There are few games in existence that can rile people up as much as Final Fantasy XIII. Nick D. takes a look at why, four years down the road, Final Fantasy XIII still gets under the skin of gamers.
Final Fantasy XIII isn’t a bad game. This seemingly innocuous statement can cause a mighty wave of internet rage to crash down on the poor fellow who types it. To many, Final Fantasy XIII represents everything that is wrong with not only the Final Fantasy series in its modern form, but all JRPGS in general. To some, it is as abhorrent as a war criminal. But to others, it’s not that bad. Some may even tempt fate by calling it good. Whatever your opinion of Final Fantasy XIII, one thing is clear – everyone has an opinion on Final Fantasy XIII, and that opinion is often extremely negative.
It is this amazing reaction that I intend to examine in this article. Debating the merits and faults of the game has been done to death and is, frankly, uninteresting at this point. But the phenomenon of distain that surrounds this game and its successors is one that’s worth a closer look.
Before we begin in earnest, a quick look at my credentials. I have played every Final Fantasy, starting at Final Fantasy IV on the Super Nintendo. Though I only dabbled in the MMOs, I have extensive experience with every game as well as most of the spin-off series. The reason I feel the need to mention my qualifications to discuss this topic is because of how wide-ranging the fanbase is, and how much particular bias can cloud perceptions. Some have played since the original release, and have a particular fondness for early-era Final Fantasy. Some have played and cling to Final Fantasy VII alone. Others started later, and prefer the backend games. I approach this article as someone who has enjoyed all Final Fantasy games, although to wildly different degrees.
Let us begin by examining the common objections levied against Final Fantasy XIII so we may better understand where the extreme reaction originated. Traditionally, there are two main complaints. First, there is the linearity. Often derided as a ‘hallway simulator’, Final Fantasy XIII has very few optional quests, mini-games, or, in fact, paths along the first thirty hours of the journey. As such, many argue that the game is stiflingly linear, and generally boring. Second, there are concerns over the story. Seen as overly complex and full of melodrama, many Final Fantasy fans found the story either hard to follow, or simply a bore to sit through. There are other complaints, but they are less universally agreed upon, so we’ll leave them out of the discussion.
Let’s assume for a moment that Final Fantasy XIII is a bad game. That’s the obvious reason why people hate it so much right – that it’s a bad game? Does it deserve the reaction it got, to be vaunted as malignant across the internet years after release? There are certainly worse games out there more deserving of that animosity. Keeping within the series, Final Fantasy: All The Bravest comes to mind. Outside the series, I turn immediately to floods of shovelware that infected the Nintendo Wii, such as Chicken Shoot. If merely being bad credited a game the level of hatred Final Fantasy XIII has been given, half of the games released would inspire fanatical derision. No. Something clearly bigger is at play with the Final Fantasy XIII phenomenon.
I put forth that the cause is rooted in the fanbase and its pain reaction after being dealt a crushingly disappointing blow. That seems like a most plausible reason why the hate has lingered so long. Fans are hurt, and they want to make that hurt known.
It’s important to remember that there was a time that Final Fantasy XIII was the most desired game for last generation. It was so big that when Microsoft announced that the series would be going multiplatform at their 2008 E3 conference, it was considered one of the biggest announcements of not only the year, but of E3 history. Perhaps that statement is hyperbolic, but those were the sentiments flying around at the time. To explore this idea of the heart-broken fan, it is important to look at the Final Fantasy fanbase and the sheer hype leading up to the game’s release. Hopefully, this will allow us a better understanding of how disappointing Final Fantasy XIII was, and why the reaction is so great. .
1. The Fanbase
To understand the kind of people who were getting so worked up over Final Fantasy XIII to begin with, it is necessary to look at the Final Fantasy fanbase, its past behavior, and its general make up
The Final Fantasy fanbase is, in my opinion, the most fractured fanbase in gaming today. This is due to the ever-changing nature of the series. Every Final Fantasy game is set in a different world, possesses a different gameplay system, and has a new set of advantages and disadvantages. The series has existed since 1987 and new fans have come in at every stage of the series. These facts combined make for very divergent views as to where the series should go. Go to any Final Fantasy news article and you’ll see Final Fantasy VII fans clamouring for a remake, while fans of other Final Fantasy games shout them down. A fan who grew up with Final Fantasy IV and VI, and who possesses a large amount of nostalgic love for those games, is more likely to dismiss future games that differ greatly from that model. And Final Fantasy differs greatly with each installment. As far back as the second game, Square was willing to completely reinvent the experience every time. It’s the series’ biggest strength and biggest weakness.
The negative reaction from the Final Fantasy fanbase is not new, or even unexpected, though it has never been of this magnitude. I’ve been active on internet message boards relating to gaming since Final Fantasy VII came out. Every single Final Fantasy that has been released since then has been met with almost overwhelming scorn from the fanbase, at least at first. Usually, the backlash against the new kid on the block lasts between as little as few weeks or as long as until the release of a new game.
Such was the case with Final Fantasy XII, which was widely hated by the fanbase and the butt of jokes for quite some time. However, nowadays, a person insulting Final Fantasy XII will be met with a host of supporters. The same can be said with other controversial entries such as Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX. However, time has passed and people still treat Final Fantasy XIII as an abomination. So what makes this different?
One could argue that the quality has diminished. However, the slipping of quality did not lead to Final Fantasy fans universally treating Final Fantasy XIV as a metaphorical leper when it was first released. There was hatred to be sure, but not the same level of scorn Final Fantasy XIII continues to receive. Therefore, let us tentatively dismiss that point. Another could argue that, since Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO, disparagers haven’t moved onto the next Final Fantasy yet, waiting instead for the next single-player instalment. I would also tentatively dismiss this point because the cycle between games has been growing longer, and the time between each game has grown too far to use it as a measuring stick.
I propose two possible justifications as to why the fanbase has stuck to Final Fantasy XIII more than others in the past. First, and most obviously, are the sequels, because continued exposure compounds anger. Final Fantasy XIII was enough to create a swirl of hatred, but Square seemed to continue to rub gamers’ face in their unhappiness by continuing the saga instead of moving on like they so often do. This is understandable to an extent due to the economic realities of game-making, but it’s still a sore spot. It’s also important to remember that Final Fantasy XIII was a completely standalone product, and the sequels, no matter their quality, are tacked on. As such, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII have artificially kept the Final Fantasy XIII name in news headlines for four years, much to the dismay of detractors.
The second justification is the changed market. Between the release of Final Fantasy XII and now, WRPGs have gained a much larger presence in the market, and JRPGs have diminished to the position of niche genre. This exacerbated the complaints levied by fans against Final Fantasy XIII in ways that never really came up before.
Let me explain. WRPGs are known and beloved for extreme non-linearity and choice. On top of that, they follow the western approach of frank, realistic story-telling. This trend was becoming increasingly popular when Final Fantasy XIII launched, and has only become bigger since. By bucking against market trends so vividly, Final Fantasy XIII set itself apart from older Final Fantasy games, which all conformed fairly nicely to previously popular JRPG tropes. This may account for why Final Fantasy fans have held onto their hatred of the game for so long.
2. The Hype
Of course, looking at the fanbase’s initial position and reaction is only half of the story. Final Fantasy fans may be a cantankerous bunch, but there is plenty of blame that must be apportioned to Square themselves for how badly Final Fantasy XIII’s reaction turned out. Once again, while it is tempting to focus only on the quality of the work, that is largely unimportant. What really set Final Fantasy XIII apart isn’t a dip in quality, but an astronomical rise in hype. It is standard procedure to hype a game you’re making, but Square handled Final Fantasy XIII’s hype so poorly that they’ve promised a lot more transparency in regards to Final Fantasy XV’s development in order to avoid repeating history’s mistakes.
It’s appropriate to start our look at Square’s poor attempts at marketing and hype by starting at the beginning – 2006. That was the year Square first unveiled Final Fantasy XIII to the world at E3. It had been in development for two years prior to this and people assumed quite incorrectly that Square was almost at completion.
In fact, the trailer shown was a concept of the game. There was no playable version of the game available, something that most gamers were not made aware of. This left nearly four years with gamers assuming the game was right around the corner. As happens in regards to highly anticipated products, people began romanticizing the game in their heads, looking at that amazing teaser video again and again imagining what perfect game would be attached to it. There is no perfect game, and such romanticization leads to crushing disappointment pretty much every time.
The release date for the game was handled perhaps even worse. Look at the release date announcement below:
This was all just to tell you when the game was coming out. You have a man in a suit so smug that you can smell the arrogance wafting off of him waxing on and on about how Final Fantasy XIII is the most anticipated game ever. This is interspersed between developers selling the game as hard as they can. The whole thing is less of a release date announcement than a massive event, which was probably the goal. Unfortunately, with such an arrogant presentation comes massive expectations.
Even around release, the hype continued to grow extensively. The PlayStation 3 version of Final Fantasy XIII holds an 83 on Metacritic. Major gaming publications were very positive. IGN gave a 89; GameSpot an 85; and Eurogamer an 80. While not perfect, these scores were high. This is on top of the pre-review buzz coming from the 39/40 Final Fantasy XIII received from Japanese titan, Famitsu. Whether these scores were because the reviewer liked the game, was blinded by the high production values, or, as gamers love to accuse, was paid off is immaterial, and a large enough topic to warrant its own article. What is important is that these positive scores from gaming’s biggest sites went a long way in the blindside that struck gamers when they started up the game.
All of this hype was only going to lead one place – crushing disappointment. Over-anticipated games never live up to the hype. People had years to build what they thought the game would be about in their head; Square was treating it like a messiah; and the reviews were positive. The insane hype surrounding Final Fantasy XIII is why I would label it as the most disappointing game every made. There’s almost no way it couldn’t have been. Even a game met with universal praise couldn’t begin to live up to the expectations that were leveled on Final Fantasy XIII. It was expected to be the greatest, biggest, next-gen-iest Final Fantasy ever. It was supposed to save the flagging JRPG genre. And it was supposed to be so great we’d be talking about it for years. Unfortunately, that last part came true, but not in the way we thought.
Why has Final Fantasy XIII continued to be a sore spot among gamers? The answer I put forward is that Final Fantasy XIII was a massive disappointment. This disappointment was fueled by too much hype and too much love from the fractured and finicky fanbase. If people hated Final Fantasy XIII so passionately simply because it was a bad game, the landscape in gaming would be very different. Developers would be quaking in their boots at the thought of releasing a sub-par game. No. Disappointment from impossibly high expectations led to pain, pain that a beloved series wasn’t what people wanted it to be. Is this fair? Perhaps, or perhaps not. No matter the case, the unbearable disappointment surrounding Final Fantasy XIII’s release, in my humble opinion, led to gaming’s greatest overreaction, an overreaction that still continues on, unabated by time.