Square-Enix recently announced that they were working on a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, titled Final Fantasy XIII-2. As a card-carrying Final Fantasy fanboy, I am already excited about this, based on nothing more than a 2 minute trailer. However, there is still that nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps reminding me about the fact that Final Fantasy XIII was my least favorite game in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it quite a bit, but certain aspects of the game were a bit off-putting, and I hope that Square-Enix takes the time to address these issues in the sequel.
One of the main criticisms leveled against Final Fantasy XIII was its linearity. While all of the Final Fantasy games have been fairly linear to some degree, they at least had the decency to try an hide it. Sure, there may have only been a cave and a town in the section of the world map that you were in, but it at least felt like a choice. And the world map was wide-open enough that it didn’t feel like you were just running down a corridor to your next cutscene. Final Fantasy XIII did have one fairly wide-open area towards the end of the game, but it came far too late to shake the feeling of being on rails for the whole game. Hopefully, XIII-2 will have more areas like this, scattered throughout the game, to break up the feeling of linearity.
One of the moments that I look forward to in any RPG is the first time I get access to an airship. For the first time, it feels like the world map is finally mine to explore. I can easily revisit places that I’ve been in the past, and I can go exploring for new places that I might not have discovered yet. Final Fantasy XIII had no similar moment to that. The closest thing that it had was a few warps scattered around the final section, but those didn’t let you revisit the earlier areas, and they didn’t give you that new-found sense of freedom that an airship provides. They were just a convenience so that you didn’t have to run all the way across the map. Even if XIII-2 does not have an actual airship, I do hope that there is at least some point in the game where the world opens up, and you can easily revisit earlier areas and explore for new ones.
At first glance, the battle system in Final Fantasy XIII seems like it could be engaging and exciting. You can quickly adapt to situations by changing classes mid-battle, and rather than any MP costs, more powerful abilities take more time to charge on your ATB bar. The problem is that battles are so fast-paced that it becomes difficult to make selections for all of your characters. Instead, the game has you make selections for your main character only — and even then, the “auto-battle” command is so well designed that it can usually make the correct selection for the situation, and it can do it far faster than you can. Because of this, battles quickly become “Choose auto-battle over and over, and occasionally change classes if you need to.” For XIII-2, Square-Enix just needs to scrap the bulk of the battle system from XIII. What I’d love to see is a return to some variation of the ATB system that the series used in games four through nine. But failing that, I would like a system where my combat choices actually feel like they matter, rather than just letting the game string together combos for me.
These may seem like minor complaints, and in some ways, they are. As I already mentioned, I did enjoy Final Fantasy XIII overall, and it did have quite a few strengths: its stunning graphics, an engaging world, and lots of interesting characters. Hopefully Square-Enix will learn from the parts of XIII that were not so well-received, and improve them for this sequel. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.