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In Defense of Final Fantasy XIII

Jeff Dunn | 15 Mar 2012 18:30
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Now, this isn't to say that Final Fantasy XIII couldn't have gone about its radical design shift in a different way. Let's consider the alternatives that may have given the title the mass acceptance it never achieved. The game very well could've followed the lead of those aforementioned more Western, more successful RPGs that have dominated the critical and popular landscape of the genre in the years surrounding FFXIII's release, games like Bethesda's Elder Scrolls and Fallout titles, BioWare's Mass Effect series, or From Software's Demon's Souls games.

Final Fantasy XIII gave fans something new. And it was vehemently hated as a result.

Considering the waves of negative feedback towards its now-infamous, strictly linear level design, it'd be safe to assume FFXIII would've been better off opting for a more blown out, Skyrim-esque open world setting, if it just had to act on its impulse to change things up. Considering the amount of flak Lightning and co.'s story received for being too confusingly overblown, too hands off, and, frankly, too up its own ass in its world's terminology, a Mass Effect-style mechanic, with branching dialogue options would've sated things slightly (FFXIII-2 even meagerly attempts to add in this sort of popularly-accepted conversational system, albeit fleetingly). As for its combat, it's not an enormous stretch to assume that there wouldn't be too many qualms from the Final Fantasy faithful if Kitase and crew tried to implement, in some respect, a more visceral, challenging combat system in the vein of Demon's Souls (although, I'd venture to guess that taking all forms of turn-based combat out of a FF game would probably cause at least one, maybe two world wars). And so on.

The possibilities weren't endless, but they were there. All Final Fantasy XIII had to do was adapt to these new genre standards, and everyone might have gone home happy to have just spent their $60. Instead, Final Fantasy XIII gave fans something new, something legitimately unique, something different than what had been, and what still is, being offered. And it was vehemently hated as a result.

I'll be honest: I haven't played much of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Despite the modestly positive feedback it's been getting in the critical and popular communities, I'll need some time before I sink away some serious hours into it; its existence alone is just too tragic. It's something of a failed dream, a forced reversion into a more familiar product. It's a half-hearted return to the old ways, a game held hostage by an endlessly vocal fanbase fueled largely by misinformed expectations and hypocritical demands. The legacy of the Final Fantasy name, for all its critical and commercial successes, is now what's preventing the series from progressing in any meaningful way.

Where the core series eventually goes from here is anyone's guess. I'd guess Square Enix themselves can't be too confident in whatever direction they may choose. How could they be? They're dealing with an audience that simply doesn't function the way most other audiences do. It's a rather unique dilemma; many of those fans that have been loyal to the franchise for so long are the same ones keeping it from growing with any significance. All the designers can know is that, by stamping those two little words, Final Fantasy, onto their product, they are effectively placing an anchor around their collective neck. It is their albatross. Fifteen years ago, Final Fantasy -the name, the game, the ideal-could please everybody. Unfortunately for all of us, those days appear to be dead and buried.

Jeff Dunn is a freelance writer currently based in Worcester, MA. He has trouble tanning. You can read his nerdy musings over at PopMatters, That VideoGame Blog, or, if you dare brave his sense of humor, on his Twitter.

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