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Final Fantasy XIII Review
Review Score:

“You mean I have to fight it again!?”

Since Final Fantasy XIII’s announcement all the way back in 2006, the hype train for the game was truly going full speed ahead for the full four years since its original announcement, however, the journey was not without its stops, and the choice to port the game to the Xbox 360 was one that Square came under fire for, with fanboys boycotting the game and even all other Square Enix products, however, the train rolled on, until the game finally arrived on my doorstep in march.

This review is going to a tough one to write, on one hand I have to consider the previous games in the series and the huge franchise that is Final Fantasy, and how each one set a new standard in different areas, be that in graphics, soundtrack or gameplay. On the other, I have to consider the fact that this game was designed for the new generation of games consoles, and evidently aimed at a western audience a little more than its predecessors, which is something that is risky for a JRPG at heart.

So where to start? Well the main thing that I suspect will come under fire by fans of the old series is the new battle system. Combat, unlike the older games in the series (with the exception of XII) is no longer strictly turn based, with the return of the ATB (Active Time Battle) and with users being able to chain moves and link abilities together in order to rack up chain bonuses on enemies and stagger them (making them more susceptible to attacks and less resistant to damage,) the combat system is not dissimilar to that of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, albeit with a few tweaks.

A system involving characters taking specific roles (known as the Paradigm system) is now in place, and the correct use of it is essential to winning a lot of the battles in the game. This system is in place of the ability to control every character on the field, as with this latest instalment, only one of the three in play is controllable, this will put off some fans of the old series as the flexibility of combat is slightly lowered, however, this doesn’t mean to say that tactics and thought don’t come into play at all, as simply using an all offensive Paradigm will not get you very far.

Characters are levelled based on roles, there are several, including; The Commando (Regular Attacks,) The Ravager (magic and elemental attacks,) The Sentinel (Withstands damage and provides shielding for other characters,) The Medic (Self explanatory,) The Synergist (Capable of casting protection and strengthening spells unto the party,) and finally The Saboteur (Casts hindering spells on enemies.) The levelling system is Final Fantasy XIII is called the Crystarium, a system which seems like a cross between Final Fantasy X’sSphere Grid’ and some aspects Final Fantasy XII’s ’licence board.’ Experience points are known as Crystogen Points (CP) and these can be spent on levelling characters in specific roles, each role has a different branch on the Crystarium, making it easy to choose specific areas to level a character in. This system is nicely pulled off and is fairly easy to use one you get used to It, however, the amount of levelling that can be achieved is unlocked as the story progresses, meaning that essentially there is a level cap on your characters until they get to a specific part of the story.

Switching up your roles and customizable Paradigms is essential to survive in large fights, however, a lot of the time one can simply use a Medic and Commando paradigm and tap the X button until the battle is over, this not only makes some parts of the game boring, but means that anybody who gets used to doing this may find the boss fights essentially impossible, the boss immediately springing to mind here is Odin. As I mentioned before about tapping the X button, sometimes this is your only choice, as some enemies have a stagger bar that is incredibly hard to raise without putting your characters at risk, and considering the fact that if the character you are controlling dies it’s game over, playing it the safe but boring way is often the best option. Some of the bosses and enemies in the game are incredibly overpowered, and the Watchdrones within the first hour of the game will easily make mincemeat of players not using their roles correctly, this is frustrating as all hell, seeing as this early into the game, players will only just be getting to grips with the system.

I have mentioned bosses quite a few times already, and I would like to take this opportunity to say how frustrating they can be. Battles can be long, gruelling and tiring and it can only take a few hits for you to get screwed over and lose all of your progress. Some battles can last for up to an hour and often you will have to fight the same boss more than once, not to mentioned that if you die you have to do the whole thing again from the start as you can’t just change characters, and considering the fact that Phoenix Downs are fairly rare or expensive, it means that if a team mate dies who has an important role such as a medic, then it is pretty much all over (unless you have a summon.)

That’s right, like in most of the Final Fantasy games the summons are back, named Eidolons this time around, the giant transformer mech like creatures will aid you in battle when summoned, much like the older games. However, this time around they are controllable in a vehicle form. As farfetched as this sounds, the system is fairly good, with a bunch of set moves to choose from that drain down a gauge depending on how powerful the attack is. Each Eidolon has a unique special attack that can inflict massive damage on enemies, although strategy is still required when thinking about when to use this move, usually when an enemy is staggered is the opportune moment to use it. Upon summoning an Eidolon your party will have its health restored and any downed members will be revived, so even summoning requires some tactical thought before it’s done.

Somewhat unfortunately, the game is based on an open world, similar to Final Fantasy XII enemies are visible on the field and can be avoided, although it is a little too easy to avoid them, making lots of the battles in the game optional, this isn’t necessarily a good thing, as it means that players can miss a lot out of the actual game and just run through it. Personally, I preferred the original and faithful to Final Fantasy random battles, some people had their problems with them although you were always given the option to flee if you really couldn’t fight your enemy, another thing that Final Fantasy XIII seems to lack.

Overall the new battle system isn’t too bad, although sometimes things can get rather boring, and with the aspect of being able to overpower your character and have a bit more fun removed, sometimes the idea of bothering to level up your characters properly seems pointless anyway, especially with combat being avoidable so much. Most of your main levelling will also be done by the story, as bosses usually provide at least 1000 Crystogen Points for you to spend.

Gameplay wise you will mostly be fighting enemies and progressing through the levels of the game. Unfortunately for fans of the older games in the series, the levels are now very linear, and there are no longer any towns to explore and use, although some fans were up in arms about this, it didn’t really take away from the experience the game offered, as the environments are huge despite having a set path. There are various parts in the game where you will do a free-running type obstacle course, these are merely jumps made to look nice with a few flips and rolls, and simply consist of holding your analogue stick in the direction you wish to move, this could have easily had a bit more interactivity, but for the amount of times that these pieces appear in the game, coding an entire section wouldn’t have been worth it. Expect to be popping in and out of your main menu a lot, as equipping characters correctly and using the aforementioned Paradigms is a very important part of the game and sometimes trial and error will come into play when fighting a boss, as often, after dying, the game will automatically put you into the main menu before it lets you set off to fight again. Throughout the game you will be traversing a lot of environments simply by running through them, and this doesn’t really complement the story very well, as the linear structure doesn’t seem to fit it at all.

Speaking of the story, Final Fantasy XIII is nothing short of epic, with a gripping storyline, memorable characters (for better or worse) and an ever twisting and interesting plotline, the game stands out from the generic albeit widely bought ‘terrorist plot’ games that seem to be cropping up everywhere.

The game starts off rather slowly, with the storyline remaining a mystery until it is gradually unfolded through beautiful cutscenes, flashbacks and short narrated pieces (that have cryptic metaphors) by Vanille. I was fairly pleased with how the story was presented, and despite having the same formula of the other Final Fantasy games, this one seemed to use the old methods well, despite not being able to interact with so many NPCs due to the lack of towns.

Unfortunately I can’t really talk too much about the actual storyline of the game without ruining anything, as everything that happens is quite important in understanding the rest of the game properly, so, sorry if you were looking for an in depth story review.

As I mentioned, some characters are memorable for better or for worse. Most of the characters in the story are likable, although the one that really annoyed me was Hope. Hope if your typical whiney emo teenager, that spends most of the time crying and complaining about how his mother died in the war (sure it’s sad but Jesus…) Snow is also quite annoying toward the start of the game and his arrogance was simply a bit too silly for my liking. All of the voice actors do a great job on their characters, although some people found the voice for Vanille a little annoying. Personally, I think Vanille’s voice is fine, and I think the Australian thing is pretty hot to be honest.

Visually, Final Fantasy XIII is stunning, with lovely looking environments, great and smooth animations, fluid combat and absolutely fantastic looking cutscenes, the game shows how far graphics and consoles have come along since the original Final Fantasy on the NES. Actual gameplay sections looks like a great piece of CGI and the cutscenes look almost lifelike, with a huge amount of detail on everything imaginable (even the shine on Vanille’s beads.) Everything here looks genuinely amazing, and sometimes just panning the camera around to look at the environment will make you go ‘whoa.’ The environments you travel through are well designed and interesting to look at, despite the fact that you are moving on a set path the routes never get boring and there is always something nice like a sunset to watch for a bit if you do find things a little dull.

For me one of the highlights of the game was the soundtrack, composed by Masashi Hamauzu rather than the Final Fantasy veteran Nobuo Uematsu, each track seems to have a nice place within the game, despite each having a very different feel. Occasionally, there will be doom and gloom evil battle tracks, and other times there will be some happy trance to keep you listening whilst walking through a beautiful looking woods in game. I have purchased the soundtrack and the main riff hear within the main menu called ‘The Promise’ is used throughout the almost the whole of the album, with only a few exceptions such as vocal soundtracks such as Leona Lewis’ ‘My Hands’ and ‘Kimi ga Irukara’ by Sayuri Sugawara (personally I love the later track.) From soul stirring and battle taunting scores to calm and sad piano pieces, Hamauzu has it down to a tee, and despite the fact that I do prefer Uematsu’s work, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this game has a brilliant soundtrack.

Oddly enough, I found it hard to dislike this game, there are plenty of reasons why I should, be it the frustrating boss battles, linear environments, occasionally boring battles, lack of towns and a stray from the norm of Final Fantasy games. The reason why I do like it is simply because of its technical achievement, Square have managed to pull of something so huge in scale and make it look this good, and that is admirable. Even though this game was clearly designed with the western audience in mind, I don’t think it will truly capture the minds of the mindless Call of Duty and FPS followers out there, and this is a shame indeed, despite being understandable. The casual and FPS gamers don’t want something they are going to have to think about, most of them aren’t too worried about tactics, bosses or levelling, and it’s because of this that I don’t think any Final Fantasy will be successful amongst this audience. Sure, some fans of the older games may come back to it after a stint of Fifa and Call Of Duty on the Xbox, but I feel that this isn’t the sort of game that they would want to come back to.

Unfortunately, I feel that Final Fantasy XIII will be one of those games that will be discarded by many now, but claimed as a ‘Classic’ in the future as it definitely has a good solid game behind all of the flashy effects and graphics. One thing I urge Square to do in their later games (currently Final Fantasy XIV can go two ways), is revert back to the old Final Fantasy style, and lose the flashy combat systems, your true fans will appreciate it and I’m sure that fans of other JRPGS will be happy too.

Overall, I am going to give this game a good score, and I would recommend that you make a purchase of it, however, don’t expect to be rushing through it, it’s more of a game I would save for a rainy day, and considering we have had plenty of those recently, I am awarding this a 4/5. Not Perfect, but solid at that, much like this game.

-Dean Case

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Final Fantasy XIII Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
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