So what happened to Final Fantasy XIII? Well, a few things. First was the fan reaction to FFXII. A lot of people got on the knee-jerk reaction wagon and disparaged the open-world concept because of how they felt towards MMORPGs, particularly Everquest and World of Warcraft. I can’t blame them. I’ve played a lot of MMORPGs and, outside of a brief stint with FFXI, never really had a good time. I’m sure this isn’t true for most of you, considering how popular a lot of these Skinner Box games are. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that MMORPGs had a lot more to offer traditional RPGs where world building and life-like elements were concerned. FFXII did a lot to incorporate those elements.
Because of the fan reaction, Square-Enix ended up going the other direction. They decided to use a system which more fully incorporated cinematic elements and designed the game around a linear pathway. Instead of the sprawling world and life-like elements of FFXII, the new title would shave off all the excess. No more functional towns, no more branching paths, and a lot more attention to J-pop inspired fashion. It worked for FFX, why wouldn’t it work again?
FFX didn’t really work in such extremes. Sure, it was a bit more linear and had a J-pop aesthetic, but it also allowed for exploration and fleshed out its world with a lot of different cultures. That made it kinda neat. Being honest, I’m not much of an FFX fan, but I really appreciate what it brought to the table. In fact, re-implementing the multi-cultural world building element from FFX is one of the reasons I like FFXIII so much. FFXIII just didn’t do that.
FFXIII has a lot of flash and glitz, but it’s hollow inside. There’s a popular fan notion that it’s just a retread of FFVII, which I’m willing to believe given how successful that franchise has been. But unlike FFVII, its characters never really grow beyond their archetypes. They never manifest complex egos or realistic motivations. In the end, the cast comes off as kind of… dumb, I guess? It might just be me, but I really couldn’t believe in any of them as people, and I’ve had to suspend a lot of disbelief in gaming over the years.