$26.99 - $81.18
2 Stores162 Reviews
Pros: Outstanding battle system, amazing visuals, surprisingly strong voice acting
Cons: Very linear gameplay, disappointing soundtrack, slow to truly get going, extreme increase in difficulty
My output here has been severely limited over the past month or so. Sure, there can be a number of reasons why - I mean, I have been pretty busy and all. But the biggest drain on my free time over the last few weeks has easily been Final Fantasy XIII. I have been a big fan of the series for many years now, and even though I haven't caught all the most recent games (such as the various Final Fantasy VII tie-ins and XII), the 13th installment of the legendary RPG franchise was definitely something I was eagerly awaiting as it was the first incarnation to not only be released on Xbox 360, but also be a multiplatform release. Any Final Fantasy release is always a big event due to its high level of anticipation from loyal gamers everywhere, making Final Fantasy XIII a pretty crucial release for a series that always has to live up to its past successes.
Final Fantasy XIII has a very intricate and complex story that you are thrown directly in the middle of. While most games in the series begin somewhat in medias res like any good epic, Final Fantasy XIII really picks up right smack in the heat of the moment. Although I won't get too in depth with what goes on (and I won't even think of spoiling anything), the game takes place in a world that consists of two major races - humans and Fal'cie. The Fal'cie keep the world in order, however direct exposure to one can cause a human to be "cursed" as l'Cie, barring a brand and given a Focus that they must complete. The world of Cocoon lives in constant fear of l'Cie, and a government purge is ordered of all those who have been branded. It is here that our party begins to come together, as this Purge brings together the lives of six people who seemingly have little to do with each other. Once they are exposed to a Fal'cie, they become fugitives who are now being hunted by the world they are trying to save.
Like every other Final Fantasy game, the story of Final Fantasy XIII is full of twists and turns. Because you immediately pick up the game while already on the run, there is no time for long explanations of what is going on. You will not know everything that is going on right away - this is intentional. Your characters don't even know. Things will become clearer as the story progresses. Although at times the story may seem kind of silly, the game still does a great job of telling it through the use of a variety of techniques such as flashbacks. There are also cutscenes out the wazoo. Final Fantasy XIII may not have the best story in the series (VI, VII, and IX immediately come to mind), but it definitely lives up to the lofty expectations surrounding the series.
There is a lot going on in the world of Final Fantasy XIII, and the game's developers did a great job in creating a world dependant upon the Fal'cie. However, things can get tough to follow, especially early in the game when you are still figuring out what is what. This is where the Datalog comes into play. The Datalog is not only a running log of in game events, it also has a lot of helpful background information on the characters, enemies, and the world of Cocoon. Another nice touch is that the game fills you in on what happened most recently upon resuming play.
The gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII is what makes it one of the most polarizing games the series will ever see. A number of conventions that seemed not only essential to the series, but RPGs in general, are not present during most of the game, if at all. It has been said many times before, but bears repeating - Final Fantasy XIII is painfully linear. There is no world map in the game, which is a reminder of Final Fantasy X, however exploration is minimal. The game does open up later on, but it is not until about 30 hours in that you can really begin to take on side quests and look around a bit. At that point, the game becomes immensely more enjoyable, and will definitely appeal more to veterans of the series. However, the fact that it does take so long to get to this point will definitely turn off many. Up until that point, you are basically led along by the game, going from point A to point B, with an arrow pointing you in the right direction on your little map in the corner. The beginning of the game also comes across as just an interactive movie. Cutscenes trump actual gameplay for the first couple of hours, and for a while it seems like the point of the game is just to walk from one movie to the next. There are no dungeons, so to speak, and little room for exploration. There are no towns to explore either, and no shops to wander in. While this may seem like major departure for the series (because it absolutely is), Final Fantasy XIII makes up for it with its excellent battle system as well as some great storytelling that becomes surprisingly engaging as things progress.
Which brings me to the battle system itself, which may very well be the best in the series. Battles in Final Fantasy XIII are fast-paced, strategic, and very exciting. There are no random battles in the game - all enemies are on the screen, allowing you to face battle head on, try to avoid it altogether, or even try to sneak up on your opponent for a pre-emptive strike. Battles begin seamlessly, and this is where the game really shines. Final Fantasy XIII abandons the familiar turn-based system, and instead makes use of ATB (active time battle). However, ATB is different than it has been in the past. Every character's ATB meter is divided up into a number of sections. Each command has a different ATB cost. For example, a regular Attack command only requires 1 ATB segment, whereas a Summon requires 3. Using ATB wisely can string together a number of commands to dispel your attackers. Because ATB dictates the cost of your commands, there is no need for MP in the game anymore, so you don't need to worry about saving your magic or running out of ethers to refill it. Although this may seem like blasphemy, you won't even miss it.
There is a very huge departure from past games that is also worth mentioning, and that is the fact that you will only control your party leader. And even then, you don't necessarily have total control either should you choose not to. Your other two allies are controlled by the computer, and act in a support capacity based on the role they are currently assuming (more on this shortly). Once again, this seems blasphemic to longtime fans who are used to entering commands for as many as five characters during battle. However, the battles are so chaotic sometimes that controlling all three would be way too much to handle. The game also makes use of an Auto Battle feature, allowing the computer to essentially choose your commands for you. You can absolutely enter all your commands manually, but the computer generally won't let you down.
But this is just scratching the surface of the battle system. There are six roles (or jobs) that the characters can assume during the game. For example, Commandos focus on physical attacks while Medics are your standard healers. While each character has one or two roles that suit them best, by the end of the game you have the ability to teach every role to every character. Your battle party (3 characters once again, but there are times when the number will vary) will have what is called a Paradigm, which essentially a combination of the three characters' roles. You can switch Paradigms within battle, which will allow your party to switch in and out of roles throughout the course of the fight. Filling your party with Ravagers will allow you to Stagger your enemies faster, allowing them to sustain even greater damage. A quick Paradigm change to a more offensive one will put your enemy away quickly. If you take on a considerable amount of damage, a quick change to a recovery Paradigm will get your party back on their feet. Paradigms can be customized based on the strengths of your party as well as the situations you expect to face. Knowledge of not only the Paradigm system as well as your characters' strengths and weaknesses is not only crucial to beating enemies successfully, it is essential. The game starts off easy enough, with plenty of in-battle tutorials that hold your hand for the first chunk of the game. But once those training wheels come off - good luck. The game's difficulty jumps tremendously, and you will find yourself getting wiped out by seemingly average enemies on a regular basis. Boss battles can be especially difficult, and require a great deal of strategy to complete. Winning battles is no longer about unloading on enemies with reckless abandon before they kill you first - it's all about stringing commands together wisely.
Fortunately, the game has implemented a few features to soften the blow just a bit. Save points are literally everywhere in the game - in fact, sometimes it feels like there are too many. Also, your party fully recovers after every battle, so you don't need to waste potions and other items to restore HP and remove status ailments. Although this may seem like it cheapens the game, the difficulty of every battle later on in the game will definitely make up for this apparent dumbing down of gameplay. There is also a Retry feature, so you don't have to play through an entire area all over again just because the boss beat you. You can pick up right where you left off, and trust me, you will be doing this often.
Character development is also different in Final Fantasy XIII. The game introduces the Crystarium, which is very similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X. You are awarded Crystarium Points following battle, which are then used to develop your characters through the Crystarium. Through here you can increase the characters' statistics as well as learn new abilities. You move through the Crystarium in respective roles, and while each character levels up differently, you do have a say in the development of your characters. Since certain characters are better equipped for certain roles, it is much easier to develop Hope as a Medic than as a Commando, for example. This is also something to keep in mind later in the game. Weapons and accessories can also be levelled up at save points, using various components that you find throughout the game or buy from the various retail networks at the same location. Every piece of equipment has its own respective abilities and powers as well, and finding the right combination is extremely important, as the wrong one can really cripple your characters. This is something else to keep in mind.
Final Fantasy XIII does begin slowly, which is somewhat ironic considering what is going on in the story. As you learn about the events that are happening and you begin to know your characters, you are inundated with cutscenes, tutorial battles, and battles that are way too easy all while listening to a story that, quite frankly, makes little sense at first. It is definitely understandable that many people would put down their controllers at this point and just give up. However, once the game lets go of your hand and lets you pick your own party and opens the world up a bit, you are truly in for a treat and are rewarded for your commitment with some of the most challenging battles you will ever face as well as what has all of a sudden become a gripping story. It's just a shame that the game takes so long to truly open up, as the second half is an absolute treat.
Final Fantasy has continuously set the bar for visuals in the role-playing world. Final Fantasy XIII is no different. The game is downright BEAUTIFUL. The landscapes are some of the best looking areas I have seen in any video game, regardless of genre. There are huge worlds, and even though you can't truly explore them per se, you can absolutely sit there and ogle them. The Steppe of Gran Pulse, when the game opens up, is an absolutely massive landscape full of huge creatures. The characters, although mostly ridiculous-looking (especially their outfits), are incredibly detailed and realistic. For what it's worth, Lightning and Fang are also smoking hot. I'm not kidding. The game moves very fluidly, and as expected, the cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous. The voice-acting is also synchronized pretty well, which was definitely a drawback to a game like Final Fantasy X. The futuristic world of Cocoon is definitely a treat for the eyes, and the game as a whole is bright, vibrant, and colorful. Of course, barren landscapes and bleak dungeons are also appropriately done. Visually, Final Fantasy XIII is stellar. And from what I hear, the game looks even better on PS3.
Unfortunately, the game's presentation is not perfect. There is the occasional slowdown every so often, perhaps due to the limitations of the Xbox 360 compared to the PS3. The slowdown is minimal, and only happens when you are fighting a very high number of enemies at once or periodically during the huge world of Gran Pulse, which is literally stuffed to the brim with creatures. Despite the inconvenience, it is definitely not something that would ever make me want to stop playing or even think less of the game. Square Enix definitely pushed the Xbox 360 to the max, and the results are visually stunning.
Sound and Music
Music has always been an important part of the Final Fantasy series, and unfortunately this is where Final Fantasy XIII comes up short. Final Fantasy XIII is the first game in the series to not feature a contribution from renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu (not even the "Prelude"), and his presence is definitely missed. To put it bluntly, there are very few standout songs on the soundtrack - in fact, there are times when there barely feels like there is any music at all. With so many cutscenes, you would think the music would be a major priority, but instead, the songs mostly strike me as an inoffensive film score that just exists alongside the dialogue. The game was scored by Masashi Hamauzu, who also did Final Fantasy X, and the music does have a very similar feel to that game. But while X, had a number of very good songs alongside the more generic ones, the music in Final Fantasy XIII has more songs that fall into that latter character. It's an absolute shame, as there are some very significant moments in the game's narrative that could have been even more powerful with some great music - those who have played Final Fantasy VII will NEVER forget the end of the first disc, and the music is a huge reason why.
Fortunately, the voice acting, on the other hand, is a strong point of the game. I still remember the outcry when it was announced that Final Fantasy X would make use of it. Final Fantasy XIII now makes that cynicism seem like a distant memory due to the great execution of the game's dialogue. For the most part, the voice acting of all the characters is very strong, and they truly come to life before you. I thought Lightning and Sazh were done especially well, with Lightning's mysterious, guarded self really making her a strong successor in a long line of great main characters in the series. Vanille's on-again, off-again accent early in the game was a little annoying at first, but her youthful exuberance makes her grow on you. The game has also cut down on non-playable characters, which allowed the creators to focus more on the people essential to the story. So while you may not interact with anybody ever on the street (their dialogue is not unlike a Grand Theft Auto game, saying something as you walk by), this in turn allows the main cast to shine.
Final Fantasy XIII is a definite departure from past installments in the series. It is extremely linear and limits actual gameplay early on in the game. The story comes across as confusing and the characters aren't overwhelmingly engaging right off the bat (minus Sazh). But don't be fooled - once this game gets going, it is a true gem. Once you learn about why the six characters are there and just how intertwined their lives really are, you suddenly find yourself caring about them and their stories. And I really can't say enough about the game's battle system, which is easily the best in the series. The fast-paced, frantic nature of the battles makes them very enjoyable, and the use of the Paradigm system introduces a very welcome and enjoyable element of strategy. The game also gives you a good bang for the buck, as many people put in over 60 hours in order to complete it. So forget what you already thought about the Final Fantasy series and approach Final Fantasy XIII with an open mind. One the game truly gets going, it will absolutely take you away.