Review by SolidFantasy

"Your favorite reviewer, I mean HERO has arrived!"

Everyone knows what Final Fantasy is and everyone has been anticipating the first Final Fantasy of this console generation. It's here, and it is quite different from all the other Final Fantasy games. Whether this is good or bad is entirely subjective. I will say that most of the changes worked and did not feel odd. Final Fantasy 13 takes an extremely linear approach in game-play design for its first 25-30 hours in an attempt to flesh out the characters and story. It works too, plain and simple. Yes, there are no towns. There isn't a traditional leveling up system. You can make a good point in saying that this isn't even a Japanese Role Playing Game. However, that's what peaks my interest most about the game. It isn't just taking just Final Fantasy in a new direction, it is taking JRPG's (a genre nearly dead and desperately in need of some spicing up) in a whole new direction. This game feels like an action adventure game with a JRPG battle system. Not everything Square attempted worked (I definitely have some qualms) but I'm really impressed with what Square attempted here. For the most part Final Fantasy is one huge roller-coaster of a ride.

Story :

As usual, Final Fantasy is about a bunch of people joining forces to save the world. It's astonishing that these developers can keep coming up with different ways to save a fantasy world. Almost as astonishing as how Roland Emmerich keeps finding new ways to blow up the world. Anyway, the story may be nothing new, but it's done very well. There's a world called Pulse and was created by the fal'Cie. They then constructed a new city above Pulse called Cocoon. It was meant for humans and the society flourished. Then there was a war fought between the fal'Cie of each world over the last remaining Waffle in the world. Ok, they didn't fight over a Waffle but as you play the game you learn a lot of back-story and the 2 cities/worlds or whatever you want to call them become very fleshed out and interesting.

*fast forward 1,300 years from the Waffle War**

Lightning is fighting PSICOM guards of the Sanctum (the fal'Cie government of Cocoon head-on in an attempt to seek an audience with Anima (a Pulse fal'Cie) to see if her sister Serah can be spared. The fal'Cie turned Serah into a l'Cie. The l'Cie are people hand-chosen by the fal'Cie to carry out a task that they don't even know. This task is called a Focus and the goal of a Focus must be interpreted through a brief, vague, and confusing vision that a person sees during the l'Cie transformation. The l'Cie are also branded with a glowing mark so everyone knows that they are a l'Cie. L'cie are considered dangerous and enemies of Cocoon. If a Focus isn't completed within a certain amount of time then they become a Cie'th (basically a zombie or vegetable or demon). So one must think wine, women, and fame are rewarded to those that complete their Focus. Nope, you turn into crystal. The l'Cie are in a situation where no matter what they're screwed. Just as Serah turns to crystal (meaning she completed her Focus) Lightning and all the other party members you meet an hour into the game are turned into a l'Cie by Anima. You see your vision (all the characters see the same vision) and embark on your journey.

Party members are an important aspect to any RPG. You want to like the characters you're controlling. It's even more crucial in Final Fantasy 13 because you have no control over who your party leader is and battle team is until Chapter 10. The party does not come full circle and complete until around 30 hours in. Characters are always going their separate ways and focusing on different things. An example is Lightning and Hope (a teenage version of Tidus from Final Fantasy 10) being a party for quite a while. Hope sticks around Lightning a lot in an attempt to toughen up because he wants to avenge his mothers' death by killing Snow (another party member). Snow is also engaged to Serah and is a bit of a rebel. He leads a group of rebels known as NORA (No Obligations, Rules, and Authority) and is pretty reckless. His recklessness is in Hope's mind what got his mother killed. Lightning also finds Snow a bit idiotic and clearly does not have positive feelings towards the relationship between him and Serah. Snow is a very like-able character though as he is obsessed with finding a way to bring Serah back from her crystallized state. He wants to do well but often fails or is looked down upon. Some of the flashback scenes between Snow and Serah highlight the game. Actually, Snow is the highlight of any scene and is easily a top tier Final Fantasy character in terms of character development. Then there is Sazh, a man who mostly keeps to himself yet provides the occasional comic relief (you're lying if you don't think of Will Smith in Independence Day at the end of Chapter 3). A baby Chocobo also lives in his afro. Whether it poops there or not, I now want an afro and a baby Chocobo. The other 2 characters are 2 females named Fang and Vanille. Part of the mysteriousness of them is what makes them interesting so I don't want to say much other than Fang is the hottest female video game character ever! Seriously though, they're great important characters. Fang is the trash talking and headstrong fighter while Vanille is clueless, free-spirited, and light-hearted. In your menu is a Data log that explains key plot points, characters, descriptions, and in general just tons of information. No one should be confused while playing Final Fantasy 13.

The story in a nutshell is Destiny versus Fate. It's nothing new but it works and is done well. The lack of a true villain may put some people off but I think it fits here. My only complaint is the villain is bland, uninspired and generic. He is hardly in the game too. Thankfully, the story of your partners is one rich with interesting characters, twists, and turns. Everyone is voiced well except Vanille. Every time she laughs or is hit with an attack you'd think she's having an orgasm. Hope starts out a little too whiny (which was the goal but the lines felt delivered awkwardly) but as the game goes on becomes a great and well voiced character. Despite all the positive things I have said this game does not come close to having that epic Final Fantasy story feel. It's missing something that I can't place my finger on and just pales in comparison to 5-10. It's great as a stand-alone story but is a disappointment in terms of what is to be expected from a Final Fantasy game. It lacks direction in many areas and the tired concept has been done better before. The ending is pretty moving emotionally though and was a very fitting ending too. I liked the first 30 hours the most though because when I play an RPG 9 times out of 10 I'm sticking to one specific party throughout the game. This game forces you to learn about all the characters and connect with all of them. It enhances the over-all story-telling and gives a rare emphasis that there isn't one main character. All six party members are your main character and are all of equal importance. Personally, I will sacrifice some non-linearity for that any day of the week.

Game-Play:

Is it turn-based? No. Is it real-time? No. The battle system in Final Fantasy 13 is like nothing I've ever seen. It takes elements from turn-based and real-time battle systems and becomes something truly unique. It is menu driven and as your Active Time Battle gauge fills you queue up commands. You start with 3 ATB slots and each move costs a certain amount to use. Attack is worth 1 point; Curaja is worth 3 slots, and so on. Let's pretend I've set up 3 attacks (each attack costs 1 ATB slot). I then choose a target and press X. My character will sprint towards the enemy and perform the 3 attacks as a combo in real-time. It's nifty watching your characters run around the battle ring and reacting to situations. As you get further you can create more complex combos and even extend your ATB bar to 5 segments. Since Final Fantasy 13 is so fast-paced and frantic you can only control 1 character during a battle. The action is so fast there's even an auto-battle option that chooses the best combination of abilities for that use of the ATB bar. The AI battle partners are incredible and always do what they should be doing. They even exploit the weaknesses of whatever you're fighting. I thought controlling only 1 character would cause complications and frustrations to arise everywhere but thanks to the paradigm system everything works smoothly. Paradigms are essentially your battle plan. There are six different types of roles in the game. They are: Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Medic, Saboteur, and Synergist. Commandos and Ravagers are mainly offensive, Medic is self-explanatory, Saboteurs Inflict status ailments on enemies, Synergists buff you up with magic spells, and Sentinels provoke enemies and take damage while guarding allies. A paradigm is any combination of these classes. The classes and paradigm system tell the AI what they should be doing at any given time. It also forces the player to strategize because the abilities that you can perform are limited by what class your character currently is. All characters can learn all roles. You can have up to six different paradigms at a time and can switch between them almost instantaneously. Pressing L1 during battle brings up a list of available paradigms to choose from. Thanks to this, battles flow extremely fluid at a very fast pace. That's not all though, staggers are an important aspect of battle too. Inflicting damage with Ravagers will cause the stagger bar for an enemy to rise. The more damage you inflict on an enemy, a multiplier increases representing that your attacks will be even stronger. Ravagers may fill up the stagger bar quick but the bar decreases just as fast between turns. You need a Commando attacking to offset this. Together you're Commandos and Ravagers will eventually fill the stagger bar. This will stun the enemy, increase your damage multiplier by 100%, and allow the multiplier to increase even faster based on your attacks. Staggers allow you to inflict big damage basically.

Each party member will acquire their very own Eidolon (summon) at specific parts of the game. These Eidolons are insanely fun to use in battle. As usual you they are very powerful and have devastating moves. An Eidolon can stay summoned until its timer bar runs out. Taking damage also causes the bar to decrease. Once it empties you will enter “ride” mode with your summon. For example, Shiva transforms into an ice elemental motorcycle that Snow can control and can execute a limited amount of attacks before the Eidolon leaves battle for good. The amount of attacks you can execute are correlated to the progression of another bar (before ride mode) that fills while you and your Eidolon attack. The higher the bar is, the more points you can spend during ride mode. On average you'll have around 25 points. During ride mode you'll have 6 different attacks you can execute by pressing different buttons. Each attack is worth around 2-3 points except each Eidolons' mega attack which consumes all of their remaining points. Eidolons cost 3 Technical Points to summon out of the 5 maximum points you can have at once. Technical Points serve other purposes too like using Libra which reveals weaknesses, attack patterns, and more for enemies. Technical Points are earned by winning battles.

There are no random encounters in Final Fantasy 13. All enemies wander the area in real-time and all battles (except story-progression battles) are optional. If you manage to sneak up on an enemy and initiate a preemptive strike you will be granted with all enemies 99% near staggered. There are items to make you harder to see, items that cause you to have Haste and more buffs on all characters as a battle begins, and more. These items may seem useless since the first 30 hours are pretty easy, but near the end of the game they're extremely valuable.

This game also has no traditional leveling up system. Instead we have the Crystarium system. After each battle you earn Crystarium points to upgrade your characters skills for a class. These skill upgrades range from health upgrades, strength upgrades, magic upgrades, and new abilities. The only flaw about this system is how your progression in each role is capped until you pass certain parts of the story. In an RPG, I should not be capped and I should be allowed to upgrade my characters as I wish. Often times I was running around with huge amounts of Crystarium and nothing to spend it on. I was not grinding either. The system is just heavily flawed. Upgrading weapons is done strangely too. Instead of certain material being required to upgrade a weapon, you can upgrade weapons using any materials. Some materials raise the weapons experience bar quicker than others. Once a weapon has been leveled up enough times you can you use a catalyst material to transform it into a better weapon. If you perform this process 3 times for a characters weapon, you will obtain their ultimate weapon. It's a system that works but just isn't fun at all.

The rumors are true. Final Fantasy 13 has no towns and is a very linear game. All of your shopping is done at save points. Again, this helps the game become a more story-driven experience that is a non-stop action thrill ride. Once you hit Chapter 11 the game opens a little with 64 side-missions. They all just require you to kill a specific monster. It's like a dumbed down Monster Hunter. The side-missions get boring quickly and you'll just want to finish off the story. The only problem is that not doing a ridiculous amount of these mundane side-quests makes the last 2 chapters nigh impossible. The end result is the games' final 20 hours being a horribly paced, boring, and broken mess. The game lacks direction and the open area section feels out of place and almost tacked on. The game also has bland level design. Some areas (especially parts near the end) just drag on and on and are nothing more than fighting battles for 2 hours walking down a straight line with the occasional path-branching where one path quickly leads to a treasure chest and a dead end.

Graphics/Sound:

Final Fantasy 13 is aesthetically stunning, period. There are vividly colored, polished, and detailed environments everywhere. Character and enemy designs are top notch. The world is rich with varied and unique looking enemies. As usual Final Fantasy has raised the bar In CGI scenes in video games. The CGI scenes are mind-blowingly awesome. All of the fantastic art direction helps too. Final Fantasy 13 runs flawlessly from a technical standpoint. There is no install, a very smooth frame-rate, and textures that are extremely pleasing on the eyes. Facial expressions and animations are all very fluid too. The lip-synching is also spot on . The music in the game is disappointing and not up to par with other Final Fantasy titles. To be honest I was expecting this since Nobuo Uematsu had nothing to do with the soundtrack. There are a few memorable pieces of music though, like the battle theme and a certain boss battle theme. It is mostly underwhelming though. Sound effects such as explosions and attacks all sound good. The game certainly has a fantasy charm to it in sound.

Re-Playability:

Final Fantasy 13 is around 50 hours long. Doing everything in the game can take around 80 hours while the Platinum trophy will take around 100 hours to achieve. Unlocking certain trophies will unlock themes for your PS3. Final Fantasy 13 does not offer many reasons to replay it, but there is a ton of content over 1 play. This game is easily worthy $60

Pros

Innovatie battle system
Great story
Charming graphics
Plenty of content
Takes JRPG'S in an interesting direction
Interesting characters
Great voice-acting

Cons

Crystarium system doesn't work
Weapon upgrading is odd
Boring villian
Open world section feels tacked on
Pacing issues from Chapter 11 and on
Less than memorable music
Is missing that WOW factor from FF6-10

Verdict:7.3/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 03/22/10, Updated 02/09/12

Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)


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