Final Fantasy XIII is packed chock full o' the gristly bits that traditionally ruin the flavor sensation for me when it comes to Japanese RPGs. It is exactly the kind of game that I would condemn as over-long, repetitious, offensively stereotypical, achingly linear and trite, which is precisely what I would be saying about the game were I not having such a totally perplexing amount of fun.
When I reveal that I am 15 hours into Final Fantasy XIII, what those of you who have played and are playing the game will understand that to mean is that I am nearly done with the tutorial. For me, however, this volume of time is a fully realized purchase and evidence of exceptional staying power. Though not unprecedented, this kind of diligence from me is firmly anomalous.
I've played games I loved unequivocally less than this.
So, why has FFXIII pierced my hardened heart? Is it the intense and staggering visual accomplishments of Square Enix? Is it the epic, if painfully told, story? Is it an elegant battle system that belies simplicity with an underlying complexity? Nope, none of those things. It's that my son loves it.
For nearly two weeks, the first thing I hear about when I walk through the door is when are we going to settle into our over-sized recliner to find out about the continuing adventures of Grumpy Soldier and Maudlin Boy -- my nicknames, not his. For whatever failings I think Final Fantasy may have -- a thorough and complete list that could be delivered in discrete volumes -- my son is wrapped whole into the narrative, invested deeply in the warring factions of Sanctum and Pulse Fal'cie. When I suggested subtly to him recently that perhaps the bad guys in the game were not who we thought they were, I could nearly see the hairs on the back of his neck stand up in revelation, and I knew that I was in for a very long ride.
No matter how syrupy the music becomes, how annoyingly melodramatic a character monologues, how nonsensical the dialogue, he is rapt with attention, and I am driven to reveal to him the next layer of the story. And, through him, I see something of myself and my innocence lost. I see a nearly forgotten age when I could abandon myself to stories such as this without being lost on the stagnant film of my own cynicism.
Looking at Final Fantasy XIII through his six year-old eyes gives the game a life it would not have otherwise had for me, and so I forgive it sins that normally would have ended my experience a handful of hours in. What becomes of my emotionally unstable band of fugitive L'cie matters to him, and so it matters to me.