Final Fantasy XIII – “Heartbreaking Nostalgia”
All it took for was one brief look at the Yoshitaka Amano title screen in a local megastore for a scream to build up inside. “Final Fantasy”. We grew up with the series and for that they will always hold a special place in our hearts. Despite we being old enough to acknowledge that they do not represent the epitome of video games’ expression (nor have ever represented), they still come out as great examples of the specific realm of their genre or aesthetic. Like those wonderful storybooks you read when you were younger or the fantasy films of yesteryear, we look past their ever-lasting naivete and ingenuity, and welcome their heart-warming fantasy. It helps that they were crafted by some of the most gifted artists and story-tellers that were present in the medium: Sakaguchi, Kitase, Amano, Naora, Minaba, Uematsu. These authors breathed life into these childish incantations, making adolescents’ imagination soar high with those beautiful, magical sceneries that the world could never see unless for the power of digital art. But though our hearts cry with joy at the sights and sounds of many old chapters, they shriek in horror when faced with the XIIIth! Why is this?
Some think we are too old to indulge in such infantile musings [like our dear friend dieubussy or Carless]. Such an idea seems puzzling, not just because older J-RPG’s still click today with many of us, but also because other mediums have consistently shown that family entertainment directed at children is possible. So much literature, film and music is non-age specific, despite apparently being directed at young ones, that one must question why such a reality is not possible in video games. Are we really that old not to appreciate a light fantasy story? We aren’t, and yet “Final Fantasy XIII” makes us squirm. Why? Is it the clear-cut plot? The plastic theatricality of anime aesthetics? The combat system, high on acrobatic thrills, yet devoid of meaningful strategy and, in a clear step backwards from “XII”, also absent of naturalistic control and animation, drowned in decades of turn-based prejudice? Are these elements worse than they were 10 years ago? Somehow the memory of past titles, however tainted by nostalgia, inclines us to say: these are worse in every possible way.
Perhaps it is just the fact that technology has opened doors that current age video-game creators still are not adept at exploring. Just as “Final Fantasy X” botched the expressive potential of adding voice-acting, maybe “Final Fantasy XIII’s” creators just didn’t know how to fill with detail that which once bloomed with mystery and so powerfully ignited the hidden corners of our imagination. But even that doesn’t explain everything. Because, not only does “Final Fantasy” avoid and even contradict welcome evolutions to basic video-game language – such as a predominance of spatial metaphors and real-time dynamics – as it seems crafted for audiences far less demanding than those of past titles. Impoverished storyline and characters, gun-crazy action sequences, fast beat soundtrack and sugar-caned visuals are all elements that mar the experience of a proper fantasy tale, making it only fully digestible by those with short attention spans, spoiled by the frantic plethora of inputs that governs this information age. Nonetheless, we remain in doubt. We know not why “Final Fantasy XIII” does not resonate with us. Perhaps for all the aforementioned reasons, or perhaps for none at all. But one thing we take for certain in the midst of these questions: “Final Fantasy XIII” isn’t good. Despite the big budget and technical finesse we’ve come to associate with Square’s productions, the game simply lacks the fine artistic craftsmanship of the past, and thus it no longer represents the standard by which all J-RPG’s should be measured. And of that, let no doubts remain.