Final Fantasy 10 and Final Fantasy 13 are very similar games. Both games are incredibly linear and provide very few alternate paths on their maps. Both games do not contain an overworld for the player to explore and discover for themselves. Yet, Final Fantasy 13 gets panned by fans for being a dull, confusing slog, while Final Fantasy 10 gets much more praise. Why is that? Well, there are a lot of small reasons, but I have pinpointed three distinct differences that separate Final Fantasy 13 from Final Fantasy 10. These are completely arbitrary and are solely my opinion, so if you disagree, that’s great. If you enjoy Final Fantasy 13, then that’s awesome! You could love something that I couldn’t. Anyways, onto the list.
Difference #1: The Battle System
Let’s make it clear: Games that railroad you on a particular linear path are fine. Linearity is not the bane of gaming, and if a game is a sandbox game with hours and hours of content, that does not make it superior. Bigger does not mean better. I say this because Final Fantasy 10 is a very linear game that is very enjoyable. A core reason for this is just how gosh darn good the battle system is. If I had to rank turn-based battle systems in RPG’s, Final Fantasy 10’s would be in the top three. There are a lot of reasons for this. First of which is the battle theme. It’s incredibly catchy. No matter how many times I hear it, I never get tired of it. And you will hear it hundreds of times, especially the first thirty seconds.
Final Fantasy 13’s battle theme is also fantastic, but it takes a little too long to get good. And by too long, I mean about 10 seconds. That doesn’t seem like very much, but when a battle starts in Final Fantasy 10, the screen shatters, the trumpets blare, and you know that you’re ready for action. Final Fantasy 13’s battle theme swells but doesn’t become bombastic until nearly a minute into the song. By then, the player has most likely progressed through combat enough before they can hear the meat of the song. Like Final Fantasy 10, you are going to be fighting A LOT of battles in 13, and the battle theme is unchanging. Therefore, a lot of time is spent listening to build up, with not enough payoff. Listening to Final Fantasy 13’s battle theme on its own is fantastic, but its application in the game diminishes potential excitement. At least, it does for how exciting an RPG fight can be.
And Final Fantasy 13’s combat isn’t turn-based, it’s a pseudo compromise between an action battle system and a turn-based one. But what personally turned me off from combat was the “auto-battle” option and the control over only a single party member. I didn’t feel like I could instill strategies and work around bosses using all of my party members. Final Fantasy 12 had similar combat to 13, and it allowed you to switch to and command your party members to do whatever you wanted. It’s bizarre to me that a sequel in the same franchise would regress instead of improving on an already established system. Also, I was not a huge fan of the paradigm system. It allowed you to switch party members to specific phases and allowed for strategic play, but there was still a lack of control. It felt to me at least that I was fighting against a system as opposed to harnessing it. Furthermore, the auto-battle option just took all of the thinking away. I just hammered the “x” button on my PS3, and I got the perfect results. Final Fantasy 13 would sometimes anticipate incoming attacks and take the correct safety precautions for me. There was no way that I could be better than this system. Auto-battle a problem, because psychologically if a player has a dominant strategy, they will abuse it. I can understand implementing a system for an audience who just wants to see the story and spectacle play out, but I believe there is a better option than having it set as the very first command the player can select. Games like the “Tales of” series constrict the player to one character as well, yes, but they also allow you to set individual skills and actions to your buttons. This allows for so much depth in the combat, as you can order your party on the fly, contribute to combos, and build the team you want. Final Fantasy 13 does not allow that freedom.
Final Fantasy 10’s turn based combat, however, actively encourages you to use every party member’s strengths. Final Fantasy 10 does the unthinkable and creates random battles that are engaging. Each party member is good at killing specific enemy types, so the player has to switch on the fly and make correct decisions. It subconsciously encourages variety and showcases what every character can do. Hitting “x” repeatedly will not lead to a successful encounter, as the player must always make decisions. There is no “super battle system computer” superior to the player. Also, the order of actions at the top right allows the player to strategize their options and plan ahead. Although random encounters are not particularly difficult, I never really dreaded them. Animations are slick and quick, allowing for satisfying hits and flashes. Enemies can inflict a multitude of status effects, which keeps the player paying attention and more engaged with the game. Auto-battle in Final Fantasy 13 takes away that engagement entirely.
Bosses in Final Fantasy 10 are surprisingly challenging and often consist of a gimmick that the player has to work around. Some bosses regularly inflict status effects, while some put mines below the player’s feet, forcing them to shift around constantly. The turn-based combat in a make-believe arena allows for more freedom and versatility with the battle system. Final Fantasy 13’s battles happen right where you encounter an enemy. While this system is impressive, it is also flawed, as environments for fights never compliment or enhance the combat in any way. Final Fantasy 10’s battle system is more fun, more strategic, and more engaging than Final Fantasy 13’s.
Difference #2: The World/Atmosphere
I don’t exactly know how to word this correctly, but the world of Spira in Final Fantasy 10 was much more memorable than Gran Pulse in Final Fantasy 13. I believe there are a lot of cool and interesting tidbits in Gran Pulse, and I enjoy the oppressive setting, but a lot of it felt drab to me. Final Fantasy 10’s world was equally depressing, but it was so much more poignant. I think there are a few reasons for that.
Final Fantasy 10’s world is under constant oppression by a destructive force called Sin. Towns aren’t allowed to prosper because of the threat of destruction. The population is low, and deaths are abundant. When people die (which they do a lot), they are often transformed into monsters, rather than moving onto the afterlife. People are not warring with each other; they are trying to band together with the hope that individuals called “summoners” can reverse this cycle of death and despair. Summoners must endure grueling pilgrimages over the entire planet just to prepare a fight with Sin. Summoners are designated from birth and have a whole world expecting great things of them. That concept interesting, and the game takes a lot of time for you to get acclimated to this world and how terrifying it truly is, despite its vivid beach imagery.
Final Fantasy 13 has party members being hunted down, which is also interesting, but it is just always so drab and bland. Party members and people in Final Fantasy 10 had hope, and that hope was worth fighting for. Everybody is “The Batman” in Final Fantasy 13. Party members rarely crack a smile or tell a joke. Almost every character is brooding that “their fate is predestined” and that they are doomed. Aside from Sazh, who’s son he is trying to save, there is no reason for me to care about fixing the issues the characters face. I have never gotten a glimpse of happiness or any evidence of better times.
It isn’t merely a narrative reason either, the graphics and art are more memorable for me in Final Fantasy 10. However, I will admit this is because I have an unfair bias for pre-rendered backgrounds. Final Fantasy 13 is a gorgeous game if you are looking solely at textures and environments, but for atmosphere, Final Fantasy 10 has it in the bag. Everything in Final Fantasy 13 felt like spectacle was the priority before a cohesive world. It all looks incredible, but I do not find myself getting absorbed in the environments like I do in Final Fantasy 10.
And a big contributor to this is the music and sound design. A big joke against Final Fantasy 13 is the footstep sound as Lightning walks. Usually, you can hardly hear the music over the sound of your character’s feet clop-clopping against the floor. This sounds like an incredibly petty complaint, but over the course of a 30-50 hour adventure, it gets grating. I quite enjoy the character dialogue, though, as it develops characters and reminds the player of what their focus is. But outside of battles in Final Fantasy 10, you can only hear the soundtrack, which, I have no complaints about because it is amazing.
Final Fantasy 10’s soundtrack is one of my favourite soundtracks ever. Period. In any medium. I love it so much. Almost all 100+ songs are memorable and well-produced. It’s rare that a soundtrack can work as ambient music for an environment, and also be good on its own. This example is going to be hard to articulate in text, so I recommend you watch the video for this article.
Now look at this image while listening to this song. What emotions are evoked? I’ll give you 20 seconds.
Scale. Adventure. Serenity. A time to relax and drift away. These are the feelings that I experience every time I get here in the game. Because this section of the game comes after an intense moment, and it just offers a chance for…reflection. It is placed strategically close to the end of the game so everything can be evaluated. This area is called The Calm Lands, and it offers the player precious quiet time.
Locations in Final Fantasy 13 are fascinating yet; they are missing something. The game lacks valuable context and lore to allow its world and environments to flourish. Which brings me to the last difference:
Difference #3: The Story
The big kahuna, the (arguably) most valuable part of an RPG, its story. Anybody who knows anything about Final Fantasy 13 usually talks about two things: “The Hallway,” to refer to the intense linearity, and “The Novels,” which refers to the supplemental text in the form of an in-game glossary. I’m interested in the novel. Although I know this problem has been beaten to death and ranted on forever, I want to go even further, because I’m a big jerk-dude.
The locations in Final Fantasy 13 are fascinating. I bet you didn’t expect that. I can pull a random location from the game, and it will have history, lore, and a purpose. For example, here is a picture and an excerpt from the Gapra Whitewood in Final Fantasy 13:
“Under the jurisdiction of the Sanctum military, the Whitewood serves as an experimental facility for conducting research into bioweapons. The security of this classified area is built in the design—the paths winding through the trees are deliberately confusing, causing intruders to become hopelessly lost.”
Sounds cool, doesn’t it? A mechanical forest meant for testing biochemical weapons of war, where its complexity is its security mechanism. It is so complicated that soldiers have to carry a map around with them, or they will get hopelessly lost. Final Fantasy 10 doesn’t have these codex entries to add to areas, which is a shame. I would love to read additional lore about areas on subsequent playthroughs. However, I do not lose sleep over this issue because Final Fantasy 10 does not REQUIRE codex entries.
The main story and the critical terms and jargon in Final Fantasy 13 are very rarely explained in cutscenes. That is a huge problem for a game with hours of cutscenes. The cutscenes and story lose all of its impact if the player is not able to understand it. The player has to open up a codex entry and read about the world themselves. The most interesting parts of the game are hiding these optional readings. However, within these readings, are aspects of the story that are necessary to enjoy it. Cutscenes are essentially pointless, and that is sad because there is an obscene amount of effort and spectacle put into them. The lack of purpose and emotion diminishes the power of cutscenes.
The reason there is all of this confusion in Final Fantasy 13 is that there is no exposition. The party members all seem to know exactly what is going on, so there is no need for anybody to explain anything. This turns the story into an incomprehensible mess unless the player reads a novel’s worth of paragraphs. Even Hope, who is a child, and would likely be questioning a lot of the world’s problems, does not. He abstains from it, and the game suffers because it relies on the player to find the answers for themselves. Now ambiguity itself is not a bad thing, as it can stir up intrigue. Dark Souls does ambiguity very well. But, the story is not the primary focus of those games, their combat is. Final Fantasy 13 is a very story-driven game with tons of cutscenes and reading. It wants the player to be engrossed in its narrative, yet it does not take the necessary steps to invite them into it.
Final Fantasy 10’s protagonist, Tidus, was transported to the world of Spira against his will. It has an entirely different culture, technology, landscape, and values from what he has experienced his whole life. He has to adapt and to adapt; he has to ask questions. Tidus is the most valuable piece in Final Fantasy 10, and what, for me at least, elevates it above Final Fantasy 13. Some people perceive Tidus as obnoxious, insensitive, and annoying. While I concede that all of those things are true, I also think he exudes positivity. He is upbeat, optimistic, and still has wonder left in him. In the world of Spira – the world where happiness has been drained from so many people’s hearts, Tidus is a necessity. He reminds the characters, and the player to go against all the odds and customs to do the right thing. His ignorance of Spira’s history becomes a benefit for him, as none of its rules hold him back. Although this leads Tidus to do incredibly stupid and regrettable acts, he at least learns from them.
I’m focusing on Tidus because, admittedly, the characters in Final Fantasy 10 aren’t particularly interesting. Tidus has the most personality and serves the story of the game by being a siphon for the player. The player, like Tidus, has no idea what Spira is and needs these questions answered for himself.
Like I said earlier, I do wish Final Fantasy 10 had the codex entries of Final Fantasy 13. The NPC’s in Final Fantasy 10 are often really bland and provide zero insight. It would be nice if there were more flavour text for players who sought it out. However, if I had to choose between which narrative style I would prefer, I would gladly take Final Fantasy 10’s over 13’s. Final Fantasy 13’s story was focused on the spectacle and creating these moments that are clearly meant to be epic and memorable. Yet, Final Fantasy 13 forgot the fundamentals of storytelling. It skipped the necessary base to a narrative and went straight for the “cool stuff,” and it was all the worse for it. The moments that probably cost a lot of money to make, and are much more elaborate than Final Fantasy 10s, ultimately mean less because there is no emotion or purpose behind it. At least, it certainly feels like there is no passion.
I have been very negative to Final Fantasy 13, as are many others. I do not find it to be an enjoyable game, but I understand why people like it. It is pretty, the gameplay can be fun if you ignore the “auto-battle” function, and the cutscenes are spectacular. Yet, it is its lack of heart and purpose that drives me away from it and towards Final Fantasy 10. Final Fantasy 10 is a great game with a fun, immersive battle system, a delicately crafted world, and an entertaining story.