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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII: Character Development

Short post, this is in two parts. I'll compare FFXIII to VII a lot, since that is the closest game that Square emulated for XIII.

What was really impressive about VII's characters was, as I said, their complexities and depth. The multiple plot threads, mindsets and personalities that each character possessed evolved and found resolution as the game progressed, reaching their endings only when the game's end came into sight. What FFXIII does, and  wrongly, in this case, is quicker development. Having played a little farther into the game, I need to clarify a few things. The whiny little kid is no longer whiny, but now fills the role as secondary "friendship is everything" talker to Snow. The anime is showing something fierce both in his current mindset and the entire game's art style. That aside, the kid is a little better than he was a few hours ago, but he's slowly approaching Snow's one-sidedness. There is one thread of thought he still needs to tie up, but for now the only reason he's still around is because he likes these people. Sure, in VII there were a couple people like that, but they were temporary. Again, each character stuck with the party because some part of them was incomplete without the completion of the end goal and the happiness it brought. If they had a name and more than 10 lines of dialogue, they were deep, meaningful characters with motives beyond "save the world" or "I'm really curious" or "these people are nice and I'm kinda stuck with 'em." To XIII's credit, there is one overarching theme that ties the party together, but there needs to be more, as I've said again and again.

Another thing that bugs me is how quickly characters move from one emotional state to another. One minute they're laughing, the other their angry and confused, the next, laughing again. Emotions don't fade that quickly, at least not for anyone I've ever met. Ways of thinking change too quickly as well, and Lightning's monologue about herself was about as forced as I've ever seen. She, of everyone, needs to change slowest, evolving in small, delicate steps. At this point, I think Square dropped the ball on their "female Cloud." He remained cold and distant for essentially the first disc and half of the second. He moved with the group because he had too and, deep down, he knew he needed them more than they needed him. There was certainly that attention to the whole "FRIENDSHIP IS AWESOME" is VII, but it wasn't nearly as pronounced. Cloud's trust in the party came based on his own morals and how everyone seemed drawn to him, but he remained always unsure. In XIII, unlike its model VII, that uncertainty is voiced again and again, in no uncertain terms. Subtlety, Square, Subtlety. We don't need to hear that they don't know what to do. We can tell from their body language and the tone of their voice and the look in their eyes. What's irksome about the style in XIII is that the subliminal signals are all there, presented in high definition picture, and gamers who have at least three functioning brain cells can see what the character is really thinking and feeling. Yet apparently Square thinks much less of their players' intelligence than they used to, because, and I'll repeat, they give us everything verbally.

There are those brilliant Squaresoft moments though (Square Enix really lost something), and as you may expect, they come from Sahz. He remains the only character to evolve but remain damaged, complex and interesting. I won't say why because that's a big part of his story, but the scene I just finished really shows that some people at Square still value complex characters with pasts that affect the present and that the future is not always an easy thing to see. Maybe this is because Sahz is the oldest in the party, and has more on his plate then the others. That's really bullock though, since the only character less than 15 years old is Hope, and as one dimensional as he's becoming, 14 is plenty of time to garner plenty of stuff to hate about life but not be able to voice. It's disappointing but for XIII Square really made the game for themselves and not their fans. How much can we make ourselves look awesome, they may have thought. The characters, save Sahz, are over-thought and overdone, but with 40 hours of game left to play, anything could happen.


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