Review by digimax

"Was it worth it after all years of waiting?"

We have all waited for years. On 17th December 2009, Final Fantasy XIII (FF XIII or XIII) was finally released on the PS3. I won't go into the details, so here's a quick review of the game without spoiling much.


Story
Storytelling has been one of the fortes in Final Fantasy. FF XIII revolves around two worlds, called Cocoon and Gran Pulse, as well as the Fal'Cie(s), the crystal-wielding entities and their God-like powers. One of them created Cocoon, a paradise world, to protect its people from the danger of Pulse below. The Fal'cies can mark people to become its "I'Cie" and serve the Fal'Cie's purpose. I'Cie has to complete an implicit, basically unknown mission (called a Focus) and hence gain magic and powers to summon an Eidolon. Successful completion of the Focus will be rewarded with eternal life..in which the I'Cie will become a crystal (statue-like). Failure in the Focus or gaining the Eidolon will turn the poor I'Cie in to a monster. Due to this, I'Cie is something to fear and Cocoon citizens are often paranoid about this, with the brainwashing of the almost religious government, named SANCTUM.

The Pulse Fal'Cie suddenly appears in Cocoon, and people who were near it were immediately quarantined and or even exiled by the Cocoon military, PSICOM. In the game, the main characters are involved in a conflict between the PSICOM and local resistance. They ventured into the Pulse Fal'Cie's fortress in order to negotiate with the Fal'Cie to spare their dear friend. There, they were marked and became I'Cie(s). Much of the game involves their escape from Cocoon and "bringing their fight to the enemy's door". Gather much? It sounds similar to Final Fantasy X, doesn't it?

Gameplay (on Field)
Most of the walking, or running, on the field is like a "Point A to Point B" walk. The game is very linear in a lot of maps, meaning you just need to walk a straight line and hit the objective and move to the next map. There are no cities or towns to explore and there are only a few maps that can be considered a "field map" by FF standards. These areas are like the Calm Lands, for those FF X people out there. Enemies appear on the field. You can walk up to them (or they do it) to start a battle. Take note, if you initiate a battle without the enemies knowing (etc touch their back), you start off with a Pre-emptive Strike which gives an advantage in battle.

Save points are very generously located at every map, even times they were just 5 mins to each other. At each save point, you can also shop (online!) or upgrade your weapons, quite like Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.

You can also level your characters by using the Crystarium. It's simply like the Sphere Grid in FF X, but no spheres. You get EXP (called CP in this game) and use it to move from one orb to another, each one adding to your Magic or Physical Attack points. It's very simple because there is no branching and you'll get enough points to max out your character's main roles until the end moving from point to point gets super expensive.

Gameplay (in Battles)
A lot of people were worried about how this title has evolved from the series. Yes, FF XIII is more action based. Battles take place in real-time meaning you won't really have a lot of time to think of a strategy before hand. Talking about that, some battles do not need strategy at all - You can just pump attacks and win the battle. A few things you need to remember:

- There is no MP in this game. All Physical Attacks or Magic/Support Spells use "time", time-slots to be precise.
- ATB bar needs to fill up a time-slot before you can execute the action.
- Characters start with 2 ATB time-slots, meaning you can do 2 moves that uses 1 slot or 1 move that uses 2 slots.
- You get healed after every battle. This might seem like making the game too easy, but you'll be glad they did it.
- There is no "Class system" in this game as well. Each character has Roles. (Attacker, Defender, Blaster, Enhancer, Jammer, Healer)

Roles. Characters start with a few, but eventually you can learn (and max out) all the Roles if you want to. Roles are very important because a character can only execute actions of the active role in battle. For example, X has Attacker+Healer. You have to be Attacker Role in battle to attack, and be in Healer mode to cast Cure. So, how do you even change the Role?

In battles, you can press L1 to open a menu called OPTIMA CHANGE (Paradigm Shift in US version). OPTIMA is simply "sets" of Role combination. You can have 3 Attackers, or 2 Healers and 1 Attacker. Basically you can hold up to 6 sets to use in battle and switch at will.

As the game is more action, a new feature called "Break" becomes very important. Break means an enemy has its Defense down and you can churn out attacks which damage a lot more. Break occurs if you constantly hit a certain enemy with a combo and basically "breaks" its defence. Certain Roles or even spells will cause the Break to start faster - So some battles will involve players rapidly switching Roles with Optima.

At the end, a rating screen will appear. The battles are actually RATED BY TIMING. So if you take your own sweet time with the enemy you end up getting no bonus in Tactical Points (TP), something new being introduced in FF XIII.

Tactical Points (TP again) allows you to use TP abilities, like the ever-useful LIBRA to Eidolon Summoning. You can hold up to 5TP only and this is a pool shared throughout the whole party. Eidolon summoning uses 3TP while Libra uses 1TP. This makes getting good ratings in battles important so you can fill up your TP faster and use TP Abilities again.

Graphics and Sound
It's all in the details. Behold Square Enix's meticulous artwork in High Definition. There is simply no competition in this field, the game looks great and doesn't slowdown almost most of the time. Be prepared to be amazed at the generous amount of CGI cinematics. During game-play and real-time scenes, the game retains most of the charm, of course not as detailed.

Soundtrack-wise, fans of Nobuo Uematsu's work may be upset because he is not the composer this time. Replacing him is Masashi Hamauzu, a fellow composer whom Uematsu worked with for Final Fantasy X. Most of the classic Final Fantasy music (including the Victory Theme) are removed or remixed in Hamauzu's style. While I was disappointed about Nobuo's departure, the music is actually fresh and pleasing to hear, especially the music used in various boss battles. (Hamauzu worked on some boss battle tunes in FF X).

It is also nice to note that voice-acting is done up in all areas, including idle chatter and even the NPC dialogue. Characters interact throughout the game, be it navigating around the maps or in battle.

Play Time and Replayability
It has been reported that this game has 9 hours of cut-scenes, adding on the play-time. In total, one can take 40 to 60 hours to complete, depending on the game-play style of the player. It will certainly take more than 70 hours to complete everything and get the Platinum Trophy. At the end of the game, a clear data can be saved and players can explore some maps to fully maximize their character's Crystarium or upgrade some weapons.

Conclusion
Positive Points
- Immersive Character and World Design
- Awesome Graphics in game
- Breathtaking CGI cut-scenes
- Fresh and Good Soundtrack
- Voice-acting, done up EVERYWHERE
- Challenging battles return from FF X
- Real-time Action Battles a good step from the "Classics"
- Summons are interesting (to obtain and use in battles) although I didn't go through that.

Negative Points
- "Pointlessly linear" map design at times
- No towns or cities you can truly explore and not just visit for story purposes
- Crystarium Levelling is too simple in the beginnning and suddenly gets too challenging to level near the end.
- Battle system may frustrate many, still needs work
- A lot of shortchanges give a slight hint that they are made because of the multi-platform decision.
- Everyone complaining about Towns!

Other words
Many would draw similarities between this game and Final Fantasy X. However, if you enjoyed X, I'm pretty sure you'll love this. Go get the English release in March 2010, or even NOW! if you can understand Japanese.

I jumped and imported the Japanese version even though I wasn't a native speaker and only know enough to navigate the menus and battles with ease. Story wise, probably I will only understand 50-60% of it all, but it was my birthday, so I got it anyway.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/22/09

Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (JP, 12/17/09)


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