(Reposted from my Tumblr)
Potential Spoiler Warning! This is the warning: There may be potential spoilers. You have now been warned by the Potential Spoiler Warning.
Introduction & Gameplay
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. Maybe this game isn’t as bad as I first assumed.
I rented FF13 way back when it first came out and I didn’t even get more than a couple of hours into the game. Just the initial wham of a ton of stuff happening with no information or context completely put me off the whole thing. Finally, because of Spoony’s SCATHING review of the game, I actually had the opposite reaction and decided to give it a try again.
However, I will say this. Now that I’ve read up some on the shared mythology of the Fabula Nova Crystallis, the entirety of the first chapter of this game would have been immensely improved by the inclusion of a Legend of Zelda style opening narration that established some of the game’s mythology. Like have Vanille or Lightning – probably Lightning for reasons that are all spoilery about Vanille – giving a short summation about the Gods, the Fal’cie, and the l’cie. Heck, you don’t even need to establish Etro yet, just Bhunivelze, Pulse and Lindzei. That they created Fal’cie to accomplish tasks before departing the world, and that the Fal’cie create l’cie to carry out tasks that they themselves cannot. There. Done. Now Chapter One makes SO much more sense and no need to read datalogs.
As for gameplay, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been said. The long hallway like level design can be tedious at first. But it’s not that bad if you know to expect it. You run to the next story point, and kill monsters along the way. Occasionally switching parties. Which sounds horrible, right? Just running from point to point for story and killing monsters? How can that be any good? I dunno. Was pretty fun when it was called Final Fantasy I. Seriously, think back to the dawn of the series. You just went from town to town for story points, and killed monsters along the way. Yes, from time to time there was a dungeon that usually had one path to bottom with some side branches that dead ended for some optional treasure. Final Fantasy XIII? Same deal. The only downfall is that the fact that the path is pretty damn obviously a straight line with some dead end branches, and that the monster fights aren’t random.
It’s not exactly a secret to those who know me that I am not a fan of the later ‘half’ of the Final Fantasy series. In my personal opinion, the series peaked at Final Fantasy VI (the last game I was able to personally complete in the series in full) and then suffered from somewhat of an indentity crisis as soon as it found new ways of making itself pretty. Not to say there aren’t games in the latter half of the series I like. Final Fantasy 7 was okay, even if I beat every character in it with a chair. Final Fantasy 8 had some good character moments but I don’t know if the plot knew what it wanted to do. Final Fantasy X and XII were completely focused on the wrong character and Tidus just annoyed me to death. Vaan was a bit more tolerable, until it became blatantly obvious that he was only there so the characters that were actually involved in the story would have to explain things to him and thus inform the audience about the story. I did like XII’s attempt to move towards the political machinations of two warring nations, not to mention I like the fact that Ivalice returned as a setting.
That said, the reason that usually makes or breaks a Final Fantasy for me is the characters. Final Fantasy VI had 12 amazing characters, each with their own story and arc that they went through between the Worlds of Balance and Ruin. Some more than others, but each character – not including the bonus characters of Umaro and Gogo though there’s plenty of speculation about Gogo’s backstory – got a story, and got some form of closure through the game. So… how does FF13 hold up in the character department? Well, keep in mind I’m only halfway through the game but so far… pretty well! Most of the game focuses on the subtext in the characters dialogue. What’s not said is often more important than what IS said with the characters and each reacts differently to the one life-changing event at the beginning of the game.
Lightning: The devoted soldier who blindly focused solely on her duty after the death of her parents. She spends a good chunk of the game saddled with the guilt of not believing her sister when Serah told her she was a l’cie. She buries this guilt the same way she deals with everything, by blindly focusing on a goal at all costs which in this case is the destruction of the Sanctum (the Government). She breaks and is forced to actually deal with her emotions when she realizes that her behavior is teaching Hope to be like her – cold and ruthless. Lightning is the cynical one of the party.
Snow: Foolishly and childishly acting the ‘hero’ as a means to cope with his grief over losing his fiance, and the death of all of those who followed his lead during the purge, Snow is insufferable and intentionally so. The others get annoyed with it, and it fuels Hope’s quest for revenge for Snow getting his mother killed. Ultimately, Snow’s poker face breaks and he admits that he’s just running away from his guilt. He becomes a bit more likable after that. Snow is the optimist of the party, believing in the ideas of good vs bad and Serah’s final words as a mission statement.
Vanille: If you were to ask most people about Vanille, the best responses you’d get are “weird” and “annoying”. She’s that eccentric upbeat character you find in Final Fantasy games. Though the interesting part is, that it’s a complete and utter facade. Several times you’ll see her let her guard done and wallow in the misery she truly feels. You see, pretty much most of the first half of the game is Vanille’s fault. The incident at the reactor where Sazh lost his son? Vanille & Fang. Opening the Bodun Vestige so Serah becomes a l’Cie? Vanille & Fang. Heck, the insane reaction in Cocoon to anything Pulse related can be tied back to being Vanille’s fault too. And unlike Fang, She KNOWS this. She spends most of the early game lying and manipulating the other characters with this upbeat cutesy persona towards her own ends.
Hope: A young boy who watched his mother die and since his mother was following Snow into combat, well, he blames Snow. He spends most of the early game working up the nerve to confront Snow and take his revenge. He also has a not-so-great relationship with his father that is never explained. At all. I have no idea why this kid hates his dad but will murder people to avenge his mom. The only explanation given is “He’s a teenager.” Oookay? I always figured it was because early on Hope is very much someone who relies on others as a crutch. His mother, then Vanille, then Lightning. His father on the other hand, only tells him that he should walk his own path thus not being someone to coddle him like he wants. That’s almost all I can figure out. Hope’s resolution comes mostly in the guise of Snow’s, in which he finally tries to kill Snow and Snow STILL tries to protect him because Snow promised Hope’s mom that Snow would get Hope home safely.
Sazh: The realist of the group. Lost his kid when his kid got turned into a Cocoon l’Cie (As opposed to Pulse l’Cie who are enemies, Cocoon l’Cie are apparently celebrities taken to be trained by the Sanctum). Tried to blow up the Pulse fal’Cie thinking he could get his kid back by fulfilling his son’s focus and got turned into his son’s enemy instead. Despite all this Sazh tends to err on the side of ‘you can’t change the past’, even when confronted with the truth about who is responsible for his son becoming a l’Cie, he won’t kill her because it won’t change anything. Sazh is the only character who is pretty much willing to stop everything and say “Wait. You don’t realize this is all insane, right?”. I like that about Sazh. Even when he’s dealing with incredibly painful emotional stuff, he is the most adult and well-reasoned about how to react to it.
SERAH!: Serah is a block of crystal. That’s about her role in the story. Yes, Kairi in Kingdom Hearts had a more influential role. She has some stuff in the flashbacks that sets up Snow and Lightning’s own stories, but beyond that her goal was to drag these schmucks to get branded as l’Cie. Kind of makes sense why her though. She has strong connections with at least two trained fighters. Even if just Snow and Lightning were turned, the fal’Cie had a pretty good chance of getting something done. On the upside, she gets plenty of time in the spotlight in part 2 as the main character. So there.
Fang: I’ve barely met Fang, so I might have more to say as the game goes on, but she’s pretty laid back. She has a ‘burned out’ l’Cie brand which means she completed her focus, though she doesn’t know what or how because she has amnesia. Beyond that, she seems more concerned with helping Vanille complete her focus than anything. Her personality is free, loose, and very open minded. In a non-plot crucial point, she has also managed to check out Vanille’s butt and Lightning’s breasts with the old “Let me check your brand” trick. ^_-
She’s probably one of the longest running gags in edutainment. She’s spawned boards games, a game show, a great cartoon, and one of the world’s most popular a capella songs. She’s the ever elusive klepto queen that is recognized by everyone and yet not a single soul could tell you where’s she is going. Carmen Isabella Sandiego is a staple of almost every 90’s kid out there, and yet I find that she’s probably one of the most taken for granted characters out there. Mostly because no one exactly seems to recognize how much there is to the character beyond a catchy song and that steals things.
I was actually pretty surprised to learn through the years that there is actually quite a bit of backstory to the fashionable and flirty filcher that a lot of people (or at least most people I know) never seem to see or notice. Now there’s actually several different iterations of Carmen’s backstory depending on what you’re watching and/or playing. My favorite is still the animated TV show ‘Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?’ simply because it seems to give the most substantial back story to explaining Carmen’s personality and development.
My favorite thing about Carmen was that she’s not an out and out villain. Far from it. She actually used to be an ACME agent (ACME, for those who don’t recall, was the name of the detective agency that the player in the games, and Zach and Ivy in the cartoon, belong to) and was actually their star agent. By the age of 17, Carmen had solved more cases than any other agent. There are also plenty of hints that since Carmen was originally an orphan before coming to ACME, she and The Chief (who in the cartoon is a giant floating head on a TV screen) had something of a father/daughter relationship during her tenure as an agent, to the point that at one point where Carmen fakes her own death, the Chief becomes severely depressed for a good part of the episode. No, I have no clue how that relationship worked. Especially since there’s a number of theories that the Chief doesn’t really exist and is just an in-universe avatar for The Player, a silhouetted child at a computer who we only see communicating with Carmen through text and voice over. Maybe it’s one of those ‘Can love exist between a man and an AI?’ kind of things. Asimov would approve.
The problem was Carmen was so good at solving crimes, she found them dull. It was because of that sheer boredom and lack of a challenge with stopping crimes, she realized what would be more challenging (and by her logic, more fun) would be to commit the crimes and try not to be caught. Thus Carmen Sandiego left the ACME Detective Agency and formed VILE (Villain’s International League of Evil). It should be of note that there is some dispute on this matter as there are several episodes of the show where she was seen alongside some of the other VILE villains and it is open to interpretation whether or not she could actual be considered the leader of this organization or simply a member of it. It’s also completely possible that VILE has no such hierarchy amongst its members (beyond that of Villains and Henchmen), creating an opposing structure to ACME which clearly had a chain of command. After the formation of VILE, Carmen begins her grand game. Needless to say, she demonstrates repeatedly through the TV show that she is no longer bored. Not even a little.
But she is still sentimental. As shown an episode where after a series of Oz related clues, the gumshoes eventually track Carmen to the orphanage in San Francisco where she grew up, she actually steals the entire orphanage the night before it was torn down. There’s also the show’s finale where Carmen mid-heist accidentally finds a portrait of a woman who matches the photo in a locket she has had since she was a child. The portrait is of the deceased wife of a wealthy man named Malcolm Avalon, and Carmen begins to wonder if these two may have actually been her biological parents. This revelation causes her to make mistakes, get caught by ACME (and quickly escaping again), and being blackmailed by a two-bit former ACME agent thief named Lee (He is stealing TVs when we first see him, not the Statue of Liberty like Carmen would.)
Carmen also operates to a set code of ethics, she will never steal something that would cause harm to people. She’s not going to jack your college fund, but a priceless painting in a museum? Why not. I suppose that’s a bit simplistic as it could be argued that EVERYTHING she steals will eventually hurt someone in some way. The curator of the museum would be fired, the ACME agents routinely risk life and limb trying to get the stuff back, etc. But I suppose if there is no immediate and apparent harm done by the Mona Lisa vanishing or the pyramids of Giza being airlifted to some unknown location, then it’s okay by Carmen’s standards. However, she does hold to this pretty rigidly, occasionally even assisting the ACME agents in catching criminals that would do direct harm with their heists, getting back to her roots as an agent and taking on the persona of a semi anti-hero for an episode or two of the show.
I was actually surprised how engaging she could be as a character after going back and watching a lot of the cartoon show. She is prideful and teasing to both the agents and the player. She is a fallen angel and temptress of agents, often attempting to goad them into helping her willingly or unwillingly by relying on them to chase false leads in order for her to make the big score. One thing she is not however is a simple female counterpart to Waldo. Waldo gets lost, Carmen hides. Waldo wants to be found, Carmen does not. Granted, they both had a cartoon, and they both are actively sought, but they are so not the same thing only gender bent. That is an insult to the complicated character that is Carmen Sandiego.