Final Fantasy XIII – The PS3 Attitude Review
Final Fantasy XIII is the latest Role Playing Game developed by Square Enix. Every Final Fantasy title has generated tons of hype and this game is no exception. Not only is this the biggest RPG release of the year, but it’s easily one of the biggest releases of this generation.
Square Enix stripped away many of the genre’s foundations and the result is a more streamlined experience. This may or may not please fans that have grown accustomed to certain gameplay elements.
After waiting four long years for Square Enix to release the next entry in the Final Fantasy series, the game has finally arrived. Is Final Fantasy XIII all sugar and rainbows or is the game just a colossal disappointment?
By now you probably have read numerous reviews about the game and you might be conflicted on whether or not you should buy it. Rest assured, Final Fantasy XIII is not a bad game and it is certainly not the worst in the series. Square Enix strives on bringing a unique experience with each iteration and that’s exactly what you will get with FFXIII.
The game begins with an action packed CG cutscene that eventually leads into your very first battle. One of the more controversial gameplay changes becomes apparent right from the start. Instead of controlling every member of your party, you can only select commands for the party leader. There is no Gambit system like in Final Fantasy XII either. This means that you cannot individually program the AI to react to various situations throughout a battle. Instead, Square Enix made the AI very intelligent.
As you progress through the story you will slowly learn new abilities to utilize in combat. The game holds your hand just long enough to annoy hardcore gamers, but it’s definitely helpful to newcomers of the series. Eventually you will learn the Paradigm Shift mechanics and that’s really when the battles become interesting. The cast will be given specific roles to play, and this is essentially the class system that fans will be immediately familiar with.
At any moment when you’re not in a battle, you can modify the roles of your party. Initially, each character will only be given three of the following six roles: Commando, Ravager, Medic, Sentinel, Synergist, and Saboteur. You can mix and match Paradigms to your liking and you can create up to six different decks to use during a battle. None of the roles contain the same properties. Commandos strictly deal damage, Ravagers cast magic and boost chains, and Medics heal the party. Sentinels can provoke enemies and they have unique defensive abilities. While Synergist enhance the party with spells like Haste, Saboteurs debilitate enemies with spells such as Poison.
A Paradigm Shift allows you to indirectly control your entire party. If you need someone to heal, then you shift your Paradigm so that it contains a Medic. Throughout a battle you will find yourself switching between job classes repeatedly. This keeps the combat as diverse as possible at all times. Fortunately, the AI is extremely competent at playing each role effectively. There are occasional moments when a character makes a mistake and you’ll probably scream at the TV. This doesn’t happen often enough to actually become a problem though.
The traditional method of leveling up has been changed. Characters now evolve through a process called Crystogenesis. After each successful battle everyone gains Crystarium Points. CP is used to upgrade your stats and learn new abilities in the Crystarium menu for each Paradigm. The Crystarium expands as you progress through the story. It is impossible to max out the Crystarium for any role until you beat the game. Despite this, you’ll never find yourself waiting impatiently for more skills to learn. There’s always something to upgrade and the system works wonderfully.
Shops that you would generally find in towns have been replaced by an all-in-one Save Point. You can buy weapons, armor, items, and even upgrade your equipment at these virtual shops. Upgrading is not necessary but it certainly helps. Oddly enough, Gil is pretty hard to obtain in Final Fantasy XIII and upgrading is an expensive process. You will have to do a lot of item farming to make any money. Don’t be surprised if you’re constantly broke.
The Active Time Battle system returns in Final Fantasy XIII, but with major improvements. You’ll almost never see your character standing still and enemies will constantly pressure you. If you hesitate, that could lead to a game over in seconds. It’s very exciting but it can also be frustrating if you can’t figure out how to beat a monster. If you’re a casual gamer this could be a problem. For the more hardcore gamer, this is really awesome.
Instead of selecting just one command per turn like in previous games, you can chain commands together in exchange for a portion of your ATB gauge. In addition to that, each enemy now has a stagger point that increases after chaining attacks. Reaching this point will allow you to temporarily juggle enemies in the air and deal more damage. This is an absolute necessity in some situations and you will find yourself trying to stagger enemies all the time.
The battle system is fast paced, flashy, and challenging. In fact, Final Fantasy XIII might be the most difficult in the series. Even though your health is recharged after every battle, this doesn’t make the game any easier. Square Enix realized that gamers will be dying frequently and added a convenient Retry option after a game over. Having to reload your save file is a thing of the past. Most of the time you will be placed in an area right before your last encounter. If you lose during a boss fight you will sometimes be taken to the Menu screen. This allows you to make changes to your Paradigms or characters. Once you exit out the battle will commence. The sense of immediacy is fantastic and there is never any downtime.
What’s great about the combat is that it is both engaging and rewarding. After each battle you will be given a score that shows how you performed. You can obtain up to five stars in every battle and this will help dictate which items you receive. If you’re just spamming the X button to attack and don’t have a Paradigm that is well suited for battle, you won’t receive a good rating. This means that you have to always be on your game to get the most out of each fight. It also adds a bit of self-motivation to every encounter. Think you can get a five star rating on all of the bosses? Good luck with that.
Even though Final Fantasy XIII is challenging and upgrading the Crystarium can take some time, grinding is unnecessary in order to complete the story. The same can’t be said about the side-missions. These missions feature the most difficult fights in the game. You will need to expand your Crystarium as much as possible to stand a chance. This will definitely please hardcore fans.
The story has always been important to the Final Fantasy experience and it’s especially emphasized this time around. Even though Lightning is prominently displayed on the boxart, each character is vital to the story and they are well developed. Throughout the game you will hear the words l’Cie and fal’Cie numerous times and it can be confusing at first. Ultimately, the story is enjoyable and you’ll always want to see what happens next.
There are thirteen chapters in FFXIII. You can’t freely switch your party members until the end of Chapter 9. As the story progresses, you’ll eventually be forced to play as each character. Considering how everyone tends to travel together, it’s a bit weird that you can’t change your party even when more than three members are around.
For some reason, crucial aspects of the story are not directly told to the player. Instead, you will have to rely on a datalog for many details. If you like to read, this isn’t much of an issue. It is problem, however, when the the datalog explains the story better than the cutscenes in the game. This can also ruin the momentum of the story if you are constantly reading the log after each frequent update. Instead of being used as a supplement, it’s actually necessary in order to get the most out of Final Fantasy XIII’s story. Even though it’s intriguing to read, it seems like a crutch.
One of the biggest issues with Final Fantasy XIII’s story is that a couple of the main antagonists seem unimportant and just serve as boss fights if you’re lucky. One character in particular is built up to be a seemingly worthy foe, but then that potential is wasted anticlimactically. It really makes no sense. Then there is a battle against someone important, but it just happens unexpectedly at the end of a tunnel. There is no proper build up or character development and it’s a shame that more wasn’t done. This is by far the most disappointing aspect of the game. If you’re looking for an epic villain, you just won’t find one.
Throughout most of the tale you will find yourself running through magnificently crafted corridors. There really is no sense of exploration and this will undoubtedly break the heart of many gamers. Based on the events of the story it makes sense why the characters can’t just roam around the city of Cocoon. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t find the linearity bothersome.
What’s more annoying is that most of the battles cannot be avoided early on. There are no random enemy encounters, but with the amount of forced battles you will fight in succession, it’s actually far worse at times. As areas begin to expand a bit this becomes less of an issue. You will find yourself constantly trying to avoid battles whenever you can just so that you can proceed to the next area. As fun as the battle system is, it’s almost overkill.
Not all encounters in Final Fantasy XIII are the same. Summons make their inevitable return and are once again referred to as Eidolons. These battles are story driven sequences and you must defeat your summon in a specific way. After you tame a summon you then have the ability to use them in a battle in exchange for your hard earned TP.
There are three stages to an Eidolon. These mechanical beasts initially fight beside the party leader as an AI. By pressing Square you can then go into Gestalt mode. This transforms your Eidolon into a vehicle which gives you new commands to select. The final stage of an Eidolon is the classic Final Fantasy summon cutscene that shows off a devastating attack. Eidolon’s are helpful in many situations, but they are not essential to winning a battle. You might find yourself using them just as a way to revive your party or to avoid strong enemy attacks.
Many people have complained that the game doesn’t feature towns to explore, but they are missing the point. The problem is that there is no break from the story until much later. The game presents itself in two ways. There’s the events that are currently taking place, and then there are the flashbacks. Most of the flashbacks could have been used as a way give the player new areas to explore while not worrying about the fate of Cocoon. Instead, Square Enix hastily proceeds through these sequences and continues on with the story immediately. There’s another section that could have been a place for mini-games, but it becomes a missed opportunity. When you play through the game you’ll realize that Square Enix could have brought more life to Cocoon but failed to do so.
Then you reach Gran Pulse it feels like the whole world just opened up. There is so much to explore and it’s pretty overwhelming. Not only are the enemies unrelenting, but the area is just so expansive. As you progress through the side-missions even more of Gran Pulse can be explored. It’s a bit of a shame that it took 21 hours to get to this point, but it’s well worth the effort.
Being able to see giant enemies off in the distance is actually quite breathtaking and very memorable. It is at this moment when Final Fantasy XIII reveals itself to be a game like none other. It may sound like an exaggeration, but after going through nearly a days worth of corridors, it’s just that amazing.
This actually can cause a disconnect with the world that you’re trying to save. Beyond the characters themselves, there is little motivation to care about Cocoon. Gran Pulse seems more like a paradise even though there are monsters everywhere. It’s pretty imbalanced. This could have been remedied by allowing the player to experience what Cocoon has to offer instead of being on the run all the time.
Every scene in Final Fantasy XIII is fully voiced. For the first time in the series even all of the random NPCs have voices. If you ever come across one of these characters you will notice that they talk automatically. This might seem like an unimportant feature, and it truly is. It does add to the immersion though, and it’s actually pretty neat.
The voice acting overall is phenomenal and the lip syncing fits the English language very well. Not all characters do a great job though. More specifically, Vanille’s voice actress is inconsistent with her performance throughout the majority of the game. Sometimes she has an accent, sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes her accent is even completely different from scene to scene. Eventually you’ll get used to it but it’s definitely distracting, especially since she plays such a prominent role in the story. With the exception of Vanille, the rest of the voice cast did a remarkable job at conveying their characters properly.
If there is one thing that you should expect from the Final Fantasy series, it’s a great soundtrack. Masashi Hamauzu composed some truly beautiful music for Final Fantasy XIII. Aside from the Chocobo theme, you won’t hear any familiar tunes from the series. There is no classic victory fanfare theme and even the prelude is different. If you were looking forward to hearing arrangements of these tracks, you might be slightly disappointed. It’s also rather unfortunate that the music just isn’t as memorable as past games in the series. Regardless, the soundtrack has some incredibly heart pounding themes that only enhances the experience and never detracts from it.
As you would expect, the visuals and animations are the best in the series. The graphics set new standards due to the high quality character models that you won’t find anywhere else. Even the way each character walks has so much style and personality. It goes without saying that the CG cutscenes are fantastic. Although it should be said that the smeared snow textures are absolutely hideous. It’s also somewhat annoying when walking on grass because it sounds like plastic bags shuffling…
It’s unfair to compare Final Fantasy XIII to other games in the series. Each title has always brought a new experience to fans and this game is no different. If you can avoid expectations and accept the fact that Square Enix breaks many of the traditions that you have grown to love, you will find that Final Fantasy XIII is a great RPG. The visuals are incredible, the music is enjoyable, and most importantly, the game is fun to play. It’s also refreshing that Lightning is a strong female lead character, especially if you think back to the way that Yuna was portrayed in FFX-2.
Unfortunately, aside from upgrading weapons and hunting monsters, there isn’t too much to do in terms of replayability. After you beat FFXIII, which takes about 60 hours, you have the ability to return to Gran Pulse and complete any of the 64 side-missions. Maxing out all six roles for each character is another incentive to continue playing. There is no New Game + option to unlock, sadly.
Final Fantasy XIII might not be the game that everyone thought it would be, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying. Give the game a try and you’ll most likely find yourself immersed in the world that Square Enix has created. For fans of JRPGs we couldn’t recommend this game enough. If you’re new to the genre, don’t be intimidated by the name. Anyone can jump into Final Fantasy XIII and appreciate what it has to offer.
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