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.