FFXIII has a main cast of 6 people who vary in personality, age, desires, and gameplay usefulness. Lightning, the stubborn ex-soldier; Sazh Katzroy, the comedic father; Snow Villiers, the headstrong hopeless dreamer; Hope Estheim, the brash, rebellious teenager; Vanille, the light-hearted girl with a few secrets; and Fang, the protective mother-like figure to Vanille.
Even though a few of these character’s goals change throughout the 50-hour story, almost all of their goals line up with each other (defying their fate and protecting the ones they love) and most of their motivations are pretty consistent throughout. Their methods of achieving these goals does change, but that is because of the story. From the moment our cast of characters turns into l’Cie, they don’t know what their true goal is or how they’re supposed to achieve it. When they get new information or when something big is revealed, their goal changes to match the new information, which is pretty realistic. Yes, it is hard to give enough screen time for every character after something big happens in the story, but FFXIII does a great job of balancing their cast and letting the player know how they feel about everything. Having said that, let’s take a look at FFXV.
There are 4 main characters, you get to play as only one of them throughout most of the game (all of it for me, since I played the game at launch and we didn’t have access to all the characters for some reason). You play as Noctis, the prince who needs to marry a girl in order to gain the upper hand in retaking his kingdom. He has 3 supporting characters who help him on his journey: Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto,. All of their motivations are similar: help Noctis retake the kingdom. They don’t have any of their own singular goals that give them extra motivation to help the prince. Or maybe they do? It was hard to know since apparently you have to watch a tie-in cartoon series and a movie to help understand the characters and world better. The game gives you no backstory on any of the 3 side characters, except Prompto, who only gets a little. Why do I need to watch tie-in material? How is 60+ hours not enough to explain everything and tell interesting character stories? Maybe instead of just hunting monsters, they could have added in side-quests related to the story to give the characters more personality rather than the thin layer of characterization the game offers. It was really frustrating to me to play a Final Fantasy game where the characters and story were very far backseat priorities, especially when in the base game characters would disappear for a while and basically did winked at the camera, suggesting that the reason they were leaving would be explained in DLC. It felt really shitty buying this game and then it throwing it in your face that if you want actual characterization, you’re going to have to pay extra to get it.
The 3 supporting characters in FFXV just go with Noctis because, well, just because. There isn’t much of a reason besides friendship and a sense of duty. The characters do have differing opinions, but it doesn’t go much farther than basic archetypal characteristics. In FFXIII, the six main characters don’t even want anything to do with each other to begin with, which is realistic since they all have their own lives, goals and personalities. Their backstories mean something; they affect their choices made throughout the game as well as their personalities. The characters in FFXV are likeable, but I really only cared about them towards the end of the game, where story begins to take priority, but at the cost of the open world. I had nothing to relate to in terms of character or personality when it came to the main cast because I knew nothing about them outside of trying to guide Noctis. Again, I’m not at all saying the characters, characterization, or character development in FFXIII are perfect, or even that amazing; I’m just pointing out the fact that FFXV is as guilty of the same criticism. Some of the reasons why people don’t like some of the characters aren’t exactly because of character development, but because of the execution in storytelling. There is still a lot of consistency with each character and how they act. Even if you don’t like them, they’re still written in a way that is true to who they are.
I’m going to talk about 3 of the 6 main cast members of FFXIII, two of which are widely hated.
Hope is easily the most loathed character in FFXIII, and possibly in gaming history. People get annoyed at him because he’s immature, whiny and, for half of the game, has a goal and motivation that is misplaced. Very early on in the game, Hope and his mother are put on the purge train, which is later derailed by Lightning and Sazh. Snow and his group of friends are also there, trying to save civilians from getting purged and to also save Serah who is trapped in the Pulse Vestige . Snow eventually meets up with Hope and his mother’s group of survivors, and tells them to stay behind while they clear a path so they can get out. The group, including Hope’s mom, then volunteers to join Snow and fight for their survival. Snow is reluctant, asking if they are sure, but remains optimistic and allows them to join. Fifteen minutes later, the bridge that Snow and Hope’s Mom, Nora, are standing on collapses. Snow gets ahold of the edge and hangs on for dear life, while holding Nora in the other hand. Her grips loosens as she passes out , and she falls to her death. Meanwhile, from a safe distance away, Hope sees all of this, as it looks like Snow just drops Nora to save himself. This starts a multi-chapter long motivation for Hope to get his revenge on Snow, as he blames his mother’s death on him. There are 2 interesting factors here. First off, there’s the criticism of Hope being annoying, whiny, moody, etc. But Hope is a 14-year-old kid who just lost his mother and also thinks that his dad ignores him when in fact he just focuses on his job a lot. So his typical teenage behaviour is multiplied by 100, and it has every right to be – it’s realistic. I’m getting to the point in my life where I realize that I was an incredibly annoying teenager. I was always moody, rude to my parents as well as people who tried to help me. Even when I got what I wanted, I still complained because I never really knew what I wanted. It’s just part of being a kid. Yeah, teenagers are annoying and whiny, but Final Fantasy has a varied cast of people from all different ages, races, and personalities. A younger player might relate to Hope. I’m not saying that Hope is a fantastic character, but the way he acts is fair, realistic, and should be understood more.
The second factor about Hope as a character, that she suffers from bad execution in her storytelling. During the part where Hope witnesses his mother’s death, the game should not have showed Snow’s perspective. When you see the tragedy happen from both points of view, you automatically know that Snow did nothing wrong, as he tried very hard to save Nora, and was clearly upset after her death. From Hope’s point of view, it seems like Snow dropped Nora to save himself, ensuring Hope’s journey to get revenge on Snow. But the player knows that Snow did nothing wrong, and Hope has misplaced feelings towards him. It’s hard for us to like and identify with Hope because we don’t see Snow from his perspective. Hope sees Snow as arrogant, immature, and selfish;if we only saw the scene where Nora falls to her death from Hope’s perspective, then we as the player would also feel this way towards Snow. When the revelation happens in Chapter 7 where Hope finally confronts Snow, it would have been a lot more impactful for the player to then learn the truth that Snow tried to save Nora, thus revealing that he isn’t what Hope makes him out to be. I think the idea to have this kind of story and side plot of revenge is good in its own right, it was just the execution of how it was told to the player that made the story lack a bit, as well as Hope’s character being unrelatable and unlikeable.
But yet again, FFXV is just as guilty of bad execution when it comes to storytelling. Remember that God-awful Chapter 13 where you have to sneak around and the whole thing is incredibly slow but they also reveal key pieces of information to you? I’ve almost pushed that entire experience out of my mind. Yes, the game has had some quality-of-life changes for anyone playing it now, but story still very much takes a backseat in a series where that has never really been the case.
Let’s look at Snow as a character. Snow is often called an asshole, an idiot, and is often called arrogant. I can understand why people feel this way, but I think they get the wrong idea. Snow is naïve and pretty idealistic. The guy is a dreamer whose goals aren’t always very realistic. He’s known for giving long-winded speeches about how the party has to save the world and how he’s everybody’s hero when, in fact, he often says the wrong thing at the wrong time and his outward positivity is merely used to mask his uncertainty of what he should do. For a large part of the plot, the main cast is uncertain of what their focus is and how they’re supposed to achieve it, and instead of dwelling on this fact, Snow just bursts into action, and tries not to think too hard about it. In real life, people like Snow can be annoying, nobody likes someone who is positive 24/7 and Snow does say some stupid things, but he has a lot of positive qualities as well. He wants to save everyone because he is selfless and just wants to do the right thing. He is incredibly forgiving and will put himself in the line of fire to save anyone. Lightning constantly treats Snow like an idiot, calls him an idiot, punches him in the face a few times and berates him for making bad decisions throughout the entire story. Then, when Lightning apologizes for all of this, Snow literally doesn’t understand why she is doing so. He already puts all those negative things aside because he cares so much about having a real relationship with Lightning. He is so understanding, empathetic, and immediately forgives people for their missteps and wrongdoings, even if they affect him. Snow has character growth but is a consistent character who may be a naïve goofball with a heart of gold. He doesn’t deserve to be called completely unlikeable and he’s a complex character with realistic emotions and a backstory that explains why he is the person he has become. The same can not be said for the characters of FFXV. I knew nothing about the 4 characters backstories throughout most, if not all of the game. They felt generic and 2D outside of the fact that they had a strong friendship, which isn’t that hard to believe since they spend so much time together. They did nothing that made me love them, if anything they annoyed me by constantly saying the same things.
Now let’s talk about the best character in FFXIII: Sazh Katzroy. Sazh is done right all across the board. He’s likeable, consistent, has good dialogue, and has clear motivations as well as reasoning for the way he is. If there are three ways to describe Sazh they would be funny, concerned, and level-headed. From the moment you meet him (as he is one of the first of the main crew who you meet), it is clear he is the comedic relief character who is more wise than everyone else due to being middle-aged. His motivation for fighting the fal’Cie and his plans for what to do once Lightning and Hope go on a different path are left a bit of a mystery for the first half of the game. We then learn that he’s a single father whose child was turned into a Sanctum fal’Cie after some Pulse l’Cie caused an accident at an energy plant that Sazh had taken his son to. His motivation is the same all throughout the game and is incredibly simple to relate to, as he just wants to save his son. He wants to live to be able to be there when his son wakes up from being a crystal. Due to his level-headedness, it’s easy to relate to him early on in the game because he’s often the voice of reason for the first 4 chapters when the cast is arguing about what to do next and how to proceed.
The way the writers use him to break the tension is also very well done as they don’t constantly make Sazh throw jokes in the audience’s face or just make that his thing throughout the game. His jokes are well placed and his light-hearted nature goes well with the rest of the characters, considering Lightning and Fang are always so stubborn and sarcastic, and Hope is always whiny. It also contrasts Snow’s more naïve and idealistic nature and shows that FFXIII has a very balanced cast. His comedic nature also brings more weight to his dramatic or more serious scenes. FFXV’s comedic relief character, Prompto, is nothing like Sazh at all. Nobody gives him the same criticism as they do Hope, even though he is just as immature. And unlike FFXIII, you spend all of FFXV with all of the main characters. This becomes very apparent when Prompto is constantly – and I mean constantly -throwing jokes at you in any type of situation. Walking around, after battle, during serious scenes, it gets tiring when it’s the same lines over and over. This is due to the open-world nature where there isn’t as much story or cut scenes, so FFXV just has the same bunch of phrases that are repeated whenever you get in your car, defeat an enemy, or get to your destination.This quickly gets old and so do Prompto’s constant stupid jokes. It shows that the gameplay style and characterization do not match in FFXV. In FFXIII, we have reasons like backstory, going through each of the characters stories and arc with them being fleshed out, as well as them being very different from each other in combat. I want to reiterate that FFXV’s cast is not unlikeable -I think both games’ characters act similarly, yet they don’t get the same criticism – and Lightning and co. have an actual reason for acting the way they do – it seems people who automatically dislike the game pick on them for no good reason.