Review by Solaris_Paradox
""The RPG that feels like an action game..." take that as you will."
Final Fantasy XIII lacks a lot of RPG staples like town exploration, and it doesn't have, like, ANY sidequests until you reach Pulse (I think that was a design choice made with Xbox 360 disc swaps in mind, actually...), but the combat system is spectacular, the weapon-and-accessory upgrade system shows a lot of promise (I can only evaluate that so well in Japanese...), and the character-growth system, while brain-dead for the first half of the game, really starts to come into its own during the second half of the game.
The linearity in the first half really is a problem. Unlike FF9, which forced you to use specific parties but had enough exploration and sidequests to alleviate that... and unlike FF10, which was linear but allowed you to use whoever, whenever... FF13's first half really is the kind of thing you do more or less the same way every time, and even if you enjoy it the first time, as I did, it'll doubtless render 13 the least-replayable game in the series. The reason for this is that... until near the end of Chapter 9... the game chooses your party members for you, and it also chooses your party leader for you. After Chapter 9, you get absolute free reign, but the first half is too restrictive.
As a result of this, on the other hand, if by Chapter 9 you don't have a good grasp of how to effectively utilize all six of your characters, you have my pity.
The summons, while weird, are really good on a gameplay level. They're neither useless nor overpowered--they're the kind of thing you can rely on in a pinch, and they never totally tear the game to pieces. They're also not spammable, because they take up 3 of your unchanging 5-point TP stock, and those recharge as you fight, so you have to think about when to effectively use your summons based on what you're fighting and on the state of their Break bars. The cool thing about summons is that they also heal and revive your party, which would be broken in any Final Fantasy game other than this... because in this game you're constantly healing yourself and your party back up from the brink of death, you take ridiculous amounts of damage even in the "random" battles.
The thing about FF13 is that they've axed the tension of lasting through a dungeon by making it so that the party fully heals and revives after every fight and every phase of a multi-phase boss; the only things you need to worry about conserving or using in moderation are money (which is quite hard to come by in this game, compared to the others), items (particularly Phoenix Downs, which are really good; Potions are also fairly good; I haven't had a chance to even figure out what the rest of that gibberish means, though), Tactical Points (for summons, Libra, and a number of other abilities that I don't know a thing about yet), and your "smoke" items, which can provide beneficial effects if used before a battle (or in the case of stealth smoke, let you bypass a fight altogether or catch the enemy off-guard with an easy pre-emptive strike).
In battle, the lack of MP and the new reliance on "time" as a cost, as well as the hectic nature of the new ATB system, render the key element of strategy to use the right moves at the right times, and that's where the line between Action gaming and RPG-combat blurs to near-nothingness. There are ways to make the game easier; the time bar can be slowed, and there's an option as to whether to default your cursor to "auto-battle" or "role commands" (personally I just stick with manual input, because I'm fast and smart enough that I can do that and get better results, and because there are a lot of times when you just want to use a small chunk of your time bar for timing purposes). But overall, it's a surprisingly challenging and balanced game despite the auto-heal and the retry option (which respawns you right before any battle you lose), and apart from its linearity and its restrictive first half, it's a very, very good game in terms of actual gameplay mechanics.
The plot is good, but (in what seems to be a response to the largely-undeserved poor reception that FF12's characters and story got), the cutscenes are full of anime-emoting-melodrama, which can make the characters annoying at times--although the plot elements beneath the melodrama are actually quite good. Snow and Hope are quite annoying, at least until they receive some development in Chapter 7 which may or may not make them seem more tolerable (and Hope gets less whiny after that, which is always a good thing). Even if you don't like Snow, the game makes accommodation for that, albeit unintentionally: he gets punched in the face by Lightning several times and suffers at least one extremely painful injury, so know that even if you hate the man, your inner sadist will take some satisfaction in seeing him suffer.
Overall, I'd say it's a good game and worth at least looking into, even if you've fallen away from the series. 8.5 to 9.0 out of 10 is where I'd rate it, so I'll round that down to an 8.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/11/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (JP, 12/17/09)
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