Final Fantasy XIII: An epic seller, but is it deserving?

Final Fantasy XIII: An epic seller, but is it deserving?

Despite posting enormous sales figures both at home and abroad, more than a few gamers and critics think the latest Final Fantasy release is typical of a floundering JRPG genre

Final Fantasy XIIISince it began its quest for sales dominance outside of Japan’s borders, Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII, the latest release in the epic RPG franchise, has sold more than 5 million games worldwide. With some of the most beautifully designed graphics ever seen in a video game it has quickly become the fastest selling Final Fantasy title to date. This translates into a definite win for game developer Square Enix, and for the Japanese RPG genre which had been overtaken by their Western counterparts in recent years.

But can the franchise survive?

Expanding geographically, contracting creatively

In addition to staggering sales numbers, Square Enix North America CEO John Yamamoto points out that the company has reached a number of significant milestones as well: “It’s the first time the series has been released for multiple high-definition consoles and the fastest that we localized and released the game in other regions.”

Indeed, it’s not only Western gamers that had to wait for the popular Japanese RPG to port overseas. Chinese speaking gamers can look forward to a traditional Chinese version coming to the PS3 in May, as Square Enix makes an effort to grab at least a portion of the massive Chinese market. But despite the astounding sales figures, there are many who assert that FFXIII is not as good as the numbers indicate.

While reviews were generally positive, a common complaint was that the narrative is constrained and doesn’t provide as much freedom as previous Final Fantasy games. In an interview with gaming website Destructoid, representatives at North American rival Bioware had expressed the opinion that this formula keeps JRPGs stagnant when they should be evolving, although they acknowledge that there are exceptions as well.

Evis Tyrer, an avid gamer and reviewer based in the UK, says: “It’s a great video game but it’s a very poor Final Fantasy, [and it’s] so linear that it hurts.“ He reasons the big sales figures are partially due to nostalgic fans who keep coming back to the series in an attempt to “recapture that old spark" from older Final Fantasy titles, a spark that Evis thinks has gone dark in FFXIII. 

A risk that pays off

When asked about such criticism Yamamoto stands behind FFXIII as a strong evolutionary step for Square Enix, one that is not just aimed at the local market: “Final Fantasy XIII introduces a new Active Time Battle system to the RPG genre and offers varying gameplay, with the first half of the game focusing on a cinematic, story-driven experience, and the latter half offering open-world exploration. The themes that run through Final Fantasy XIII are universal and we feel that gamers around the world can relate to the characters.”

Final Fantasy XIIICan Final Fantasy's graphics keep it afloat?Implementing such a structure into FFXIII was definitely risky, as less enthusiastic gamers might not even push through to the second half. It was undoubtedly a bold step in a new direction for Square Enix, but whether it’s a step forward will remain a point of debate. Their effort to rebound in the Western market is successful so far, and whether consumers can relate to the story or not, they are at least paying money for it. 

It should be noted however that third week sales outside Japan have cooled off since the game’s record start that saw them move over a million games in the first week. But look forward to a resurgence when the Chinese version hits Taiwan this May. 

And Square Enix isn’t finished there. They are also slated to kick out Final Fantasy XIV later this year for the PS3 and for PC, so it’s going to be a very busy (and likely a very profitable) year for the Japanese company. Keeping up with Western game studios will be a daunting task, but from a consumer’s point of view nothing could be better than having development teams oceans apart striving to win their affection with the the very best RPG.