East vs. West: Final Fantasy XIII’s Folly

East vs. West: Final Fantasy XIII’s Folly

Making gamers happy isn’t easy: We like to complain a lot. Pleasing us is harder than ever because of the sheer volume of choices we have, not to mention the widening chasm between Japanese and Western-developed offerings. Everybody–gamers and developers alike–has their own idea about what constitutes a “Japanese” title versus a Western one, and grand generalizations abound as a result. If you’ve ever browsed through a game community, you’ve heard it all: “Western games are all grey-and-brown FPSs/JRPGs are linear trash starring emo boys who wear too many buckles,” etc.

Someone at Square-Enix heard the Internet’s cries, and the company resolved to make Final Fantasy XIII appeal to East and West alike. A noble endeavor. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for Square. Reviews for Final Fantasy XIII from professional magazines and websites were generally good, but fan consensus was mixed. True, not everybody is going to be happy with a game, especially a game in a franchise as distinguished as Final Fantasy. But most of the complaints fell on Final Fantasy XIII’s linear structure and menu-based battle system, traits rarely found in Western-developed RPGs.

Motomu Toriyama and Akihiko Maeda, two developers who worked on Final Fantasy XIII, admitted to Game Developer magazine that Square-Enix was concerned about whether Western audiences would enjoy the game. Focus groups were hastily thrown together, but nothing was ultimately done with the subsequent feedback even though Square wondered if JRPGs still have a place in the Western world.

Square-Enix had the right idea by trying to make a game that would find a home amongst English-speakers and the Japanese alike. However, it didn’t push the idea far enough by considering, “Hey, maybe the problem is us. Maybe Final Fantasy XIII isn’t everything that it can be.”

The west’s growing influence in game development isn’t the problem. Scorn towards the JRPG franchise isn’t the problem (the genre had a much smaller audience in the ’80s and ’90s, and it survived). Cultural differences aren’t the problem. The problem is that people don’t play RPGs to be kept on a set path, and they don’t play any kind of game to endure a 20-hour tutorial.

Contrary to Internet Lore, JRPGs are not universally reviled. Demon’s Souls, developed by Namco-Bandai, earned scores in the high 80s and 90s. Nintendo pushed Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS, and players responded favorably. In fact, the latter revels in its JRPG tropes with its menu-based battle system, heavy emphasis on dungeon exploration, and goofy monster designs by famous manga-ka Akira Toriyama. The difference between Dragon Quest IX and Final Fantasy XIII is that Dragon Quest doesn’t present itself as the Messiah of JRPGs with over-produced graphics and a confused attempt at an epic story. It merely hands the player a sword and says, “This is all you really need. You’re here to play, right? Go have fun.”

If developers over-analyze Western players versus Japanese players, they’ll only come up with a tangled mess of half-truths. It’s effort best spent on developing the game at hand–and, if necessary, self-flagellation. A game with the Final Fantasy logo stamped on it isn’t magically granted the mechanics that make for a pleasurable adventure.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

5 Comments

  1. “The problem is that people don’t play RPGs to be kept on a set path, and they don’t play any kind of game to endure a 20-hour tutorial.”

    I believe this statement sums up the problem with FF13…completely. I have played most of the FF games and even the early games that were primarily linear didn’t feel like an arcade style rail game. Just watching my friends play FF13 was enough for me not to want to play it.

  2. Honestly, the fact that they spend so much money on over the top graphics and cutscenes is really getting frustrating. It forces developers to create an overly linear game. Cut back on the graphics, go back to sprites if you have to. Square-Enix has lost its way since FFX, in my opinion. They started making everything so linear that it’s just… Not as fun.

    Final Fantasy IX had a large world, and the graphics were good enough. Not anything amazing, especially by today’s standards. But they weren’t ugly as sin like FFVII’s graphics are considered to be.

    I think that’s one of the critical aspects of modern jRPGs, is that a lot of them have taken a step back away from having a large sprawling world that we can explore and get lost in. Also, the playtime has often been massively reduced in most modern jRPGs. I dunno, I might just be jaded by nostalgia, but IMO the Playstation/Playstation 2 era of jRPGs was when they did it best. SNES was damn good too. Not so big a fan of the games lately. Plagued with really annoying sounding voice actors that you hear the voices of in so many games you start wondering why every game universe has so many people who sound the same…

  3. I think FFXIII was built for people like me, but not like my friends. I don’t know what everybody is complaining about this game freaking rocked! I have one complaint about this game that I havent seen mentioned anywhere else. The whole disney channel vibe. I want a dark final fantasy with all the great graphics and visuals this one has,(like ff tactics) I think they dumbed it down too much to appeal to too broad of an audience. I loved the battle system and think the whole 20hr tutorial was only slightly drawn out.
    its not like they didnt break record sales so its all good no harm no foul, and I cant wait for xiii-2

  4. FF13 was a horrid excuse for a game in general, much less a FF game. The fact that even one person thinks ff13 is good is the makes me wanna punch babies in the face. I personally think the SquareEnix team needs to sit back and play some old games and remember who they are and then go make something. A lot of stuff is just remakes of old games now anyway, why not remake the whole FF series with updated graphics? I’d buy it. Trash like FF13 is the down fall of western gaming at its best which isn’t saying much. I honestly hope someone from they development team reads this, maybe it will help future games. But I know its all pipedreams and SquareEnix will never again release amazing games like Xenogear or Star Ocean: The Second Story. They will just slap a Final Fantasy on whatever comes along so that it sells and based on fan responses make sequels. The only reason FF7 got the attention it did was due to years of requests for a sequel or movie and tons of fan mails, because it was a truly good game and according to some the best game ever. FF10 and 13 get sequels just because someone mentioned playing it again off-hand. Honestly SquareEnix should go back to its roots and start from scratch, stop looking into what “western gamers” like or “Japanese gamers” like because in reality most gamers want the same thing and a lot of online games have cross culture fan-bases. So instead of trying to sell a game with pretty graphics and voice acting, realize some of the best selling games of all time had no voice acting and bad graphics and start over.

    Making gamers happy isn’t easy: We like to complain a lot.

    Yes gamers complain a lot, no it isn’t hard to make them happy.

    Gamers suffer from nostalgia having played good games and now have to play trash like FF13 and miss Real FF games like FF4. Graphics are nice but for whatever reason SquareEnix suddenly thinks graphics are everything, and game play and story aren’t important. Or maybe the development team just needs to be fired as a whole because they think that IS good story and game play.

  5. Sorry that was long winded I was just venting. I also noticed some grammatic errors. If a moderator would mind fixing those I would be grateful.

Leave a Reply