Final Fantasy XIII-3: Lightning Strikes Down a Series
Final Fantasy XIII-3 was released recently, but I think it marks the point where I have to abandon the Final Fantasy series. As much as I like the ambitious project of a legitimate trilogy of connected Final Fantasy games that tell a single story, FF13-1 and 13-2 were huge disappointments. Starting with 12, or even dating back to 10 and 10-2, the series has turned into something that doesn’t appeal to me.
The later games’ mechanics are deliberately made to resemble MMORPGs. Instead of directing your characters’ fighting, you wade them into a mob of enemies and fire off priority lists of abilities. Your only control in combat is, effectively, where the character is standing. Final Fantasy 12 is the exemplar of this dive into inactivity. The Gambit system isn’t complex enough, nor is the game difficult enough, for the system to have any real depth. The game plays itself.
Then, following 12′s failure to deliver interesting mechanics and decision making, FF13-1 allowed you to only select general strategies as if they took a page from Master of Orion-3‘s non-playbook. The slide down Interaction Mountain continues in 13-2 with the same mechanics but reducing your party to only two PCs. 13-3 gives you one single character throughout the entire game.
Final Fantasy games have never been balanced (FF6, for example) or free of tedious grinding (FF8, for example), but at least the older games gave you something to do. It’s as though the developers decided — legitimately — that the combat system was tedious, but rather than scrapping it for something better, they decided to let the player automate it away.
The graphics of the FF13-* games are impressive, but the visual style feels uninspired and cold. It’s vaguely alien and futuristic, but it lacks any coherent theme or originality. Instead of the impressive soundtracks of FF4-FF9, the music in FF13-* is a colorless pile of Star-Wars-like generic symphonic music with vaguely-ominous choral tracks, like if John Williams recorded a song with Enya.
With the exception of Lightning, The characters’ few personality traits are annoying ones, and none are particularly memorable. The settings are heavily detailed, but none of that detail is particularly compelling, and it’s introduced through ham-fisted monologues and in-game supplemental guides rather than in an organic way that engages the plot. It’s like reading a teenager’s elaborate but incoherent notes for a pulp sci-fi novel he’s planning on writing. The plots, like those of even the good Final Fantasy games, are predictable and uninspired. Gameplay consists of running down functionally-identical corridors without any branching (FF13-1 until Gran Pulse) or completely aimless, almost freeform wandering (FF13-1 after Gran Pulse, FF13-2).
Final Fantasy games have become the video game equivalent of summer blockbusters: visually impressive, but generic and empty. Whatever magic the old games had, it’s gone from the new ones.