Why Final Fantasy 13 really sucks

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Game Review
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No doubt people will read this and disagree. If you do actually like the game I would be interested in what it is that you liked about it. The main reason for writing this is to refute an argument somewhere else. Jeff Dunn from the Escapist has written an article tearing down a straw man argument for why fans don’t like FF13. Get this, the reason fans don’t like it because it tried something new, and didn’t fit into the classic template of final fantasy games.

Now if you’ve ever played more than one game in the  Final Fantasy series this might seem like a pretty odd. Doesn’t every game in the series try new things? Some more than others. Final Fantasy 13 tried more new things than some games and less than others, but on the whole its pretty average in that regard, not some huge paradigm shift the article makes it out to be.

I could list every single game in the series and list the new things they tried, but that would take a long time so I’ll just go over a few games in the series, for more details about Final Fantasy games check out this series of articles I randomly found online, which goes pretty in depth into each game and should give you a better idea of how each and every game was unique ans tried things never done before in Final Fantasy.

Well I should start with FF2. Right from the start they were trying things not done in the first game. Gone were the set classes and instead every character could use every weapon and use every spell. And instead of just gaining experience and leveling up, each stat leveled up on its own. The more you used magic the better you got at magic. The more you used physical attacks the better you at physical attacks. and so on. Although they had some similarities the differences led to a very different experience in the first 2 Final Fantasies.

Final Fantasy 4 was the first game in the series where the player had no control over the abilities of the characters. In 1 and 3 you could choose the classes of the characters, and in 2 there where no classes but you decided which spells the characters learned. Taking all the control out of the players hands was a significant change, but its overshadowed by the real game changer of FF4, the active time battle system. No longer could you just wait around all day to decide what to do on your turn, now enemies would continue to attack you. The ATB system would be a part of every final fantasy in the main series form then on, with the exception of 10. Even though 12 and 13 have made some changes to the battle system its still based on the ATB system at its core. Final Fantasy 4 was a greater paradigm shift than anything 13 has to offer.

And what about Final Fantasy 8? Most people either love it or hate it, because it had a lot of really strange changes. Like 13 there is no MP. You have to first draw magic from enemies or special draw points, which will give you a stock of magic to cast later on. Or you could junction magic to your stats to increase them, with different spells increasing stats by different amounts. It was really weird. And you could summon GFs which are basically comparable to summons/eidolons/espers in other Final Fantasy games. However rather than just being instantly summoned and doing damage like in previous games,  it would take some time to summon and while this was happening, the GFs could be attacked and even killed.

And another change is the stripped down equipment in FF8. There is a lot of variance in the equipment in the series. Some games let you have helmets, body armor, gloves, boots etc. Some only let you have a single slot for armor and one for weapon, and maybe an accessory. FF8 was the most stripped down with no armor at all or accessories, and only a weapon. You couldn’t buy new weapons but you could upgrade them if you had the right parts and found the magazine that tells you how to make it.

And really this wouldn’t be complete complete without mentioning FF12. No more battle screen where your guys stand on one side and the enemies stand on the other and you take turns walking over to attack them and then running back to your own side. No this game you fought monsters right in the dungeons with no transition to a battle screen, and you could move you character around during the battle. Some attacks had an area of effect, so where your characters where standing could make a difference. I mean FF12 was a far greater departure from the supposed Final Fantasy template than 13.

So that pretty much destroys the straw man that fans hated FF13 just because it tried new things. I don’t know what sort of template he thinks Final Fantasy games fit into but if it includes games as diverse as FFs 4, 8, and 12, then it must be broad enough to include FF13 as well. It just so happened that the new things they tried in this game mostly sucked. But before I get into that I should mention one change in the game that I did like. There is no MP for using magic in this game. There is an ATB gauge that fills up as in most previous games but its divided into several sections, and more powerful actions take more sections of the ATB gauge. So basically you have to wait longer for powerful actions. Its a new twist on the classic ATB system and I thought it was pretty interesting. So much for hating things just because  they’re different.

Now lets get into some problems. The straight line dungeons of course being they main issue people complained about. Unfortunately this problem has been a long time coming. Way back in the playstation era FF7 had far shorter and more linear dungeons than previous games. It wasn’t quite as bad as the later games and there was still a world map in between dungeons and towns to give some sense of exploration, but anyone who played the older FFs would notice a huge difference in the complexity of dungeons in FF7.

The problem got worse in FF10 when the world map was done away with entirely and all you had to explore was the dungeons, which were shifting to be a bit more linear. Really, FF13 is only a little bit worse than FF10 in terms of linear level design. Its not some huge paradigm shift its just a trend started in the PS1 era finally brought to its ugly conclusion.

So what other changes were made? Well buying items is basically meaningless. Stocking up on items doesn’t have the same impact as it did in previous games. There are far fewer items, and since you get restored to perfect condition after each battle, the items you do get are basically superfluous. Generally in FFs preparation is more than half the battle. With the exception of a few bosses you can skate through the games pretty easily as long as you are prepared, with the right items and equipment. The preparation aspect is completely destroyed in FF13. That alone wouldn’t be so bad if there was some areas of the game that were actually interesting, but there aren’t.

The combat is hopelessly dull, where you can autobattle most of the time and win without thinking. Any enemies that are tough enough where you have to spend some effort are only interesting the first time, and once you figure out how to beat them, its the same every time. Now you might say the previous Final Fantasy had repetitive battles, and you’d be right. The difference is that previous games the battles slowly wore you down. You tolerated the repetitiveness because it wasn’t about the individual battles, but about preparation and endurance. Now the only reason for the battles is gone, and they are just an annoyance that will never have a chance at defeating you.

This is turning out to be a lot longer than I expected and I could just go on and on, but this might go quicker with a quote from Sid Meier, “A game is a series of interesting choices.” So what are the interesting choices in FF13? There really aren’t any. This isn’t some new direction for the series to go, the combat is still built around the ATB system, and it has only minor differences from previous games. The only difference is that they stripped out all the interesting choices. No exploration, no wandering around towns talking to NPCs, and stockpiling items to prepare for a dungeon, no conversation choices, extremely limited choices in battle and in most cases autobattle is the ideal choice anyway. The leveling system is basically the sphere grid from FF10 only less interesting and more restrictive, which I scarcely thought possible.

I’m not one of those people who hated Fallout 3 because it was an FPS rather than a turn based RPG. If Square-Enix wanted to make some completely different gameplay for FF13 it may have pissed a few people off but me and plenty of others would have been happy with it if it actually had interesting gameplay. It did not do anything new, its just a stripped down version of the final fantasy core mechanics, and what was left had no interesting decisions. If they want to make a more streamlined game, okay I’ll give it a shot, but they’ve got to give me something, anything. Some aspect of the game has to have interesting choices.

  1. Sumanai says:

    The first “large quote” on the article drove me off instantly. The amount of articles in video game sites “defending” games or creators but in reality attacking people or fans is worrying. I’m not certain “journalistic integrity” means what they think it means.

    One, rather big, problem with FF13 was the insanely long tutorial segment. So the game actually starts after 20 hours of gameplay? Yeah, not too good. If the article really just ignored that complaint, and there’s no way he hasn’t ran into it, the writer is an idiot (or working with an agenda). Not a big fault in a person, but I also worry about the unprofessional behaviour of journalists, and that’s a pretty important point to ignore just to tell off people who disagree with you (generic “you”, not you in particular).

    About my mention of an agenda, of course anyone who decides to write an article has some purpose behind it, but to intentionally ignore an inconvenient fact doesn’t exactly breed trust.

    • maxff says:

      Interesting comment. I’m sure that he is writing with an agenda, which as you said, would be okay if they didn’t ignore inconvenient facts. The idea that fans simply don’t like the game because its different is absurd, and would require ignoring pretty much the entire history of the game. He probably happens to like FF13 and will say whatever he has to to dismiss complaints against it.

      Even my brother, who has only played a few Final Fantasy remakes on the PSP, and has watched me play some of the playstation and playstation 2 era final fantasy’s, recognized the obvious fact. Everyone going on about how different FF13 was from the rest of the series was full of shit. The changes really weren’t that significant compared to changes we would find in any other Final Fantasy. The only people I know in real life who made the claim that FF13 was completely different from all previous games, were people who had never played any games in the series before 13.

      There were legitimate reasons for not liking the game other than that it was different.

    • Jeff says:


      Hi. I’m the dude who wrote this piece. Pretty late response here, but I decided to do some Googlin’ and see if any responses had come up. I’m glad I came across this.

      Look, bros, before I make any counterclaims, I just got to clear this up. I have no agenda. Square Enix isn’t paying me to do their dirty work — that’s why they have PR folks. I don’t brood in the dark corners of the netherworlds thinking up ways to spark the ire of fanboys, or any shit like that. I have a life. I’m a 21-year-old guy with no money, an opinion and some writing ability. I pitched the Escapist with this idea. An editor there liked it. She gave me the platform to voice said opinion. End of demo. A website like that wouldn’t hire some fanboy to write why his favorite game owns so much (though I would totally do that with Jet Force Gemini if I was allowed to).

      I knew I’d probably be starting a mini-shitstorm with this piece, but I felt the pro-XIII argument is one not often made for a game that really wasn’t all that bad (in my opinion, of course).

      So, I’m not gonna do a point-by-point counterargument to everything said here, but just know that I totally get your side of it. Let me make this clear: I’m not saying you’re wrong, per se. Nobody who commented seemed to get this. I’m positing a theory, one that says that there is an underlying issue with fans of series that are held dear — they are resistant to change. You can disagree with that point all you like. I totally respect and understand that. I just wanted to take more of a psychological viewpoint, and tell it like I saw it. That’s all.

      Was it my best work? Probably not. Could I have explained things a little better? You bet your ass I could have. But I’m proud of the fact that I put my argument out there, and it seems like I at least sparked some actual debate on the topic, which is all I could ever ask for. Of course most of that debate is calling me a paid-off stooge sucking at the tits of Square Enix, but hey that comes with the games writing territory, so I can roll with it. On the whole, I think things came out okay.

      I wouldn’t be able to get a “why XIII was hated” article commissioned if there wasn’t a significant backlash to it in the first place, so in that sense, I thank you. In many ways the fact that you took the time out to counter my piece is an enormous compliment. It’s pretty humbling.

      Buuuut, I still think you’re kind of misunderstanding me. Yes, games like 8 and 12 made a fair amount of changes too. Do you remember how many fans reacted to those games upon their releases? Not too well, if I recall correctly. There’s people that still curse 12 for fucking with things so much (full disclosure: 12 is my favorite in the series), and I’ve seen many rants on how 8 “ruined” the series after everything 7 did so well. Those weren’t really so “beloved” as hindsight would have many fans believe.

      I also just can’t fully believe people when they say 13 isn’t really totally different from the rest of the series. Play 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10 consecutively (as I did before I wrote this article) and you can’t tell me the general feel of it isn’t, for the most part, the same, especially with 4-9. 10 is more linear, yes, but it’s still a classic RPG formula at heart. The idea I was positing with 13, though, was that it was a game with a RPG’s soul but a FPS’ brain. It was laid out different. It was a corridor shooter with pink hair and paradigm shifts, essentially. None of the other FF’s really work that way.

      To your credit, 12 did a similar thing. That’s true, except it had an MMO’s brain (to continue this analogy) along with it, if you catch my drift.

      Here’s what I know: people like the Final Fantasy games that are most like 4, 6 and 7. The closer FF games get to those, the more they seem to be universally accepted. Most FF fans want a FF7 remake more than anything else from the series, after all.13 wasn’t like those, it was a stripped-down version of an RPG with an FPS’ game design for 2/3rds of the game. That’s a “change” in and of itself, and I can’t think of another FF that did that. I’m not talking about minor battle system shifts here or not having MP there; I’m talking about how the Square Enix team fundamentally approached the creation of their game differently this time out, how that failed in the eyes of their fans, and how they’re being pressured into reverting into an already-done formula in order to win back their fans’ good graces. I saw a mini-tragedy in that.

      Now, if you genuinely don’t like how much 13 is unlike 4/6/7 because of how “bad” the changes were, then more power to you. I’m not in the business of forcing people to change their opinion. But I do try to get people thinking. I just saw many people want the same old shit again. Shit that I loved in 1997, but don’t want back in 2012. Again, this is all opinion. I get you. Trust me.

      But okay, that was way too long. Time for me to let this thing go, hahaha. But anyways, let me just say something about “professionalism:” it’s not my job to bow to the masses and let people tell me I’m an “idiot” or that I’ve never played any Final Fantasy before without repercussion. I’m a writer, yeah, but I’m also a human being. For all the gaming press out there, just take it easy on them. They’re trying. They know people are going to irrationally hate them. We’re all insecure, and most of us have drinking problems (trust me), so words can hurt, to quote Mr. Rogers (no idea if he actually said that).

      Also I’m pretty sure I mentioned the fact that you could play the first 9 chapters on “autopilot” if you really tried to, so I didn’t ignore that convenient fact. Alright, peace my friends.

  2. maxff says:

    I think I understand it a little better than from the comment, but I still disagree that the fans hate all change and want their games to be as much like 7, 6, and 4 as possible. Now this is assuming there is a consensus on which Final Fantasy is the best. Now you have pointed out that some people didn’t like 8 and 12 because of the changes. And you are correct, but they are not the only ones, in fact I don’t think a single Final Fantasy is immune to this including Final Fantasy 7. Despite having the most people who think its the best, it also has a lot of people who think it changed too much. Some people prefer the really old Final Fantasys like 1 and 3. Some people like 9 because it combines elements of the older games like class based characters. In any event all games in the series have some haters, and some who love them, and there is no consensus about which ones are the true Final Fantasy. The arguments I’ve seen about fans arguing which FF is the best are legendary, and the reasons for picking any particular game are too diverse to even explain.

    In any event the backlash against 13 is much worse than it was against 8 or 12, and the reason is that despite the changes they made, the new gameplay they offered still had some interesting choices. The change in 13 is to rip out the interesting choices, let the game go on autopilot and occasionally if things get rough change the paradigm. This isn’t 90% of the game being boring and 10% being good. This is like 99% being bad and 1% being good. All the random encounters were boring. Most of the bosses were boring. A few bosses near the end of the game are somewhat interesting, and once you’ve figured out the pattern it becomes boring again because you just do the same thing over and over again.

    This could be fixed in a number of ways. They could look to previous games like X-2 and provide more roles than the 6 in the game, and therefore a much larger number of paradigms. Since the paradigm shift is the only decision of any importance in the game, having more choices could make it more interesting. Also they could follow through on the supposed FPS design and make the enemies cannon fodder so you don’t waste so much time fighting them. This goes for bosses too. Once I figure out the pattern of paradigms I need to shift to win the battle, the boss should be dead, almost dead, or changing his attack pattern. I should not have to change between the same few paradigms over and over again in the same order, for an extended period of time.

    Since there were a few brief glimmers of fun in this game it suggests that the gameplay is not entirely without merit, but the bottom line is most of the game is letting the game play itself and occasionally you make the decision to shift a paradigm. This doesn’t mean any change the deviates from the supposed perfection of FF7 is bad, it just means that making the player sit around doing nothing for most of the game is just downright bad game design.

  3. maxff says:

    It occurs to me that the problem with FF13 is similar to the problem with Dirge of Cerberus. Squeenix tried to combine the elements of a jrpg with those of a third person shooter. And people mostly hated it. This does not mean that the idea of an an rpg shooter are bad, in fact many of us who hated DoC liked games such as Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and Borderlands. All these games successfully combine shooting mechanics with rpg mechanics. DoC isn’t bad because it tried new things, or because RPG shooters can never work, it just so happens that both the RPG mechanics and the shooting mechanics were horribly implemented.

    Now going back to FF13 I don’t think its a failure because the idea of trying new things is bad, but its a failure of implementation. According to you they built it with the mindset to design an FPS. I’ve played a lot of FPSs and none of them involve letting the game play itself and occasionally making a decision that will cause the character to act differently. The moment to moment intense action of an FPS is not captured by FF13, so if that was there intention then it was a failure of implementation.

    I think the problem is not that the changed too much but that they changed too little and they were trying to use a jrpg battle system in a way that will not support there goal. The proper thing to do is to throw out the active time battle system, throw out the menu based combat, and build a new combat system from scratch, that will facilitate a more fast paced game action oriented game.

  4. The fall of gaming is uppon us says:

    “Now if you’ve ever played more than one game in the Final Fantasy series this might seem like a pretty odd. Doesn’t every game in the series try new things?” Yeah go and try to make let’s say a Diablo game in first person shooter and see if Diablo fans likes it. It’s a nes thing isn’t it !? If they want to try new things just find another name to put on the box! FFXII sucks balls mainly cuz of that shitty combat system. what’s wrong with turn base combat !? jesus this franchise is disapointing…

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