FF1_USA_boxartI have been playing Final Fantasy games for 20 years.

This is a shocking figure, even to me, since my gaming career seems (from my perspective) to be a gradual but unbroken evolution. From the gates of Coneria to the plains of Pulse, games have grown up with me. I’ve sunk countless hours into games over the years, many of them into the Final Fantasy series (now approaching its fourteenth iteration, with many spin-offs and side games in between). I looked forward to each entry, and played each one vigorously, often multiple times.

But somewhere along the way, Final Fantasy quit being good. Fact is, Final Fantasy XIII sucks. Almost everything good about the series was removed and replaced with a shiny, hollow, self-referential shell of a game that represents in a  small way everything that is wrong with the game industry (and popular culture at large) in the second decade of the 21st century.

First, the music is terrible. Music has been a hallmark of Final Fantasy (composed until lately by the inestimable Nobuo Uematsu), yet here it is worthless.  Except for the tune that plays over the opening cinematic, every other track is forgettable pap. It’s so bland that I couldn’t even tell you if it was techno or orchestral or pop-like or what; yet you can spend thirty bucks and get a 4-CD set of the soundtrack. Useful I guess if you have an elevator business.

All but gone is the wonder of exploring a fantasy world – searching for the Airship or trekking to the Dark Elf’s cave or visiting the Golden Saucer are all replaced with a linear slog through what amounts to a forty-hour-long corridor filled with enemies. Gone are the unfashionable random encounters of earlier days of RPGs; instead, you can see all your foes ahead of you, which is ostensibly a better game mechanic but usually just fills me with a sense of dread. Cresting a hill and looking down on a long path filled with strange, jiggling creatures just served as a reminder that the entirety of the gameplay consisted of combat, broken only by stretches of holding the left analog stick forward to run to the next area.

The story struggles to be mysterious but just ends up being incoherent. Some people are on a train, getting exiled from their shell-like moon, and then escape the train by doing a lot of backflips and beating up a giant animal-robot with swords and bare hands. After that, the surfer guy in a trenchcoat drops somebody’s mom off a ledge and everyone turns out to be somehow related to someone’s sister who turned into a crystal. Then the whole crew (including a black guy with a baby bird living in his afro [really]) goes on the lam because they all got the same tattoos after getting electrocuted by a giant magic robot that’s evil but also provides the means of living for the whole planet. A bunch of other stuff happens, but I turned it off before I got to the crystal lesbian reincarnation subplot (really).

What happened to a nice good-versus-evil plot? I know that it’s passé to have good guys and bad guys, but when I kick back in front of the 50-inch with Final Fantasy, I don’t want shades of gray or a tale of moral complexity. I want to fight the big bad guy and summon Bahamut and yell, “fuck yeah, I just made a space dragon fry your face off!”

On top of all that, there are no towns, no leveling up (the 3-D crystal perfume grid doesn’t count and until late in the game is so linear that it might as well not exist at all), and hardly any equipment (you get weapons and accessories but the satisfaction of acquiring stuff is minimal). I didn’t buy a single item in 25 hours of game time!

I guess that was my last Final Fantasy game. I think it’s time to live up to the name and wrap up the series.