The delay of Final Fantasy XV was dispiriting. I hadn’t played a good, new Final Fantasy in ages. I dabbled in FFEXVIUS. The retro sprites, while appealing, just weren’t enough to hook me.
I played a bit of Mobius FF. Despite the shiny, modern graphics it couldn’t keep me engaged.
I really enjoyed FFXIV while I played it on my PS3. But, as is the case with most MMORPGS I start, eventually the grind gets to me and I start to think my gaming hours are better spent on other gaming endeavors.
I was left with no choice but to replay a classic in the franchise. I could have went with Final Fantasy VI, always a winner. I had considered FFVII, but that game just hasn’t aged well. I decided to wait for VII‘s remake. So, I thought to myself, what Final Fantasy game hadn’t I played in forever? Which world did I want to go back to the most?
It had been roughly 13 years since I played FFX. I settled on Spira.
I played Final Fantasy X last when it was originally released on the PlayStation 2. I remember playing it three times. Back to back. The first time I played the game and tried to get everything I could on my own. The second time I had to complete my Al Bhed Primer collection. The third time I was all like, “Holy shit! Yuna can summon Anima?!” A friend told me this in high school one day. I didn’t realize you had to get all the “Destruction Sphere” treasures from all the temples, and I really loathed the Bevelle Temple. To me then, it was just as bad as Zelda Ocarina of Time’s infamous water temple.
Many things changed during the course of my recent replay of Final Fantasy X. The temples were much easier and far less complex then when I first played through them. Not just because the solutions came back to me like a hazy dream as I shuffled spheres from wall to wall either. But, since first playing it, I had solved plenty of more difficult puzzles in games, the one or two room challenges of these temples had become child’s play.
The most significant change to occur during the replay was how I perceived Final Fantasy X and its effect on the series going forward. I also came to the conclusion that it is directly responsible for FFXIII, and that XIII is almost a complete retread of territory Square Enix explored in X.
The stand out similarity between Final Fantasy X and XIII is it’s leveling system. It’s one that even FFXV has tweaked and adopted.
The sphere grid, I discovered, is a great way to disguise level caps while giving the illusion of player freedom. Think about it, it’s not until late in the game of FFX that any character outside of Kimahri can infiltrate another grid and learn skills outside their assigned jobs. The Crystarium system was structured similarly in FFXIII. Square Enix had placed clear caps on just how strong you could get. These caps were tied to story progression and limited how beneficial traditional JRPG grinding could be.
Mechanically the leveling systems were identical. Each character started with an assigned “job.” Those characters would travel along, node to node, learning the abilities of their class. It’s a double edged sword.
On the one hand, the system makes every character viable, ensuring that you’ll regularly cycle them out as needed and they all get equal play time. It also allows the developers to create a more focused gameplay experience. By assuring the player will be guaranteed to have certain abilities, they can tailor the experience for optimal challenge.
On the other hand, it’s limiting. You can’t pick your favorite character and craft them into the warrior you want them to be. However, by providing small, optional forks in the path, the player is made to feel as if they are making meaningful choices on how their characters develop. Like I said, it’s not until late game in both Final Fantasy X and XIII that we are offered things like teleport spheres, or the ability to venture onto another’s path. Truly allowing us to craft the ultimate FF warrior.
Final Fantasy X‘s battle system was also the precursor to the battle system in Final Fantasy XIII. In X you could shuffle characters in and out as needed. An enemy’s armor too tough? Call out Auron and his piercing sword will cut right through. Facing a tough Machina? Swap to Rikku and disassemble them in a single turn. It was an exhilarating and fast paced rendition of the classic turn based combat. A list on the right of the screen would indicate the order enemies and characters would attack. Different spells and actions caused the orders to shift as the battle ensued. It kept players on their toes, forcing them to be constantly aware of status effects and other battle conditions.
Final Fantasy XIII‘s Paradigm system worked similarly. While you weren’t free to change out characters during battle, you could change the role those characters played. If you needed brute force you switched to a paradigm with a commando. If you needed a mystical touch, you could switch roles to ravager and fling Firaga or Thundaga at the enemy. The ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge had made a return in FFXIII, but somehow Square Enix was able to make the battles seem like some of the most action packed and fast paced in a FF game yet. Lightning nimbly slayed enemies, while Sazh was constantly trying to find a good angle to shoot from. It was all very cinematic.
The similarities in the battle systems of the two games really comes out in FFX-2 and Lightning Returns. Outfit changes for different jobs is the main commonality. However the pacing and overall design of the battles is comparable. Both systems were inherently turn based yet added features that made it seem like more action oriented affair. In the end, Final Fantasy X and XIII’s battle systems are cut from the same cloth. Much like both of the games as a whole. Granted one is flashier, but that doesn’t change how closely related they really are.
The Long Hall
People often give Final Fantasy XIII a lot of flack for being a series of hallways and corridors peppered with random encounters on the way to the next cut scene. My replay of FFX conjured up those same thoughts. I don’t remember bashing on FFX during my first time with it. I enjoyed it then and didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was basically being ushered from map to map with little to no agency of my own. Sure there was the occasional branching path that lead to a secret item. But those tangents were few and far between and often were no more than a simple short path that lead straight to the treasure.
Like FFXIII, FFX didn’t open up until the end game. In X it was the “Calm Lands,” in XIII it was “Gran Pulse.” Both areas were large expanses of grass lands filled with all manner of beast from weak, to the elite, and Chocobos. Both places were just a fattened hallway, giving us the appearance of an open world. Neither place offered much outside of optional quest that, by the time you could complete some of them, you really didn’t need the reward as you had become powerful enough without it.
It was nice to stretch your legs in these areas, but by then it was too late. At this point in both games, players had come accustomed to being hurried from spot to spot and following the story at the pace Square Enix decided. Venturing too far off the path was something both games had conditioned in us not to do. It was strange to have this sudden, long break from a story that had been moving along at a reasonable clip until now. It didn’t seem like something that characters who had been in such a rush to defeat Sin or to save Cocoon from crashing into Gran Pulse would do.
Either way you slice it, both FFX and FFXIII gave players little to do beyond the main story. Sure, once you got the airship in FFX you could revisit old areas for some collectibles, but in the end you wouldn’t miss much by continuing down the main path.
A Similar Fantasy
After Final Fantasy X Square Enix decided to get experimental with how we played FF. Firstly with FFXI, they crafted a vast and competent MMORPG. FFXII borrowed from the MMO construction and compressed it into an epic single player experience. Both games were praised by most fans and offered a refreshing take on the Final Fantasy we had all grown to know and love. So, it’s a wonder why, when developing XIII they went back two editions and pretty much remade FFX.
The story lines for the two games are somewhat different. In FFX you’re leading Yuna on her pilgrimage to obtain all the Aeons, or summons, in order to defeat a great, world destroying evil known as “Sin.” During the course of Yuna’s journey you learn the truth about Yevon, Spira’s religious deity. You see how religion and government have combined to manipulate the citizens and keep those in power on top indefinitely. Eventually Yuna and her guardians challenge this status quo, fighting “God” herself and restoring peace to the world. Though the party is able to defeat Sin and save Yuna from having to make the ultimate sacrifice, a sacrifice is still made in the wake of their victory.
Tidus, or whatever you chose to name FFX’s androgynous hero, turns out to be just a dream of the Aeons. Auron, it is discovered, is already dead. Both of them go into this battle knowing that their existence will cease once Yu Yevon is defeated. I remember seeing the scene of Yuna trying to hug Tidus and just falling though him and wanting to cry the first time. It was a heart breaking moment. Say what you will about Tidus as a main character, but during the course of the game I believed in his and Yuna’s relationship.
In Final Fantasy XIII players are bombarded with jargon exclusive to that world. It’s a lexicon Lightning and crew are already deeply familiar with. Words like l’Cie, fal’Cie, and Cie’th are thrown at the player with reckless abandon, leaving us to look up what the hell everyone is talking about in what amounts to an encyclopedia buried in the menus. But even with these complicated words muddling up an already obtuse story line, it is easy to trace a path and connect to the story of FFX.
Throughout the course of FFXIII, Lightning and her companions are exposed to the harsh realities of the “Gods” and mythology the government has been feeding them for ages. Characters that once held steadfast to the belief that whatever the ruling, talking heads said was divine truth, soon have their worlds shaken. They eventually find themselves fighting the very “Gods” they believed in. In this case Orphan.
Orphan was a source of power and what was keeping Cocoon afloat. In destroying Orphan the heroes risked Cocoon crashing into the world below and killing millions in the process. But Lightning and crew persist and against all odds, defeat “God.” In the immediate aftermath two characters are also asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. One they knew they’d have to make at the end of this journey. Fang and Vanille are forced to summon Ragnarok. In doing so they become one with the crystal pillar keeping Cocoon afloat.
It is not just these sacrifices that make FFX and FFXIII’s stories similar. While the ultimate path and character motivations are different in the two games, the core concept is one and the same. People have been living their lives oblivious to the corruption of their church and government. Once discovered the heroes’ reasons for their journey shift and become personal. They challenge “God” his/her self, save the world, and sacrifice their lives in the process. It may be a different world in both games, different circumstances may be guiding the characters, but in the end both stories end up in the same place.
Am I saying that Final Fantasy X and XIII are exactly the same game? No, but they do have a ton of parallels. These similarities really got me wondering: Why is it that so many praise FFX, yet bemoan FFXIII? They’re structrued nearly the same in almost every way. You can see how FFXIII is just an evolution of FFX from the battles to the leveling system, to the very story itself.
I frankly believe that it was the praise for FFX that inspired Square Enix to more or less make a nearly identical game with similar pacing. They were hoping for the same acclaim, but didn’t take into account a couple of important factors. Not only had games given us more to do and expect in the 8 years between the two games. But Square Enix themselves proved that they were capable of creating a much larger and in-depth fantasy in Final Fantasy XI and XII. So it was only natural that, especially with XIII being the PS3’s FF debut (next gen) at the time, that gamers had a grand vision of what that game would entail. Vast and detailed cities, expansive overworld maps that immersed us in the universe, and a grand adventure to rival that of any Final Fantasy before it.
But that’s not the game we got in XIII. We got a game that nearly mirrors one from eight years prior. Perhaps that is the real reason so many FF fans shun XIII; It’s a shadow of a Final Fantasy that we already played. No better, no worse. The same game with a fresh coat of paint. Hopefully Square Enix can live up to their promises in FFXV.
Do you geeks agree? Disagree? Is there some other reason two similar games can be viewed so differently from a critical perspective? Which one did you like more? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think of the Final Fantasy series as it stands today.