning, and there's nothing quite like it. I'm so frustrated when people question gaming as art. Go to any contemporary museum of art. You'll see a huge canvas colored plain green, toilets splotched together with masking tape, and paintings that look like someone splashed together twenty colors over five minutes and displayed it as a joke on artistic snobbery. That's what defines art?
The environments, the character models, everything about FF13 oozes artistic brilliance. Even the decision to leave out towns was prompted by a dissatisfaction from the developers with their quality level. So what could they have improved? That's a trick question, because my answer is nothing. The art is awesome. Leave it as is. Seriously. One of my favorite essays about gaming as art was done by Rio Liang, using FFXIII as a template. It's at (http://ruelleelectrique.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/a-video-game-manifesto-final-fantasy-xiii-as-a-prototype/). Check it out for a fascinating read!
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He has been working in film and games for over a decade. On his off time, he likes to travel the world. His short story collection, Watering Heaven, was just published by Signal 8 Press.
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