Why I Loathe Final Fantasy XIII's Story.

So, With FFXIII-2 released, the old debates about XIII have flared up again like a case of genital warts. In several areas I have been professing my distate for the plot of XIII, and after hearing people actively praising it, I was spurred into action. What follows was originally intended to be a response to a post on Reddit, however after hours of righteous, furious typing it was simply too long to allow. I had no desire to edit it down. So here it is, the distilaion of my loathing and contempt for the plot and characters of Final Fantasy XIII.

The Fal’cie are idiots. They brand servants to do a job- fine. And why don’t they just tell the servants what that job is instead of giving them some vague, indefinable dream? We see in the game that they are perfectly capable of communicating with and understanding humans, so what is the problem? Hell, why brand them? Just go “We will give you wealth and power within Cocoon if you do this thing for us. Hell, we run the place.” Even though they’re planning on blowing up the shop they can LIE.

And with that, the entire point of the game falls down. The whole plot is built on the idea of these bastards fucking with the character’s lives, and lo- they don’t even need to do it. If it wasn’t for the fact we see that the Fal’Cie CAN communicate with humans then there’d be a basis for it- kind of like people trying to train animals. But they can fucking well TALK to people. This makes even less sense than Battlefield Earth. If the Psychlo could implant knowledge into humans, why not do it to make them more effective slaves? You don’t need to teach them kung fu, but if they could understand what you are saying, surely it makes more sense to enable communication? You can compare this game to Battlefield Earth. Think about that.

And even if we write out the fact that Fal’Cie can communicate with humans and accept that they are so divine, so godly so far advanced beyond the ken of humans that we are like worms to them- it’s still stupid. If these things are so advanced then they can see humans are intelligent. We build shit. We operate machines. We have TECHNOLOGY. We create art. Hell, we are even a threat to them! They can’t be that bloody advanced if the player party can kick the living shit out of one before they even get access to the levelling system. Battlefield Earth again.

Hope wants to kill Snow. Why doesn’t he? No, really, why doesn’t he? He has plenty of opportunity. He can shove a fucking bladed boomerang in his back at any time. He could cast a lightning spell on him. Hell, Snow TRUSTS him. He could trick him next to a ledge and push him off it. The idea that he’s struggling with his lust for revenge against everything else that’s going on would be a fine element for a story, but when you stretch it out for about 20 hours it just turns the character into an annoying, whiney little prick. Arcs looking at the human condition and inner torment are fine, but they require movement, they require analysis of the character dealing with their pain and they require resolution. Watching someone bitch, whine and moan for nearly twenty hours before just deciding ‘Ah never mind he ‘aint not that bad’ is not good story telling. You enjoy that sort of thing? Go and watch Twilight. It’s the exact same self absorbed, pointless, ‘feel my pain’, bad moral tripe. I never thought my response to a character who has lost a parent would be ‘Get the fuck over it’- especially not one written by a professional author.

Lightning is without a doubt one of the worst protagonists I have ever seen. She is bland, shallow and utterly, utterly thick. Oh I can see what she was supposed to be the strong empowered woman- the badass who can hold it with the best of them- but the writers fall into the same trap every moron does when writing such a character- they add the badass and forget the character. I’ve seen more emotion and life from Easter decorations. She hits things with a sword, cold shoulders everyone and feeds out the same ‘if you never expect anything good you’ll never be disappointed’ crap that Cloud and Squall chucked out, or that ‘you can’t have any emotion if you want to survive’ bullshit. “Oh but she’s supposed to be withdrawn, taciturn and then develops, realising that people need other people and its okay to rely on friends!” The fanboys shout. “Cloud did it and you like Final Fantasy VII!” Others bellow. Well, there are two responses to this. Response one is that THIS HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE. New idea. Move on. Change- innovation. Good innovation if you please. Response two is that when Cloud came out of his shell it was a gradual, slow realization building up to a Eureka moment when his delusions of life are stripped away and he is revealed for the pantywaist failure that he is- and he decides ‘Fuck it I’m going to give it my best shot anyway’. You know... the exact opposite of Hope? Lightning just spontaneously decided it was okay to be a human being too.

There’s virtually no analysis, no look at the characters dealing with this. Just Eidolon fight and bing! Everything is magically better again. Compare this with Final Fantasy VII, where characters have large sections of game time dedicated to looking at why they became like they are, then providing catharsis and development. Barrett returns to Corel and we discover his past, which results in a confrontation with Dyne, forcing forgiveness and catharsis on Barrett in a bitter form. It’s not happy, but it gives him resolution and perspective. It’s a small, self contained story- not a rapidly hashed out set piece to be burned through as quickly as possible. How about Cid? Another self contained story of a man who has his dream taken away from him, and yet he develops as the game progresses, achieves his dream and becomes a better, more rounded person as he does so. You see it happening, bit by bit. Even Red XIII gets an actual, independent segment of story to push and develop his character, as opposed to a few random scenes here and there, which is all the characters in XIII ever get.

On a final note on this topic I once heard a claim Lightning is supposed to be suffering from PTSD. I hope this is not the case as if it is then her character arc is the most insulting, demeaning representation of a serious psychological condition I have seen in almost any form of media. You do not simply recover from PTSD by having an emo rage episode. Moving on.

Okay, maybe this is a cultural thing, but isn’t there a real age gap between Serah and Snow? I mean he looks like he’s in or past his mid twenties, and she... well she doesn’t even look sixteen. It’s hard for me to care about a romance when all I can see is a paedophile. Frankly, it’s creepier than Final Fantasy X sexualising Rikku at every turn (who the manual says is 15). That blows the point of those characters out of the water.

Vanille was from Pulse!? SHOCK! HORROR! SCANDAL! Err... this was supposed to be a twist right? Because the game certainly tried to sell it like one but it’s obvious from the moment you see her she’s not a bloody local. Oh and if I have to hear that nasal, helium enhanced whine ever again I will probably snap. Piss annoying character, totally stock, not any effort made to even try and disguise her as something interesting. She also reminded me of Ed from Cowboy Bebop- another character I loathe. In fact they are both cut from the same stereotype. All either of them do is bounce around and make annoying observations in a light hearted detached way that offers all the substance of a soap bubble. Kind of like every character in X-2.

Okay, how about something positive? Sazh is the closest thing the game ever gets to an interesting character, and is the axle on which the game’s one actual moving and dramatic moment turns (his bittersweet reunion with his son). Beyond that his job is to go ‘I’m too old for this. By the way did anyone notice I’m black?’ That chocobo chick he has. Purpose? Point? Other than to imply that an afro is like a bird’s nest? Was it supposed to be endearing? Because frankly Sazh’s quest to save his son and the obvious lengths he’d go to for him did that just fine. He was the only character whose motivations I gave a shit about. Was it supposed to be funny? If so, how? He has a bird living in his hair and sometimes it comes out and chirps a bit before going back. Where’s the joke? I used to keep rats and sometimes they slept on my face. Was that funny?

Fang. Oh Fang. You left about as much of an impact as a fly bashing against a window. Mind you in this game at least that means you probably weren’t quite as terrible as the rest of the cast.

So, the gang are branded by the Fal’Cie and decide they are not going to accept their fate! They will not end up as crystals or zombies! Yeah right on, we’re going to not destroy Cocoon by... uh... destroying cocoon. Did I miss a logical step here? One minute the group is standing around declaring how they will never kill Orphan and destroy Cocoon. Next thing I know I’m... umm... killing Orphan. How exactly did this happen? Okay so Fang saves the day... uhh... how? Did I miss something important? Didn’t she and Vanille become the destroyer of worlds or something? What did they just change their minds? Can they do that? If they could do that then what this entire fucking story in aid of!? Why was this all important? Are you telling me I busted my balls for fifty hours when Fang and Vanille could have just wondered up to Orphan, turned into Ragnarok and gone “RAAAAAGHHHHH.... oh never mind. Kthnxbai.” Okay, I get that the party kill Orphan and then Fang and Vanille become Ragnarok to save Cocoon from crashing but... they can do that? Really? You’re telling me that The Fal’Cie created this elaborate plan to destroy Cocoon... AND GAVE THE SAME PEOPLE THE POWER TO FUCKING SAVE IT!? It’s like planning an assassination attempt and giving the assassin a few blank rounds. Why would you do this? If you want to destroy a place you do not give the people who will be doing it- Who you are forcing to do it against their will even- the means to also foil your plan. This makes less sense than a Bond villain execution- at least they have the motive that they want to watch a hated enemy suffer and die slowly. Again we come back to the fact that the Fal’Cie are fucking idiots, and the plot of the story only works because these ‘super advanced beings’ couldn’t plan to fall down some stairs.

It also suggests something very disturbing about our characters. Did they know Fang and Vanille could do this? If not then they just risked the lives of millions of people on the hope that an opportunity would present itself- all to save their own skins. What arseholes! If they did know Fang and Vanille could do this when why not just... do it? Why not just have Ragnarok kill Orphan, and then save Cocoon? Why even return? Couldn’t you just tell Vanille and Fang to turn into the harvester of souls and send them up to Cocoon to kill Orphan and then build the pillar to stop Cocoon crashing? All this makes option one more likely- which just compounds my contempt for these characters.

I probably missed something important though, thanks in no small part to the reams and reams of text. This is an absolutely inexcusable way to tell a story in a videogame. A videogame is a GAME. It is something to be played. Narrative should be woven into the game. You should not have to pause the game access a menu and read most of the game’s plot, or shitty little articles that are supposed to help the twisted mess make sense. Conceptually it’s no different than if I go to see a film and it’s just two hours of still shots with text scrolling over them. If I wanted to read, I would read a book. This is easily the most unpardonable offence in Final Fantasy XIII’s story telling. No, I don’t give a shit if I do need to read it to get the story- it’s an atrocious waste of my time. I bought a game- not a book, a GAME.

Now you can argue that I like Mullet Gear Solid and Kojima spends most of his time making endless cut scenes. And that pisses me off too. But at least Kojima has the decency to punctuate his film with some pretty good gameplay sequences. How about the stories in Lost Odyssey? Well, those where not vital to the plot (so could be skipped), and more importantly were beautifully written, heart rending pieces set to gentle and appropriate background music and sounds, and also did interesting things with font to convey a new reading experience. One of those stories moved me to tears. They were gorgeous.

Final Fantasy XIII’s text reads like a vanilla movie summary, lacking passion, any emotive content or even the slightest hint of skill.

Bottom line, I am not going read your book when I paid for a game, especially when it’s a pointless, lazy alternative to selling your story better in the game to begin with. It’s (or at least was) 2010. We’re not in the text adventure era any more.

What about VII though? That had endless talky scenes didn’t it? Cloud and Tifa’s last night together at the well, Cloud and Tifa piecing together Cloud’s memories... the umpteen hundred times the player group sat around and yakked pointlessly? Again, two things. One, those scenes pissed me off also, but two, they were more interesting as you saw events going on (admittedly the graphics by these day’s standard’s mean that isn’t really a good thing), and the game also used background music to enhance the experience. They were not exactly entertaining, but they were tolerable and some were actually quite sweet and emotive. It had- and still has- far more life to it than a wall of text.

Man, fuck this I’m going to talk about something else.

The Eidolons. Okay, as a narrative device, it’s kind of a cool idea. It also makes sense for the Fal’Cie to use them- your servant not going to work? They emo raging to the point of not actually being useful anymore- possibly because you didn’t just tell them what you wanted? Have you, the writer, driven them into an emotional corner and can’t think of a way out? Do or die time bitches! And initially it works. However as the game progresses the impact of these scenes gets less and less until the last few scenes become “Oh, character freaking out- better get ready for a boss fight”, and the scene looses any emotional connection. The last one to actually have an impact (and probably the most well done of the bunch- in fact the best scene of the game) is Sazh versus the Eidolon that transforms into a drag racer. Speaking of which don’t even get me started on the eidolon stylization and mechanics. Well I will say this at least- I laughed so, so hard each time one transformed into a Michael Bay wet dream. It was almost worth forty quid just for those laughs.

I am absolutely certain that I could pull apart even more of this game (I’ve not even mentioned those god damn flashbacks), but it’s been about what... two years since release? I didn’t play it after I completed and thankfully I’ve forgotten most of the experience. But I think I’ve made my point clear. The game is horrendously told even before you consider the actual ‘Tube’ that the game takes place in and the plot has more holes in it that a tramp’s socks. The basis of the entire story is patchy at best. The ending reveals that the entire journey was pointless because the character’s always had the means to cheat their fate. The journey itself was dull and unsatisfying, populated by uninteresting, cardboard cut out characters who either had no idea how to realize their motives, had no motives or just whined and bitched for fifty hours.

Nearly three thousand words. Three thousand and I didn’t even mention the gameplay mechanics- which are a fresh slice of hell all their own.

1 Response to "Why I Loathe Final Fantasy XIII's Story."

  1. Alan says:

    I haven't played it, and now I don't really want to.

    I have seen bits of it though, and I can see what you mean about Lightning. She does seem quite Squall-like in personality, but I think it was more forgivable with Squall. He was basically still a child and, to my mind at least, his change from surly loner to slightly more normal human being, while neither subtle nor even particularly gradual, was at least a realistic one in the sense that he just grew the fuck up.

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