Final Fantasy XIII is the type of game you either love or you hate. I am one of the people that love the game. I have heard that this game has too much hand-holding but as a hardcore RPG fan I found it lengthy and complex to explain this game to a newcomer to the genre who was bewildered and not able to play the game by “just pressing x over and over” as many others have claimed can be done. But never-mind my thoughts on the previously discussed design issues, because as I began to lay out the fundamentals to playing FFXIII to my non-RPG seasoned friend, he asked me “does this have co-op?” and brought me to a startling revelation. Many of the changes made to FF‘s overall formula with this title seemed to pave the way for co-operative play, yet it was never implemented. I think it should have been the focus of the entire game. With such a controversial game and such a heavyweight franchise known for its single player I know that this article will immediately be the subject of much doubt and disagreement, but hear me out before deciding how you feel about this proposition.
Now first things first, let me get one thing straight, I love the Final Fantasy franchise and I love the deep, journey-like single player experiences that have come forth in this series more than any of the spin-offs. But really my thoughts on making FFXIII co-op stem not from a desire for the entire series to do so but just the epiphany that this game really feels like a co-op game that just didn’t get the online functionality completed in time. Take for instance the way control has been removed from the now “passive” players in your party and A.I. assigned instead for their actions. In the fast-paced frenzy that is FFXIII‘s battle system you almost don’t have time to play as the other characters anyway, which is fine, but I can’t count the number of times Hope’s little punk healing spells are executed in the wrong manner causing a Game Over screen for me.
Having the secondary characters use A.I. feels like a total mistake to most players but as I discussed above the fast-paced nature of this title rules out the traditional method of controlling every character at once as a viable alternative. Instead, me and my newb pal quickly realized that having a friend or two on the other end, either local or online, who is able to select the commands manually for the other party members would be a huge step-up from the A.I. and prevent false moves being made beyond the player’s control. It is unclear how this would affect the paradigm system but just imagine being able to yell out “I need a heal” to your partner instead of having to stop what you are doing and make a shift, this could replace the paradigm shift system altogether and allow individual roles to be selected per character on-the-fly, leaving the paradigm shift system as a last resort paired with the A.I. for when friends aren’t around.
If you think a game like this cannot be done well with co-op then you need look no further than Resident Evil 5, a game that produces a perfect symbioses of single player depth and two player co-operative play. One of the main aspects of the game that is very controversial is the lack of environmental interaction, this is actually something I’m not a big fan of with this title and can relate to as a criticism of its potential fun factor. Adding a second player could have revitalized the opportunity for interesting out-of-battle playtime scenarios and even inspired a mini-game or two, but at the very least it would do well to clean up the gaping hole of playing one character by yourself while a computer decides the fate of the party by controlling the other two willy-nilly.
In battle characters playing co-op together should also be able to do some pretty spectacular things such as combining for dual-attacks like those seen in Gestalt mode. Another idea to address the story mode would be to have characters going in separate directions at key points and playing through as Lightning & Hope, or Sazh & Vanille, while the other players are controlling the next party until the story reconvenes. The game already seems to be setup for a change like this and it could open the doors to even more than two friends joining in at certain points in the game.
Perhaps the turn-based battle system would turn people off but I believe this could be pulled off with very little changes to the core of Final Fantasy XIII, even if already great how it is. FFXIII took a lot of risks and upset half of the people who play it by not sticking to a lot of the traditions that have been solid in the series and I can honestly understand why some people hate this game, though I do not. I don’t say it’s great just to say that I saw their design concept and appreciate the attempt, but I actually believe it is a great game that has streamlined the series in order to put more focus on strategy and timing. However, I just don’t feel like keeping up with the pacing of the battles sometimes due to my idiotic A.I. partners never doing what I want them to do. If this game was co-op, maybe the millions of people who would rather snap it in half than play it wouldn’t feel the way they do about the game, just maybe.