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.

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  • Comments (9)
    • Coyote
    • May 7th, 2010

    I have to agree with you. During at least half of my playthrough, I keep thinking “Maybe its just me. Maybe I am just too old for this…” Luckily, after some hours, things get a little better, as the game abandon some of its teen anime roots; but the damage was done, and getting to that point was more an exercise of masochism.

    • Cruzifixio
    • May 10th, 2010

    Cruz, agrees.

    FANBOY MODE…… . . ON

    It’s a lazy chapter in the FFsaga, its the epitome of current anime “trends”, it’s nowhere near a final fantasy.

    When FFXII came out, I was stunned. The gameplay took every inch of FF and rewrote it with new ideas, even as incomplete as it was it felt fresh and new.

    This one… Well… Bread and circus… No brains, just cashing the check on 20 year old loyal fans and their kids. It could be named «Ergo Of the Revolution Natsurikikomon» and maybe be an awesome anime based game. But that thing aint nowhere near the ideas and style created by 12 past iterations.
    Tho’ that would be good if the game had brains. It’s all about style, it’s «The Spirit» to our «Sin City».

    Square Enix needs to fire Nomura and Co. and bring back Matsuno, Kitase, Yoshida and Sakimoto, give em a few millions and let them finish XII (no way in hell Matsuno came up with the awful license system).

    After XII, I even thought Square Enix would make an open world FF, and bring Bethesda on it’s knees, make em beg for mercy. Or create a new genre.

    FANBOY MODE…… . . OF

    NO, seriously… Nomura… Everything has belts with him, everyone acts like a Jpop star… It’s ugh and ugh…

    Lets keep the hopes up for XV… *sigh*

    • ruicraveirinha
    • May 11th, 2010

    Hehe… settle down Cruz. I think you’re right. But I wouldn’t blame it solely on Nomura, I mean, he’s been on board since “VII”, while it is true that his responsibility continues increasing in the new Square, he doesn’t hold any major seat in “XIII”.

    But Motomu Toryiama…. he’s the director.. blame him. He co-directed “X” and directed “X-2”, and most of which hate in “XIII” has his ‘anime’ signature written all over it. Techno-Jazzy Soundtrack… check. Crazy anime sequences… Check. Silly Japanese melodrama: Check. J-Pop aesthetic…. Check. Yeah, he’s the fall guy, I tell you that!

    Cheers!

    • Cruzifixio
    • May 13th, 2010

    “Well, before I address the main point I just want to take a slightly more controversial route: You can put a ‘J’ in front of it, but it’s not an RPG. You don’t make any choices, you don’t create a character, you don’t live your character… I don’t know what those are – adventure games maybe? But they’re not RPG’s.” – Daniel Erickson, Bioware.

    http://www.strategyinformer.com/news/8006/bioware-you-can-put-a-j-in-front-of-it-but-final-fantasy-13-isnt-an-rpg

    I kind of agree…

    • Coyote
    • May 13th, 2010

    Cruzifixio: Beyond the fact that the comment is tangencial to all JRPGs, despite its quality (doesn’t matter if we are talking about FF6, dragon quest, chrono cross or FF13), I have read comments like that from Erickson before, and I don’t agree with him. They sound more like “we do RPGs and this is not an RPG because it is not like what we do”. Its the equivalent of Kamiya saying “God of War is not an adventure game because its diferent than DMC, and DMC is an adventure game”, or the infamous Ebert comment “games aren’t art because they aren’t like movies, and movies are art”.

    The question of wether or not some games are RPG is old, convoluted, elitist and, in the end, kind of pointless…

    • Cruzifixio
    • May 13th, 2010

    “The question of wether or not some games are RPG is old, convoluted, elitist and, in the end, kind of pointless…” -Coyotus Road Racer Chaserus-

    Really… Not my point about JRPG’s being RPG’s or not, but only on the FFXIII “SUCKS” subject of this post, I do agree with that Daniel person.

    I agree with your points in full tho, It’s like “The Zelda being and rpg or not” debate, wich in my book is a waste of time.

    But FFXIII lacks so many things It might deserve it, no?

    Also when it comes to FF and this explicit post about what FF make us feel I am in “Total Fanboy” mode. So yeah my points might be childish but in the same vein all that I expect from FF is just a bit of love, so I believe fanboyism is allowed, no?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • May 14th, 2010

    It isn’t Bioware who dictates what makes a game fall in a specific genre. It’s people in general, and mostly critics and journalists. They are who end up stating the defining tropes of a genre. And, whether we approve or not, FFXIII and ME2 share a lot common ground – science fiction/fantasy setting, exp based level up systems, branching skill trees and narrative oriented meta-structure. Does the non-linearity of one current really separate games to a point in which they deserve a separate genre? I think not. They are merely different variations of the RPG concept, interpreted according to a different aesthetic and cultural point of view.

    Surely, the J-RPG brand may seem a lot different from the table top RPG’s who defined the genre. But guess what? So do Bioware games. Genres change. They are not static, you need not conjure a different genre every time someone changes it up a bit. As long as their inner core is shared, it is still the same genre. Balkanizing the debate into issues such as “which is the true RPG genre” is the pointless stuff of which fanboy wars are made. In the end, everyone just defends what they like most.

    Regarding the issue in terms of FFXIII in specific, I also think it is a non-issue. J-RPG’s do not have to become C-RPG’s to be better. In fact, I would go as far as saying it is the other way around, C-RPG’s are the ones who have, for the past 20 years, been trying to take inspiration from the Japanese. Cinematic as ME may be, FFVII was so in 1997. And if you ask me, ME3 still has a lot to learn from old Final Fantasies (which is not to say that I don’t adore these games, or that I don’t think they have something to say about the genre, just that there is still a lot western designers can’t grasp!).

    I think J-RPG’s are trapped in a very specific, easily traceable problem, which is the fact that their core-audience (mostly Japanese rpg crowd and western fanboys) has evolved, taste-wise, in a very different direction than we did. They are, for obvious reasons, still infatuate with the frantic and over-the-top, melodramatic J-pop aesthetic and they are ridiculously conservative in terms of game design (because they’re ‘fans’, and ‘fans’ don’t like new things, they like the old stuff). This is the problem. FFXII was not made for that audience and look where it got it. The next step in line had to be FFXIII, to cater for that audience. It’s sad but true.

    Now, this has nothing to do with whether or not Square should try to open themselves to western RPG tropes. I think they shouldn’t. We already have that. Fallout 3, Fable 2 and ME are good examples of what can be done with western views on game design. What we need is a fresh J-RPG on-look into design, to counterbalance the predominant weight of the western kind.

    We need more, not less.

    Cheers!

    • Eric
    • June 16th, 2010

    ruicraveirinha, how would you rate the final fantasy vii spin-offs? Did you play Dirge of Cerebus or Crisis Core?

    • ruicraveirinha
    • June 16th, 2010

    I only played Crisis Core, and I’d rate it along a 1/5. Like FFXIII, its frantic aesthetic was aimed at a younger audience with which I do not identify myself in the least. Visually bland, the original score of electronic beats was offensive to Uematsu’s original, and the narrative, as would be expected, was just fan-pleasing back-tracking with no substance. Combat wasn’t that bad, at the very least it was real-time, but in the end it was just too shallow and eventually degenerates to button mashing. So nope… did not like it.

    Cheers Eric!

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