Editorial: Final Fantasy Is No Longer the CoD of RPGs

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Logo
It is now upon us!

With Final Fantasy XIII-2 now released, and critical verdicts now in, it is finally possible to assess the fallout from its reception, and to distill from it one crystalline message: the Final Fantasy series critical bubble has popped, the seemingly impenetrable aura has dissipated and, for the time being at least, the series titles will sink or swim based on their own merits.

Commercial reviews are in almost unanimous agreement on one point: story coherence aside, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a tangible improvement over Final Fantasy XIII in all meaningful capacities. That fact considered, it has come as a surprise to some to see the initial Metarating of Final Fantasy XIII-2 languishing bellow that of the original inferior title. Final Fantasy fans have accused reviewers of getting their scores horribly wrong, yet this is not the case – in fact the current crop of review scores are arguably far more real and informative than those belonging to Final Fantasy XIII, provided that one accepts the premise that the era of Final Fantasy score inflation is currently over.

When a game series is able to accrue the tremendous ammount of plaudits and goodwill that the Final Fantasy series has garnered over its 25 year run as one of the world’s most cherished JRPG franchises, then it tends to find itself in something of a critical bubble, wherein it becomes increasingly difficult for any heavy criticism to stick to new entries. Not only are critics prone to eventual fanboy zeal, but even those who are not so inclined are nevertheless somewhat hesitant to put forth controversial verdicts or to appear to be on the wrong side of history. Then there are purely practical concerns which can locate such a vaunted series in a privileged position, such as advertising revenue and the tendency to placate a readership which decries any score below 9/10.

Final Fantasy XIII In-Battle Screenshot
Loved by some, reviled by others.

Final Fantasy XIII was a controversial game to say the least. An excellent battle system married to the most rudimentary of world designs, Final Fantasy XIII scored well bellow the series average, yet was viewed by many as being handled with kid gloves by some of the commercial reviewers. Subsequently, reviewer credibility was routinely trashed in the review comment threads, and the reviewers themselves began to speak about the game differently in retrospect, retconning their judgement to that of ‘disappointing sequel’. In short, this had the effect of changing the narrative surrounding the Final Fantasy series and its thirteenth installment, removing the gloss from Square Enix’s shiniest bauble.

A series which was held apart from its national peers has now become a part of the story of Japan’s downward spiral of game design decline, but while this may read as an epitaph or dirge to some, one is inclined to argue that it is anything but for Final Fantasy fans rooting for the series to be great again. When praise and accolades are unconditional, then it seems intuitive that quality must surely suffer as a result. For a series to retain its integrity long after the initial inspiration is gone, it must be held to best practice standards. If Final Fantasy‘s hardened fanbase were at liberty to decide, then no new series installment would ever be awarded lower than perfect – but that inclination is doing neither themselves nor their hallowed series any favours.

After many a long year of reviewer indulgence a mainline Final Fantasy title is finally being judged to industry standards, which has resulted in the title being awarded an overwhelmingly consistent review distribution mode of 8/10 – and that is OK. 8/10 is a good score, which is awarded to good games with perhaps a few small problems with them. 8/10 is a score perfectly in tune with the text of most Final Fantasy XIII-2 reviews (assuming they are accurate), which paint the picture of a game which fixes most of its predecessor’s problems without bringing anything truly exceptional to the table. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a game that tries its hardest to remedy the sins of the past, and has been rewarded with good scores for its efforts – it will be for other games to recapture the series’ critical acclaim.

19 comments

  1. Very good editorial and I completely agree. The moment Ryan Clements posted his FF13-2 review and people were shouting outrage at the text boasting a better game and the score lower than his 13 one, I noted that he didn’t underscore 13-2, but just drastically overscored 13.
    Of course, his 13-2 review also talks about how 13 had the better narrative, so that makes a whole wack of other things void, but still…

  2. This is a good look at what’s happening. JRPGs, SE and the rest of the Japanese game industry are all on a marked decline internationally.

    I read a review elsewhere that basically said that XIII-2 was made with a checklist. They simply listed all the complaints and made sure to do the opposite, or close to it. In the end, I think they may have made a few more issues in the process. It was just a bad foundation to work with.

    But I don’t think FF has lost too much of its status. I think their slip ups simply count for more, now. If they make XV simply more cohesive, and (I know this is a radical thought for an FF game) stop focusing on the graphics QUITE as much, since that was likely a large reason for XIII’s mediocrity in every other department, and they would have the anticipatory popularity they usually enjoy. I really think this was simply a case of a mediocre entry in the series released in an unfavorable time for JRPGs. But SE could easily reclaim their brand’s luster. They just have to…you know, make a good game.

  3. @Ethos: The narrative in XIII may have been better (I don’t know, I’m picking up XIII-2 later today), but XIII’s narrative still blew. Looking back on it, I felt the exposition was bungled rather spectacularly. This is why I don’t only read big budget sites like IGN.

  4. I don’t know, SE complained a lot about how the graphics in 13 was the reason the game took so long and didn’t have more explorable environments, but 13-2 has them in droves and still manages to look great. I’m aware the engine and art-design and character designs didn’t have to start from scratch, but with their budget and team size, I’m sure good graphics REALLY shouldn’t pose a problem. It doesn’t for so many other devs.

    I suppose 13-2 feels a bit like a checklist, but that’s not a bad thing in my books. It’s like Robert Boyd said, “apology accepted”.

  5. Final Fantasy was the CoD of RPGs? What about Dragon Quest, a series that has seen almost no change over its entire life-span? That sounds a little more like CoD-generic-FPS to me than a series that has had a few hiccups in recent years.

  6. @Enrei: lol, good observation about DQ. It does fit that mold, doesn’t it?

    @Ethos: The thing about the presentation values is simply that they pumped up the values OF those presentations to the point that they had about twice as many art assets than they needed for just one game. I’m quite certain whole droves of those assets simply went unused in XIII. And in this case, they probably needed a much smaller (by comparison) graphical team to get XIII-2 off the ground and could then spend the time and money on things like addressing issues they couldn’t before and making things more open. Basically, less time MAKING those pretty pictures and more time APPLYING them in ways that are actually fun. Because apparently they pulled a mini-Duke Nukem Forever and poured way more money and time into the presentation than they probably should have with XIII.

  7. @Enrei: The title is referring specifically to the free point (or more) of score inflation that CoD receives from reviewers with every release.

  8. @Enrei: Dragon Quest games have the added bonus over Final Fantasy of still being fun. Compare FFVIII and DQ8. Both are overly long, boring, have fundamentally broken battle systems, and kind of bad. But DQ8 didn’t cause me to murder five hobos and make bean filled chili from their desiccated carcasses to beguile and infuriate Lane for his utterly wrong beanless chili stance. Final Fantasy is undiluted hobo murder and people should feel bad for liking it.

  9. @evilpaul: All FFs are undiluted hobo murder? And, omg YES about the beans in chili. Had a similar argument, I suppose, with a friend of mine.

  10. How is it even chilli without the beans? Wouldn’t that just be spicy mince?

  11. Other things can go in chili. But, apparently SOME people have a problem with the texture of beans. I….I don’t even….it…

  12. Backwards people everywhere, in Texas, hate putting beans in chili in favor of…onions maybe? I have no idea what they put in chili instead. It’s like making chicken noodle soup except without the chicken or noodles.

    @SN: The pictures I’ve seen have it looking like some sort of marinara sauce or something. I have no idea how those people consider it chili. I assume they eat it while sleeping with their sisters.

  13. Its about time someone realized that attaching a number to the end of a review doesn’t make it objective. No review is any greater than the reviewer’s personal opinion.

  14. Reviews are nothing more or less than the subjective opinion of the reviewer.

    However, ideally, that reviewer should do his level best to be as comprehensive and objective as possible with the criteria which he is using to judge the game. Of course, this is an ideal–it’s unattainable in real terms, but it is something worth striving for, and something which some reviewers do better than others. I usually believe that our reviewers get it right more often than not. The fact that they often disagree with me on their reviews is, I think, a sign of that objectivity.

    With respect to EP, arguing that DQ is fun whereas FF is not may be the most absurd claim I’ve ever seen staked on this website (and, if you think on it, that’s an achievement in and of itself). DQ titles are miserable, slow, tedious, grindy, repetitive, unchanging experiences, with neither writing, nor graphics, nor story, nor music, nor character going for them. All FF games manage to get at least one of these right–even the universally maligned FFVIII. DQ seldom gets any of them right. When they do, I suspect it is accident rather than design.

    But apart from that generally, trying to draw specific comparisons using the arbitrary choice of FFVIII (1999) vs DQVIII (2004), solely because they both happen to be the eighth entry in their respective series is, itself, more than a little absurd, given the monumental differences between the two titles. They are apples and oranges, other than the fact that both claim to be JRPGs.

    But let us leave off on utterly rubbishing EP’s strange and bizarre comments to throw him a bone: chili without beans isn’t chili. As EP points out, too much inbreeding has confused some Fallen Suns people in this regard.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII and it has become one of my favourite RPGs of all time, quite apart from its position in the heirarchy of FF titles. That said, XIII-2 is still superior in every way, and has delivered two solid days of absolute satisfaction. I cannot recall the last time I enjoyed an RPG so much–perhaps FFIX’s release?–and have looked forward to playing a game so much.

    I was up until 0600 playing XIII-2 last night, and am like to do the same again tonight. I rushed through my homework for the rest of the week so I can devote myself to playing it without having to worry about things I need to do. I have loved games in the past few years: Portal, Pokemon, Lost Odyssey, to name but a few–but this is truly sublime.

    In short, I love it. Any review I would pen would be nothing more than Vanille-shaped hearts from me, narrated by Virginia ‘Wedge’ Herrell, and delivered to the site from the future (using a Chrono Trigger), inside of personally-monogrammed Pokeballs.

    A brilliant game. It deserves better than the 8/10s it is receiving. A 9 seems far more fitting so that, it seems, XIII-2 is being underrated as a means of redressing the balance when XIII was overrated; a karmatic payback of which I cannot approve.

  15. @ Lusi: Man, this game really sparked a fire with you. I wish XIII did that for me. I’m off to play XIII-2 for the first time. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, I did enjoy XIII. I just wasn’t so passionate about it, lol.

  16. XIII was just so meh to me. I am really hoping that I can enjoy XIII-2 with a mere fraction of the fervour that Lusi holds for the game. I don’t see why I won’t be able to enjoy a game that fixes everything I hated about its predecessor, so fingers crossed this should be able to make up for XIII.

    I’m actually getting quite excited for my copy to arrive (sometime next week).

  17. I think my brother and I are the only two people in the world who don’t hate FFVIII… Also, I am excited to see what the future holds for Final Fantasy, provided that they learned their lesson from XIII and don’t plan on releasing flawed games with repaired sequels from now on. that would be a really Microsoft thing to do.

  18. Actually I have a friend who was really really into VIII. I did try, but it was only about 3 years ago and by then the graphical barrier to entry was just too high. That, and a lack of analogue support (that I could figure out) was pretty bad since the PS3’s d-pad sucks. (Although I may have played it on the PS2, but they’re basically the same controller)

    I’m STILL trying to find time to play more of XIII-2.

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