Just Why, Exactly, Did Final Fantasy XIII Suck So Badly?

Just Why, Exactly, Did Final Fantasy XIII Suck So Badly?

Boring. Bland. Linear. Those are three of the kinder things that can be said of Final Fantasy XIII, a game so poor it needed a direct sequel just to salvage some brand integrity. They’re also disarmingly simple, and don’t really get to the heart of just why the game was so disappointing to so many.

This Gamasutra piece by Christian Nutt does, though. Taking inspiration from Red Letter Media’s breakdown of the Star Wars prequels, Nutt goes to town on Square Enix’s big-budget RPG.

The Star Wars prequels are full of things we recognise from the original trilogy, but divorced from any dramatic intent. For example, Plinkett astutely points out that light sabers are incredibly overused in the newer films, so much so that fights lose their uniqueness and tension — the constant battles becoming simple, garish light shows. Moments from the original trilogy are deliberately referred to, but without any parallel in meaning, just in form.

So, too, is Final Fantasy XIII filled with Final Fantasy Stuff — most notably and stupidly, crystals — and it’s clear that all of that junk is there because the developers assume that it has to be there, not because it enriches the world or the game’s play experience.

“The new films just borrow and recycle from the original ideas, as if there’s no way to create anything new,” says Plinkett. And that’s what hamstrings Final Fantasy XIII, too.

Hell, the game’s director, Motomu Toriayama, asked character designer Tetsuya Nomura for “someone like a female version of Cloud from FFVII.”

That is not vision.

And unlike our own Michael Fahey’s thoughts on the subject, Final Fantasy XIII-2 doesn’t fare much better.

It’s a cash-in, designed to scrape up the detritus left after a massive production that resulted in a lot of waste (including enough production art for a second game, and an expensive engine that the developer has already deemed all but useless) and do something with it.

Before you rally to the game’s defence, know at least that Nutt is a die-hard RPG fanatic, not some blow-in hater of the genre. So his full piece below is definitely worth a read.

Questioning the ‘vision’ behind Final Fantasy XIII-2 [Gamasutra]


    • If only Plinkett replaced Plunkett on Kotaku. All Plunkett’s 5-sentence articles would be replaced by gargantuan essays.

  • “someone like a female version of Cloud from FFVII.”

    I believe you’re describing Cloud, from FFVII.

    Nomura’s solution to every problem: Add more belts and zippers.

          • I’d complain about the belts if she wasn’t a really amazing character. Final fantasy costumes have always been ridiculous, and there are always some stupid characters, but the good ones made up for it by having likeable, well rounded characters.

            My problem with FFXIII is that I’m sooo not invested in these characters or their struggle. It’s really boring. Lightning is my favourite in FFXIII, but even then, compared to the emotional rollercoaster that Tidus from FFX, or even Cecil from FFIV go through, her story felt terribly bland.

            Crazy costumes and flashiness does not make a good game…

    • Very true, I anticipate the next Final Fantasy character to be wearing 30 Lanyards, of coarse for no practical reason, a zipper skirts, straps covering all exposed skin and some type of zipper companion.

    • Nomura’s actually done a decent job of getting his shit together since FFX-2. He’s taken criticism of his ridiculous designs to heart, and most of his work since then has been much more normal and simple.
      I had plenty of fun bagging his ridiculous designs back in the day, but he really has improved since then. And he doesn’t really have much room for creativity when his bosses tell him to design a pretty boy to attract young audiences (Vaan) or a female version of Cloud (Lightning).

  • While I haven’t played it, I think “suck” and “so poor” are words that are probably too strong to use when describing FF13. I mean the game wasn’t a complete mess, it didn’t crash, it was playable, it looked good.

    I can tell this stuff by not even playing it, and yes I know what all of the critisms. You could say it didn’t live up to it;s potential, or was disappointing, but saying it “sucked” and “it was so poor” doesn’t seem like good journalism to me (both here, and the Gamasutra article).

    • I don’t understand the hate really. Sure it was linear and as a FF game it was probably one of the worst but it was still a decent rpg. Enjoyed it more the second time round.

    • I really don’t understand either. Ultimately, if you don’t like it, then don’t buy or play it. Want something to play like the older FF games/another RPG series? Just go and play those instead.

      I loved XIII. I thought it was brilliant. I’m looking forward to playing XIII-2.

  • The characters were downright detestable, from the whiny little shit, to the over cute “Aussie” who just bumbled through the game smiling and giggling. These two and the empty main character along with the borderline racist token black guy made the game a slog. Add to thar a tutorial that went for TWENTY GOD DAMNED FUCKING HOURS, and world exprloration that amounted to “move up on left stick”. This game set a new benchmark for design by committee bullshit Japan is renowned for.

  • i will say, that compared to a final fantasy game, it wasn’t that great, but it still had an awesome battle system, probably one of the best in the series, and looked beautiful.

    so to just tear it apart, not mentioning any of the good parts is just poor. also, the person who is a die hard RPG fan, is he an RPG fan, or a JRPG fan? because those two are completely diferent beasts.

    because now an RPG in western terms means a game that is open world, multiple endings, but god forbid it have some sort of battle system that isn’t in real time, changing it into shooters or hack and slash games with special abilities thrown in.

    a JRPG focuses on a great narrative, in depth battle systems, and for the sake of being linear, XIII had a great story (note: great story, i said nothing about the characters themselves).

    so seriously, calling the game Boring, Bland and Linear just goes to show that you just don’t like how japanese RPG’s are done. so please, play your mass effects, your skyrims and your dragon ages (not being mean about those games, they are great as well) and leave the large amount of us who actually enjoy a good JRPG (which is what FFXIII was) alone.

    • I disagree with your generalisation. I’m a big fan of the Final Fantasy series and I found that XIII was exactly that; Boring, Bland & Linear. The emotional highs and lows, open exploration and buried quests/items/etc that I’m used to getting from the others, I didn’t get from this one.

      I actually never ended up finishing XIII because I felt like I was just going through the motions… I wasn’t attached to the characters or story, there was very little to explore and uncover and I didn’t feel lost in the saga of a faraway world.

      Assuming that people didn’t like it because they like Mass Effect/Skyrim/etc or because they’re not a JRPG fan is wrong. I am a JRPG fan, I am a Final Fantasy fan… for me, and a lot of others like me, FFXIII sucked.

    • I beg to differ. I enjoy JRPGs and despise western RPGs. I enjoy Final Fantasies, Star Oceans, Golden Suns, Personas, but not Dragon Age, Skyrim and everything else in that family.

      Unfortunately I have to say I hated FFXIII. For some reason I find the story hard to fathom (maybe it’s just me..).. and the whole game feels like I’m just walking along one path while being showered by monsters.

      Walking into a new city/area to explore and going to the equipment store to upgrade my gear, stocking up on potions, finding secrets in the city is one of the many highlights of an RPG to me, and those are missing from XIII.

    • Thank you for saving me from posting a similar rant for the 38th time. FFXIII was far from the highlight of the series, but it was a highly enjoyable entry regardless. Most of the people I see shitcanning it freely admit to not putting any more than 10-20 hours in, and thus missed 95% of the game. I happily invested around 130 hours into my save – finished it and maxed Crystogen on all characters. There were things I didn’t like, just as there were things I didn’t like about any other Final Fantasy preceding it.

      I also did the ‘lower wilds achievement’ (forget what it was actually called) and that was akin to the old ‘weapon’ fights from other Final Fantasies – crazy hard, and oh-so satsifying to accomplish. I’m really looking forward to FFXIII-2, and I’m also really looking forward to the day when people finally get over their (mostly) baseless and bandwagon-esque hatred of the game.

      The media’s (Kotaku US, mostly) mission to constantly remind everyone of how ‘bad’ FFXIII was in the face of FFXIII-2’s release seems to be more than a little counterproductive. ‘FFXIII-2 is coming out! It looks awesome! Wait, remember how BAD FFXIII sucked? LOL, let’s all kick that dead horse a few more times just to reaffirm our opinions!’

      Wait, that was a rant, wasn’t it? Oh well. I do feel a little better for it.

      • I have to disagree on your post there. Now, I’ve been playing JRPGs since the ‘good old days’ as some of the gamers here put it. And I think I should tear your argument down to what everyone sees it.

        “Most of the people I see shitcanning it freely admit to not putting any more than 10-20 hours in, and thus missed 95% of the game.” True. But the previous Final Fantasies didn’t need to do this. IIRC, most of the older Final Fantasies had established the world and as well as the situation quite easily in two or three hours. Only FF7 had a longer situation but it was quite simplistic once you get your head around it. In terms of RPGs, having to explain the situation longer than it is necessary destroys ANY emotional connection the gamer will have with the game itself. That was what FFXIII’s first mistake was.

        “The media’s (Kotaku US, mostly) mission to constantly remind everyone of how ‘bad’ FFXIII was in the face of FFXIII-2′s release seems to be more than a little counterproductive.” That’s because it was the fething truth. Plain and simple. Probably those that didn’t say the above took the ‘la-la, I don’t give a rats’ route and saw it as a single Final Fantasy. However, to others like myself, I see the Final Fantasy as building up on the previous generation. And compared to FFXII, it sucked badly. The characters were wooden and hard to play with, let alone stand. The story was just a mess easily as it took till the end that I got the start of the story, probably foreshadowing S-E’s sequel long before everyone got the hint last year. And finally, there was no freedom in playing it. All the Final Fantasies had the option to actually change the main character to a completely different route. This one didn’t so that soured it further.

        Overall, I can understand your opinions but the truth is that your opinion is only one that has played just ONE instead of a series. And that, is probably the biggest mistake S-E did.

        • Just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s ‘how everyone sees it’. That just sounds arrogant and more than a little presumptuous.

          I’m still going to wholeheartedly disagree with you. Also, let it be known I’ve also been playing since the ‘good ol’ days’ since starting with FF3 on my SNES. (NTSC version with one of those dodgy old Honeybee converters you had to stick a PAL cart in the back of, lol) I’ve played (but not necessarily completed) pretty much every Final Fantasy all the way to XIV, except for V and X-2. This doesn’t make my opinion any more valid, but I think I’m qualified to disagree.

          I think it’s more indicative of people’s shortened attention spans that people need the story made clear and given to them inside 2-3 hours. While I understand it works for some, it doesn’t for me.

          You would also have to at least partially agree with me the amount of negative press still being generated about this game after what, 18 months? Is a little odd. The level of bad press this game has gotten is previously only reserved for the most worthless of games. Not even DNF got the level of shitcanning FFXIII did.

          No one ever mentions the steallar game mechanics and combat systems of XIII, all they ever say is ‘Vanille was annoying.’ (Which I wholeheartedly agree with, I was half expecting rainbows and unicorns and pixies to start coming out of her eyes at any moment) or ‘It’s too linear/on rails’ That’s it. Rarely anything else.

          Take everyone’s favorite, the immortal and unfaultable FF7. The actual ‘levels’ or ‘areas’ of that game were exceedingly ‘linear’ andf remarkably small. Like almost every other FF game that preceded and followed it. The only thing that wasn’t was the world map, which was essentially an over-pixelated map connecting all the areas together. You couldn’t really do a lot on the world map itself except get into combat or fly about heading to the next area. The areas themselves were ‘on rails’ as everyone likes to say. How this amounts to the freedom that everyone seems to be implying those games had and FFXIII didn’t is totally beyond me.

          FFXIII is essential one giant rail track with various points you could travel to via various methods. Remove the world map from FF7 and how is it ANY different? It’s not.

          The only things FFXIII failed at was an over confusing story and not very well thought out or balanced characters – which were difficult to connect with. I’m sure I can think of at least 5 other Final Fantasies that suffered from a very similar issue.

          Anyways, at the risk of going broken record, I’ll summarise:
          FFXIII had faults. Every Final Fantasy has faults. FFXIII did not have anywhere near enough faults to warrant the wretched reputation it has. Too many people (not all) have formed their opinions based on what someone else has said, or their own already jaded expectations, and small playtime of the game. People forget what faults many other Final Fantasies were privy to, and refuse to remove the rose colored glasses to see. Not when there’s a scapegoat for everyone’s pining for the good old days of FF7-FF9. Let’s face – that’s what people are sad about. Those games are gone, and we’ll never see the likes of them again. Leave them as the classics they are. Expand your horizons and don’t be so narrow minded and cynical. It’s ugly.

          • This was fresh in my mind as I recently re-played FFVII. It is for the most part extremely linear, BUT that world map (I’d say under-polygoned not over-pixelated!) makes ALL the difference. Simply having that ability to fly to different areas and having one or two areas (and characters) that are COMPLETELY optional, makes all the difference in the world to the feel of the game. Being able to fly yourself places is also key. If FFVII had a menu to jump between locations instead of a 3D map, it would have felt as constricted as XIII.

  • I quite liked FF13. Even though I’ve played every FF game except 14, I think I went in there knowing it was linear, and enjoyed it on its own merits rather than expecting it to adhere to the apparently common stereotype of what a FF game must be. And then I meet plenty of people claiming it sucked having not ever played it too.

  • The way i judge a game is whether I remember the story/characters/plot etc a year after I’ve finished the game. Yes i finished FF13, but still to this day have no idea what the plot was, all I saw was a pretty girl with pink hair and some of the best ps3 special effects/graphics to date. Everything else about this game to me was just a blur…. FF7 however, can remember even the dialogue!

  • From all that I’ve heard about the game, the worst part of Final Fantasy 13 seems to be the Final Fantasy. If this had been put out under a different name without the final fantasy design hallmarks, people may have responded very differently.

    • You might be onto something here… thinking about it, I don’t think I would’ve been so critical on FFXIII if it wasn’t a FF game. Carrying the Final Fantasy badge gives certain expectations of the game that XIII didn’t deliver.

      Is it a bad Final Fantasy game? Absolutely. Is it a bad JRPG? I guess not…

  • How linear does a game have to be for it to be considered linear relative to other JRPGs? Linearity is their most prominent feature.

  • “Boring. Bland. Linear. Those are three of the kinder things that can be said of Final Fantasy XIII”

    I’m sure I can think of 3 nicer words: Epic, focused, polished.

    Seriously I get the complaints about the non-linearity, I certainly understand the issues with how focused the first 20 hours were, but FFXIII actually drew me into the story which no Final Fantasy game has managed before. I loved the battle system, the paradigms gave a really good balance of tension, speed and foresight, and I spent far more time in that game than I have with most (certainly more bang for buck than most FPS’s).

    I think most peoples problems with FFXIII were they were expecting a western-style game where you could run around doing anything, rather than the eastern style of a crafted experience.
    Either that or they were holding it to some silly standard because they loved FFVII so much they condemned every Final Fantasy game after it for not being the same.

    I for one am looking forward to returning to Gran Pulse, working out which paradigms work for which enemies, raising some chocobos, and tearing back and forth through the historia crux.

    Also this nugget from Gamasutra made me laugh:
    ““One of the criticisms that we received for XIII was that there weren’t enough mini-games, for example, so we implemented more mini-games,” Toriyama told me last June.”
    He goes on to describe how doing what the fans wanted is a bad thing.

  • The part I find most amusing (and the most infuriating) is that it’s nigh-on impossible to find a critique of the game that doesn’t use the word ‘linear’ or it’s equivalent. It seems to be the only thing people can find to dislike. Although Apart from the inclusion of a world map, almost every other Final Fantasy I’ve played has a lineararity (wait, is that even a word?) to it.

    Remove the world map from the equation, and FFXIII is not so dissimilar from other Final Fantasies. I played through FF7 about 2 months ago, for the first time in 5+ years, and was mortified at how small the areas in that game are, and how much smaller as a whole the game was than I remember. It’s the same for many games, but people need to take their rose colored sentimentality-coated memory goggles off and look at all those other games, and realise that they’re subject to many of the same criticisms being levelled at 13. You just don’t remember, or are to much of a fan to admit it.

    It’s like it became massively uncool to like FFXIII. There’s something really sad about that. If you get past the 15-20 hour mark, and get your entire party together for the first time, anfd really start exploring the paradigm system and combat roles, it was quite a satisfying and advanced RPG. The combat was amazing, the graphics incredible, the characters…. a mixed bag, and the level/world design quite intuitive.

  • No complaints about linearity, that’s how FF rolls. But all complaints on weak plot, characters and lack of extra/side missions, which are all crucial to FF.

  • I don’t get why people use the term linear as a bad thing.

    Not many people would say ‘Choose your own adventure’ books are better than other books because they are non-linear.

    A game being linear will allow the writers to make 1 great story, rather than 10-20 average stories.

    (Note: this is not saying all linear stories are by default great, just that it’s easier for the writers)

    • The difference is that people expect books to be linear going in, and as games are multimedia, you expect there to be some kind of meaningful interaction with the game. I really enjoyed FF13, but essentially the entire experience is on rails, which while it has advantages in story telling as you pointed out, it kind of defeats the purpose of it being a game in the first place. If you want to tell a deep linear story with little user interference, video games are largely the wrong medium to do that in.

      • I disagree with video games being the wrong medium for linear stories.
        Gaming is all about having fun, and everyone has fun differently.

        Some people want to ‘be’ the character in their game (Elder Scrolls series).
        Others want to hear the story of the character/s in the game (typical JRPG’s).
        Just because some people like one and not the other doesn’t mean that the other is wrong.

        I am disappointed that the majority of people feel that every RPG should have a non-linear story.
        Cant we just have both?

  • A trend in gaming this generation seems to be a large portion of gamers hating the most recent instalment of a game series.

    I loved 13. It’s story was more human and less “SAVE THE WORLD!”

    Conversely, I found Skyrim to be a little boring and it’s plot disappointing because I wasn’t particularly attached to my nameless, emotionless slab of an avatar. It all boils down to the player and how they like to interact with a games world. Some prefer Skyrim style storytelling, others prefer Final Fantasy style storytelling.

  • So in preparation for 13-2 I’ve been watching a 6-hour long movie made up of all the cutscenes from 13.

    It’s actually pretty good. Hope is still annoying as fuck, but everything Vanille does – all the banal giggly shit that drove me insane the first time even though I’m predisposed to liking the genki girl archetype – is painfully poignant on a second viewing, because of .

    My fiance has been watching it with me. We’ve agreed that it becomes very clear that what hurts the game most isn’t its story, or the linear dungeons as such, but the actual twenty hours of tutorial half-a-party gameplay at the start. The plot is tolerable, better on a second watching, and we’re actually missing the gameplay from the second half of the game.

    Also, Hope. Hope sucks the big balls.

  • I’m on old school Jrpg fan (like having to import snes games before jrpgs were even sold in Oz) and I found FF13 to be a poor and boring experience.

    Take FF6, FF7 or chrono trigger, yes they are straight forward and linear with what needs to be done to progress the story but I can visit town X when I want or explore and do side missions. I can progress the story at my own pace. Forwarding the story rewards me by opening new areas, new towns, new locales, new modes of transport. Through it’s craft you feel like your exploring a world not a corridor.

    FF13 sucked because it didn’t even bother hiding it’s linearity, every part of it was story progression and boring characters, no towns, no exploring. It was an experience simplified so far it was no longer fun. The truth is the Japanese companies like Square I once adored as a kid playing nes and snes have no idea how to make games any more for a modern market.

    Also those who feel that most ff13 haters “only” played under 20 hours and missed the best bit, are you serious? You want me to invest 20 hours into something before it gets good? If it that takes that long to get “good” then it’s a badly made game, period! Would you invest 20 hours into a tv show before it got good? No so why waste your time.

    Anyhoo my two cents. 🙂

    Square have fallen so far it’s sad.

    • What bothers me with your comment is that you’re expecting games made now to play like games made absolute years ago. Good luck finding many games that do so. You’d be better off leaving FF13 to the people that enjoy it while you go back to your SNES.

      • So it’s a problem that I expect jrpgs to have a feeling of wonder, exploration and fun? So unless I want to play a game that is a corridor explorer I should play games that are generations old? What I was saying is that square no longer know how to capture the magic they used to create so consistently and are now more interested in making slightly interactive movies.

        • From what I recall, Square were having trouble making XIII. They ended up cutting about an entire game’s worth of content (doubtful that was XIII-2, I’m thinking it’s where most of the side stuff went :\), and they had to rush about because of the practically last-minute decision to bring it to the Xbox 360.

          I’m just going to hope that most of what you’re after was lost in the process of getting the game out on time.

          To answer your question, no, there’s nothing wrong with that. On that note, however, you can progress at your own pace once you’re on Gran Pulse. Until then, yes, your course is pretty linear. But when you’re being hunted down by the military and all of the civilians are afraid of you, you just can’t go wandering into towns and shops or speak to random people. That was tried in the story, if you remember. It didn’t work well. The characters at that time, Had No Choice. They just had to keep moving.

  • The story was confusing, the characters were poor. No matter how well everything else was done (and everything else was done extremely well) it just doesn’t matter when it has these problems.

    I want a simple premise and clear goal set within a complex world. ie FFVII!

  • Sorry but it wasn’t good, I truly don’t believe the director and Square enix went out of their way to make a fantastic story, engaging battle system or interesting experience. They just tried to make a ‘finally fantasy game’ stuffing every cliché that ever existed into one ball.

    Play Renascence of fate and the characters and set devices (not to mention the battle system) are so much fresher / more enjoyable and there really isn’t even a central plot to speak of! Its just 3 engaging personalities in an interesting world making some cash and you get to (and WANT to) join in on it.

  • i wonder how he would’ve rated MGS4.. complex plot, references to a lot of previous incidents, a WHOLE lot of cutscenes and not a lot of gameplay. Plus, I can’t choose not to partake in certain fights, or kill certain bosses a certain way.

    So Bland, Boring, Linear applies here?

  • Funny that this article popped up. I’m playing the FF 13-2 right now, & something kinda funny happened. I was in battle, but started to get hungry. So I went to the kitchen & put some wedges on, taking the controller with with me & hitting X the whole time. I came back & I had won the battle & still had full health!

  • I’ve never quite understood why it was so cool to hate on FFXIII over and over and over again, which, while flawed, was extremely successful in the East, was polished and quite bug free, and visually quite stunning … and came out around the same time Kane and Lynch 2 came out.

    I mean, c’mon. Did none of you see that crap?
    Or is hating on this one, not for your own reasons, but for reasons force-fed by media channels the best you can come up with?

  • FFXIII isn’t bad because its linear. It isn’t bad because of changing tastes. It isn’t bad because it hasn’t changed enough from older games. Its bad because it was a poorly designed game with a poorly written story. It is shallow in every way other than graphics. This applies whether you compare it to other games in the series, or games from other series. It’s just… not great. No complicated explanation required.

  • That’s an odd quote to pick out. I don’t think being packed with FF references was at the forefront of most of the FFXIII hate.

  • Squeenix has one thing over George Lucas: they admit they screwed up with FFXIII. Georgie Boy still doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the prequals.

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