This is a story. A story of a man and a video game. Of success and betrayal. A story that spans almost my entire adult life.
Once upon a time, I borrowed a copy of Final Fantasy XIII from a friend. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to do that, but he probably talked me into it. This sort of thing happened fairly often, where one of us would get a game from the the Walmart just down the street and try it out without really knowing anything about it. It could be hit or miss, with titles ranging from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (still a favourite) to Turning Point: Fall of Liberty (a tossup between that and Sonic ‘06 for the worst).
Now, the very idea that I would borrow FFXIII at all is already strange because, to put it simply, I hate playing JRPGs. On paper, they sound like the perfect fit for me: heavy story focus, intricate plots, an anime flair... But I just don’t find them fun. I think it has to do with how traditional JRPGs have turn-based menu combat, which just stresses me out and makes me take forever trying to make the “correct” choice. But even that wasn’t the strangest part of the borrowing.
My friend had been playing the game for a while by the time he lent it to me, but he hadn’t actually finished it yet. So, this was where we thought we’d be clever. You see, we both had Xbox 360s, which is how we managed to share games, and one of the major differences between the 360 and PS3 versions of FFXIII is that the 360 version came on 3 disks. He had reached the point in the game where he had switched to disk 3, so being the problem solvers that we were, he let me borrow disks 1 and 2. And you know what? It actually worked great. It felt like we had outsmarted the system, getting two players on one copy of the game.
Time passes, and I’m slowly making my way through the game. It is a JRPG, but the combat system is this weird hybrid between turn-based and real-time, and I find myself able to push through it, even if I’m not particularly good at it and am just scraping by. By this point, it’s been approximately 20 hours of gameplay, and I’m well into disk 2 when I suddenly come up against a boss named Barthandelus - a name that will soon be seared into my memory. The first time I take him on, he beats me handily. As he does the second time. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth... Hours pass, and I realise I cannot beat this fight.
So, I cave. Not by rage quitting the fight, but by admitting defeat and going to a guide. I admit that if I don’t put in some effort to study and learn the battle system for real, I’ll never win. And somehow, by some miracle, it works. It takes a couple more tries, but my new knowledge eventually pays off and in fairly short order Barthandelus falls by my hand, giving me the sweet release of watching the victory cutscene.
And that’s when our clever plan to share the game came back to bite me.
You see, FFXIII comes from the proud tradition of JRPGs with designated save points, which of course means no autosave. It’s a perfectly fine creative decision for a game to make, but when a game is split across multiple disks, a save prompt will need to be either just before or after the disk change. The logical choice would be after, so that anyone loading that save doesn’t need to swap the disk immediately after loading... and that logic was my undoing.
Yes, after finally showing a tangible improvement at the game by beating the boss and being ready to move on, I find myself crushed under the weight of my chosen console’s technical limitations. I can do nothing but stare at the screen and curse my fate, as the reality of the situation sinks in. I am away at school, and disk 3 is with my friend, almost 1500 miles away. There will be no inserting of disk 3.
This broke my spirit. Even after returning home, I had lost all will to pick up the game again, so I gave my friend back disks 1 and 2, and let him keep disk 3. My time with FFXIII was over forever.
A couple of months ago, I happened across Tim Rogers streaming Final Fantasy XIII on Kotaku’s Twitch channel. He had just wrapped up his massive series on the translation of Final Fantasy VII, and to celebrate was playing the first hour of FFXIII in English for the first time.
As I watched him play and marvel at the wonders of Xbox One X enhancement, some deep nostalgia stirred within me. Positive memories of my time with the game surfaced, and slowly but surely, a thought started to coalesce: “I want to play this again.” That stuck with me even after the stream had ended; stuck with me until a few weeks later when FFXIII happened to go on sale on the Xbox digital store. Stuck with me until I bought it. This time, there would be no disks to mess things up.
And so, I got to work. I booted up my 360 for the first time in ages to transfer my save data into the cloud storage, while downloading the game to my Xbox One. I wasn’t about to throw away those 20 hours I played already, after all. I knew that launching right into that Barthandelus fight was going to be rough, so before launching the game I spent some time reading guides and watching cutscenes to try and remember the lore. I wasn’t sure how long it had been since the last time I’d played, but I knew I’d forgotten almost everything. Thankfully, my prep work payed off: this time I beat him on my first try. The relief I felt as the achievement popped up and the save window opened was one of the most powerful experiences any game has ever given me. And then that relief turned to shock as I looked at the dates in my achievements list.
The gap was far larger I had imagined. 6.5 years since I had last played. 8 years since I had begun the story. Taking a break from a game and coming back to finish it later isn’t uncommon for me (looking at you, Rise of the Tomb Raider), but this was unquestionably the longest break I had ever returned from. And so I promised to myself that this time, I would finish the story.
When I made that promise, I didn’t think there was much of the game remaining. After all, I was on Chapter 11 after 20 hours, and there were only 13 chapters in total. I thought it’d be another 5-10 hours, and I’d have it in the bag. That was... not the case.
Which finally brings us to today. After 8 years, 1 month, 0 days of real time, and just shy of 55 hours of play time, I can now say that I’ve kept my promise. FFXIII is over. And you know what? I’m glad I came back to it.
People love to hate on FFXIII as one of the worst mainline Final Fantasy games, but after all this time I can genuinely say that I loved it. Like I said at the start, I hate playing JRPGs, and it took a weird, divisive game like this to trick me into enjoying one. Final Fantasy XIII will always hold a special place in my heart as the first JRPG that I could love, and the game good enough to span nearly a decade of my life. If you passed it by before, it’s still worth checking out.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read the prequel book that, puzzlingly, wasn’t translated until this very year.