After many years I have gone back to Final Fantasy XIII. Now, unlike some, I enjoyed FFXIII in my first playthrough despite its poor cast and lack of truly defining story moments… so I was excited to get back into it and play it some more, this time with the added element of having an audience watching.
I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy the game on a second playthrough, since I am aware of the mechanics and most of the story, but I needn’t have worried. I actually enjoyed the story a great deal more than I did the first time since I wasn’t just watching the surface… I knew all of that so I was able to focus on the hidden depths. As I’ve always said, the premise of Final Fantasy XIII is marred by its characters, not by any flaw in itself. It was really fascinating to see some of the more well hidden facets of it, and a second playthrough really let me ignore some of the game’s weaknesses and focus more on the good parts about the world and the story…
Probably the best part, though, was having viewers there to hate Hope alongside me on this second playthrough. It made dealing with him so much more tolerable. The characters are still every bit as awful as they always were, but when you’re playing thiswith others around, awful characters aren’t a problem – they’re just one more source of comedy. The many bad ‘hope is lost’ puns made his presence almost worth it. Oh, and the chocobo is still adorable. Just in case you’d forgotten.
Of course, the real heart of Final Fantasy XIII, and what had me so excited to play this game again, is the combat. Final Fantasy XIII’s combat system still stands as one of the best RPG combat systems I’ve ever seen. It really embodies the concept of ‘you get out what you put in’. If you want, you can just use the same three basic paradigms and do relatively well – probably even beat the game. But you won’t enjoy yourself very much… the fun lies with finding your own way to do it – for me, I love inflicting status ailments on my foes. Saboteur is my favourite role, so I built my entire strategy around them and had a blast with it. And finding a way to complete the bosses that were resilient to those effects was frustrating, but it was so incredibly satisfying to win without changing my style. And that’s the strength of the FFXIII series’ combat system, it’s all about your own style. And that’s what makes it so special… very few games will simply allow you to have your own style and give you the freedom to play with it.
A second playthrough also meant I knew all of the hidden mechanics from the start, rather than discovering them far later on. The game has a lot of mechanics that it does a terrible job (despite the 20+ hour tutorial) of explaining that can have a huge impact… but if you already know them, that’s not an issue. The item upgrade, skill combination, and even the idea of role levels and what they mean… these concepts are explained to a very small degree in the in-game encyclopedia but even there only vaguely. Outside, they’re barely even hinted at, so why would you even know to look?
Final Fantasy XIII had a stellar soundtrack as well, featuring several interesting lyrical tracks and some of the most beautiful ambience around. It fits so well with the visuals, which are some of the best the PS3 ever had, that they just create a great spectator experience. Amazing treats for both your eyes and your ears (and I don’t mean Serah) abound here. It really is one of the most well presented games of the PS3 era, and that says a lot.
Honestly, I think a second taste of Final Fantasy XIII has merit. If you played it once and enjoyed it, your second time through will likely be better since you’ll be prepared for some of the awkward scenes and be less surprised by them.