When Final Fantasy XIII launched in 2009 I, along with many others, was pretty underwhelmed by it. My recollection of playing it was running down endless corridors fighting endless battles and finding the combat an odd mix of frustration and boredom.
More broadly I remember “the community” having 3 main issues with the game:
1) Way too linear
2) Too many cut scenes
3) Boring combat.
When Microsoft announced that Final Fantasy XIII was hitting their backwards compatibility system, my reaction was a shrug until I learned that it was also being enhanced for Xbox One X. I’m always curious about these titles. When it hit BC it was also really cheap, so I plunked down my $6.50 (I think that was the price) and gave it a whirl. People/sites with more patience than I have say the game runs at 1728p on the Xbox One X (vs 576p on the 360, 720P on PS3).
So it sure is pretty, but I’m surprised to find I’m finding it a lot more enjoyable than I did back in ye olde days, too. Mind you, the game play hasn’t changed but looking at that list of 3 problems I find they don’t bother me. Let’s take them one by one.
“Too many cut scenes” is a complaint I didn’t have back when the game launched and still don’t. I’m perfectly content to watch a nicely rendered cut scene.
The “way too linear” thing isn’t bothering me as much this time around and I think this is mostly due to expectation. I knew going in that I was going to be running down those corridors, as opposed to when I first bought the game and kept waiting for that bit to end. I’m told it DOES eventually end but I’m 13 or so hours into this new playthrough and it is still endless corridors.
Boring combat… this is the interesting one. It’s been 9 or so years but my vague recollection of my first attempt at playing FF XIII was that I fought the system the whole time, and now I’m leaning into it. You see, you don’t really play a character in XIII, it’s more like you play “Party Leader”. The game decides (at least for the first 13 hours!) who is going to be in your party and who you control, and while you can issue specific orders to the character you are controlling, you’re really meant to use the “auto-battle” most of the time. I never used the auto-battle because I didn’t want to give up that control, which resulted in battles being a little frantic and me picking the same skills over and over and over.
Instead of telling the character you’re controlling to cast a fireball, you’re supposed to be telling the party “Focus on attacking that baddie” or “You heal and you debuff” and so on. Once you glom onto playing this way it gets more interesting. (And of there there are still situations when you want to choose specific skills, but those cases should be the exception rather than the rule.)
Each character can level up several classes (in MMO terms) and most are familiar. Sentinel is a tank, Medic is the healer, Saboteur is a debuffer, and so on. When your setting up your party pre-battles, you put together “Paradigms” which basically means you set up groups of classes. So one paradigm might have 1 character as Medic and another as Sentinel. Another might have both characters as Ravagers (DPS) and a third would have one on debuff duty while the other is dishing out damage.
During the real-time battles, instead of focusing on the specifics of what the character you are controlling is doing, you concentrate on which paradigm should be active and what enemy to target. Characters change classes between rounds of combat. Really it becomes more a tactics game and an individual RPG combat game.
Here’s an example of the last minute of a fight against some trash mobs:
You see I mostly choose “auto-chain” for Vanille and Sazh I have no control over. In this battle I’m switching between the War & Peace paradigm (Vanille as Medi, Sazh as Commando) and the “Slash & Burn” paradigm (Vanille as Ravager, Sazh as Commando). By choosing auto-chain I let the AI decide specifically what skills Vanille will use, and it’ll base those decisions on what we know about the enemy. It basically makes the same choice you would most of the time anyway, so why not use it?
Anyway I don’t want to drone on forever about a game from 2009, but I’m surprised enough by how much I’m enjoying it that I felt the need to write a blog post about it. That alone is worth $6.50! And I mean, look at the detail on the critter character models that we were missing in 2009! (click to embiggen, as always)