Final Fantasy XIII's Uninvolving First Half Makes Its Beautiful PC Port a Hard Sell

Final Fantasy XIII's Uninvolving First Half Makes Its Beautiful PC Port a Hard Sell

Freed from the limitations of consoles, Final Fantasy XIII has never looked better—but it's certainly played better.

During its original release, the Final Fantasy XIII faithful shared a common refrain: "Wait until Gran Pulse." After 25 to 30 hours of explaining its battle system in excruciating detail, the game rewarded players for their fortitude with an area that shook off the stifling linearity of XIII's first half.

Some of us didn't make it much further. After finding my way to Gran Pulse's first save point, I shut the game off and shelved it forever. Not out of rage, mind you: I'd simply had enough. 30 hours is a healthy amount of time to spend with any game, and at that point, I'd had my fill of XIII's battle system. These enemy encounters acted as the only motivation to keep me playing—what with the lack of interesting plot, characters, and a progression system that let me make my own choices—and after that much time, I didn't want any more of the Final Fantasy XIII experience.

I'm not sure if Gran Pulse could have reversed my disappointment in FInal Fantasy XIII, and I'll probably never know—reaching this section would require a steady trudge through the game's first half, which could be the least replayable chunk of video game content in history. At this point, it feels excessive (and maybe a little cruel) to highlight the flaws of Final Fantasy XIII all over again, but revisiting this misguided RPG via its recent PC port makes these issues feel more egregious than before. Of course, it doesn't help that two much better takes on the XIII formula have come into being since the game's original release—both XIII-2 and Lightning do a great job of fixing the first installment's biggest problems, which only serves to make them pop out even more on your second playthrough.

Final Fantasy XIII's graphics might not drop as many jaws as they did in 2010, but they still look great.

That said, if you've already played Final Fantasy XIII, I'm not sure why you'd want to do that to yourself again. Not that there's nothing of value to be found—it just takes so damn long for the game to demand any meaningful input from you. And, if you finished it years ago, being introduced to XIII's battle system, step by tedious step—a battle system we've all grown to know very well over these last four years—makes for a hard pill to swallow. I blasted through the first few hours of the game, and how little it needed me to be there irked me all over again. Before XIII gets around into introducing its legitimately great Paradigm Shift system—which turns you into a sort of RPG party coach—it's essentially on autopilot. And the needless tutorials don't stop after that. Revisiting XIII after falling in love with Dark Souls makes its lack of confidence even more astounding—the game doesn't even trust you to use your sole healing item in the first few hours.

It's a shame Final Fantasy XIII feels so inessential in 2014, because it's an absolutely gorgeous-looking game, with a fantastic soundtrack to boot. Though its graphics aren't quite as stunning as they were in 2010, XIII's port shows off the amazingly rendered characters and backgrounds in a way the console versions never could—on my aging machine, no less. Even though XIII never really stops to establish any continuity within its confused world, an inordinate amount of time went into making this game look great, and it still does. Though you'll need plenty of hard drive space and a forgiving ISP if you want to try it for yourself: Since it originally shipped on a dual-layer Blu-Ray (on the PS3, anyway), Final Fantasy XIII weighs in at a hefty 60 gigs. Yes, 6-0. I thought I was seeing things, too, when Steam gave me that number.

It would have taken a bit of work, but since Square-Enix sold Final Fantasy VII on Steam with a cheat engine attached, a similar strategy could have helped XIII overcome its well-known flaws. How about a "Gran Pulse Mode," which drops returning players into the area where the game truly begins? I'm sure the PC port will make it much easier to share saves, but it would have been great if Square-Enix built this feature into the game itself. I know RPG fans have an excess of patience, but I've yet to meet the person who's aching to play through Final Fantasy XIII's first half again. And I don't think newcomers will have a much better time: Even if you've never played it before, the game's persistent tutorials and reluctance to hand over control have only grown more annoying over the last four years—not the mention the PC crowd is particularly resistant to this sort of game design.

Unfortunately, the PC version offers no option to turn off Vanille's arm-flailing, pigeon-toed run animation.

I'm not ragging on Final Fantasy XIII out of hate—it's just a strange product to pitch in 2014. Thankfully, it's incredibly cheap on Steam ($15.99 as of this writing), so you won't be making the $60 investment of 2010. Even so, XIII-2 and Lightning Returns did such a great job of recovering from the original's fumble, it's hard to think up any compelling reasons to play through XIII's debut—even if you never have before. If you'd like to dip your toe into the Final Fantasy XIII universe, waiting for the inevitable PC ports of the two sequels stands as your best bet. In its current form, Final Fantasy XIII exists as a testament to Square-Enix's recent (and slowly fading) troubles with game development: something to be examined and discussed, but not necessarily played.

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