Well, I think if you're reading this review, you're more or less interested in JRPG one way or another (either love it or hate it). You're probably familiar with the on going "genre war", brought to use after the "console war" but obsessive fanboys, disgrunted players, bitter old timers, passionate players and people have nothing better to do. Well, one thing though, you probably see the main argument against JRPG is that it's consistence without changing. It's a prejudice that I think is no longer correctly reflecting the current JRPG market and I know a lot of people (some of you in fact) put me in the Wapanese category for that (better than being accusing fanboy I guess, but somehow I got a feeling I'm being accused on both charges). Still, I stand by my argument a lot of people hating JRPG on an out of date stereotype. Today, let me show you the "right way" to hate a JRPG.
Pacing: the worst problem I have with the game, now I kinda understand what all the complaint about linearity in FFXIII. Now as an addict JRPG player Iâ€™m no stranger to the linearity of the game, and in fact, FFXIII is no worse (or better) most other JRPG in this department, however in this case the linearity is like a catalyst for something much worse. Itâ€™s a long road filled with drama, the problem is there is no build up or suspense to the drama. As such instead of helping forwarding a strong narrative (which is something you can credit linearity for) it somehow creates the exact opposite effect, it makes the story feel directionless and at time having no progression. For example, in FFVIII you can put the game into segment: the attack on Dollet, meeting with the Timber Owl, planning the assassination of the Sorceresses â€¦etcâ€¦ each of these events, their sequence is as linear as you have it but they provided a sense of progression/direction to the story and characters and explain the character drama along the way. In FFXIII even near the half story mark, I still feel directionless regarding the characters and even the story itself. And this really kills a lot of elements of the game as listed below.
Narrative: I will have to give FFXIII a third grade for its writing; either that or the translation is bad. First itâ€™s due to the pacing of the game. Like I said instead of having built up and suspense for the drama, itâ€™s just a constant flow of drama, and worse, itâ€™s mostly the same type of drama. Basically you play every one hour for every 10 minutes of drama. I look at all the characters at the end and concluded: â€œwhat a bunch of emoâ€. And no, as surprisingly as it sounds this is the first JRPG title I have bestow that judgment. And 90% of the dialogue in the game will follow this â€œEXACTâ€ script:
+ A: Oh Iâ€™m so ready to give up.
+ B: But we have to be strong and press forward!!
+ A: yeah youâ€™re right, we have to.
And this was repeated again and again and again. No I donâ€™t care if itâ€™s the theme of the story, if I have to listen to the same damn line for the entire duration of a 40-50 hours long game I wonâ€™t care if a itâ€™s the best line ever spoken because itâ€™s bad, period. And whatâ€™s being said is far from being the best line. There was a speech at the end of chapter 10, the guy spoke for like a paragraph but as soon as he finished his first sentence, I â€œfacepalmedâ€ myself (doing the actual action) with â€œthis AGAIN!!!??!?!?â€ â€¦ and I was right. I think every JRPG has some lines like that, spoken at the highest tension of the story drama once or twice during the game. The times FFXIII says it, I think it has a one year worth of JRPG release.
Plot: One more bad thing about the narrative is the over relying on the â€œbombshell droppingâ€ approach, which again I contribute to bad pacing. Most of the major plot points are reveal involving some guys appears and tell you it on the face. Often time there is no leading, to resolving, no â€¦ contemplating. Itâ€™s just like the story tell you â€œOh do you know about this? Are you surprised now? Are you in awl?â€ At those times I just want to reply â€œno, because the bomb you dropped doesnâ€™t seem to explode.â€ This results in a disjointed narrative that fails to delivery whatever itâ€™s trying to. And there is the datalog, which I think either translated by someone really clueless about Japanese-English transition because if it was on purpose, most of the story information presented in there feel like they come straight out of a gradeschool fairy book. Theyâ€™re not bad, but theyâ€™re just embarrassing cheesy to read, and the worse part is that the in game narrative fail to illustrate the drama to the height written in the datalog. To put it short, the narrative uses a â€œbelieve what youâ€™re told and pretend to be happy approachâ€. While itâ€™s not a new thing, I certainly donâ€™t expect that from a FF title. And common, sure we expect some corny lines in JRPG, but since when smart-and-cool(NOT) one liner was accepted as the norm in a FF game?!?
Characters: well, if a story lacks a good narrative, you can guess how well the characters will fare. Now, there are games we think the side characters are better than the main characters, there are games that only focus on the main characters while NPCs are afterthought, FFXIII had me not to care about both. Again coming back to what I said earlier, the mishandling of the drama is like string to move a big truck without the necessary power, so a lot of time it feels like a stand still thing and the characters are flat. What my characters think? what they want to do? I have no freaking clue. Remember those bombshells I stated above? They are also what your characters use most of the times. There was one time the characters turn 180 because they â€¦ well, just decide to change, some kind of on the fly revelation that give me a big â€œEh?!?â€ Yeah, totally didnâ€™t see that coming â€¦ and not in the good way. The entire game probably has one single believable character development, you might not like it but savior it. Samething with side characters, I donâ€™t think there has been a single FF game I play that I donâ€™t care or like at least one or two NPCs, Hell, I donâ€™t think there has been even a single JRPG suffers that. Well, they say there is first time for everything, and this is definitely not something I want to lose my virginity over. Serah? Cid? Nabaat? And all other NPCs all have a pathetically low profile in the game as far as a â€œplayerâ€ concern. But multiply their influence by 1000, and you have what your in game characters and story perceived them at. How to say it, itâ€™s like if youâ€™re a xenophobic or just donâ€™t think the Asari look that attractive yet Mass Effect always seem constantly forcing this image of the Asari being space dryad by the entire universe. These characters, the story and datalog present them with an influence 1000 times greater what I can perceive directly in the game. And that qualifies as pretentious and forced drama in my book.
Cutsceen: One last thing to describe how a bad narrative can damage the game. Cutsceen, oh yeah, while I wonâ€™t readily agree with someone claiming Cutsceen is the meat of a FF game, I wonâ€™t argue back either. Like it or donâ€™t like, FFâ€™s cutsceen has always been one of the awl of a FF game. From scenes that can get you blood flowing like the dual between Squall and Seifer, or one that having you searching your jaw after watching like the fleet of Cannon mount airship in FFIX, or the high drama â€œpoolâ€ scene between Tidus and Yuna that had the internet in an uproar. Now for the first time, I realize something I didnâ€™t before, the technical aspect is only one thing that makes those scenes awesome. There were good because they make sense, because they deliver what I either want to see, or believe would happen story wise. Most scenes in FFXIII just simply â€¦ lacks this. For example, there us one scene that can be definitely described as jaw dropping at the beginning of chapter XII, and as far as the technical aspect goes I think only the scene of Metal Gears Solid 4 is a worthy rival. Yet I feel nothing, ABSOLUTELY nothing except just another â€œEh!?!â€ To me without a reason behind it, the scene seem to be just an over the top random Hollywood action flick thrown in. The very same scene could have been better if the narrative provided some kind of connecting element.
The sluggish pacing also affects the battle system. And no no, the battle system is absolutely fantastic and worthy of showering of praise. It just takes too damn long to pick up. I mean â€¦ common, Iâ€™m only allowed to start switching characters near the â€œhalf wayâ€ mark in the game? Not only that, the battle system while is more complex then previous title, it doesnâ€™t justify the long (or slow) unlocking process. What could have been a 1 or 2 hours tutorial end up spanning
-10 hours. Imagin in FFVIII you get everyone by the time you get Kervin, but have to wait until you get the Ragnarok to actually be allowed to change your party o_0
Music: The final complain is to the game music, or more specific, the theme song. This is again another symbolic trademark of the series that fails short this time around. The songs in FF has never been just about â€œsounding goodâ€, theyâ€™re also for the most part reflect the story in probably one of the most direct way any gaming songs can ever be. Eyes on Me was basically a retell of what happens between Laguna and Julia in their last night. Melody of Life is the promises between characters in their darkest hours. 1000 Worlds is Lenneâ€™s own strain of thought. So what is FFXIIIâ€™s My Hand? Nothing. And each of these songs was not sung randomly in the games, they have their own state where they have the strongest impact, I guess itâ€™s not surprising there isnâ€™t such a thing in FFXIII. I havenâ€™t checked the Japanese version yet, but from the title I wonder if this is a blunder of the localization process. The original theme song is â€œKimi Ga Iru Karaâ€, which I think mean â€œBecause I have youâ€, which at least sounds more fitting to what the theme of the game. No offensive meant to Leona Lewis, My Hand is a great song and she performed beautifully, it just doesnâ€™t have any â€¦ Final Fantasy feeling to it. I will enjoy it when I have the album Echo, but not when I hear it in this game. She was chosen probably more for the shake of sale then for the shake of story.
Well thatâ€™s enough of the complaints. More then enough I think, since itâ€™s 3 page of Word in 10.5 Century font single spacing, anyone read through that wall of text will have a hard time believing Iâ€™m actually a JRPG addict and not a JRPG hater, and I wonâ€™t blame them. But now on to the good stuff, sadly there isnâ€™t much.
Battle system: while I had argued that JRPG battle system is far from derivative of one another, there are feel that can actually get your flood flowing. I wonâ€™t say FFXIIIâ€™s battle system will make you feel like playing an action game, but it has enough rhythm to make you making footstep. I think it find the area for the people who think a tradition turn base is too boring and slow but lack the hand-eye quickness for a full real time to feel comfortable. And its class system provides a bit of variety in developing your characters and it also provide enough enemies variety for you to employ. In the first few chapters you might think classes like Saboteur and Sentinel are more like gimmick, but later on youâ€™ll be glad proven wrong.
Graphic: I think praising a FFâ€™s technical prowess is like stating the sun rising on the east. I just want to say though, while most of the scene are pretty standard FF stuffs (which is already higher then average standard), Grand Pulse is absolutely amazing. A lot of games and reviewers had made the claim of make the environment alive but to me most if not all are just glorified gimmick, but Grand Pulse does really deliver this feeling. Seeing all the creatures of all size roaming is inspiring and an environment that fits them so well. Now Iâ€™m fully aware of other gimmick employed by the game to create this effect, but still there is not arguing it does manage to create such effect, the end justified the mean, right. Putting a 3D classes on your head, and you might as well think youâ€™re playing .//Hack. I think if any fan of the Elderscroll series would die happy if their game can create such environment.
In conclusion: I donâ€™t like FFXIII. I think a lot of others bash FFXIII before it was released. However I think itâ€™s funny, most of these bashing came from the same argument that the series, or JRPG in overall hasnâ€™t changed their formula since forever. (Which I maintain my argument came from people who probably play very little JRPG and only know one or two flagship series). What I see now is a lot of change, and thatâ€™s exactly what I think is bad. I guess thatâ€™s the difference between someone playing and dislike the game, and someone who dislike the genre. FFXIII once again re-affirm what I fear happening to JRPG, or at least, triple-A JRPG, a rapid process of Westernize. These JRPG developers admit it, the developers of FFXIII admit it themselves really so there isnâ€™t a need to beat around the bush on that issue. A lot of things, both good and bad in FFXIII have Western influence written all over. I think the day of me playing big name JRPG is coming to a close. I donâ€™t hate Western RPG, but what JRPG is transforming into is not really in that territory, and instead of taking the best of both worlds like any good hybrid should, it feels like JRPG is taking the worst of both worlds to me. Or maybe, itâ€™s like Orange Juice and Milk, which are both tasty, but mix them together and you get something really nasty. I think at this pace my JRPG enjoyment will be limited down to small and niche JRPG developers like NIS, Atlas â€¦etcâ€¦ A lot of people will laugh when I say I gonna trade FFXIII for Sakura Taisen 5 and I wonâ€™t blame them, Iâ€™ll lose $20 in between but for what Iâ€™m looking for, thatâ€™s how much I think FFXIII was worth. It fails at most what I want while excel as what I donâ€™t really care about, at least with Sakura Taisen I would be pretty damn sure about what Iâ€™m getting, a pure JRPG, a JRPG meant for its original mentality, good or bad thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m looking for when I want to play a JRPG.