Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII Cover
Platforms PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre Soulless JRPG
MtAMinutes to Action 5
Keep Playing? No
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I’ve played every single numbered Final Fantasy game up through XII, so playing the thirteenth entry was inevitable. But from the guy who bought Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XI, and XII on release days, finally getting around to XIII two years after release is a bit odd. But from a combination of some bad press and plenty of other games to play, I didn’t mind.

But here we are with the first hour of Final Fantasy XIII. I’ve also reviewed VII and VIII’s first hour previously, and had mixed success, though I can solidly point to the opening of Final Fantasy VII’s to be one of the highlights in the JRPG genre. Whether we can agree or not on the rest of game is irrelevant, but it sure does kick off with a bang.

And as you’ll see, Final Fantasy XIII also kicks off with a bang, but can it keep that momentum? Or is there something deeper required for a successful first hour? We’re about to find out.

Minute by Minute

00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Final Fantasy XIII begins. Loading... We get a view of a cloudy sky as the camera pans down over what looks like a green Grand Canyon. A girl says “the 13 days after we awoke, were the beginning of the end.” We get a few shots of a train going by.

01 - Inside the train are a bunch of hooded captives and a guard with a gun. A man named Sazh and a woman named Lightning are discussing something. The train runs through something solid and Lightning jumps up and takes out the guards.

02 - “You all right? I’m not a l’Cie.” Lightning does some crazy stunts as Sazh says everyone wants to fight. We enter a huge green-lit city of sorts as fighter jets scramble to shoot our train down.

03 - Lightning shoots back with a rocket launcher, which is useless against these really fast fighters. After the train crashes, all the civilians are running around shooting guns at the guards, and then some kind of animals get summoned to assist in fighting us.

04 - Sazh climbs out of the train to chase after Lightning. Looks like it’s time for our first battle. The tutorial for fighting begins.

05 - Much like many previous Final Fantasy games, there is an Active Time Battle guage you have to wait to fill up before you can act. After about a dozen more text boxes, I learn that the game will Auto-Battle for me. Lightning slashes with her gunblade(!) and Sazh shoots with his twin pistols. How’d they get these on the train?

07 - For some reason Sazh has a chocobo living in his afro? Ugh. We’re fighting the mech again, for having a huge laser gun and eight spinning saw blades, it sure doesn’t do a lot of damage to us.

08 - After tapping X a ton, we win. Sazh yells at Lightning that she should be protecting civilians because of Sanctum and the Purge or something. “I’m getting too old for this.” Sazh looks like he might be in his 30s, which places him as one of the oldest Final Fantasy characters.

10 - I have access to the menu now so I poke around at all the different options and screens. Looks like you can only equip a weapon and one accessory on each character. A bunch more text pop-ups appear to tell me things.

11 - My second battle, this one just against two foot soldiers who go down in seconds. After the battle you get some information such as how fast you beat them, and are awarded up to five stars on your performance. What do the stars mean?

12 - I try to run past a battle but they catch me. Am I gaining experience points? Gold? Doesn’t seem like it, why am I even battling? I’ve also heard that this game is linear, and so far I’ve just ran down a completely straight line, but I think I’m on some sort of bridge so whatever.

14 - “Better to die than get sent to Pulse. It’s like hell without brimstone.” Lots of unknown nouns being thrown out in conversations, am I supposed to look this stuff up in the datalog or something? I also keep getting five stars in battle just by hurridly hitting the X button.

15 - My first save point, you can also shop at them. Then on to more fighting.

17 - Haha, Lightning yells “Preemptive Strike!” before this battle, but that just alerts them to our presence. Another tutorial, this one about learning to use items. I was wondering what that Item menu option was for.

18 - A bridge collapses right in front of our heroes and I’m guessing a lot of people died. Lightning snaps her finger and starts floating, but Sazh grabs her before she flies off. Guess he doesn’t want to be left alone, kind of selfish though.

20 - I kind of like how your party members don’t follow you caterpillar style, but just sort of run off and do their own thing.

Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Battle

22 - Fighting some PSICOM Marauder now, who is sort of boss like. The game presents a tutorial on chaining and how a long enough chain will stagger the enemy so that you can whoop down on them, similar to Persona 3 FES.

24 - “Pulse Fal’Cie. My angle, I’m after the Fal’Cie.” No idea what Lightning is talking about, still hoping for an explanation. They hover off on some craft as the action switches to a new location.

25 - The Sanctum Patriarch is talking now, guess he’s the bad guy? A guy named Snow appears and yells, “these people need heroes!” and does the Tidus fist-pump.

26 - I’m now in control of Snow, the mini-map shows another long, straight path in front of him. I save my game and try to talk to some civilians lying on the ground but nothing happens. They just talk on their own as I wander nearby.

27 - These guys are the “resistance front” but one of them is complaining about how tough his life is and rolling around on the floor. What is this game? Snow is joined by Gadot and Lebreau in battle, thankfully neither of these is the lazy one. Battles with Snow go just as quick as with Lightning and Sazh.

29 - After two battles we get another cutscene of that kid complaining, and then another battle starts immediately.

Final Fantasy 13 Sazh Chocobo Hair

31 - More running, more battles, more cutscenes of that whining kid. Snow comes across a group of people just sort of chilling out, I’m really confused if this is like a warzone or if people live here? Either way, the civilians want to help fight.

32 - A woman stands up and her kid gets concerned. Snow looks at her and the woman says, “Moms are tough.” The last gun goes to a little girl, ah, she must be the narrator from the beginning as she gives her first impression of Snow (all talk).

34 - I successfully run past a battle! Probably didn’t miss a thing, except some X-tapping. and another cutscene, some giant dog thing jumps off a platform in front of Snow.

35 - Gadot and Lebreau have “???” for their hit points, I wonder if they’re going to be permanent party members? At least try a little harder, Final Fantasy XIII.

38 - After a battle, Snow is rescued by the mom and she once again says, “Moms are tough.” Oh, and then she basically gets blown up in Snow’s arms. How poetic.

39 - Another bridge collapses and people slide off it Titanic style, then Snow’s bridge starts to go down and he barely grabs on to the mom’s hand. But she falls with her son looking on. Surprised she didn’t get one last “Moms are tough” in before she died. And then Snow falls. Hopefully he’s dead too.

40 - The son is in struck, but that girl slaps him and they run off. The scene switches to Sazh and Lightning looking on. Sazh seems as confused by all the crazy terms as I am. “Pulse Fal’Cie, and their l’Cie, are enemies of the state.” Okay.

42 - A battle is initiated at the end of the cutscene against something called a Myrmidon. For some reason it’s only hitting Sazh and I’m forced to use a potion on him before we stagger and kill it.

44 - The Pulse Fal’Cie appears yelling stuff about how this is their land now. We’re back to the boy and girl, named Hope and Vanille, respectively. Never mind, we’re now back to Lightning again.

45 - Sazh asks what the difference between the Pulse Fal’Cie and the Sanctum’s Fal’Cie is. Stop using that word and not explaining anything.

46 - And now back to Snow, who is alive and well after falling hundreds of feet. Gadot says his bride-to-be is in the Fal’Cie thing. Is that who Lightning is looking for? And what happened to Lebreau?

Final Fantasy 13 Lightning Snow Vanille

50 - Even though Gadot has “???” amount of health, I’m forced to toss him a potion. Maybe he’s the ultimate bad guy and we’re not supposed to know he has like 10,000 hit points.

51 - Funny how everyone is using guns but Snow, who runs up and punches people like Zell from Final Fantasy VIII. Snow and Gadot jump on some flying motorbikes and make it back to Lebreau, Hope, and Vanille.

53 - Hope is mad at Snow for killing his mom, they try to get his attention but he starts his bike again and they don’t hear him. After he flies off, I gain control of Hope, run 10 feet, and another cutscene kicks off.

55 - They’re going to fly to the Fal’Cie to chase after Snow. After I save, they crashland on the Fal’Cie. “Even soldiers know not to go to the Fal’Cie, you become a l’Cie and then you’re finished.” Yeah, this all makes so much sense.

59 - Vanille grabs some sort of stick from behind a statue, how’d she know that was there? Good timing, because we’re forced into a fight.

60 - Wow, her weapon is like a four-pronged fishing rod that snaps out and whips the bad guy. That’s the weirdest thing ever. I save my game again and the first hour of Final Fantasy XIII comes to a close.

Final Fantasy 13 Vanille Weapon

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 5

Bias: Pretty hard not to have any kind of predisposition on Final Fantasy XIII, at least for a formally big Final Fantasy nerd like myself. A lot of the early press that reached me was incredibly negative, I seem to remember big sites ripping on it pretty hard, but the final Metacritic score for the PS3 version ended up at 83, a super respectable score for any title. So was it mostly just fan reaction which tainted my view of the game? The major complaints I remember are its linearness and weak battle system, both show up right away in the first hour. Fans say that the game can take many hours to get going, a trait many JRPGs seem to suffer from, but is that any excuse for a modern game? Hmm...

Would I Keep Playing? No, this was honestly one of the worst first hours I’ve played in a long time. The linear walkway is only part of the problem, along with the dead simple battle system, walk ten feet and watch another cutscene, rather obnoxious line up of characters and voice cast, not to mention the completely unexplained, rather complicated world of Fal’Cie or Sanctum or whatever this is. No, I’m not expecting every answer right away, but this is one of the worst examples of tossing you in the middle of the action I’ve played. When the action doesn’t make sense, I have no interest.

But I think the biggest problem is that Final Fantasy XIII feels soulless. The game is stunning to behold, but there’s no substance. I don’t understand, let alone care about anything that’s going on. The characters feel as flat as the path we’re walking down, and cutscenes with bumbling child soldiers and big dog mechs being dropped in don’t help. What gameplay is there, isn’t really, it’s just an interruption between cutscenes.

I wasn’t sure if I would love or hate Final Fantasy XIII, but I don’t, it’s worse: I feel indifferent.

Note: I recorded the entire first hour and uploaded it to YouTube, but it was blocked by some company called SBSi for copyright infringement. Their loss.

Second Note: Lightning is voiced by Ali Hillis, who also acts as Dr. Liara T'Soni in the Mass Effect series. I'm not sure yet if she's right for the role in Final Fantasy XIII, but I absolutely adore her voice and hearing her again brings on these weird waves of emotion. I think I'm just greatly affected by the Shepard/Liara romance in all three Mass Effect games. Yeah, I'm that guy.