Editorial: Why Final Fantasy XIII’s Narrative Failed

Until the earlier portion of last decade the Final Fantasy series had been a series renowned for having scenarios which are a cut above the contemporary JRPG fare. Sometimes they feel a little flat like FFVIII, but at the very least they made for an engaging experience, if not a timeless adventure. Recently however, something has gone terribly wrong.

When confronted by the nascent, stillborn abomination that is Final Fantasy XIII’s narrative, it is initially far more intuitive to criticise it for what it is, rather than to lambast it for everything it is not. The game’s narrative elements present much that immediately sours in the mouth; an in-media-res opening bandying about jargon as though gibberish were our mother tongue, a cast of characters which one would gladly trade for a party of silent protagonists, and a main plot which differs very little over the course of dozens of hours. Yet I do not necessarily think that FFXIII’s most fatal narrative weakness is anything quite so visible.

Master storyteller, Motomu Toriyama

The barrage of jargon sans context is an irritant to be sure, but an irritant is all that it is. Excessive jargon could be forgiven in an otherwise competent tale; it only becomes a defining factor in the face of the dearth of redeeming characteristics available in FFXIII. Similarly, the cast of characters offends discerning sensibilities without exception, yet a strong narrative is often enough to carry weak or irritating personalities. Finally, FFXIII’s plot unwinds like molasses, but then few if any Final Fantasy plots progress at a mile a minute if you really think about it. FFVII’s pursuit of Sephiroth plot did have a scant few extra twists and turns than did FFXIII’s run away from the bad soldiers and turn into crystals scenario, it is true, but then XIII’s overarching narrative is probably the rough equivalent to FFX’s journey to Zanarkand plot. So what then sets FFXIII’s insipid plot apart from that of its brethren?

Allow me to answer this question with a roundabout observation, and a refutation of idiocy. Anyone who has spent more than a fleeting moment in the Cat Fancy forums (especially within any of the FFXIII threads) will immediately be able to list off three or four occasions wherein they have observed mad slavering arseclowns claiming that the only function of towns is shopping, and that by making shopping available through savepoints the forward thinking and refined game design of FFXIII has in effect rendered towns irrelevant (and what would Fallout/Mass Effect be without towns I ask you?). Such people are clearly deranged, and should be spat on if encountered in the street. Towns in and of themselves offer the unique and integral gameplay experience of environmental exploration, NPC interaction and immersion in the various cultures one encounters in the game world.

You aren't Englishing with adequacy!!!

For the longest time I had figured that it was only because of the loss of this integral source of interaction that FFXIII’s removal of towns irked me, yet I came to view this decision in another light several days ago. I was playing FFIX at the time, participating in the Lindblum hunt to be precise, and came to the realisation that it is the immediate plights of specific localities within the game’s world which constitute the vast bulk of narrative in all good Final Fantasies. The overarching narrative is always kept at arm’s length by necessity, while relying on the immediate locations to shape most plot points, and padding out the gamer’s minute to minute experiences.

Is the Midgar section of FFVII (along with lower Junon) about pursuing Shinra/Sephiroth, or is it about experienceing the daily anecdotes and philosophies of an oppressed but optimistic people? Is Don Corneo’s manor about finding the Shinra mole, or is it about experiencing the bumbling machinations of a self-important little man who thinks that he owns the Midgar slums? Is Fort Condor about stopping Shinra/Sephiroth, or is it about protecting the natural world? Is Rocket Town about the pursuit of Sephiroth, or is it about stealing the Tiny Bronco and space exploration?

An overarching narrative is very important to the structure and cohesion of a good RPG, but if you look at narrative in terms of the amount of screen-time it is allocated, then one is forced to conclude that the main plot is the very least part of the scenario in most cases. FFXIII’s plot is certainly one of the slower and weaker ones of the series, yet had proceedings been driven by the local events of intermittently placed towns, then the plot could have been serviceable or even memorable depending on the quality of the town cultures. Failing this, the main plot (and terrible character development) is all that FFXIII has to drive game events. The game is determined to have loads of cut-scenes, but the plot elements change very little from one minute to the next, and so we end up with scenes which either retread old ground, or feature very little in the way of substance.

Feel free to disagree with me on this, but it is my contention that it was Final Fantasy XIII’s lack of towns which ruined the game’s narrative along with its gameplay.

Invariably the case

The Answer to a Question Nobody Asked ….

Of course the relevance of this post-mortem, and the elephant in the room so to speak, is Final Fantasy XIII-2. Square Enix’s conglomeration of turds have, in their extraordinary hubris, decided to produce a sequel to the worst JRPG ever created, and so if my conjecture is correct then the proof will be in the eating this time next winter (Yankee time). Make no mistake this game will not be high art, as father of lies Motomu Toriyama is almost certain to once again ineptly write the script, yet by my RECKONING it should be much more palatable this time around. Or at least it will be if his lip-service to including towns and interaction holds true. Such features are key elements of JRPG storytelling, and the narrative is bound to be immeasurably improved by their inclusion.

The game may well be horrid, and I will likely hold off for a time before I even consider purchasing it, yet the world of FFXIII is now possessed of the faintest of hopes that it will someday be of worth to people other than Luis Vasquez and Lusipurr.

No.

Because this is what Lusipurr wants. Ed. - Nope.

23 Comments

  1. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 13:42 | Permalink

    No. That is not what I want.

  2. Lane
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 13:44 | Permalink

    Don’t deny your lust, Shawn.

    My problem is that as rock stupid as the plot of FF13 was, there’s not much room for a sequel. What’s left to deal with without introducing a new villain that’s a total MacGuffin?

  3. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 13:53 | Permalink

    That point is predicated on the falsehood that SE are in some way adverse to MacGuffins.

    Also, don’t deny your lust, Shawn.

  4. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 13:54 | Permalink

    And worst JRPG of all time? Really?
    You have transcended hyperbole to arrive at a lofty realm completely disconnected from reality!

    Beyond the Beyond
    Quest64
    Grandia
    Kartia
    Legend of Legaia
    Eternal Sonata
    Ephemeral Fantasia
    Fatal Labyrinth
    Musashi
    Shadow Madness
    Mana Khemia
    Cross Edge
    Blaze and Blade
    Hydlide
    Star Ocean
    Dawn of Mana
    Unlimited SaGa
    Mega Man BattleNetwork 4

    THE LIST IS NEARLY ENDLESS!

  5. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 13:55 | Permalink

    That picture is foul, by the way, and I’m tempted to pull it on humanitarian grounds.

    Done. No realistic depictions of child pornography allowed!

    Consider yourself CENSORED.

  6. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 14:05 | Permalink

    I have felt the arbitrary hand of CENSORSHIP! What is this, Tokyo?

    [Ed. – It’s not arbitrary.]

  7. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 14:12 | Permalink

    All of those games are clearly better than FFXIII.

  8. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 14:15 | Permalink

    @Lane: I think Lusi has taken my Vanille picture back to his room …

  9. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 14:23 | Permalink

    @SN: CLEARLY BETTER THAN FFXIII!?!?!?!?

  10. Lane
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 16:34 | Permalink

    @SN: too horrid to contemplate. I’ll gouge out my eyes instead and prophesy the return of the Nether Shadow K’zzlyxx.

    @Lusipurr: those are all pretty bad too. Star Ocean had a least one good game in there, however. Also, you forgot nearly every Genesis RPG ever made. But most of those are old games or from poor studios. The insult of FF13 isn’t just that it is bad. It’s that Square ought to have done better. No one expects good things from some Atlus shovelware.

  11. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 17:02 | Permalink

    @Lane: I won’t deny that it disappointed, but to label it “the worst JRPG of all time” is ludicrous.

    And, on the whole, my experience with it was more positive than negative. Certainly not my favourite FF game ever, but far from my least favourite (FF2, FF3, FF8).

  12. Oyashiro
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 17:05 | Permalink

    WHOA! Legend of Legaia and Star Ocean are great games (unless you meant the turd of a game Star Ocean IV)

  13. slayde112
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 17:19 | Permalink

    I actually liked Beyond the Beyond… *hides* It was challenging, if anything.

    I only got up to Chapter 5 of FFXIII. I don’t even know why I stopped playing– probably distracted by other games. I’ll probably give it another chance.

  14. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 17:47 | Permalink

    @Oyashiro: No, no, no!

    @Slayde: HOW!? HOW IS IT POSSIBLE? HOW CAN ANYONE LIKE THAT GAME!?

    Seriously, Beyond the Beyond is my candidate for the worst game ever seriously produced by a major publisher. (SCE, albeit developed by Camelot).

    It takes about 120+ hours to beat Beyond the Beyond, largely because of (and the Wiki describes this in understated brevity) frequent random encounter, long and complex dungeons, and difficult boss fights (which require grinding).

    TERRIBLE game. I have nothing else to say about it other than “this is an example of all of the worst things about JRPGs taken to their most extreme.”

  15. Deimosion
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 18:01 | Permalink

    I agree with Oyashiro, I absolutely loved Legend of Legaia.

  16. Lane
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 19:16 | Permalink

    I’ve never played Legend of Legaia, but I hate it already based on the cover art. Seriously, a blue-haired Cloud? I am developing a time machine so I can make my younger self hate the game.

  17. DanChiSao
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 20:04 | Permalink

    @Oyashiro SO3 was a pretty big turd itself, complete with plot twist written by M. Night Shamalamadingdong.

    @Lusi I had forgotten some of those games even existed. Thanks for the reminder. :(

  18. Oyashiro
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 20:49 | Permalink

    @Lusi – You use to be my hero Lusi…

    @SN – You shouldn’t write it off, Its a fantastic RPG with a great battle system. And it has some Pokemon aspects, I have no idea why Lusi dislikes it.

    @Dan- M. Night Wishes he could have thought of the twist to SO3!

  19. SiliconNooB
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 21:25 | Permalink

    I have Legend of Legia, I’ve only played a few hours of it, but it seemed very decent indeed. Star Ocean 2 was a good game, 3 and 4 were a pile of turds. Every entry in the series is still better than FFXIII. Because FFXIII is the worst game ever created.

  20. Oyashiro
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 21:33 | Permalink

    I really liked SO3 up until that CRAZY TWIST!

    FFXIII is indeed the worst game ever created.

  21. DanChiSao
    Posted 2011.02.01 at 22:52 | Permalink

    @SN I can safely say that I would rather play FFXIII again than SO3 or SO4. I totally agree that SO2 was actually a good game, though. Pity the anime series got canceled halfway through.

  22. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.02 at 00:47 | Permalink

    lol at comments that FFXIII is TEH WORSTEST GAME EVAR!!!

    I will trust you are not serious, as otherwise you would be so mad that you’d be incapable of typing.

    Worst game of all time needs to go to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. When it came out, I received not one, not two, but THREE copies from various relatives, and I could NOT trade them away for love or money.

    Awful game.

  23. Lusipurr
    Posted 2011.02.02 at 01:20 | Permalink

    All stuff about worst games aside…

    SN makes a REALLY excellent point about the narrative failures of FFXIII. I tend to agree with his observation that over-arching plot gives form to most FF games, but does not define the minute-by-minute experiences that motivate continued play. His examples drawn from FFVII are perfect, and their memorability serve to show how that game succeeds where FFXIII fails.

    Good post, all hyperbole aside. One of the more thoughtful and probing ones we’ve had on the site.