An Ode To Lightning, or The History of My Love for Final Fantasy XIII.

It came rather as a surprise to me that I fell in love with Final Fantasy XIII. I’ve played the series since VI, and to me, I really do remember it as VI; I imported the Japanese version and then got stuck at some point because my level of Japanese as a teenager was quite poor (it’s a little better nowadays). However, with subsequent entries in the series, I became less enamored with it. I do not fear the wrath of fanboys when I say I hated Final Fantasy VII, but I did so before it became acceptable to do such a thing. Final Fantasy VIII was almost appalling on a character design level, but it at least had interesting mechanics. I did not play FFIX, but not because I had any antipathy towards it. Final Fantasy X was good, but the silliness of its concepts and some of its characters was often a bit much to bear — and X-2 was far sillier, more intentionally, but certainly to some people’s distaste. I avoided XI and XII for different reasons: XI because I had no interest in MMOs, and XII because it came out around a bad time in my personal life which has long since passed, and I didn’t feel any need to pick it up retroactively.

Then, Final Fantasy XIII made itself known. At first, I feigned indifference. I saw the character designs they allowed known to the public, and I didn’t care that much. Next, came the reveal at the 2009 E3 that FFXIII was going to be available on the 360. It really piqued my interest, but not beyond much. The thing that put me over the top was, believe it or not, Final Fantasy: Advent Children. Don’t mistake me here: Advent Children is terrible, totally not worth anyone’s time except the most hardcore of fanboys, but it looked great. My thought process was that Advent Children was probably a tech demo for what they could do visually in Final Fantasy XIII, which made me hopeful for it.

As a friend and co-worker prodded me further about the game, I ended up buying myself a PlayStation 3 for my birthday and thinking that, yes, eventually I would buy Final Fantasy XIII on PS3 rather than 360, achievement points be damned in favor of not having to change any discs.

When the launch day came closer, I kept telling him that I was going to buy it, but not at launch; maybe a few weeks afterwards. I had myriad games I hadn’t beaten and I wanted to get to them first. It became far more apparent that the peer pressure was starting to get to me, eventually making me relent, and then, like him, I would buy the game at launch. I even tried setting up my first Five Game Backlog Challenge, to at least play some of the games I’d been neglecting for so long in exchange for too much time spent playing Modern Warfare 2 or whatever else had caught my fancy at that time. Unfortunately, I failed it.

Launch day arrived at midnight of 16 March 2010. I came with him to the local (as in not owned by Barnes & Noble) game store and purchased myself a copy of FFXIII. Full price, no trade-ins. I had surely been pre-warned by all the critics: “the game doesn’t get good until hour 20,” they said. “The tutorials are too long; the voice acting is terrible.”

As I started it up, I was looking forward to the experience. When I started playing, it felt like it was holding my hand at first, but the battle system felt really nice. Away from the micro-management of previous Final Fantasies, and more of a tactical, strategic one, I truly appreciated the change from the menu-driven past. Yes, the game was chock full of tutorials, and it staggered out through a long period of time, but it just felt right. Nothing felt extraneous or useless, it was just right.

Over the past 60 hours of playing time and three weeks in real world time (I didn’t play it every waking hour, I’ve not that kind of time to give any game anymore), I just deeply enjoyed my time in the Final Fantasy XIII world. The voice acting was good, though not great, but the casting was utterly brilliant. On top of that, this was the first time since VI that I could remember being interested in the characters, and definitely the first time in any Final Fantasy that I didn’t want to wring any of the characters’ necks for being whiny or self-involved. Lightning may have been closed off, but you can tell it’s because she’s messed up thanks to her parents’ deaths; though, that’s not really explained much unless you read the Datalog. Snow may be cocky, but he truly cares about everyone around him. There’s not much of the preprinted Final Fantasy character here: even plucky Vanille has a lot of emotional conflict, and hurt.

I applaud the Final Fantasy XIII team for making a game that’s really engaging and a story that while not perfect –friends have rightly pointed out plotholes– was definitely the most interesting Final Fantasy story I’ve ever played through. It may be my area of fiction interest, more or less, but I definitely loved that world and I would actually support them making an FFXIII-2 if they chose to go that route.

Now, does this mean I’ll be there day one for Versus XIII and XIII Agito? No, of course not. This one is the one that strikes the perfect balance for me, and I have no qualms about saying that this is easily my favorite Final Fantasy.

Yeah, I said it.

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