Ah yes, the XIII Trilogy… or the Lightning Trilogy… or the only part of the Fabula Nova Crystalis project to walk away intact. The games are probably the most despised entries in the entire franchise in the West. I don’t know about the East, but I hear they do apparently like Lightning so there’s that. I’m not going to go into my usual breakdown of plot and opinion on this one, namely because I’ve already spoken about it a little bit before:
- Final Fantasy XIII Part 1 & 2: Introduction, Gameplay & Characters
- Final Fantasy XIII Part 3: The Craft
- Final Fantasy XIII Part 4: The Pulse on Pulse
- Final Fantasy XIII Part 5: The Big Fat Kill
- Doctor Yuel: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part 1
- Time Warp: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part Two
- Serah the Explorah: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Part Three
- Fashion, Free Will, & Deicide: Lightning Returns (Part 1)
- God Damn It (Literally): Lightning Returns (Part 2)
- Just Deicide: Lightning Returns (Final Part)
…Just a uh… little. Anyway, since you can go into and read a ton already on what I have wrote I figured I’d use this time to talk a bit about the Trilogy overall. Since really the entire thing feels like a microcosm of the Final Fantasy series as a whole. Namely, an emphasis on experimentation.
The first game is flawed. I don’t think even an avid fan of it like me could argue otherwise. The plot is dense and using the datalog to explain important story and world concepts was not a brilliant move. The linear gameplay with large tracts of corridors to run through was also a huge red mark for many players. The game also emphasized on the characters and their day to day interactions during their journey (Day to day may be stretching it because I’m pretty sure the timeline of the game minus the 13 days leading up to the Bodhum Purge is less than a week).
Wait. Character interaction? Dense plot and backstory that is poorly explained? Long hallway like areas? Isn’t that Final Fantasy X? Indeed. It seems that for the first game, Square Enix went back to the well and imitated a lot of their last mega-hit, Final Fantasy X. Only this time, no one liked it. Maybe it was the lack of awkward love story if you weren’t a creepy HopeRai shipper (Seriously. He’s like 14 in the first game people. And his Mom just died. So there’s a Freudian can of worms pairing him with Lightning.)
However, from there they decided to evolve and experiment with the second installment where they added more exploration and side content to the whole experience. The plot was still a bit weird if you didn’t devote a solid chunk of time into reading and thinking about it, but it almost felt that it was a bit more okay here since we were dealing with a time travel story and those by their very nature are going to start getting complicated and quick. Even Chrono Trigger gets a bit nuts if you think about it too long (Coincidentally, I’m pretty sure thinking about Chrono Trigger too long is how we ended up with Chrono Cross.) Both the combat system and the Crystarium saw more customization and player options added in as well.
Finally, we get Lightning Returns which is a radical departure from both XIII and XIII-2 in terms of combat and gameplay. No more parties, you just had Lightning. To compensate, you could switch between outfits that each played a different role and/or different abilities. Similar to Dressphere switching in X-2. The game was completely non-linear, giving you free reign over 5 ‘zones’ that had shades of almost an MMO like design with stuff like scattered bits of side quests, ‘dungeon’ areas, and each zone had a ‘main story’ chain that could be completed a bit at a time or all at once. It was a complete reversal of the gameplay we saw in XIII.
The Trilogy started with the familiar and then pushed and pushed for exploring new ways to engage players. Some worked, some didn’t. That’s pretty much Final Fantasy in a nutshell. It’s kind of a fascinating way to look at it. Another fun way to look at is that is that the games continue to open up more and more as the characters fight for and claim more agency and ‘free will’ in spite of the situation they are in. Since Free Will is a major theme throughout the XIII Trilogy, I can’t help but wonder if that was a conscious choice of the design team.
Well, as I said I’ve already written a ton on the XIII trilogy and I don’t want to dwell on it long here. Check out those links if you want to read more of my thoughts diving into the plot and mechanics of each game. Next time, we’ll try talking a bit about a Final Fantasy MMO.
Till then, May the light of the Crystals guide your way!
Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!