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Trying to forget the successes of the past is not easy when they come in the form of the most popular RPG ever produced. Final Fantasy XIII persuaded me to shrug off the misty eyed memories of times gone by with previous Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy VII was my first Japanese RPG. Since then I've purchased every title in the franchise without really thinking about it and I've been very happy with my purchases. Final Fantasy has always provided a thought provoking experience with involving characters, impressive architecture and a deep combat system. However, with the thirteenth iteration of the game I'm beginning to feel a little tired of it all really.
Final Fantasy XIII begins with an expensive looking cut-sequence that serves as an introduction to the setting and the principle characters. I was amazed to find the lead role would be played this time by a woman; I was less amazed to discover that this woman manages to fall precisely into the FF archetype. That familiar feeling started to set in. Old grievances I've had with the series began to raise their ugly head and I felt a question begin to rise in me. Do I even need Final Fantasy anymore? I'm a 27 year old with mountain of debt, not a 14 year old with a skateboard.
The story revolves around a government purge of staffers exposed to a seemingly undesirable creature of the underworld named Pulse. Your character and her allies have to save both themselves and your sister whilst toppling the corrupt government. It's an intricate plot that requires much back tracking and menu reading to fully understand, but beyond the complexity it's a human story of loss and betrayal.
Final Fantasy's attention to detail, from the finely detailed characters to the grand environments, is a treat for the eyes. This carries over into the music -- an orchestral score that swoops and swirls around you with its bombastic thunder in times of high drama and simple plucked ditties for more tender moments.
Do I even need Final Fantasy anymore?
The battle system is always a central part of JRPG games. Attacks can be chained together from a preset role menu; however, you can change roles (called a paradigm shift) depending on your status in battle. Having three aggressive profiles may be fine against weak opponents, but shifting some characters to a healing and support role might be prudent if a stronger foe wades into the battle. The system is unique and works well for those who stick to the defaults, as well as those who (like me) want to tweak it to within an inch of its life.
This is all to the good for Final Fantasy XIII, but it failed to resonate with me on a personal level. This is not specifically the developers fault as I'm fairly confident that nothing less than a full rehash of Final Fantasy VII would have accommodated my JRPG cravings.
I have tried to quantify this difference with each new Final Fantasy game I try and can't quite manage it. It might be Final Fantasy VII's evocative industrial-punk aesthetic, its memorable characters or moments of poignant beauty that have become cemented in gaming lore. At the same time, it might just be personal experience and the fact that I played that game at a very impressionable time of my life.
I'll leave the fanatacism to the kids.
That was a time when I was fanatical about games, and new every last inch of them like the back of my hand. That fanaticism just seems absurd now. Playing Final Fantasy XIII it's a relief not to feel the pressure to be engrossed or outraged at every tiny change of design. I'll keep playing Final Fantasy games I'm sure but I'll leave the fanatacism to the kids -- which I guess means I'm not one of them anymore.
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