Final Fantasy XIII (2009)

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“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

 

Our first review ever is for Final Fantasy XIII! It is the thirteenth numerical installment in the fanatically popular franchise. In step with the series’ motif of telling new stories with each entry, FFXIII follows the intersecting lives of several throwaway characters: the unlikeable, “coolness-factor” protagonist Lightning, the second-token-black-guy in the series Sazj, the blondie beau Snow, the airhead waif Vanille, the effeminate mama’s boy Hope and the mysterious sounds-like-an-Aussie-for-no-reason Fang. That’s right, a cast just as memorable as H.R. Pufnstuf.

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In the dystopian society of Cocoon, the Sanctum government is ordering a purge of civilians who have allegedly come into contact with Pulse, their national enemy. Former soldier Lightning fights against the Sanctum in order to save her sister who has been branded as an unwilling servant to a god-like entity from Pulse, known as a fal’Cie. Lightning is joined by many allies and together they also are marked by the same creature and become l’Cie, the fal’Cie’s puppets. Rallying against the Sanctum, they try to discover the task assigned them by the fal’Cie and whether they can avoid being turned into monsters if they fail or crystals as their reward. In the process, they uncover a plot (spoiler) by a Cocoon fal’Cie who was masquerading as the human primarch Dysley but is actually a villain named Barthandelus. He tells the party that their mission is to transform into the beast Ragnarok and kill the sleeping fal’Cie Orphan, who keeps Cocoon afloat above Pulse. Killing Orphan will result in Cocoon’s destruction and the summoning of the Maker, the creator of worlds, who will supposedly wipe the planet’s slate clean.

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Our PMS-ing protagonist, who apparently has no idea how clothes work.

All the beauty of a franchise that has consistently made nerds soil themselves since 1987  is here. The graphics are most impressive, the score is worthy of Uematsu’s legacy (I breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the pianist’s melody on the title screen), the voice acting is more than passable, the world environments are as fantastic as the title suggests, and the battles feel new, fast-paced and exciting.

The Paradigm Shift system essentially allows you to change your characters’ classes at any point in a fight, emphasizing quick strategy to attempt to “stagger” enemies, reducing their defenses and rendering them vulnerable. Fear not, Paradigming does not make your characters clones of each other. Certain members of the cast are better at different Paradigm classes, like Ravager (magic-based), Commando (physical-based) or Saboteur (insulting an enemy’s mother to inflict negative status effects, such as “Yo momma’s so fat she couldn’t fit through the narrow, linear hallways that comprise over 85% of this game”). Further, the Crystarium leveling system allows the gamer some degree of customization, letting you decide how exactly to direct your characters’ statistics.

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It might as well be in Japanese because I have no idea what I’m doing.

The biggest complaint anyone can make about FFXIII is its infamous linearity. The director, Motomu Toriyama, said about the lack of open world exploration and I blockquote:

“[It] becomes very difficult to tell a compelling story when you’re given that much freedom.”

Imagine you are walking down a long hallway. There are no doors or passageways that branch off. Just this one hallway. Imagine you reach the end of the hallway and you find that there is another, similar hallway. Oh sure, it might have different wallpaper or a different flower soaking in a vase on a shelf, but it seems like it’s the same hallway. You reach the end of that hallway to find, dread as you might, another hallway… Imagine traversing these hallways for hour after hour. You might try to run or you can just walk, but either way, you’re only passing down the same hallway, endlessly. No, it’s not eternal damnation. It’s Final Fantasy XIII. Just look at this map:

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You might not be able to see it at this resolution but there’s a dotted line that connects the hallway on the far right back to the hallway on the far left.

Most of the game (like some 85% of it) is spent on purely linear routes, moving across the map toward a glowing orange symbol to encounter a boss or trigger a cinematic, barring any of the sense of adventurous exploration present in so many other examples in the franchise. When the game finally opens up into a vast green world rife with side-quests galore is the moment when the plot comes to a screeching halt. So much time can be spent getting all of your exploration fix in that by the time you decide to pick up the story again and finish off the last 5% to 10% of what’s left of narrative, then odds are you’ve already forgotten what’s going on. Certainly there’s no sense of urgency to the scenes that comprise the game’s climax. I believe it’s this structure that ultimately brings the game down. When it at last gives you what you want, it ends up destroying everything it has been linearly building toward, leading to a bigger “Who am I? Why am I here?” moment than Cloud’s mental breakdown in Final Fantasy VII. So despite what Mr. Toriyama said, I think it’s clear that a sudden burst of open world explorative freedom after holding out on it for so much of the game makes it “very difficult to tell a compelling story”.

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There’s a lot of bang here but there’s a hollow feeling underneath the showmanship. FFXIII is a gorgeous game with a lot to enjoy from its great Paradigm Shifts keeping the battles energetic to the intricate backgrounds, settings and cinematics, to the eventual side-questing with the Cie’th stones, however its structure works against itself and leaves you wanting more. More of something else.

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“Why couldn’t I be in Final Fantasy X?” -what’s her name

 

 

The 8-Bit Review
visual Visuals: 8/10
FFXIII‘s strongest element is the graphics. Fantastical hyper-realism is the word of the day here, so I was surprised to see some of the cartoonier FF tropes make it into the game: Cactuars and Chocobos come to mind. The atmosphere is nigh claustrophobic in much of Cocoon and there is that sense of wild wilderness in the organic settings. All of it is huge detailed. I mean, this game makes Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within look like a polygon test screening for the first Toy Story. Feast your eyes!

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audio Audio: 6/10
Though not the best in the series, there are several tracks that match the grandeur of Final Fantasy’s long musical history. This is apparently the first numerical entry in the franchise not to include any compositions by the original maestro of the series, Nobuo Uematsu, and you can really tell. Masashi Hamauzu, who also composed Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, unfortunately chose to go with several tracks that feel really out of place, not only for the series, but for some of the sequences in which they feature: grungy, metallic, garage-band guitar riffs and steely pseudo-techno ensues. The end result is a less melodic soundtrack with not many memorable tracks.



 

gameplay Gameplay: 8/10
No real complaints here. I didn’t notice any major glitches. The innovative Paradigm Shift system was not hard to get my head around it. The Crystarium seems tedious and overly complex at first but turns out to be a delight, contrary to other examples of building characters stat by stat. A lot of transitions are seamless as well and everything seems responsive enough.

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“Heuheuheu! Moar text on screen! Moar text on screen!” -Director Toriyama

story Narrative: 3/10
When FFXIII‘s story isn’t hideously complex, it’s too familiar. Believing in yourself, dystopian utopia, suspicious religious authorities, nihilistic villains, a sullen protagonist who is a former soldier (Cecil, Terra, Cloud)… all of your fav FF fare is here. Furthermore, the cast of characters are downright unlikeable. Sazj stands out as a brotha you can enjoy with some real motivation for what he’s doing. But Lightning? Why is she so moody? I mean, did she stub her toe really, really hard? Did she get dumped? If so, why isn’t the story about her ex’s new chickadee, who must be a thousand times more interesting? Why is she on this journey? What does she want? Why is her hair pink? Does she dye it herself or go to a salon? These questions and others I cannot answer, because the answers are forgettable and I probably won’t play it again to find out.

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diff Challenge: 3/10
Not difficult at all. I don’t think I died once playing through the storyline. Some bosses, like Barthandelus, will push your strategies and reaction time to the limit with Paradigm Shifting but the fact that you recover all your health automatically between battles means less healing and less stress. A breeze.

replay Replayability: 1/10
Hey, if you want to walk down those hallways all over again, that’s fine by me but you’re still a sadomasochist.

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unique Uniqueness: 3/10
Let’s be honest. This is a franchise that has reached double-digits for entries. This is the thirteenth game, not including the numerous spin-offs and spiritual successors. However, Final Fantasy is renown for pushing the RPG genre further and further. The Paradigm Shifts keep the game’s battling fresh but a lackluster storyline and characters means FFXIII really fails to stand out from the better games in its series.

pgrade My Personal Grade: 4/10
I wanted to enjoy FFXIII a lot more than I did. Final Fantasy is a favorite series of mine and at the time I played this entry it was the newest one. I was disappointed. I thought about platinuming it but I’d just had enough of this one. It’s been called the worst Final Fantasy ever, which is a great excuse to produce a direct sequel!

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Lightning is the one with the dead-eyed plastic stare.

Aggregated Score: 4.5

 

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19 thoughts on “Final Fantasy XIII (2009)

  1. [A level ??? ‘Enraged Ellen’ appears. Run!!]

    WHAT did you say about my girl Lightning?! “The unlikable, coolness-factor protagonist” “But Lightning? Why is she so moody? I mean, did she stub her toe really, really hard? Did she get dumped? If so, why isn’t the story about her ex’s new chickadee, who must be a thousand times more interesting? Why is she on this journey? What does she want? Why is her hair pink? Does she dye it herself or go to a salon?” You couldn’t be more WRONG about her if you tried!! *cracks knuckles and gets ready to summon Odin*

    [Cloak of Sarcasm fades from ‘Enraged Ellen’]

    Kidding of course! We’re still cool Mage dude. This was a great and entertaining review, even though I 100% disagree with most of your opinions. We agree on the fun battles, stunning graphics, and nice music though! Opinions are great aren’t they? We all interpret things differently. What is incredibly special to one person can seem like total trash to another pair of eyes. Neither is right or wrong. It all depends on the person behind the controller. It saddens me to see so much anger online, simply because someone disagreed with something someone else care deeply about. Like most other people, it seems like you were expecting this game to be so much more, but it disappointed you. I played this game with zero expectations and without knowing a damn thing about it beforehand. I actually found my copy in a discount bin and thought “Hey, it’s been a while since I played a Final Fantasy game! Oh wow, the main character seems to be a woman too.” Had I read all the negative reviews before I tried it, I may have avoided it, missing out on an entire trilogy of games that are now very close to my heart. This whole experience has taught me what every review ultimately is: Just someone else’s opinion that you may or may not agree with.

    Since us FF XIII Trilogy lovers are a rare breed, I thought I’d offer a counter opinion from someone who loves the characters and story. I’m also very passionate about my favourite video game character and I like to defend her whenever possible, haha. This might get wordy so feel free to ignore me too:

    This hapless group of L’Cie all resonated with me. They were all forced to embark on a perilous journey that none of them asked for. Everyone else in their world sees them as tainted and dangerous. All they have to rely on is each other as they try to rebel against an unchangeable fate, while fighting back a corrupt government willing to exterminate entire towns just to hide their secret. Sazh is a worried father figure, who is fighting just to keep going. He brightens the spirits of the people around him so he can find the strength to keep his own hope alive. Snow truly feels weak and helpless, but puts on a heroic facade, while focusing on saving the love of his life. Hope is a lost child who is terrified he may never see either of his parents again. Vanille is alone in a strange place, and she empathizes with Hope to ease her own fears. Fang is the seasoned warrior who would do anything to protect the one person she cares about, but let slip away into danger. I liked her accent. It’s reasonable to assume Gran Pulse humans would have a different dialect than those on Cocoon. Oh yeah, and then there’s Lightning.

    I often see “moody” and “uninteresting” used to describe this fearsome female protagonist. I’m sorry but that’s not how I see her at all, and it annoys me whenever I see those shallow comments about her. Her emotions are chaotic, just like bolts of lightning, and she puts on a tough face to hide them from the world. She’s terrible at showing it, but she cares more about the people around her than she does about herself. She pushes people away to protect them. She shuts herself away to shield herself from the unforgiving world that she hates being a part of. In my almost 25 years of video gaming, Lightning is the ONLY character I’ve controlled that I’ve felt a special connection with. She is exactly as cranky, stubborn, and fiercely independent as I am in real life. My whole life no one has understood me, and I’ve felt so alone in this messed up world on many occasions. I was going through a particularly rough time when I played this game, and discovering a character that was like me helped more than words are capable of explaining. I wanted to become stronger like she was and I changed my lifestyle completely. I started eating healthier, exercising frequently, and even got brave enough to try out a martial art called Combat Hapkido. I turned into a much happier person because of this.

    Shortly after I completed Lightning’s epic journey across three different games, I discovered something that explained my constant feelings of not belonging anywhere: My Myers Briggs Type Indicator. It turns out I’m a INFJ, and when I read the description I wanted to hug my computer monitor. For the first time ever, I realized there are other humans out there who feel exactly like I do. INFJs are hard to understand, we don’t even understand ourselves most of the time, and I think Lightning is also a misunderstood INFJ (add Squall, Cloud, and Sephiroth to that club too I think). The problem with being a female introvert is that you’re often seen as “moody” or “arrogant”. While male introverts are seen as the strong silent types. That’s just the way it is and I think this is another reason why people see Lightning as a boring one dimensional character. She will always be my badass idol that I look up to whenever I need a morale boost in this crazy world of ours. She has taught me that a grim fate can always be challenged, and her inspiring quotes throughout the games will always bring me strength.

    I do agree that the game is quite linear, but this wasn’t a bad thing to me. Honestly, I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the endless open world games that are out now. I really enjoyed fighting monsters and being shown what I thought was an epic story. Yes, all the “hallways” are very straight, but they aren’t bland hallways. The environments are all varied and beautiful. Plus there’s none of those intrusive random battle systems to worry about. You can see what’s ahead and prepare accordingly. It was by no means a hard game either. I play video games to have fun, and excessive difficulty does not appeal to me any longer. My days of feeling proud just because I spent 20 hours grinding enough levels to beat the overpowered final boss are over. I find level grinding and constant interruptions to fight random monsters are much more tedious than following a linear path through a game. I know my opinion is the tiny minority, but the Final Fantasy XIII Trilogy will always be the best of Square Enix’s iconic universe.

    /controller drop 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • [Well-Red Mage casts smoke. Flee was successful]

      Hey thanks for reading! A couple things must be said, firstly that I reread this review and there are obviously some things I said with much too much hyperbole, and its crude and immature by my standards now. It reads more like a Rage Mage post than a Well-Red Mage one. That all being said, I’ll try to address each point you brought up, and say from the outset that I definitely do not believe this game is total trash. I can however speak to what worked and what didn’t work objectively for me.

      What I’d like to do someday is do a “FFXIII revisited” and see if any of my opinions have changed on it. Compared to FFXV my opinion are virtually the same, though ironically FFXV tried to do the exact opposite structure-wise (open-world at the beginning, linear at the end). I don’t think either approach works for me because I’m accustomed to so many other FF’s that did a good job of finding the balance between those. Too much linear structure is tedious and then again so is too much open-world fetch questing. The backgrounds were sure gorgeous in FFXIII but eventually they wore me down, hallway after hallway, till I rushed through everything to just finally be able to explore a town or field or mountain, and then found that I was 80% through the game! This was primarily my complaint with FFXIII and probably will be with FFXV. In that it’s like all this cataclysmic stuff happens right at the beginning, and then you spend ours fishing, catching frogs, and running around the country like nothing’s wrong? I’ll end up savaging that narrative, likely.

      As far as expectations for FFXIII, I actually knew next to nothing going into it. It was a game I knew I wanted to play as soon as I got the right system, because I’ve loved most of the numerical FF games. But they’ve taken a noticeable dive from my perspective since IX. I liked X alright, and XII less so. I avoided the MMOs like the plague. With XIII I came at it from the perspective of someone who puts VI at the top, so much more of a traditionalist. The protagonist of that one is a woman (though there are many other main chars) so I’d commend that one to you!

      This is most likely what influenced my final score of a mid-high 4, which would be below average in light of the entire series. I couldn’t conscience putting it any lower since that would make it a bad game, which I don’t think it is. If I hadn’t approach FFXIII as the newest successor to a franchise I’d loved for ages, then I may have even enjoyed it more.

      My favorite party member would probably be Sazh. I liked a lot of his personality. Of course, I can greatly pleased (believe that I can’t express this more) to know that the character of Lightning resonated with you. Video games have that capacity just as much as any novel, film, poem, artform to do just that. I’m happy to hear that Lightning helped to motivate you to be a better person in real life. Obviously, my complaints with her as a character can never have any bearing or reach upon that aspect of your life. That’s your life. For me, I think of her as uninteresting or moody not merely to dismiss her, but because I never saw a breadth or range of emotion from her (in one play through of this first game, that is) that I can remember. For me it was always all just blankness. I would also say that Cloud and Squall were both moody and arrogant, they get no special treatment for being male. Cloud was a pain in the butt and Squall especially seemed like a real man-child to me, far from the strong silent type, though I understand that’s an angle some have pointed out. This is just where the FF series is going I guess, and I was pained to discover that they’d done the same thing with Noctis in FFXV who is just as much of a moody, blank-faced pain as Squall or Cloud. Again, that’s to me. This is coming from someone who can empathize with internalizing and I used to be much more anti-social than I am. Noctis just strikes me as an uninteresting man-child, and I’d say that Lightning definitely has more of a sense of duty and responsibility than him. I don’t want to say much more just in case you haven’t played FFXV. Taken as a whole, you can really see these trends developing in the FF series. Maybe I’m just getting old so none of this cool-factor stuff gets to me any more. With Noctis, he just seemed like a teenager.

      So ultimately, I hope that I can make myself clear that I don’t think you’re an idiot or somehow less attentive because you like Lightning or got something out of this game. I’ll hold that certain things in this game are subjective, yeah, but then I’ll also hold that a lot of things are both objectively good or bad. Our opinions of course don’t decrease any mutual respect, you can be sure. In fact, I respect you more for those changes you described making in your life because of this game. You’ve put the thought in my head of going back to replay FFXIII, which certainly wasn’t there before. You’re a champion of civility in disagreement, and I think you’re atypical of gamers who mostly didn’t enjoy FFXIII and simply don’t put much thought into why they didn’t. Thanks for expressing yourself in such a way and leaving me a thoughtful comment! I’d definitely like to do that point-counter-point someday about FFXIII with you and put it out for open, civil, discussion.

      FFXIII has been perhaps unfairly demeaned. I’ve read a lot on it since playing it where people have been unable to say what they felt was wrong about it, just that they hated it. I don’t think that helps anyone nor does it say a lot about someone’s intellect. I’d love to break this down with you in the future!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well played, Well-Red Mage 🙂

        Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my ramblings! It truly takes a lot to offend me, and the tone of your review seemed more like lighthearted teasing to me. I enjoy Rage Mage’s epic rants as well.

        I can understand how upsetting it would be to see a series you care about go in a direction you are not happy with. I think that’s a big reason why many veterans of the series hate FFXIII. My first Final Fantasy game was X. After that I tried and failed to beat VIII, finished VII, then couldn’t get into XII because the story didn’t hold my attention. Several years after that is when I stumbled upon that copy of XIII and then Platinumed the entire trilogy. All those words mean I haven’t played the classic games yet, so I’m still a newbie to the series, haha.

        I’ve heard that XV does the opposite of XIII in terms of open world-ness. I have a goal to beat all the numbered FF games I haven’t finished this year. Right now I’m near the end of IV and plan to jump into XV, after I help Cecil crush the evil moon monster. I was never worn down by the endless hallways in XIII since I was so engaged in the story. I had fun carving through the enemies, while charging into the next epic cutscene. I wasn’t even expecting to hit the open world area near the end of the game. When I got there, I did stop before the end of the story to do all the C’ieth Stone side quests, and to farm the giant turtles to make all the ultimate weapons (Gil is really scarce in XIII too by the way). Also riding around on the Chocobo and exploring was fun to me.

        My sentimental attachment to Lightning is probably the biggest reason why I was able to enjoy the game, and not find the faults other people did. Essentially, video game stories let us live out a character’s life, which is a much more powerful connection than novels and other electronic media can provide. We don’t just witness them save the world, we get to help them do it. I feel that all fictional characters are open to the viewer’s interpretation. Lightning will always be special to me, but I understand others will see her differently, which is fine by me. It’s the “Lighting (sic) sux!!1′ crowd that jump on the FF XIII hate bandwagon, just because it is seen as cool, that irk me more than anything, haha. Noctis and crew seemed like an annoying boy band to me, but Cheap Boss Attack’s XV review convinced me to give them a chance, and I will be soon.

        I certainly appreciate your understanding, and I definitely respect your opinions on this game as well. I’m honored that my excessive fandom has convinced you to consider giving the game a revisit. I’m always up for a good civil discussion too. If you do decide to give it another shot, let me know! It has been a few years since I played it myself. I’ll start another playthrough and we can do a fresh point-counter-point on the game if you want. Although highly unlikely, it’s possible my opinion of the game will have changed, haha. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Of course! I wouldn’t think of ignoring anyone for posting such a thought provoking comment. Well, maybe I have in the past, but not this instance! I’m glad it sounded like lighthearted teasing hehe 😀

          I think one of the great things about the FF series, uniquely, is how the games are distinct from one another enough to appeal to a lot of different people in a variety of ways. Sometimes I’m surprised by what games people liked when I didn’t but it just demonstrates the reach of the whole franchise. I did start playing FFXIII-2 but it was at a time where I’d just purchased/received a bunch of new games so unfortunately a big RPG had to get shelved for the moment, but I do plan to return to it someday.

          That’s awesome that you’re playing through IV! There are some snobs out there who dismiss the old games for graphical reasons, just as there are those who dismiss all the new ones for being too different. I could risk falling into that latter category myself, and I’ve probably come across that way before, but I’d like to think I can still find the merit in the newer games qualitatively, and they’ve all been decent titles. I’ve played some really horrible RPGs that are a lot worse than my opinion of XIII or XV!

          Oh I forgot about that turtle farming! I couldn’t do it. That was the only thing I needed to do but it was too much. Really fun exploring and all, I just wish it was less compartmentalized. Sentimental attachment is of course fine. I’ve got that for several titles, and several of those I know are great games and some of them I know aren’t. Nostalgia can be a powerful thing.

          Down with bandwagoners!!!1

          As for XV, definitely give it a play. I enjoyed it alright, but it’s not going to be my favorite FF by a long shot. In short I’d say the gameplay and graphics are great, and so are the characters (MINUS CINDY!!!), but the structure and fetch-questing is kinda lame as is the angsty-ness. Anyway, do give it a play.

          I look forward to a future discussion on this! I’d like to say I could stand to replay it myself, I just don’t know how I could find the time!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Exactly! Each great iteration of Final Fantasy seems to have special meaning to different people, for various reasons. It’s such a special series! I loved FFXIII-2 as well. The Time Paradoxes made for some interesting story and gameplay moments. I won’t ruin anything, but some of the alternate endings were hilarious, haha.

            I started gaming near the end of the SNES era and grew up on the Nintendo 64. However, I enjoy collecting and playing classic as well as modern games. Just last year I beat Metroid and the original Zelda on the NES. I also got my old Atari 2600 working for some really retro fun. Some of those early games don’t hold the test of time, but I think it’s important to experience the history of my favourite hobby. It makes me appreciate how far the industry has come. To me, fun gameplay and a good story are much more important than pretty graphics.

            The turtle farming wasn’t too bad for me in XIII. I had a sweet setup with Vanille’s debuffs/summon, and my way overpowered Lightning, haha. I could down them in like 8 seconds before they could 1 hit me. Oh, I just remembered that the monsters out in the world sometimes fought with each other, which I thought was a neat mechanic. I took advantage of a spot with two of the big guys fighting each other to max out my characters. The biggest grind was getting EVERY item in the game for a trophy. I had fun doing it though. Nostalgia is indeed quite powerful.

            I’m really looking forward to experiencing XV! (then hopefully beating IX,VI,I,II,III,V,VIII, and finally XII by the end of the year). So yes, I hear you on the lack of precious time thing! I’m happy to drop everything to revisit XIII though, so definitely let me know if someday you do decided to replay it.

            I’m looking forward to more discussion as well! I think you understand where I’m coming from, but I just want to stress this: it was never my intention to try and change your opinion of Lightning or the game. I feel it is just as valid as my opinion, even if I disagree. This game is very special to me, and it also seems to be universally hated, so I like to express my opinion in favor of it when I can. The “bandwagonerz!1” online aren’t worth paying attention to since they just like to hate whatever is cool to hate. I do like civil discussions with great people such as yourself though 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

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