Preface this by the fact that I find I like games for the following reasons, in the following order: Characters (including their interactions, backstories, psychology, memorable lines, voices); myths and archetypes; setting (I am a graphics junkie, but also care deeply about worldbuilding); story; game mechanics; plot. (You can sell me on a childishly simple storyline, plot holes, or a story that's been done a million zillion times, if you do other things well.)
Oh, FFXIII. There's another game where everyone spent so much time running it down that by the time I played it, my first reaction was, "Wow! This is better than I expected!" followed by, "Okay, well, the plot and world are strangely empty; I see why people are disappointed," followed by, "Oh, but I like these characters, I just wish I cared more about their stupid-ass world." (in fact, for good and ill, FFXIII had a throwback feel to the MYST series, where eerily-deserted habitations were turned into a plot point because MYST/RIVEN just didn't have the computer power to fold character interactions in a photo-surrealistic 3D environment).
I have to admit, I'm swayed by FFXIII's rich and vivid MYST-like landscapes, although it also suffered painfully from a lack of metaphorical depth— no meaningful interactions with NPCs or town-exploration. The worldbuilding was physically elaborate and poetically poor. The storybuilding is labored and the storyline too simple (especially compared to XII, which was gloriously Byzantine). The bad habit of shoving backstory into "the manual" instead of dramatizing it is almost unforgiveable.
Yet XIII at its core comes down to really well-defined characters, which as I noted above, takes priority over lush landscapes (which it has, godalmighty), worldbuilding (which it fails), and plot (which is patchy and not well-paced).
Mainly, I liked the characters. It took me a little while to warm up to them, like XII, but I like the party members (even Vanille, once I had her Japanese dub to drive the English one out of my head a little bit).
Most of all, Fang. It's the first time there's been a canon lesbian relationship, and that one scene when Fang's giving Vanille a "don't you worry, honey" look as the door closes between them won my heart as much as "I had a terrible nightmare -- I dreamed I was a moron" made me howl and fall instantly in love with VIII for a totally different reason. Both are character-defining moments for very, very different characters! Fang's whole arc (and, let's face it, the great honking Angst and TORTURE scene) pleased me very much.
Also, I have a real sweet tooth for voices, as you know. There's no one with quite the cachet of Balthier's unforgettable sardonic tones, but both Fang and Lightning have voices I sink into and roll around with like catnip.
Even Snow in his PIE IN FACE bozohood amuses me. How many video games have there been with a self-appointed hero, the all-American Dude, who's supposed to be nice and decent and heroic and badass and you want to PIE IN FACE?!!! Well, XIII has him, but the game designers realized he is a PIE IN FACE and made it a running gag throughout the game, giving you the great satisfaction of watching Lightning give him PIE IN FACE physically or verbally. Until, finally, you figure out that honestly he's human, and he's flawed, and he's got a few nuances under the PIE.
Every single character starts with a stereotypical mold and then breaks it.
And it also helps that Lightning has the whole guardian/mentor trope I love so much (Lulu) even while upping the Badassitude about ten jillion notches. I also appreciate a female character who isn't always nice, and is sometimes downright rude and insensitive -- why do the guys get a free pass on that? But she is good, at her core. Most of all, I go all wibbly at "I will do anything to save my sister [literal or non-literal, hello Yuna]" as a driving character motivation for a female character, secondary only to "I will rip the sky apart to save my girlfriend." I know it's too much knight/princess in disguise (Utena/Anthy), but it beats the "heterosexual romance" plot we usually get for strong female characters.
ETA: I also like the managerial-tactics-plus-Hong-Kong-Cinema game mechanics of FFXIII fairly well, although XII's gambits system was my favorite, as it allowed both "baseball manager" style tactics and manual hands-on override. Mechanics may be a bigger factor than I realize, as the games I can't get through are often due to game mechanics issues. The sparkly choreography and -strike magic in FFXIII combat also suited my lizard brain very nicely; I loved watching Fang and Lightning thwack monsters into the sky and then fly up there on HKCinema wires to beat the stuffing out of their victims. In fact, I occasionally got my party wiped out, or at least lost numerous chances to get 5-stars, watching them fight. This was somewhat offset by my great glee in staggering robots, which are extremely amusing-looking when staggered. Yes, I have a bloodthirsty streak.
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