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Is Final Fantasy XIII an RPG?

Submitted by on Friday, 14 May 20105 Comments

We have never doubted Final Fantasy XIII’s credentials as an RPG, it’s never crossed our minds to do so. After all, the series it belongs to is widely regarded as one of the most influential in RPG history. But when you put Final Fantasy XIII under intense scrutiny, does it live up to its classification? Daniel Erickson, Writing Director of BioWare, has been telling Strategy Informer that it doesn’t.

The website questioned Erickson about how the game would be affected if it didn’t have good gameplay to support its story, and they cited Final Fantasy XIII as a game which had a story but no gameplay. Before addressing this question Erickson, felt it was important to question whether Final Fantasy XIII was actually an RPG.

“Well, before I address the main point I just want to take a slightly more controversial route: You can put a ‘J’ in front of it, but it’s not an RPG. You don’t make any choices, you don’t create a character, you don’t live your character… I don’t know what those are – adventure games maybe? But they’re not RPGs.”

It’s an interesting point Erickson makes; Final Fantasy XIII certainly lacks the flexibility of choice that many modern RPGs have like Mass Effect 2 and Fallout 3, but it all hangs on what kind of choices we consider essential. Erickson appears to believe that the freedom to define your destiny as the priority. Final Fantasy would fail here because all the games in the series have a fairly inflexible story.

Then again, many ‘obvious’ RPGs would fail this test. An RPG usually has a fixed epic narrative in a fantasy setting. You normally play as the hero(es) destined to save the world. The world is always facing impending doom in RPGs. You follow these characters as they grow in stature from nobodies to saviours.

It seems a very modern concern that an RPGs should allow to you to decide how you want to save the world – if you save it at all – and for you to create your character(s) from scratch. Is the idea of immersing yourself in the role of an existing character out-dated, that you must have almost unlimited control over your character for it to be an RPG?

Traditional RPGs have choices to, the choices just happen to be elsewhere. They normally allow you to take various strategical decisions which will affect the gameplay aspects of the game if not the story. Often you can manipulate your strengths and weaknesses, often through various weapon and armour combinations, or sometime you can choose where you want to prioritise your statistics. Character classes (knight, mage etc) often play an important role. The most familiar feature is normally levelling-up, that grinding process of getting stronger through experience, which is done mostly through fighting.

When I consider what an RPG is, I think of mathematical equations, grinding and character classes, all supporting a story which takes you on an epic journey of personal discovery. It’s all about statistics and tactics; the genre was inspired by Dungeons & Dragons after all.

So is Final Fantasy XIII an RPG? I would argue yes, but it’s irrelevant either way because the process of classifying genres is never a strict science. Many games will blend different features from various genres; for example, modern first-person shooters like Modern Warfare use a levelling-up system that has traditionally been the bedrock of RPGs. Still, you wouldn’t call Modern Warfare an FPS, would you?

Genres are there to help you understand what a game is like, and in the past, when games were much simpler, they done the trick just fine. It made sense when Space Invaders was called a shooter, or when Mario was described as a platformer. We understood very clearly the type of game that was being described.

Games these days are harder to define because they are so large and they take inspiration from a wider range of sources than before. It seems very reductive to reduce a massive and complex title such as Final Fantasy XIII down to the obscure phrase, “role-playing game”. It’s a game which in many ways tried to break away from its traditional RPG roots, read Delriach’s excellent review to find out how it did so. Yet, despite deviating away from RPG territory in many ways, Final Fantasy XIII still carried the same unfathomable RPG spirit that’s present throughout the series.

Genres wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that games are often getting dismissed once people find out what genre they belongs to. Sure, genres are useful but neither are they reliable so they shouldn’t be taken as gospel. The moral is that you should never judge a game by its genre.

Do you think Final Fantasy XIII is an action/adventure, RPG, flight simulator or anything else? Let us know in the usual place below…