Final Fantasy XIII was rather divisive. While its gameplay and combat system were superb, the story was a bit over pretentious and it was extremely linear, with the player simply going from place to place on a pre-set path. The characters were wonderful though, the combat was intricate and completely customizable, and there was a level of difficulty — especially during the boss battles. You had to think quick on your toes with the paradigm system and be able to quickly switch your player’s roles in order to survive. It is the best Final Fantasy battle system yet, but fans are so hung up on the game’s linearity and complex story that the game gets so much unwanted hate from fans of the series, who actually prefer story over gameplay.

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Final Fantasy XIII also must be praised for the diversity in its cast. There are a multitude of different portrayals of female characters, not simply “tropes”, who show toughness and vulnerability at the same time. There is a balance of male versus female characters (playable), with three of each, and although Lightning was marketed as the main character of the game, she is merely a part of an ensemble of characters and isn’t actually the main character in any of the titles until the third installment. One of the nice things about Final Fantasy XIII as well is that one of the main characters is black. Sure, he has an afro, and some may look at this as being stereotypical, but for a major Japanese franchise to portray a black man in such a positive light and highlight them as one of the main characters of a storied franchise is a huge step forward for racial diversity in Japanese video games.

While the middle of Final Fantasy XIII did open up for a bit of exploration, it was still an incredibly linear game. The game was still a lot of fun though, and it was able to balance its cinematics and gameplay quite well (for a Japanese RPG at least), as it was a pretty long game (I think I originally logged almost 70 hours on my play through?). It was a strong entry in the series, although I think that the five-year development cycle and the move to high definition left fans with an incredible amount of hype which simply couldn’t be satisfied. There are a lot of fantastic elements to the game though and although not perfect, it was fun.

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Its sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2, fixed a lot of the linear problems of its predecessor. The story is time travel-based, and includes traveling to various times and alternate timelines in order to prevent global catastrophe. Each area can be revisited too, which gives the game a certain amount of replayability. The title maintains a highly similar battle system compared to its predecessor, and as there are only two playable characters, you are able to capture monsters to use in your party to round things out, giving the game a Pokémon-like element. The two main characters, Noel and Serah, are incredibly interesting. Serah is the seemingly weak younger sister of Lightning, but she is the heart of the story and it is only because of her strength and determination that the story works. Noel is an interesting foil to Serah; he is the last human in the distant future who has lost all hope after the loss of his beloved Yeul. The game may be a bit confusing to follow story-wise, but it is the best entry in the saga and is a lot of fun, especially the time travel aspect. There’s a great balance of story and gameplay and some characters from the first installment return in interesting ways.

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The final installment in the XIII saga, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is the first game in this series of games to actually feature Lightning as the main character. There is no party in the game; you play solely as Lightning. Because of the effects of ending of Final Fantasy XIII-2, the world is on the brink of destruction and “God” has chosen Lightning to be its savior and guide souls to a new world that He intends to create. The game lacks any kind of linearity and there is a real sense of freedom to be had, although quests must be completed in order to extend the world’s existence until the 13th day, in which the world ends.

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The battle system is a mixture of the system found in the previous two games with real-time combat. It took a bit of getting used to but I truly enjoyed it. Lightning can be equipped with a number of different outfits that allow her to perform magic, become a mighty warrior and more. Even her gear (like weapons) can be bought and equipped, making her classes completely customizable. The game was not critically praised, but I found it to be a wonderful conclusion to the XIII saga, even if the ending was a typical Japanese trope about killing God (who is actually just another deity within the mythology of Fabula Nova Crystallis). The combat and gameplay are solid, and you have a whole world to explore and so many quests to complete with incredibly compelling characters. All the characters from the previous titles return in unexpected ways, and it really is a great ‘last hurrah’ for the XIII series. Lightning’s character arc is finally put to an end, and it is one of the most dynamic and introspective arcs in the entire Final Fantasy series.

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Are the Final Fantasy XIII games perfect? Definitely not. Are they masterpieces? No. Are they the best Final Fantasy games? Of course they aren’t. But they are incredibly enjoyable with fantastic characters, taking place in an alluring world with an intriguing mythology and a compelling story, with some very dynamic character arcs that take place over the course of three games. There are also some incredibly strong female leads, something that is improving in the industry but still lacking. They are unappreciated titles simply because of the perception that they don’t live up to the Final Fantasy games of old. I would argue that in some respects they do, but they are definitely  a different breed of Final Fantasy when compared to previous installments in the series. That’s okay though.

At the end of the day, these are three very enticing and enjoyable games which just so happen to have Final Fantasy in their titles. What’s wrong with that?

It will be interesting to see how Final Fantasy XV will be received when it comes out later this year.

  • Michael Healy

    I started 13 and until then i’d never stopped a ff game without finishing it. Some 10 or 12 hrs into the game it still feels like a tutorial, it’s only in the ‘middle’ part where the story opens up that I actually felt i was play a game instead of a chore, I stopped soon after because it was simply too little too late.

    How can you say “gameplay and combat system were superb” when it had an auto combat button basically meaning you’re only real role was to switch paradigms, and a option to restart any lost battle (thereby removing any real tension)?. I also found the characters to be grating, and character development to be very forced.

    I’ve only briefly played the second and it seemed like a lazy money making scheme, I can’t comment on the third.

    The truth is that 13 was over-hyped and under-delivered, the response was very negative and instead of working on a new project people wanted (e.g the now ff15 but formerly ff versus 13, which has wallowed in development for 10 years, or kingdom hearts 3) they wasted time and resources remaking a game people didn’t like……twice. Combined withthe blatant DLC-based money making focus on the second entry (I don’t about Lightning Returns), I think people are right to be cynical towards the trilogy as the trilogy showed the complete cynicism square enix shows for its fanbase, as such it marks a low point in relations between fans and producers.

    • Dont Worry About It

      “How can you say “gameplay and combat system were superb” when it had an auto combat button”

      Whats so different about any other FF game when in each battle, you input either an attack or magic to defeat an enemy ? The auto combat button was convenient for those who may have got tired of pressing the same thing over and over again…and quite honestly the battles in 13 are longer than in most series simply because you have to build up a chain to cause massive damage to the enemy so it works out. People cry too much about 13’s battle system but really….what made the other game’s battles not so repetitive ?? There should be no justification “well,well in this FF….” No, you do the same thing over and over in a battle to defeat an enemy.

    • beastwork

      from day one i never used the auto combat button..i micromanaged every aspect of each fight and that’s what made the game interesting for me. it was like a turn based, action puzzler. kept me thinking and on my toes every step of the way. 13 remains one of my favorite games of all time. the stories allowed me to connect with the characters and HATED when the game was over. I could never have that experience for the first time again. I find that newcomers to the series love 13 while old heads hate it. so what does that tell you?

  • Kamille

    disgusting games if you ask me. Thank god it is over.

  • First of all, Go Gators. As for the article we’re in two different dimensions. I couldnt disagree more. All of the XIII series is garbage. I bought the 1st one day of release along with the numbered collector’s edition guide. After a little while I kept asking myself, what am I playing. None of them were FF to me. Maybe I was stuck on the older ones but I hated the XIII series.

    • Morgan Lewis

      Go Gators! And while I do disagree with your sentiment, I do respect your opinion. Of course, this isn’t a formal review; it is an editorial. I loved the XIII series, but it wasn’t because FF was before its name. Thanks for stopping by and even if you disagree with this piece, I hope you’ll continue to look at our content!

      • guest12451

        In terms of sequels, the story isn’t the most cohesive thing ever.

        Square had a huge marketing campaign in mind to sell of Lightning as a character before the game was even released. She ended up being as recieved as enthusiastically as her voice.

        3 games worth and I can’t see any appeal to this character. She’s in Louis Vuitton ads and Rikku/Yuna/Tifa/Aeris/Rinoa/Selphie/Tina/Quistis/Edea Aren’t?

        How is that possible? It feels so forced. I am positive that people who, when asked “Who is your favorite final fantasy heroine?” answer “Aw man, lightning, she’s awesome!”, are in the strong minority. There are plenty of far more interesting/better designed/more attractive/more relatable female characters in final fantasy.

        Given that the game is also the lowest rated final fantasy title (spare FFX-2..?) , Lightning’s game doesn’t help her case.

        You called the FF13 arc “dynamic”, but the entirety of part 2 could’ve been removed altogether with it still intact.
        Hell, even if lightning didn’t “return”, the story still ended fairly well in the FF13 core game.

        I’m not sure if “extraneous” or “chaotic” is the same thing as “dynamic”.

        ——

        Side point: I will concede that it seems square’s interest in sequels isn’t exactly their forte. FF7 is a huge franchise, and even that could better be described as “splintered” instead of “branching” simply due to fanservice. That’s a story that people actually WANTED more of though. Square just kept dishing out more FF13 whether people wanted it or not. I think that’s the difference.

      • KupoMogKupo

        You shouldn’t respect their opinion. The opinion of “XIII is garbage” is not an opinion worthy of respect. It should dismissed immediately. It’s downright idiotic. XIII is too well made and polished to be put anywhere near the “garbage” category. It’s hyperbolic nonsense. People can scream “it’s just my opinion” all they want, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthy of respect.

  • Thanks for writing this. I am still going through the trilogy (currently in part 2) but I love the 13 series so far, especially the 1st game.

    However, based on my observations, it seems that most of the hate comes from people who are familiar with Final Fantasy to begin with. I personally never played a Final Fantasy game more than just casually before 13. Maybe that is why I love it so much?

    The characters and characters and designs are dynamite in my opinion. They look beautiful and are all unique. All with an outward persona while carrying a burden underneath – with Lightning being my favorite.

    Graphically the games are gorgeous. Although linearity is a dirty word in video games these days, I personally loved trekking through the environments while seeing the details instead of just being in a huge sandbox. Gran Pulse was a treat though. So much of this game is simply beautiful.

    And I don’t think much is ever talked about the music. Masterful in my opinion – from the battle theme to the character themes. As well pieces that play when characters talk or reminisce.

    I agree the story is complex (and one is required to read the digital journal as the story progresses), but I felt for the plight of the characters and thought a satisfying conclusion was met after my 80 hour playthrough. There is a lot of norse mythology and religious reflection in this series which could confuse people, but it just kept me wanting to play it to see how it concluded.

    And the combat, just flowed through smoothly for me. I hear so many complaints about the auto-battle, but I rarely used it and manually selected my options – and I needed to in order the win most battles. And switching through the paradigms and shifting was fantastic. Had some crazy battles and for me it was just satisfying.

    There is more I could say, but I think you said a lot of how I feel. I think the series gets way too much hate, as do other games that have come out in the last few years – I would go out of my way and say what they did here with the characters, combat and trilogy was ambitious. I guess it is just the times that we live in where things get torn down and then after a while, people just accept it.

    However, as someone who plays many different types of games, the FFXIII series is worthy of remembrance, and not for being BAD games.

  • Sho Ryker

    Very cool article, though I respectfully disagree/have a different opinion myself. While I thought the graphics were great, I didn’t like the combat, story, or music from what I played: they were all boring to me, with very rare exceptional moments (but it’s hard for me to keep playing a game when me enjoying it is the exception and not the rule).

    However, I’m glad that someone out there DID enjoy the game because it does feel like Square put in a lot of effort (or budget, if nothing else) and the 3 games aren’t exactly loved by a lot of people who call themselves FF fans, haha. (Personally, I’m not really a big FF fan myself as the last game I actually liked and beat was FFIV like, over a decade ago, so yeah.)

  • Kristin Snyder

    I genuinely loved the FFXIII games. I’ve been playing the series since I was 11, started with the PSOne titles, and for YEARS I refused to touch XIII because of all the negative feedback. Well one day I got tired of that, bought myself XIII and XIII-2 as birthday gifts, and played through them and then LR when it came out.

    These games honest to god changed me. FF stories have always been fair to middling at best, but it’s the CHARACTERS who matter, and the characters in this trilogy are so solid, so complex, and so human, that I couldn’t help but caring about and sympathizing with all of them. Hell, a lot of their problems are excellent mirrors for living with a mental illness and how hopeless that can feel.

    I feel like people who bitch about the game are absolutely blinded by nostalgia glasses. They can’t see that Final Fantasy games have ALWAYS had linearity in them. Always! Just because they dump you on a huge open map, DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE ALLOWED TO EXPLORE THAT MAP. VII~IX limited your travel through clever use of the environment or requiring certain vehicles to pass through points. Earlier games would straight up kill you if you strayed off any path but towards your next destination, because you were meant to follow the plot point.

    Thank you for writing this article. It warms my heart.

  • Wonderful article and I totally agree. To me, FFXIII is one of the best Final Fantasy games I’ve ever played and it’s very enjoyable and fun, despite its flaws.