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          Possessing the dubious honor of bottom ranking in my (soon-to-be-retired) rating system, read my reasoning why this sub-series is my least favorite branch of the lauded franchise.

The more you let Final Fantasy XIII in, the more it will hurt you.

SPOILER ALERT

This article contains story details that lay at the crux of all games in this series, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. There may also be details of other games in the Square-Enix library. This is to help give ample context to my opinions. I talk about what I do like in order to highly why I found this Final Fantasy branch lacking.


          This whole rant was supposed to be an aside in an article talking about me changing my game rating system. But as I felt the need to vent, it had to be added as its own semi-formal work.


          I have long enjoyed the Final Fantasy series. I have even said I love it. It was a go-to in my teenage years and shaped many metaphors I used to express myself. The origin of the series itself inspired me to give life my all. Why then do I add my voice to the chorus of detractors regarding this game and, by near extension, the whole series?
          When I was writing the article for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, with Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition being on the horizon, I thought critically about the games. I admitted to something in that window: If someone unfamiliar with the Final Fantasy series asked me where to start playing the series, I likely would have said Final Fantasy XIII. The reason is that, as a modern game, it has modern conventions and while it may not be easy at all times, it is a straightforward presentation. It is a bare-bone Final Fantasy experience.
          I know better than going into any situation with preconceptions. That is an easy way to set yourself up for disappointment. One runs the risk of complaining about not receiving the game you wanted rather than judging the merits of the game that you have. I did this with all three games, and I think that is where my problems began. On their own, each game clears my mid-range for what I’ll say is a playable game. They all run and they are complete titles. The big reason for my rancor is that each game manages slither under the bar of my expectations time and again. This may not be a fair assessment, but it is the ground upon which I stand. However, just thoughtlessly effusing bile is not the stock and trade I want to pedal in. Per some research I think I understand my thoughts some more, so I want to begin by sharing some background with you.

The Beginning for Me

          My first Final Fantasy game was VII, although I did read the Nintendo Power players’ guide a whole lot. Because I was still young, I had to abide by only have a couple hours a day to play. As I had to trek from save point to save point, this let me get into a small host of battles, save my game, and then I had to wrap up. It likely took me the better part of a month to leave Midgar. As such, the narrative that was woven all took place in that city. As the only other game in this vein I had played was Super Mario RPG at this point, having a free-roaming world map blew me away. The world had expanded, and left me gobsmacked. I ran to the beach, spun the camera around, and looked at the world as well as I could. In my limited sessions that followed, I dithered around in Kalm and the Chocobo Ranch, but hit a roadblock against the Midgar Zolom. My lack of understanding of the materia system led me to grind for a long while, but eventually I stumbled across how to catch chocobos. After having done so, I progressed through the swamp and swiftly to Junon.

          At this point, I had an unusual moment that helped solidify what I expect in a Final Fantasy game.

          As I was standing on a hill that placed me above Junon, I again spun the camera around. While the skyline looked different, I was just barely able to eke out the sight of Midgar. I realized, in a way, that I had come full circle. I was able to look down on where I started, having thought that it was the whole world. And now I could see the scope of the world and was going forge ahead to lands unknown. While not separated by much in the way of game play or even time, it felt as though I came a long way. I had seen the horizon, and now I was touching it. Because this consistently happened, it came to be something that I expected from the role-playing game genre.

          In the Final Fantasy titles that followed on the PlayStation, each world was new, disconnected, and was able to be explored. Those in the PlayStation 2 era had a bit of a different tact with them lacking world maps, but the element of exploration remained.

          This bring us to…

Final Fantasy XIII

          In the pro column of the title, I would have recommended Final Fantasy XIII as an introductory title for those new to the series prior to my time with XIV. This is because of Final Fantasy XIII’s straightforward nature. For much of the game there are not a lot of branching pathways, open options, and worthwhile customization to worry about. It has the “obscure group of misfits going on to save the world, nay, All Creation” trope that I have found common in many role-playing games. It was possible for someone completely new to the series to start, easily progress, and gain the satisfaction of finishing a Final Fantasy title, and might pique their curiosity in the rest of the franchise.

          That said, for as much as I try to do so in all things, I could not divorce my expectations made from prior Final Fantasy titles to what I aimed to get from Final Fantasy XIII. At the point of release, I had played most every title that had reached American shores, read about those I had no hands on, and considered the series one of the pillars of my gaming enjoyment. When I picked up a Final Fantasy game I had come to expect to have a Junon Moment, to be able to marvel how far I had come at some point in time.

Final Fantasy XIII failed me in that experience.

          Final Fantasy XIII is gorgeous. The whole series. Square-Enix does excellent graphical work, whether it is photorealistic or stylized. It is a consistent bit of flair in their titles. XIII had wonderful set pieces from the jump. Brescha Lake, the second major area you venture into, is a beautiful disaster. A major structure fell into it, but the power of ice froze the once idyllic locale into a majestic sculpture. I looked at the area and was pleased beyond measure, looking forward to a time the game would let me revisit the area and explore the far vistas in earnest.

          That time never came.

          Final Fantasy XIII rapidly jumps from area to area, one set piece to the next. I would liken it to an on-rails VR museum tour. Sure, you can see everything. But it is not as tactile an experience as it could be otherwise. This is often where the phrase “hallway/corridor simulator” gets thrown around. Each area was very straightforward, bearing only the briefest of alternate paths and hidden alcoves. Worse yet, they all came and went without a chance to get close to them and then they were not to be seen again. Eventually an area opened up that was a large and wide plain. Yet it was a single biome, and an open grassland at that. Not only was this the sole area to explore in the game, but the lions’ share of the games’ side quests and the like were found connected to this area. But due to the capped character growth (and the fact that some quests only unlocked after beating the game) there was no choice but to forge ahead down more linear pathways. This area did change as you cleared more side quests, but it made the area more hostile, rarely to never affording you a chance to relax in it.

          In previous Final Fantasy titles you gain access to the whole world via transportation improvements. Chocobos of various colors and airships being the prime examples. Even when all you did was pick and scan locations on a literal map. As such, coming into XIII I anticipated eventual exploration. I zoomed through areas because I figured something would bring me back. The main story, a side quest, a commissioned hunt. But I was blinded by an unknown story. I rode the edges of the mini-maps and explored every section. I figured more would become accessible later. That I’d get new abilities to open up new areas, again per established convention. But as characters split off and the story bounced back and forth I realized that coming back was not likely.

          And this made achievements exceedingly frustrating. Completing a bestiary became a chore in tedium. One has to ensure they get EVERY chest. Kill EVERY enemy and, in some cases, force enemies into particular in-battle spawning patterns. And you had better do it right the first time, because it is only by starting a new game that you will have another shot. It’s all or nothing.

          One of the reasons I would have recommended this game to newcomers is because they have no sense of what to expect from Final Fantasy as I did. What good there is in Final Fantasy XIII, I feel, is enough to tempt people into other parts of the franchise. However, if I know what someone likes I can give a nuanced answer leading to another title.

          I played this game twice. The first time to help a friend and, once they stopped, to finish the story. The second time was years later to see if I genuinely disliked the game for the above reasons or if I was just being salty. The answer is… I genuinely dislike the game.

          One of the biggest faults is the lack of party synergy. Namely, success and failure are set solely upon the character you control. You could play the game with one character living at any given point in time. But if your chosen character should get knocked out at any point, even if both your allies have the ability to Raise you back to fighting shape, it’s game over. This /was/ changed in the second game, so I must give credit there. Additionally, battles were chaotic. It looked nice with characters jumping around everywhere and moving somewhat organically around the battlefield. But there were times in which a battle was lost then won due solely to where my characters and the enemies landed.

          Speaking of, the characters are a mixed bag. I liked Sazh a lot, mostly because he is a character rather than caricature, which is refreshing from Japanese-source media. (And that is not something I blame them for at all. I wager most of their media portrayals of black people come from America, and we don’t have many nuanced and varied portrayals that get a lot of eyes abroad.) Some complain about his being a “wise old man” and “comic relief” being problematic tropes, but I am not one of them. Both aspects are true, but far and away not as egregious as some make it out to be. Obviously, Sazh is a bit more personal to me than the others. Overall, the next most compelling character is Snow (considering the whole series). Next I enjoyed Fang. Hope was badly named, or done so with intentional irony. Vanille is… Vanille. And Lightning, for all her focus, is upsetting. Much like Cloud she got growth in the original game that was removed from her in later titles.

          There were things I liked about the game, and really I suppose the series as a whole. The music was good, and part of my replaying was to hear some of the songs again inside the context of the games. This actually carried into Final Fantasy XIII-2 as well. Caius’ Ballad and a handful of songs from the songstress Origa before her untimely death stick in my mind even still. A proper use of Summons (albeit only in a single cutscene). It got some laughs from me here and there. For an initial showing on that generations’ consoles it was graphically tantalizing. There is no denying that Square-Enix’s games are lacking in visual polish. But after watching the credits roll, setting the controller down, and reflecting on the whole experience, I was left lacking. I felt the game was too stripped down for my liking.

          Why, oh why then, did I pre-order…

Final Fantasy XIII-2

          I am one of the few people I know that not only played Final Fantasy X-2 to completion but also enjoyed it. I saw how well utilized the PlayStation 2 architecture was used in Final Fantasy X and how X-2 built upon that. While I always enjoyed each new Final Fantasy entry being in a new world, I felt that how the lore of Spira was built upon made the game a worthy successor. Thus, I extrapolated that Final Fantasy XIII-2 would make comparable improvements. And again, to its credit it did. Each area was broad and open and could be explored completely. It was a series of sandboxes with clear limits, yes. But not only were they filled with personality, but it also scratched the itch of wanting to explore some spaces from Final Fantasy XIII more completely. It featured what I found to be one of the last songs Origa performed prior to her death. Akin to FFX-2 and perhaps even The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, many assets were re-purposed from the previous titles’ works. This allowed more time to be spent on new stories. I even let myself get hooked into paying for the DLC piecemeal as it trickled out. While Final Fantasy XIII left the bar low, Final Fantasy XIII-2 felt… redemptive to me. It addressed many of the wider concerns I had with the original game.

          Until I got my teeth kicked in by finishing the story.

          Ye gods, the story. Again… SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. I cannot talk about how the story upsets me without talking about the ENTIRE story, especially the “payoffs”. I hate the story in this game. It is a paradox in that the more you invest in it, the more I feel it is going to upset you, and is the source of the lead in sentence to this ever burgeoning piece.

          I self-proclaim myself as a “Lore Miser”. I’ve killed a lot of digital enemies, but the context and the answer to “Why?” is of greater import to me in a lot of cases. Sometimes making a plot hole is needed in a story. Especially if it is an unexpected sequel, and the previous title hemmed everything up nicely. For all my personal distaste with Final Fantasy XIII, the story wrapped up in the end, and I was able to shelf it.

          Final Fantasy XIII-2 not only undoes the ending of XIII in a very literal way, but your entire adventure is a waste of time. Time Travel is used heavily in XIII-2. And while you change the timeline frequently, it doesn’t matter to your personal quest: Reach, Aid, and perhaps save Lightning, XIII’s featured protagonist.

          You start the game off as Lightning, embattled against someone named Caius. A boy named Noel comes along. It seems as though Lightning is struggling to succeed, and sends Noel off with a character named Mog to bring her younger sister Serah to this plane. So Noel soon touches down in New Bodhum, the village where Serah now lives. Serah comes across him, and they set off.

          Why is Lighting fighting Caius? Because she is the paladin to the goddess Etro. When did Lightning become this champion of the goddess Etro? During the end sequence of the previous game, apparently. A bit of retconning ripped her from the time stream when no one was looking to serve as divine guardian, so to her friends and family she’s been gone for years.

          Serah, Noel, and Mog, bounce through time and space trying to find their way to Lightning. It is discovered that Serah is a Seer, someone who is connected to the happenings of the time stream. Noel knew a seer in the future (oh… right… Noel is from a desolate future with only three people in it) and is worried about Serah. You see, when you mess with time enough to write a new timeline, Seers perceive this. The knowledge of this rewriting greatly shortens their lifespans. Noel watched Yuel, his seer friend, die due to this. This drove his mentor and the Seers’ Guardian Caius (yes, that Caius) into a rage. He wound up hopping through time and space and managed to find Yuel, albeit a different incarnation, again. He watched her die too. He did this again and again, and has seen Yuel die in nearly each and every incarnation. He figures ‘If I can plunge the world into a state in which nothing changes, Yuel will no longer die.’ So he aims to kill the goddess Etro in her realm, unleash Chaos, and paralyze anything from ever changing again.

          But wait… all the Seers are some incarnation of Yuel and look the same? So is Serah actually Yuel?

          Apparently not. But Serah is still a seer.

          Why wouldn’t Caius take to Serah, with her being a Seer that could use protecting? Because she’s not Yuel, obviously. I guess?

          Wait… Isn’t this entire game based around you going around ala Chrono Trigger, changing the outcomes of different eras to advance? Isn’t that going to kill Serah?

          Why yes. Yes it is.

          Seeing a problem yet?

          If the changes are too many or too severe, your actions kill Serah! Delightful.

          So you continue to jaunt through space time, making major changes, righting wrongs, and fighting Caius a bunch of times without knowing if he is experiencing you on the same linear tangent you are fighting him on. The first time you fight Caius, is it his first time facing you or his hundredth? Does this make him stronger or weaker? All the while, every major “victory” is accompanied by Serah falling to the ground in increasing bouts of pain as her being is racked with processing the knowledge of timelines lost.

          Eventually you finally do find Lightning. However the meeting of the sisters at this point seems to be in the way of the story. It’s Serah’s inciting incident, but the whole exchange is perhaps a couple of minutes. By this point stopping Caius is the focus As such, Lightning goes off to battle Caius ‘for the last time’ it seems, as the whole of the story is rounding down. Good. You’ll have some help in that final battle. Always welcome to have a demigoddess on your side.

          After getting some backstory regarding Noel in his portion of the future, the final stage for stopping Caius is found in the far future. Not so far as the one Noel is from, but still out there.

          A recap: Caius wants to stop all the Yuels from dying. He aims to do this by causing a series of catastrophic events with extratemporal ramifications. The amount of death will throw open the floodgates to the realms beyond and either connect to the goddesses’ Etro seat or wake her up. Caius’ decides to collapse a structure called The Pillar. At the end of the last game, your party members Fang and Vanille sacrificed themselves to create a crystalline tower to hold up Cocoon (the place where most people resided in XIII) so it didn’t kill all life within it and go crashing down to Pulse (a world above which Cocoon floated). But the concern seemed to be more about saving Fang and Vanille with thwarting Caius to be icing on the cake.

          Anyhow, you get to doomsday. Cocoon and Pulse are more or less evacuated to an emergency Ark just in case Caius can’t be stopped. Another of your party members from FFXIII, Hope Estheim, has seen overseen a plan 500 years in the making thanks to convoluted time skips. Caius descends and begins his assault. Sazh, yet another XIII protagonist, shows up out of nowhere (especially if you got to this point of the game pre-DLC) 700 years after he is supposed to be dead from natural causes? Anyhow, you fight Caius, you are victorious, and apparently this changed fate pretty drastically. Serah dies. Somehow, and I can’t recall just how, Noel ends up with a still living Caius on the grounds of the Goddess Etro’s realm. They fight, and Noel successfully kills Caius. Woo! Except that Caius was imbued with Etro’s actual, literal heart, which is why he was immortal and extra-temporally aware. His death, the stopping of the goddesses’ own heart, unleashes the Chaos just like he wanted.

          So… you play the game, you find Lightning, you beat the game. Serah dies. Caius dies. Chaos is unleashed just like the antagonist wanted, and the world goes to pot.

          …yay…

          But wait! There is a post game!

          All across your journey you collect Fragments, which are coalesced paradoxes, let’s say. Whenever you beat a major boss, solve a puzzle, or otherwise do good, you are rewarded with a fragment. There are weapons that increase in lethality with the more fragments that you possess, plus there are items you can get from the casino to play with different aspects of the game. One of these will let you replay parts of the story at harder settings. This will grant you access to more fragments as well as sub-endings. It does the Chrono Trigger bit and shows you what the world would be like if that change were canon. You can do this all the way up to the final battle, which when played with the “kid gloves” off and all the fragments collected, provides you with a new ending.

          For the record, I reserve judgment until the end of a game for the most part. I try to complete as much of the game as possible. In this case, the only thing I had not done was defeated DLC Gilgamesh.

          But this is where my protestations solidify.

          Digressing… we 100% beat the game. Have everything. See everything. Do everything. What is your reward?

          Caius is sitting on the Throne of Etro in the hidden realm. He is smirking and seems oh so pleased. Why? You see, your whole journey was for naught. You began your journey hoping to save Lightning? Notice I did not talk about her showing up during the final battle? Her rescue was impossible. For you see, by the first time Caius had met Serah and Noel as a pair, Caius had already beaten Lightning. The Lightning you met late in the game was from a time before her battle with Caius. Lightning has been good and dead the whole game. And you had hoped for a better ending? Perhaps seeing everything would have revealed another path? Oh no, Caius assures us, everything could have only happened one way.

          So no matter what, Lightning dies, Serah dies, and Noel unleashes Chaos upon the world, damning everyone after they worked so hard to avoid death from The Pillar collapsing.

          If this was its own mainline solo entry I may have been more forgiving. The original Final Fantasy has a wickedly convoluted “nothing you could have done would have changed things” vibe about it. If I had only played Final Fantasy XIII-2 I would have been upset, no doubt. I know full well that I am indulging in fiction. But telling me that “nothing matters”? is not a welcome move. And I am not against less than cheery endings. I found the ending of Final Fantasy X to be WONDERFUL and felt deprived that the 100% end of X-2 walked it back.

          What really upset me was this. I played most every mainline Final Fantasy. I had gone through the majority of XIII. I was not happy with it. At all. Even when it was a new game to the market I was not happy with it. I sat with that dislike for years. Even so, I gave XIII-2 a solid go. I pre-ordered it, in fact. I bought the DLC piecemeal. And yet…? The story of XIII did not matter. All that I had done in XIII-2 did not matter. I had invested two playthroughs of XIII and an exhaustive run of XIII-2 to only be left with “Tough noogies kid.”

          The funny element is, for all the time/space tomfoolery involved, you do not go back far enough to change your fate(s). In this way, the game tells the story in a straight temporal line. You are never placed at a juncture to amend the outcome. There is no way to make one big change to say save Lightning, but sacrifice Serah. No… everyone loses, no matter what. Atop that, and perhaps most galling, is that Caius gloats at your hubris. ‘Your story started when I had already beaten Lightning. There was never anything you could have done.’ And then, if you do all the running around getting all the Fragments in the game… he’s still waiting for you to reveal that the goddess Lighting aimed to protect is dead and that you’ve played into his machinations.

          I don’t mind stories without happy endings. But this left me very unhappy.

          And then I heard whispers, and then confirmation, for a third game in this awful series. And did I pick it up?

Yes.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

          Why? I had come this far. I wanted to see the end of the story. It’s a compulsion. And yet I never did complete the game. And for what reason?

Expectation.

          I anticipated an action oriented JRPG. Instead, I got a Thriller with JRPG elements. I had to learn these points by playing the game, rather than it being conveyed in any resounding fashion. Of course, it was created with being a JRPG in mind, and being made unique, so it is plausible that none of the staff could be removed enough to look at Lightning Returns through the lens I do. This wouldn’t matter one way or another save I abhor Thrillers, Suspense, Horror, and related genres. So the fact that the frameworks are so aligned was off putting. By all means, feel free to check out this video from Extra Credits. I will be quoting it and using the bulletpoints they presented in detailing Lightning Returns.

          According to the video, what is a Thriller? “While Horror tries to build tension to a crescendo, to the big payoff of The Scare, Thrillers let you savor the tingling sense of danger… When that tension is broken, you are only given a moment to breathe before the stakes are raised and that tension is turned one notch higher.”

          In the video a Thriller is defined by having Clear Stakes, A pervasive Sense of Threat, Time Pressure, and Escalating Stakes. My insights into these points is as follows.

Clear Stakes

“A good thriller has clear stakes from the start.”

          If Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was the first game in the XIII series (or gods forbid the first Final Fantasy game you picked up), the stakes are laid out for you. Unlike other titles, they don’t really move or broaden from what I know. The world has been overtaken by Chaos, and as Lightning, there is only a week to set the world aright. She has been uniquely empowered by the deity Bhunivelze to prevent Chaos from completely wiping out life as it is known. Why the grand deity plunks her down with only a week to get this done I do not know. This premise may change in later stages of the game, but for the four and a half in-game days I stumbled through this was what I had to do.

A Pervasive Sense of Threat

“You are never safe.”

          If memory serves, and my quick Google refresher led me true, Lightning Returns brought back an old staple of the Final Fantasy series: Random Encounters. At this point most Square-Enix games had veered away from this mechanic. Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Star Ocean I can personally vouch for. As you ran around on the map, you would see the enemies’ avatars that when you touched them, would bring you into battle with a group. This let you prepare accordingly. It gave you a reminder to heal up. It let you rotate tactics and party members based upon the enemies you could see. Or with careful maneuvering, it gave you the freedom to avoid combat all together. While there were some situations in which you could see enemies in the field in Lightning Returns, you were never quite certain when you’d be sprung upon.

          Admittedly, I may be remembering this incorrectly. But in later points I will expound on why the battles themselves were always a threat.

Time Pressure

“This device gives momentum to the story and ensures that the characters can’t just go into hiding or stop and establish a meticulous plan.”

          The first manifestation of this is a literal ticking clock. It shows you how much time is left in the playthrough and when it runs out you have to start all over.

          At first I likened this to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. In that game there was also a ticking clock that spelled your doom. However, the tutorial there concludes in giving you the means to turn back time at any point. Thus rather than it being fully suspenseful it is more a puzzle element. And even then, the items and techniques you gain act as checkpoints. Grabbing a Song or Dungeon item lets you skip over all the work to get those items.

          Lightning Returns bears a restart mechanic, but only after you have gone into a New Game+. This means either being the game fully, or as the case was for me losing it and needing to start over.

          Second is the collection of a resource called Eradia. It wasn’t made clear to me in my initial play through, however, part of what Eradia accomplishes is extending how many days your have to complete the game. While you start of with seven days, when done correctly you will wind up with thirteen. And once your reach The Final Day, time stops. This lets you prepare for the final battle with as much time as you need. I only learned this from what spoiler-free reading I could do.

          “But if you really have thirteen days to complete the game, then what is the problem? Doesn’t this counter your earlier points?”

          A bit, but you have to successfully gather Eradia to make it to this point. Eradia is collected via some quests. Not all. If you complete a main story point or quests from people you happen across, that will likely grant you Eradia. But the main source of quests, the Canvas of Prayers, does not offer Eradia rewards.

          I spent four days time chasing down Canvas of Prayers goals, only managing to beat one boss and collect Eradia from two more sources. This caused a lot of problems especially when considering the below.

Escalating Stakes

“Every small victory will only raise the stakes higher. The heroes are put into more danger, not less.”

          This element was manifold, and likely what turned me off from the game.

          First off, the combat system essentially made you manage a variety of counters. You could customize three “Schema” which were different combat presets. Each action you made took from an overall limit. Once you were hit that limit, that Schema was unable to act. You had to switch to another and while acting with this additional Schema, the prior one(s) limits would ‘cool down’ so you could use them again. If done well, by the time two Schema were cycled through the original would be ready again. However, poor planning (or lack of information and options at the beginning of the game) could leave you with a set up that did not cleanly refresh and leave you with dwindling combat options. In this way, the more prolonged any encounter proved to be, the more of a hazard faulty or ill-informed planning became.

          Secondly, as the days wind on and the world draws closer to its end, Chaos empowers the forces you face. Random mobs, visible encounter in Chaos fields, and even bosses will grow in difficulty the longer the game goes on. As such, not gaining enough power early on quickly spells the petering out of forward momentum.

          Lastly, the means to improve Lightning statistically was not gained by fighting battles, but by completing quests. The biggest boons would have come from pursuing Eradia, but I think Canvas of Prayers quests also gave smaller increases. Not enough on their own, mind you, but your efforts on them were more than just hunting items. However, this meant that fighting only brought you items and otherwise taxed your resources. The timer did not proceed in battle, which was good. Still, I personally found battles taking longer and longer as the enemies grew more powerful outside of my notice, and it beginning to chip into my item stores. These needed to be replenished, which took away from improve items and combat capacity.

          I find each Final Fantasy, especially those in the mainline series, to differ mechanically. But there is enough similarity at the base to easily jump from game to game. The spin-off titles, namely X-2 and Dirge of Cerberus, may deviate more widely but are still somehow within expectation. XIII-2 I found to be palatable. Lightning Returns I did not.

          As mentioned somewhat above, I began the game as I often do. Reading everything and exploring everywhere. I probably spent the first two days in-game just taking the train around to the different towns and then looking around. Checking out store stocks and figuring out what items I should save up for. I talked to everyone I could to get a sense of the world and to open up which side quests I could. After doing all of this I then proceeded trying to proceed with the story. I succeeded somewhat, defeating the “first” boss, as the order is not set in stone. I managed to complete a few quests here and there, and then I started thinking on what I would try to do next. This brought me to about the fourth day. Then I had the “A-ha!” moment of how everything came together. I realized that I did not have the stats to take the game on. Some of the quests I had open where invalid since they needed to be completed by a certain point in time. Others I found were invalid because they needed four days to complete. Many needed conditions that were viable only during the day or the night. And atop that, other were part of a series of quests that I could not complete or even begin due to the above factors. Even fighting for items to prepare me for the next go round was not feasible since I was not strong enough to win fights. And there was no way to restart the game with the progress I had made, and I abhor repeating things. So… I just gave up.

          I must say this: Each game, on it’s own merits, varies in score. Final Fantasy XIII would get my “lowest default” score of 5, perhaps even a 4. It works, and it works well, but it left me lamenting the time I put into it, and instilled me with no real drive to explore the missions/hunts/Cie’th Stone side quests once I beat the game.

          Final Fantasy XIII-2 I enjoyed fairly throughly and would give it a fairly high score, likely an 8 or 9. However, the story hit me so hard that, akin to Prototype getting a bump up, XIII-2 would get knocked down several points to about a 6.

          And while this is unfair as I did not finish the game, I would give Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII an unprecedented less than 5~4 score. It gives me the same feeling as playing the original title in this series, plus a healthy dose of anger and disappointment. Also, it has the added baggage of my dislike from the previous games. Judging it on the poor conveyence of the core mechanics, found wholly in this game, is truly what dragged it down.


          With all of this venting finally completed, I can say I’ve finally reached a catharsis with the Final Fantasy XIII branch of games. It is not that I vehemently dislike the titles. However, when taken in whole or in part they are not what I look for when I sit down to play video games nor from role-playing games, Japanese or otherwise. Final Fantasy XIII is too straightforward for my tastes. Final Fantasy XIII-2 suffers too much Sequel Syndrome, being a hard blow to set up a redemption arc and set the stakes for the third game, for my tastes. And while this view is way out there, Lightning Returns is too much of a Thriller rather than an RPG for my tastes.

          It is odd, after all this time, to reach a peace with the series. It is not what I expected. If I had let go, perhaps I would have found enjoyment in it. Thinking now, perhaps I’ll get back to Lightning Returns and finish it. As such all I can leave you with is this: Go in with open eyes, and open mind, and if you find joy in something, as it harm none, do what you will.


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