Final Fantasy XIII
Why Japanese Developers Need to Get Their Heads out of Their A$$ and Make Better RPGs
Before I begin, let me say that I am someone who is pretty well versed in JRPGs and has loved playing Japanese developed games. Some of my favorite games are JRPGs. I’ve spent many hours playing RPGs like Eternal Sonata, Final Fantasy XII, Tales of Symphonia, Tales of the Abyss, The World Ends With You, and many other RPGs. I only point out my problems with the modern JRPG in the hopes to get multi-million dollar companies to stop doing JPRGs by the numbers and truly evolve.
My main problem with FF XIII is its attempt to stick with the traditional. FF XIII is a Japanese RPG that is rife with stereotypes. And I’m not talking about characters either. Game play too. Whereas the Western RPG has given the gamer control of their character by means of customization, dialogue choices, and sometimes a first person view, the traditional Japanese character one controls feels distant from you. You don’t control his/her choice in the dialogue or what action to take. It is very passive in this regard. For example, take the battle system in a JRPG (FF XIII since we are talking about it) as opposed to a WRPG (a game like Fallout 3 or Mass Effect). In FF XIII you don’t really perform the action, you tell your character to do it for you. You never really feel engrossed in the battle as you are merely just telling what the cast of characters should do. In Fallout 3 or Mass Effect YOU are the one shooting, aiming, moving ducking behind something because you’re being fired at. I realize that the WRPG is more shooter based in combat but the active vs. passive argument applies to the story as well.
In the two WRPGs I just mentioned, you craft your own story. You make choices based on where you want to go and what dialogue options you choose. *spoilers* In Fallout 3, you can literally choose to blow up an entire city based on what you choose.*end spoilers* Whether or not you choose to do so can open or close many dialogue options, treasures and side quests not to mention that it also counts as part of a morality system you are given which can also determine side quests and dialogue. You are actually playing a role (the R in RPG) in this game. JRPGs, as tradition holds, sort of pigeonhole you into THEIR story, what the creator WANTS you to do. In this regard, it is more like the passive mediums such as books, television or movies. Not to say that they are bad. As you’ve seen in passive mediums, the stories are well crafted and engaging. You can lose yourself in the story of a well told story or movie. Normally, I would have no problem with a well told story as I’m being strung along through a game. Games like Assassin’s Creed have a quite enjoyable interesting story with their Dan Brown –like historical conspiracy feel. However, in the unique active medium of gaming, don’t you want to be part of the story too? Shouldn’t you have a role in this ROLE PLAYING game?
The biggest problem with the story in FF XIII is that it’s just a big jumbled mess. The cut scenes, whose purpose is to convey story, don’t do the very job they’re supposed to do! If you only go by the cut scenes, you miss ALL the subtleties of the story the creators are trying desperately to convey but are failing at it. How do I know this? After every cut scene, you will see a “Datalog Update” flash at the top left of your screen. If you read the event section, it will tell you all the M.O.s of the characters. You will receive NONE of those subtleties based on the acting of the characters AT ALL. Is it too much to expect that a cut scene will explain the story? ABSOLUTELY NOT! That is what a cut scene is designed to do! But if I have to read an insert as to what the creators wanted me to know about the main heroin, Lightning, and her feelings to understand them, then the cut scenes are just a bunch of wasted animations and hired actors’ voices. Not only is the way the story is told broken, it don’t make a lick of sense! The characters M.O.s, despite reading about them, sometimes don’t make any sense at ALL!
The time where a massive 40 hour plus game could string you along with mediocre story is no more. As consumers, we vote with our dollar and right now, we are voting to keep all this crap in the next production Square Enix produces. The gaming industry is evolving right now. The WRPG has taken a hold in many gamers’ hearts because it is what the consumer wants. There is a lot of hate on Final Fantasy XIII by gamers and reviewers alike not because they are “teh biased,” but because of the failings of the modern JRPG to deliver what is now standard in games: a good story that makes sense with character development and engrossing game play elements. I feel as if Final Fantasy XIII and a lot of modern JRPGs don’t have that. The JRPGs on the market today are by the numbers revisions of old and outdated mechanics. Random battles, no-nonsense stories and bland characters aren’t cutting it today. Final Fantasy XIII is a game I don’t recommend buying. It is not worth your time and money.
As a Japan-ophile (someone that loves Japanese culture, manga, anime, etc.), I would love to see JRPGs have a return to prominence. I definitely don’t want all my games to feature manly, hulking men like Markus Fenix and shooter games populate the entirety of this generation of games. But what the JRPG market needs right now is a kick in the ass. They need a progression – an evolution - in how things are getting done.
-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)