Through the Eyes of a Child

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.

Comments

mrtomaytohead wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

Sure life is kind of gay
But it doesn't seem that way
Through the eyes of a child

6-7-6 - Haiku fail!

Song lyrics

I'm seeing six years old in the post and five years old in one of the comments and I know that the game is rated 12 here in Germany and even 16 for PEGI. Personally I fight with ratings and age appropriateness all the time so I wonder how do you decide what games you are letting your kids watch and/or play?
Do you tell them to close their eyes on "bad" scenes? If you haven't finished the game yourself you don't even know what might come up! Do you skip things?

What made you decide that this game is "ok"?

Just to make it clear, I'm not yelling "Bad parent!" here! I love how you relate to your kid through videogames and I'm doing the same with my sons. But I really would like to know how other parents make these choices.
As the lone defender of videogames and their "goodness" in my family I may be a bid paranoid about ruining it with a bad experience and having to defend my decisions.

hubbinsd wrote:

Last night I was playing Torchlight when my 8-year old came in talking a mile-a-minute about something completely unrelated. [...] The conversation went something like this:

"Dad!! I was just upstairs and I was reading my Deltora Quest book and Leif and his companions got trapped in...a...mineshaft...and...ooooh what loot did you just get?"

I notice your 8 year old knows the word 'loot'. You're a good father, hubbinsd.

hbi2k wrote:
gore wrote:

I think we often fail to consider or accept that these games are aimed squarely (teehee) at kids in Japan.

I think that's an excuse that only goes so far. Something with the ginormous development budget of a FF13 needs to appeal to a broad audience in order to be profitable. That means teens and adults as well as children, Westerners as well as the Japanese.

Now, I haven't played 13 yet, so I can't speak to whether it succeeds or fails at that broader appeal, but you can't explain away its shortcomings by saying "But it's for kids!"

Not to mention, nearly everyone I've heard talk about the game says that the story makes sense, once you start reading the data log entries. We're now expecting kids to go in and read those things? If it really were targeted at kids, wouldn't it be easier to understand?

I think I'm gonna start playing this tonight. I put on the latest Bombcast as I was falling asleep last night, and woke up remembering what Brad said about the game, and I nearly popped it in at 3:00 AM.

PyromanFO wrote:

For a non pithy comment, I'd like to say that one of the ways I use to cut through the layers of cynicism that come with growing up is fandom. To allow myself to be an unabashed fan of something is to bring myself back to the mindset that allows it to be awesome, despite it's flaws. Or sometimes because of those flaws. The flaws don't matter when you're a fan. I can just enjoy it.

For me, Brutal Legend is the perfect example of this.

But I really would like to know how other parents make these choices.
As the lone defender of videogames and their "goodness" in my family I may be a bid paranoid about ruining it with a bad experience and having to defend my decisions.

In general I have enough experience with the Final Fantasy series to understand that it is on the tame side of the T rating here in the US, and I have a good sense of where my son's maturity level is for this kind of game. There's no blood and the violence is very cartoonish. There's very little strong language (a damn here and there doesn't particularly trouble me). I feel like since it's something we are taking in together if the themes edge into the realm of adult I can address it immediately, but there hasn't really been a moment yet where I felt like he shouldn't be watching.

It is something I am very conscious of, though, and I am far less liberal than many on these boards.

TheCounselor wrote:

Not to mention, nearly everyone I've heard talk about the game says that the story makes sense, once you start reading the data log entries. We're now expecting kids to go in and read those things? If it really were targeted at kids, wouldn't it be easier to understand?

You know, back in the dark ages, you had to read the dialogue in every damn game. Is it such a stretch to think that some kids might still want to read optional text within a game?

I haven't played FFXIII specifically, but I've gotta imagine that there are layers of depth here, and "you" (especially if "you" happens to be a kid) can still get a satisfying experience without digging too deep into the back story.

Also, remember that this game is targeted at Japanese kids, not American kids. I've watched enough anime to know that the Japanese in general are either 1) OK with a bunch of crazy incomprehensible crap or 2) equipped with additional cultural context which allows them to comprehend stuff that seems like crazy incomprehensible crap to me.

gore wrote:

Also, remember that this game is targeted at Japanese kids, not American kids. I've watched enough anime to know that the Japanese in general are either 1) OK with a bunch of crazy incomprehensible crap or 2) equipped with additional cultural context which allows them to comprehend stuff that seems like crazy incomprehensible crap to me.

I don't think that's true at all. Final Fantasy is such a big release, there's no way it was designed specifically for a single market. I'd buy that argument with something like Yakuza, but Final Fantasy has been a huge series both in Japan and in the US. They wouldn't do anything in this game without considering the implications for both those markets.

There's also the matter of whether the walls of "optional" text really are optional. In Dragon Age, the codex entries really were completely optional: you could understand the main thrust of the story without going out of your way to read them, but they were there in case you wanted to know a little more about the world. It was like if a Star Trek DVD box set happened to come bundled with a copy of the Technical Manual: it's purely supplemental material.

As I understand it, in FF13 the codex is kind of necessary if you expect to understand the plot at all, and if true I find that a bit ridiculous. But again, haven't played it yet myself so maybe that's totally wrong.

Wembley wrote:

I don't think that's true at all. Final Fantasy is such a big release, there's no way it was designed specifically for a single market. I'd buy that argument with something like Yakuza, but Final Fantasy has been a huge series both in Japan and in the US. They wouldn't do anything in this game without considering the implications for both those markets.

Have you ever watched a Pixar movie? They're all targeted at kids, and yet they also have universal appeal. It's possible to target something at one demographic, while at the same time striving to appeal to other demographics (or, at the least, not intentionally sacrificing such appeal).

I think a lot of imported Japanese culture is the same way. Miyazaki's films, for example: clearly targeted at children, yet easily appreciated by adults.

Beyond this, cultural differences add their own layers which invariably alter the appeal of Japanese imports. I can watch something that's obviously a kids' show (such as Bleach) and find things of interest on a totally unintended level; I have a different experience by simply observing elements of Japanese culture that would be taken for granted in the target market.

So, what does Final Fantasy give us? It gives us characters and plot that are right out of the "angsty teenage boy wish fulfillment" genre, but they are mutated and deformed in perhaps intriguing ways by the cultural shift. It also helps that Final Fantasy games (like Pixar and Miyazaki films) are invariably masterfully executed, which allows them to appeal to players well outside of the primary demographic.

I'm not trying to make a value judgement here, I'm just pointing out the fact that the game was not made for us. That doesn't mean that we can't enjoy it, but remembering this context allows one to appreciate why certain design elements may be alien, perplexing, or flat out distasteful.

gore wrote:
Wembley wrote:

I don't think that's true at all. Final Fantasy is such a big release, there's no way it was designed specifically for a single market. I'd buy that argument with something like Yakuza, but Final Fantasy has been a huge series both in Japan and in the US. They wouldn't do anything in this game without considering the implications for both those markets.

Have you ever watched a Pixar movie? They're all targeted at kids, and yet they also have universal appeal. It's possible to target something at one demographic, while at the same time striving to appeal to other demographics (or, at the least, not intentionally sacrificing such appeal).

Really? You think Pixar movies are aimed at kids? I honestly don't think so, they seem firmly targeted at adults while having accessible aspects that broadens their appeal to the children of the target market.

I actually think that most good cartoons and games are aimed at adult audiences to provide some form of wish fulfillment, while maintaining accessibility.

*edit*

Sorry to pick out that specific passage, it's just something that jumped out at me. I've never played FF and I don't currently own a console so I have no opinion on the actual topic.

When that night comes around when your son brings his girlfriend home for you to meet for the first time... don't be surprised to see some cranky, skinny, pink-haired grumble of a girl, that kind of reminds you of Clint Eastwood.

I wouldn't worry. It's not your son, it's probably the EVIL GAMES YOU EXPOSED HIM TO MANG!

...

I kid i kid, yet another great article... man, after consuming all of articles on the first page and the discussions that went with them, I am running out of articles to discover... I might have to start backtracking a bit.

All I can say is, "Man I miss six years old!"

My daughter is soon to be 13, but was just five, but soon turned six, when we my wife bought me a Gamecube, and I returned the favor by picking up a game that she saw a commercial for that her and my daughter were so intrigued by.

My wife and I spent that summer playing through the game slowly, as Jordan read all of the text and and became enamored with the story. It was my first Zelda game, as well. I'm sure a large portion of my love for that game is directly related to just what impact that story had on Jordan.

the fun part was that my wife and I played on our own saves, and Jordan soaked up the game in duplicate. Of course she always spoiled what was coming, but it was more fun learning the story from her. It was her chance to tell this story of an epic adventure, while regaling how my wife or I had defeated some boss, or discovered the solution to a puzzle.

But I'd also wait while I played, letting her work out the puzzles with us. Trying to figure it out. And sometimes she's hide her head while my wife or I would take down a particularity evil boss. Of course, then she would comfort the other one, letting us know that it could be beaten, and how the other one did it.

So Sean, soak up this experience. It really will stick with you. It's so awesome.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Really? You think Pixar movies are aimed at kids? I honestly don't think so, they seem firmly targeted at adults while having accessible aspects that broadens their appeal to the children of the target market.

I do. I personally think you've got it backwards, but the fact that you think in these terms is a testament to how successful Pixar is at transcending any demographic. Whether they target kids and reach out to adults or vice-versa doesn't really change the underlying assumption: if it's done well enough, it can be successful outside of its target market.

Now, I don't think Square is quite as successful, and I think the Final Fantasy games still have some serious flaws due to the extent to which they focus on the youth demographic. But, I do think they're trying.

gore wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

Really? You think Pixar movies are aimed at kids? I honestly don't think so, they seem firmly targeted at adults while having accessible aspects that broadens their appeal to the children of the target market.

I do. I personally think you've got it backwards, but the fact that you think in these terms is a testament to how successful Pixar is at transcending any demographic. Whether they target kids and reach out to adults or vice-versa doesn't really change the underlying assumption: if it's done well enough, it can be successful outside of its target market.

Now, I don't think Square is quite as successful, and I think the Final Fantasy games still have some serious flaws due to the extent to which they focus on the youth demographic. But, I do think they're trying.

Why does something have to have a single target market? If someone is creating something and adding appeal for more than one particular group, aren't they then targeting that other market as well? Pixar movies contain appeal for children, but also appeal for adults on a level that children generally don't understand. In my opinion, they're actually targeting two markets. They're not just trying to placate adults who would have to sit through a movie with their children, but draw in a whole subset of adults that have no children at all (like me).

Wembley wrote:

Why does something have to have a single target market? If someone is creating something and adding appeal for more than one particular group, aren't they then targeting that other market as well? Pixar movies contain appeal for children, but also appeal for adults on a level that children generally don't understand. In my opinion, they're actually targeting two markets. They're not just trying to placate adults who would have to sit through a movie with their children, but draw in a whole subset of adults that have no children at all (like me).

Sure, that's a possibility, but I think in most cases the appeal to at least one of the markets will suffer due to the inclusion of elements designed for another. Which makes me ponder how absolutely brilliant a Pixar movie could be if it didn't have a focus on entertaining children.

I've taken this far off course though; I feel now that Pixar was a poor basis of comparison on my part, as they do so exceptionally well that the comparison with Final Fantasy is mostly invalid. Perhaps a better example would have been Dreamworks, which produces children's films that *try* to reach out to adults on some level, but don't really ever completely satisfy that market.

Final Fantasy, in my mind, is more like this. Square knows that there are adults outside of Japan who enjoy these games, and it wants a chunk of that pie, but it doesn't ever sacrifice its focus on the Japanese-teen core market to fully pursue it.