In defense of Final Fantasy 13
A lot of people like to diss on Final Fantasy 13, despite the fact the game inspired the only trilogy in the Final Fantasy franchise so far (and that weird Louis Vuitton campaign). That’s not to say the game is perfect — it’s far from it — but it still deserves attention for the things it did right.
Many critics of the original game (which was released in 2009) were fair in their assessment of it. For one thing, FF13 IS a hallway simulator. The playable landscape offers very little deviation, and acts almost entirely as a means to get players from one plot point to another.
The map does open up later in game, but many long-time Final Fantasy fans had a hard time getting that far. Even though the game is beautifully rendered, the maps layouts are painfully linear and until you get to Gran Pulse, you’re not at risk of missing much.
There are no side quests and no need to return to any previous areas to find items or grind up until that point. That, coupled with an overly-automated battle system, makes for an often slow and boring experience for much of the game — which is not ideal.
What Final Fantasy 13 does well is not really what makes it a game. It might have better marketed as a narrative adventure like Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch (although these are much newer titles). But that’s where FF13 makes good strides — particularly in narrative and character representation — and that’s one of the reasons I still recommend it.
The main character of the first installment, Claire “Lightning” Farron, is not your average female character. She is an ex-solider, someone who is tough, easy to annoy, and doesn’t often show her emotions. Lighting is actually a really unlikeable character, and that’s why I love her.
It’s not often that you have this type of female character in a A-list video game, and especially not as the lead character. She is nuanced and interesting, and perhaps best of all, doesn’t have a love interest. Lighting is strong and independent and a really refreshing addition to the series.
However, that doesn’t mean the game is devoid of love or relationships. Lightning’s younger sister, Sarah, as well as her fiancé, Snow, have a sweet relationship. Snow is sensitive and couldn’t be more excited about getting married. When Sarah is cursed by a Fal’Cie and eventually is turned to crystal, Snow is determined to find a way to protect her and break the curse.
Sazh Katzroy, another playable character in the game, is also a welcome addition. One of the few people of color in the entire franchise, Sazh is positive representation for black men. He is, at times, a bit stereotypical and there aren’t any real conversations surrounding race or what it means to be the only black man in the group, but Sazh is a dedicated and loving father.
The narrative itself is also quiet interesting. The game begins 13 days after the events that set up its conflict. As you progress through the story, you slowly learn through flashbacks what happened over those days and you can begin to piece together the larger narrative and who the characters are.
Even eight years after its release, the story is still surprisingly relevant. It touches on powerful topics such as the discrimination (i.e. people’s fear of the l’Cie and the idea of being “contaminated”), abuse of power, the role of government, revenge, family, and more. The characters also face stigma for being branded as l’Cie and struggle to come to terms like that, which is likely identifiable to anyone with a disability or mental illness.
So, despite what everyone else might say, you should really give Final Fantasy 13 a shot. It’s not a perfect game, and I can’t fault anyone for not finishing it once they’ve started, but if you do play it, you might enjoy yourself. I know I did.
FF13 also has one of the best sequels in the franchise, with an entirely reinvented battle system and open world playing style. You could pick up FF13-2 without having played the first one, but in order to get the complete experience, you should at least try and play all three of the 13 games. Beneath it’s flaws, Final Fantasy 13 is actually a decent game.