Accept my presumption that the general gaming population has not grown sick of this discussion. Next, put aside whatever vicious barbs you may be preparing for me in defense of Square Enix, for I was once like you, and implore you to listen. Like all scorned lovers, I must find a means to soothe the pain of a broken heart. I’m beyond anger and have transcended to the illusive place of reason. I look upon that horizon like one would a barrel of a loaded gun. Few games have been so surprisingly offensive to me as Final Fantasy XIII, which exists in my mind as a near-complete failure. It also taught me that a 39/40 score from Famitsu means absolutely nothing. Hell, I approached every game review after that experience with some kind of trepidation. Eights and nines seemed impossibly generous, especially when the review itself explained just how disappointing this long-awaited entry into the FF saga was. I’m always eager to shift the blame to XIII’s director, Motomu Toriyama– who has not produced a single game I’ve enjoyed. Perhaps some sort of hive mind has assumed control over Square, hell-bent on taking the Final Fantasy series on the most painful tangent in its history, back to the realm of hyper-wacky Japanese RPGs that we’ve tried so very hard to embrace. Some of us love them and cherish that language barrier. Some of us would rather chew on aluminum that swallow a story that we were never intended to understand.
Regardless of where the series derailed or how, Final Fantasy is not beyond hope. In fact, Square should arrange a company retreat and rent “The Labyrinth” just so every single freaking creative mind in that mass of identity crises can hear this line spoken by a freaking puppet, which, in 1986, had ten times the personality and intrigue of that walking knee-to-the-groin they called “Vanille.”
“The way forwards is sometimes the way back.”
In this case, scratch out the “sometimes” and replace it with “oh my God, you go back RIGHT now and look at your games. LOOK AT THEM. Now DO THAT.” No, I don’t mean re-do Final Fantasy VI and cover it with a sterile layer of too-perfect skin textures and backdrops. I mean remember what set you apart. Let’s break it down.
Reel In that Plot Line
Final Fantasy XIII’s plot was a mess. It began with a stoic main character set out on destroying something. Yeah! Go Lightning! Kill things! Make some gil! Stop Shin-… Something. Lots of questions and virtually no answers were intended to develop interest and pull us along by the nose. When things began to unfold, did they make sense? Sort of, usually after several hours of reading those datalog entries you’d been ignoring during the mindless killing. We were supposed to be invested in the fate of Cocoon and Pulse and cieth and crystals and all the other blandly-named elements. Yet it took hours upon hours to get me to care. The stakes began so high and by the time things really started to take off, the situation was just ridiculous. These characters were thrust into a near-hopeless situation and just pushed on like freaking GI Joes. The issues with the gods and the purpose of Cocoon were so removed and surreal that there was nothing to ground you in this place. Yet remember what worked: rebels versus a power-hungry energy titan, green soldiers versus an ancient evil-made-real in a world rife with war, oppression and injustice; greed and powerlust. These were missions we could relate to. When these stories reached their climax, the true villains reared their heads and the heroes regrouped, then moved on. These adversaries weren’t so unbelievable as to remove us from the story, but they were otherworldly enough to up the ante. Shin-ra evolved into Sephiroth, Edea and Deling became Ultimecia and time itself, and even Archadia became Vayne. We began grounded in a world, facing a tangible problem and then ascended, facing a seemingly-indestructable foe. It doesn’t need to be something as complex and over-the-top as destroying a world and summoning a god. I’ve never, ever been tasked with something so grand as bringing down my entire paradigm, nor have I faced something I can equate it to. Then I have to deal with all these twists and turns when I was never invested in the first place. Your complexity shouldn’t come from the plot devices you throw in to take us off-course. It stems from your believable characters you’ve forced into this and their attempts to deal with an already difficult situation, ancient gods and worlds aside. In short: If you think you’ve come up with a genius complex plot, you haven’t. Shut up and simplify it.
We Shouldn’t Hate Everyone
I don’t know about you, but I had one hell of a time rooting for the home team. Even Lightning grated on my nerves with her lone-wolf routine and stubbornness. Don’t even get me started on Vanille and Hope. Now there’s always going to be a set of Final Fantasy stereotypes. There’s the annoying girl, strong girl, silent guy and loud guy, etc. Yet we can usually find something redeemable in all of them. Selphie might have driven you nuts, but she knew when to shut up, kick ass, and fly the Ragnarok. Even Cloud had his redeeming moments, especially after his revelation. Despite their intended stereotype, these characters weren’t completely boxed into that identity– they were still dynamic people, responding to situations with some sense of humanity. Their dilemmas built up over time rather than the case of FFXIII, where everyone’s already got piles of baggage to drag around. What’s worse is despite the situation they’re forced to deal with, they react with either an impossible coolness or inexplicable frivolity. No, it wasn’t endearing in the least. Laughing in the face of a giant monster is downright stupid, not brave. Hope’s brooding moments came off as whiny and overtly emotional rather than complex and believable. Unique personalities are forged by actions, not stupid little quirks you assign them later. Stop with the giggling and the thumbs ups. Stop with the “oh, it’s been an hour. Time to sit down and mourn my mom and stuff.” There was no realism in these people. They were bound to the personalities picked out for them, which doomed them to these reactions-on-rails rather than human responses. “What would Vanille do in this situation? Oh, well, she’d laugh, because that’s what Vanille does.” Wrong. Try again: what would a human do in this situation, given her background and what she’s already experienced? Perhaps the voice acting played a big part of why I thought these characters were such failures, but I truly believe that the overt stereotypes doomed them to be flat and predictable. In short: Back off the stereotypes and consider the human psyche.