Review by WingedMasamune
"Is Final Fantasy XIII lucky, or the unlucky breaking point for the series and its fans?"
Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII is the latest addition to the beloved Final Fantasy series from Square Enix. With being the first attempt at next-gen console gaming, is Final Fantasy XIII a lucky game, or unlucky enough to be the breaking point for the series, and its fans?
The story of Final Fantasy XIII revolves around the turmoil and fear between two civilizations, the technological floating Cocoon, and the wild and lush Gran Pulse. Humans living within Cocoon are governed by a tyrannical government, which in turn, are followers of even higher beings known as fal'Cie. Both the government and fal'Cie spread a deep routed fear amongst the populace, toward the lower world Pulse, and conversely the Pulse fal'Cie themselves.
This brings us to the introduction of our main heroes. You take control of six people, whose lives are changed forever when they accidentally, rather intentionally, come into contact with a Pulse fal'Cie that had been discovered in Cocoon. The contact leaves each hero branded by the fal'Cie, and as such have become what the populace of Cocoon fear, a l'Cie.
l'Cie are branded servants to fal'Cie and are given a specific goal to complete, also known as a Focus. Succeed and they will be granted eternal life and turn to crystal, fail and you become a monster. With no real clue as to what their Focus is, the group of heroes set out to save Cocoon by bringing down the tyrannical government, the fal'Cie, and free themselves from their curse.
In a lot of ways, Final Fantasy XIII's story is reminiscent of Final Fantasy X, as well as Final Fantasy VII. However, cutscenes are usually painfully dramatic, whiny at times and for the most part after each and every area. This can certainly get on the player's annoyance, however, the interaction between the characters, which are the main reason for these scenes, are unique and because of that are forgivable.
Final Fantasy XIII encourages the gamer to progress the story, keep moving, and does this fairly well by utilizing a quick and fun battle system. Each area you explore, although incredibly linear with only a few branching side paths, is fairly easily to navigate and is certainly quite the eye-candy. Enemies in each area are seen before running into them, much like Final Fantasy XII, however, with the quick nature of the battle system, they are more in the way than anything.
When you enter into a battle with an enemy, you will be in control of your Party Leader, which for the most part of the game is decided by the game itself. The other members in your party are controlled via A.I. and slightly controllable by the player if they utilize the Paradigm system. Each character starts off with only three distinct roles (out of six) which play to their strengths and weaknesses. Depending on the party you have at the current point in time, you are able to build sets of roles for each character to inhabit during battle.
In order to adjust to any given situation in battle, you are able to interchangeably switch between your set Paradigms. For instance, if you're going for the offensive strategy you can have a Paradigm that utilizes a Commando (Fighter) and two Ravagers (Black Mages), but say you need to heal, you can switch instantly to a Paradigm with healers like a Commando, Ravager, and a Medic (White Mage). This gives the battle system a very quick but dynamic flow and makes it one of Final Fantasy XIII's most astounding achievements.
After each battle your party is instantly healed, which eliminates the need for Inns and for that matter keeps the game moving. Also after each battle, you'll gain CP which can be used to expand the Crystarium, which is similar to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X and is the key method of growing in each of your Roles. However, the Crystarium is rather thin in its depth, and only allows you to travel in one straight line, for the most part, and only expands the farther into the game you get. It attempts at being distinct for each character, by only allowing certain characters to learn certain abilities. Yet, when that's the only real difference between characters, you'll find that even then there'll be a perfect party.
Should you experience a Game Over, which occurs if your Party Leader hits 0 HP during battle, fear not as you will be allowed to retry the battle over again with a different strategy. This is Final Fantasy XIII's big draw as it very often encourages experimentation.
The last bit of gameplay elements come in the form of your weapons and accessories. With components gathered all over the world and from battle spoils, you can level up your weapons and accessories to expand and improve their benefits. However, leveling more than one weapon is tedious and it's likely you'll pick whatever one you want and just commit to it. Accessories are a bit more extensive, but for the most part underwhelming, and I found the HP bonuses the most useful.
Final Fantasy XIII is simply breathtaking. I don't think I have to expand any more on that.
Final Fantasy XIII's sound and mood for the most part are forgettable and only really effective in the instances they are required. The Voice Acting is where the game shines, or rather annoys. Very quickly you'll be able to decide which characters are going to be annoying, and those that are intriguing. Though the dialogue in most scenes may seem pointless, and probably could have been simplified, the reasoning behind the scenes is understandably there for a reason as they give the gamer a way of seeing the interaction and human personification of each character.
To say that Final Fantasy XIII is a rather thin game would be an understatement. Most of the series staples are there, but in highly diluted forms. The World Map has become a mini-map in the top corner of the screen; Inns are made useless by the auto-healing after battle, and MP has been eliminated by the usage of Time during fights. Towns have become more or less environment set-pieces than anything else, NPCs are reduced to mere obstacles that may or may not mumble to you in passing. There are practically no Mini-Games to speak of, and the only real form of Side-Quests come in the form of a sort of similar Mark Hunting from Final Fantasy XII.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII isn't afraid to try new things, and you can't blame them for trying to evolve the series. Since Final Fantasy X, the series has seen many changes and for the most part some have been well-received, others not so much. Regardless of the past mistakes, as well as those made by Final Fantasy XIII, this is the game that Final Fantasy XII tried to evolve the series into and the sequel that Final Fantasy XI should not have been. Let's face it, this is not a perfect game, and it certainly is a radical shift from what the series is known for, but in the end, the game feels like a decent RPG, and provides an innovative battle system, beautiful graphics, and a unique but strange story.
Despite its linearity, Final Fantasy XIII gets a 9 out of 10.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/05/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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