Had my shipment arrived during the Christmas break like I was hoping, I would’ve probably blogged Final Fantasy XIII from start to finish like any other anime series here. I was ready to shell out $250 for an HD PVR just to do so too. Ever since the NES days, Final Fantasy has been about the story first and foremost to me, with improvements to the gameplay mechanics and graphics just adding to the overall experience. For that reason, it seems like it would’ve been a worthwhile blogging venture, especially when a lot of people imported the game with little-to-no understanding of Japanese.
When I was younger, I played a lot of Japanese games with much less understanding of the language than I have now, and found that a lot of the experience/enjoyment was simply lost in translation. As such, I thought I’d supplement what I didn’t have during the pre-Internet era, but the opportunity slipped by since I was late arriving to the FFXIII party. In lieu of chapter-by-chapter coverage, I figured some spoiler-free hands-on impressions would suffice, or at least, that’s what our resident site owner has been insisting that I do ever since I told him I preordered it.
During the past couple of weeks since I received my copy of the game, I’ve been fitting in whatever time I can find to get through it as quickly as possible. Well just the other day I finally finished the game, though I still have some side quests to get back to before I can say I’m completely done with it. Story-wise, I’ve taken everything in, and have to say it’s been more interesting than any of the anime series I’m currently following. It should go without saying that I haven’t been posting about my usual shows lately because I haven’t been watching them. =P
Anyway, for the sake of discussion, I figure a spoiler-free introduction to the story would be helpful here. I’ll keep the rest of the post along those lines, but if there’s actually interest in a full-blown discussion of the plot or gameplay mechanics, we can shift things to spoiler-tagged comments. Consider this post an introduction to the game for those who have yet to play it, along with my overall impressions of the story. (We talk plot on this site, not review games!)
I was originally writing up a full-blown in-depth discussion about all aspects of the game, from the new battle system that I really like (challenging and not mindless), the progression (linearity is not an issue), and the visuals and music (jaw-dropping 1080p gameplay and cutscenes with a beautiful score by Hamauzu Masashi), but it got incredibly long and I wasn’t convinced it was an interesting read to most, so I’ve locked those sections off in a vault somewhere for now.
From time immemorial, gods created human life on the planet. To help guide and protect mankind, they also created powerful beings known as fal’Cie (pronounced “fal see”) before leaving the world. Some time later, the fal’Cie created a floating utopia above the planet known as Cocoon for humans to live frivolous lifestyles. There, the fal’Cie support mankind with everything from electrical power (Kjata), food (Carbuncle), and even the climate (Phoenix), but left governing society up to mankind themselves, thus leading to the creation of the holy government known as the Sanctum 「聖府」 (Seifu).
On the world below known as Pulse 「下界」 (“Lower World” in kanji), a separate group of humans and fal’Cie exists. The citizens of Cocoon are in constant fear of what lies below them due to an apocalyptic war that happened between the two worlds some hundred years ago, and are forbidden to visit it by the Sanctum. Anyone discovered to have left Cocoon is immediately exiled from the utopia.
During the apocalyptic war, both Cocoon and Pulse fal’Cie alike would select humans for a greater purpose by placing a mark on them and turning them into a l’Cie (“luu see”). Once becoming a l’Cie, one is granted magical powers to accomplish the mission given to them (“Focus” in English), which is only conveyed via vague, incoherent, dream-like thoughts. Those who fail to accomplish their mission within a certain time lose their very being and become undead-like monsters known as Shigai 「シ骸」 (“Cie’th”). However, legend states that fulfilling the task only transforms the individual into a crystal so that they “obtain eternity forever”. Because of this, coming into contact with a fal’Cie and being selected as a l’Cie is seen as a curse.
After a Pulse fal’Cie is discovered in some old ruins by the Ewleede Canyon power plant, the Sanctum orders that everyone at the nearby coastal resort Boredom be exiled from Cocoon. Both the residents and tourists are indiscriminately forced into this “Purge Plan”, regardless of whether they were actually marked as a Pulse l’Cie. The Sanctum claims that such grave measures are necessary, since Pulse l’Cie tend to be given the task of destroying Cocoon. However, what is publicly a forced relocation turns out to be an all out massacre in disguise.
Official Japanese trailer #4, featuring the theme song “Kimi ga Iru kara” by Sugawara Sayuri.
The story here follows six characters as they all get dragged into the l’Cie curse in some way or another. The 13 days leading up to their paths crossing becomes a prominent part of the story, which is slowly revealed over the course of their adventure. Naturally, nothing is quite like it initially seems — something that’s apparent right from the get-go. History always tends to be fudged when it comes to Final Fantasy and those who enforce it are usually suspect, so the journey this time involves uncovering the untold truth behind the world. However, it’s this suspicion of both the fal’Cie and Sanctum that kept me hooked the most, and what made me want to get through the game quickly to see what happens.
Director Toriyama Motomu said in the Square Enix announcement trailer that the story in FFXIII is focused primarily on the character development, and I definitely agree with that sentiment having played through it. A lot of attention was on each of the characters’ subplots, resolve, and emotions over the course of the story, so much that the ending itself only focused on them while glossing over the state of the world going forward. While the ending was left a bit too open to interpretation, I could appreciate a lot of the build-up in characters such as Hope Estheim (Kaji Yuuki, Hiizumi Akina in Yozakura Quartet), Sazh Katzroy (Ebara Masashi, Maito Guy in Naruto), and Oerba Dia Vanille (Fukui Yukari, Sara Adiemas in School Rumble). In particular, the scenes between Sazh and Vanille in chapters 6 and 8, and Hope and Snow at Palumpolum in chapter 7.
On the other hand, heroine Lightning (Sakamoto Maaya) and self-proclaimed hero Snow Villiers’ (Ono Daisuke) own stories felt much weaker. In Snow’s case, this meant that the love portion of the story involving Lightning’s younger sister Serah Farron (Kotobuki Minako, Mugi in K-ON!) wasn’t as prominent as it could’ve been, much like its counterpart in Final Fantasy XII. Unlike XII though, they were really trying to make it a cornerstone of the emotions in the story here, but the delivery just didn’t have that much impact on me. A bit of a shame to say the least, as I was actually looking forward to scenes that would tug on some emotional strings. As for Lightning, I actually found one part of her character development really jarring in chapter 7. It just didn’t sit right with me given the personality they established for her leading up to that point.
Lastly there’s Oerba Yun Fang (Andou Mabuki), who probably had the least amount of development because it was saved for the latter portions of the story. Fang was presented as an easygoing yet mysterious character who lost her memories surrounding a part of her past, which offset the need for continual development. In fact, I found her personality was a breath of fresh air in the group, more so than Snow’s, even though his self-admitted “stupid persistence” was probably supposed to be just that. While brief, some good subplot also came from some of the non-playable characters (NPCs) featured in the game, such as Cid Raines (Nakamura Yuuichi), commander of the elite air force of the Sanctum Guardian Corps, the Kiheitai 「騎兵隊」 (a.k.a. the Cavalry). It’s unwritten Final Fantasy tradition to have a Cid in every iteration, and interesting enough, he was played by Macross Frontier’s Saotome Alto this time around. =)
Overall, I found the story was fairly simple in retrospect, but a satisfying experience regardless. If I had to make a minor complaint, it would be that it was a bit too predictable. Yes there was a twist, but it came somewhat early and left me anticipating another one near the end that never came. However, I find that a lot of the Final Fantasy games post-Nintendo era tend to be quite brief if you want to summarize the general plot, but still require you to invest a fair bit of time to get through it due to the emphasis on character interactions. It’s sort of a trade-off I guess. You spend more time getting the emotional aspects of the story via all those scenes, rather than a lengthier story itself like Final Fantasy 4 and 6 (or the NES ones for that matter). This isn’t really surprising given the trend as of late, with video games becoming a medium for creative expression rather than just a game to play and kill time with. They really are movies that we play through now and I don’t mind one bit.
International Version (03.09.2010)
With the NA/EU release due out in about a month’s time, I’ll admit that I felt using British X-Factor winner Leona Lewis‘ “My Hands” as the theme song would be out of place. The song wasn’t written specifically for the game like Sugawara Sayuri‘s was, so the lyrics don’t really fit the story too well. However, after seeing the international trailer for the game, the song actually brings about a very different, almost westernized feel to the game, which is probably better considering the larger audience (myself not included among it). The dub itself isn’t too bad either, but Square Enix did a pretty good job in FFXII as well with the archaic English dialogue. Granted, I still preferred the Japanese one with Sonozaki Mie as Ashe, who’s back in FFXIII as Sanctum military prodigy student turned Lieutenant Colonel, Jihl Nabaat.
I still wonder what they plan to do with all of the background tracks that have Japanese vocals though, only one of which was actually in English and reusable (Serah’s Theme). There was no song announced as a replacement to Sayuri’s “Eternal Love”, plus there’s a version of the Chocobo Theme with vocals to take into consideration. Perhaps they’ll just strip out all the Japanese vocals or simply leave them as-is, but I figure they must have something planned when they went to all the trouble of redoing all the lip-synching to match the English dialogue (cutscenes too it seems). I’m quite impressed that they actually went the extra mile for the localization this time around, which you can see in the official English trailer below. Pay close attention to their lips as they speak.
For a trailer, “My Hands” is pretty good, but I still question if it fits the game’s ending scene, when the song will ultimately be heard.
Official international trailer, featuring the theme song “My Hands” by Leona Lewis.
That said, does anyone actually want to hear me go on about all aspects of the gameplay, in regards to linearity not being an issue and the battle system being very engaging? I’ve taken out over 2,600 words from this post because as you can see, it’s already too long. I’m never short of things to say it would seem. -_-;
* If anyone’s played the game and wants/needs clarification on any part of the story, feel to ask in a spoiler tag. Questions/comments about gameplay mechanics should be fine without, but please use some discretion for those who haven’t played it.
* The official soundtrack was recently released (01.27.2010) and it’s all I’ve been listening to for the past while.
* Added 720p screencaps and a video of the first in-game cutscene, where Cocoon citizens are being taken to Hanged Edge to be exiled.