Forgot password?  |  Register  |    
User Name:     Password:    

Final Fantasy Retrospective: The Seventh Generation Years

The crystal began shedding its light silently....

Final Fantasy XIII: Style Over Substance?

Final Fantasy XII had its fair share of development pitfalls, and by the time it had been released, the “seventh generation” of consoles had already begun with the 2005 launch of the Xbox 360. If the development of FF XII had gone smoothly it’s entirely possible that Final Fantasy XIII would have been the last game in the series released on the PlayStation 2. The longer development cycle of the twelfth game ensured that Final Fantasy XIII would get pushed into the next generation of consoles.

Pre-production of Final Fantasy XIII began in 2004. Since Final Fantasy XII had been helmed by a mostly different team than the previous games in the series, Square Enix Product Development Division 1 was in charge of the next game. Division 1 was led by Yoshinori Kitase, and had been the team behind tremendous hits for the company, such as Final Fantasy VII, X, and Kingdom Hearts.

Even though the early development for Final Fantasy XIII was focused on a PS2 release, in truth the team never got beyond the prototyping phase. The rough outline for the battle mechanics was put together using the character models from Final Fantasy X-2, and some rare screen shots show that the team played around with a more animated “cel shaded” aesthetic. However, the overwhelmingly positive response to Square Enix’s PlayStation 3 tech demo in 2005 caused the team to shift the focus of their new game to the next Sony platform. The tech demo was a recreation of the intro to Final Fantasy VII, done in real time and showing off what was possible with the next iteration of console technology.

The 2005 tech demo and the newly next-gen Final Fantasy XIII were built on Square Enix’s proprietary game engine. Originally dubbed the White Engine, the official name became Crystal Tools, and would go on to power the major releases from the Final Fantasy side of the company for the seventh generation.  The development of Crystal Tools would prove to be a much larger undertaking than the heads of Square Enix could have anticipated, however. Game design in the world of high definition televisions involved the creation of far more detailed art assets, and a powerful game engine to run them. Crystal Tools would ultimately be up to the task, but the engine took as long to develop as some of the Final Fantasy games on the PS2.

Final Fantasy XIII was officially announced and shown in unplayable trailer form at E3 2006. The game was produced by Kitase and directed by Motomu Toriyama, who had helmed Final Fantasy X and X-2. Character designs were once again undertaken by Tetsuya Nomura, returning to the Final Fantasy franchise for the first time since FF X-2 in 2002. The soundtrack was composed by Masashi Hamauzu, who had been the main composer of the Final Fantasy VII spinoff game Dirge of Cerberus. This was the first game in the series to have no musical compositions from Nobuo Uematsu. The North American soundtrack is also the first in the series to feature a licensed vocal track, featuring the song “My Hands” from British singer Leona Lewis.

Square Enix had lofty goals in mind for Final Fantasy XIII, hoping to spawn an entire legion of spinoffs. The reasoning behind this was the huge fanbase for Final Fantasy VII, which the company had leveraged into the “Compilation of Final Fantasy VII” initiative during the PS2 days. This resulted in an animated movie (Advent Children), a mobile phone game (Before Crisis), PSP game (Crisis Core), and PS2 title (Dirge of Cerberus). A similar initiative was built around Final Fantasy XII, called the Ivalice Alliance that tied together the PS2 game with the Final Fantasy Tactics series and the Nintendo DS sequel/spinoff, Revenant Wings.

While those cross media imperatives were planned after the fact, Final Fantasy XIII was set to be the first part of the Fabula Nova Crystalis series. While games in this series weren’t expected to be directly linked, certain thematic elements were supposed to carry through, with a special focus on the ubiquitous Final Fantasy crystals. In addition to Final Fantasy XIII, a mobile phone game was planned called Final Fantasy Agito XIII. This title was later moved to the PlayStation Portable system and renamed Final Fantasy Type 0, ostensibly removing it from the Crystalis series. Final Fantasy Versus XIII is an action/RPG similar in game mechanics to the Kingdom Hearts series. Headed up by Tetsuya Nomura, the game, set in a world that closely resembles a modern day Earth has yet to materialize, even though development of the game began in 2005.

High definition development was obviously a difficult transition for many companies, and that was very true for Square Enix. Dabbling with third party game engines gave mixed results, as the Unreal Engine 3-powered Last Remnant featured numerous technical problems. For their flagship series the developers and artists toiled away endlessly to make the game run and look perfect. That perfection resulted in a beautiful looking game that took far longer to create than any other game in the series. Final Fantasy XIII was finally released in Japan in December of 2009. As the game was undergoing its English localization a huge announcement was made: the game would be going multiplatform, a first for the series. In March of 2010, Final Fantasy made its way to North America for both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. This was no doubt a move to ensure that the game turned a good profit, as the Xbox 360 had become the lead HD console in markets outside of Japan and the budget for FF XIII was staggering.

Final Fantasy XIII revolved around a cast of six characters, with the “lead” role filled by the female soldier Lightning. The game starts out partway through the story, with players having to play catch up through cutscene flashbacks and a robust codex, possibly inspired by Western RPG game development. The storyline is quite involved, and we recommend reading the synopsis in our Final Fantasy XIII-2 primer for all the details. Players had a difficult time following the story, in large part due to the intricate nomenclature of the worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse. This was just one of many reasons that the game didn’t resonate well with its audience as well as previous games in the series.

The battle system, however, clicked with many players. Like Final Fantasy XII before it, battles in FF XIII were handled by the player controlling a single character while the AI handled the other two party members. In a large departure, the player could only control this single character; battles were fought at a frantic pace, with an emphasis on snap decisions over methodical tactics. The game featured six job classes that could be changed by doing a “Paradigm Shift”. This would automatically change all three characters into a different job, based on preset loadouts handled by the player outside of combat. Success in battle hinged on shifting Paradigms at the right time. Players would have to quickly bring out a Sentinel to mitigate damage during big attacks, or have a Saboteur cast various weakening spells on tough foes. The twitch-heavy battle system was a huge change from past Final Fantasy games, but it was one of the most praised elements of FF XIII.

Far less praised was the linear nature of the game. Linearity was nothing new to the series, but much of the RPG trappings fans were used to had been removed almost whole cloth. Towns only showed up in certain cinematics, and all shopping was done at save points. Instead of exploring expansive areas, the majority of the game funneled players along a mostly straight path, punctuated by cutscenes and boss battles. In addition to the straightforward nature of the game’s design, many of the main battle mechanics were held back from players for a good portion of the adventure, causing many to call the first part of FF XIII a 20 hour tutorial.

This obviously caused many stalwart Final Fantasy fans to rail against the game, which eschewed so many of the RPG elements the series was known for. According to Yoshinori Kitase, however, that was the point. "We didn't really intend to work within with the RPG template," Kitase said in a 2010 interview leading up to the North American release. “"We wanted to create a new game, even a new genre. “(…)In a lot of senses FFXIII is more like an FPS than an RPG,” director Motomu Toriyama added.

Final Fantasy XIII was a commercial success, and was the fastest selling game in the franchise’s history. However, it was also met with a very divisive reaction from fans and critics alike. By the time that the game had been released in North America, console gamers had been exposed to many successful Western designed RPGs, such as Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Fallout 3. The market had changed, and the linear progression through a story that was nonsensical to many players cast serious doubt on the future of the series. This doubt would be compounded with the release of Final Fantasy XIII-2 in 2011. A third game in the series, titled Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is planned for a 2013 release.

4 Pages «  1   2   3  »




12/28/2012 at 01:56 PM

"By the time that the game had been released in North America, console gamers had been exposed to many successful Western designed RPGs, such as Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Fallout 3."

Nobody cared about bad games like that, final fantasy had its most successful gen ever.

"The market had changed, and the linear progression through a story that was nonsensical to many players cast serious doubt on the future of the series."

The market hasnt changed even slightly


12/28/2012 at 04:57 PM

Nobodyz cared about BAD games lik dat?! HAH you iz retard moron. Suck on it fanboy jezebel


12/28/2012 at 01:57 PM

What a bad generalized article. 


Lets just pretend 90 percent of the final fantasy titles didnt happen this gen. And focus on the 1 percent

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/28/2012 at 02:04 PM

Sorry you feel that way. With this retrospective I chose to focus on only the main 14 games. I've kicked around the idea of a look at the sequels, spin offs, and namesakes but I haven't come to a decision on it.

Our Take

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/28/2012 at 03:18 PM

 As big of an FF fan as I am, even I have to admit that, for me, generation was tragic for the core releases.

We've always got Crisis Core and FFTA though, and we did have some great JRPGs come out this gen. I can even cheat a little and say that, since FF XI was released for the 360, we can count that toward the positive side of 7th gen FF (and that makes 3 if you count XIV! the tradition continues!)
All in all, this was the decade that taught me that SE is run by people, not magicians, and they can't hit home runs every time they release a game.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/28/2012 at 04:02 PM

And I'd like to say that my excitement for the core franchise has never wavered. I quite enjoyed FF XIII and XIII-2. XIV bummed me out, but A Realm Reborn is one of my most anticipated 2013 games. I'm less enthused about Lightning Returns, but that stems more from my desire for FF XV than any actual dislike for a third XIII story.


01/06/2013 at 02:29 PM

"We wanted to create a new game, even a new genre. (...) In a lot of senses FFXIII is more like an FPS than an RPG," director Motomu Toriyama added.

He should have been immediately fired for making that statement.  It is now clear to me, that this man is one of the reasons for the series pandering to the FPS crowd.  He is one of the reasons why the series has stumbled so badly.

You better believe that I'll be keeping an eye out for that name.  If I see his name linked to any future Final Fantasy, I will not buy it.


02/24/2013 at 12:46 PM

All the hate towards Final Fantasy XIII has always baffled me. I mean, it wasn't perfect, but no Final Fantasy was ever perfect. I appreciated the fact that SE was willing to try some new approaches because at least with that attitude the Final Fantasy series will never grow stagnant. There were some significant changes to the Final Fantasy formula, and it's not my place to say for sure whether those were changes for good or bad, but at least they're trying to shake things up.

But one thing I will say is, this wait for Final Fantasy Versus XIII is killing me slowly.


02/26/2013 at 12:10 PM

I picked up FFXIII at launch and I only put about 15 hours into it. I loved the Paradigm Shift battle system. I found it very fun and fast-paced, but the story just didn't pull me in, and the linear style didn't match with my old-world expectations from RPGs. I still want to put in the extra time to get passed that "20 hour" demo period, but we'll see.

I wanted to try FFXIV from the get-go, but the tragic launch waylayed that. I'm anxious to see what A Realm Reborn brings to the table.

Excellent retrospective. Don't listen to the anonymous trolls in the other posts.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/26/2013 at 12:41 PM

XIII really does change a lot once you can finally choose who you want in your party and are able to roam around. The story is nonsensical, but I actually liked the cast a lot.

I got a chance to talk about A Realm Reborn with a friend that was in the alpha in a recent episode of Nerds Without Pants. She also played XIV through most of that dark time and talks about how many improvements were made to the game.

Thanks again for all your kind feedback!


03/01/2013 at 09:26 AM

I have played FF all my life (across at least 4 consoles and PC), and indeed this last gen has been the one that finally made me lose all interest in the series. FF X was the last game I really enjoyed, but I played XI and XII quite a bit. XIII is where I just gave up. It's clear to me that SE no longer understands what goes into a good FF, or even a standard RPG for that matter. It's sad, but I have said farewell to the series.

And judging from the comments I can see that pixlbit is not the place for me. Looks like a lot of kids that probably haven't been playing games for longer than this last console generation.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

03/01/2013 at 09:52 AM

I, for one, have been playing games for quite a while.  My first Final Fantasy game was the first Final Fantasy game and I still quite enjoyed XIII.  Should you ever return, know that there are old folk here too even if we don't have the same opinions.


03/01/2013 at 09:55 AM

Yeah I'm a 58 year old  kid. Lol


04/20/2013 at 05:17 AM

I've played every single final fantasy game, in one form or another, excluding the hard to find game boy classic FF.  As far as I'm concerned, the series died off with a swan song in Final Fantasy 6.  Everything beyond that seemed to forget what made the Final Fantasy series so special.  (An approving nod to FF IX for trying to return to it's roots). 

Log in to your PixlBit account in the bar above or join the site to leave a comment.
Table of Contents

Hot Story

Nerds Without Pants Episode 177: Spin Me Right Off

The world is on fire and it’s getting harder to carry on, but Nerds Without Pants is here to hopefully inject a little levity into your day. It’s not much, but it’s all we can do.