Review by gmo7897

"Square-Enix’s newest addition to their flagship series is bound to turn a few heads."

Like the series or not, the name of Final Fantasy has become the name that other Role-Playing Games aspire to be. Since its inception, gamers have flocked to the shelves each time a new addition to the series is released. The beauty of the series lies in the fact that (with a few intended exceptions) no two games are alike, and there is no need to play a previous game to understand the “story” behind another.

This philosophy has, however, caused some fans to lose interest in the series, since they tend to change aspects of game play from one game to the next that the gamers had enjoyed. Final Fantasy XIII is no exception to this. The game play is vastly different than anything else that has come before it.

Long-time Final Fantasy fans will notice several names, locations and item make a return in the game. There is still the use of magic and elemental properties, and there are of course the familiar summons that return as Eidolons. There is, as always, a Cid, and Chocobos make their mark on this game.

To those who are not Final Fantasy “Veterans”, though, Final Fantasy XIII offers a one-of-a-kind gaming experience. It has an interesting story that will keep you involved for hours, while the game play will take you to the end. The cinematic views are beautiful, and the music aims to please. If you enjoy Role-Playing Games, you should at least check out Final Fantasy XIII.

Game play:

As familiar as people are with the name “Final Fantasy”, people are always intrigued by what the programmers will come up with next. Game play changes every time they release a new title in the series.

Through a majority of the game, the story will dictate who you have in your party at any given time. At a certain point, you'll be given the option to change your party to whichever three of the six characters you have to be in your group.

There are no shops in the towns (as in previous titles). Instead, every save point operates as a place where you can shop for new items and equipment. As you progress through the story, more shops will open up, and more items will open up at each shop.

In your party menu, you have access to a “datalog”. The “datalog” updates regularly throughout the game (it will tell you when it does). The datalog keeps main points of the story logged as well as a beastiary of everything that you've fought in the game. It also serves as a quick reference point as everything covered in the tutorials ends up in the datalog.

Tutorials pop up through several parts of the early portions of this game. They are skip-able, and you'll always have access to them in your “datalog”.

Role-Playing Gamers know the key to success in any RPG is to save often. Final Fantasy XIII easily allows for saving often by placing save spots after about every 15-20 minutes of game play.

Moving around is probably the most basic aspect of this game, and it should be. Moving around the world map is pretty cut-and-dry. For the most part, you control every action of your lead character. It's very easy to control your character. While roaming the world, you will have control of the camera to see what's coming and what's around you. As you proceed, the others in your party will talk to you, go on ahead to scout the area and give you occasional hints as to what your next task might be.

There is always a “mini-map” in the corner of the screen (unless you turn it off) that will show you where you can go and in which direction your goal lies. It's easy to get around, and there's very little time where movement is a problem.

There are six roles that you can use throughout the game. When you start, each of your six characters will only have a few roles open to them, however, through the story, each character will eventually have access to all of the roles, allowing for great customization. The six roles are Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist and Medic. Each role is important and how you use each role determines how effective your party will be. Every role has attributes that will make them essential parts of your team. For instance, Commandos are fantastic physical attackers, but lack the physical attack magic of Ravagers, while Medics will complete the team by keeping them alive with healing and status removal.

Battles:

There are no “random encounters”. You will see each enemy you face before you get to them (with rare exception and often boss battles). Once you enter an encounter with an enemy, the screen will flash quickly, and you'll be face-to-face with your enemy.

This game uses the Active Time Battle system, which gives the battles more of a “real-time” feel. During combat, your ATB gauge will fill at a set rate and fill pre-determined segments on your gage. Each action you perform has a set amount of ATB segments it will use. As your ATB gauge fills up, you'll be able to perform more actions per turn. You may choose to stop your bar at any time and perform the actions that have been filled at that point.

During battles, you have control over the lead character. You can choose to select every action, or you can allow the game's AI to select your plan of action based on the role you've assigned yourself. Your fellow party members will act based on the roles they've been assigned.

Final Fantasy XIII introduces the “Paradigm” system of battling. Paradigms are a set structure of roles that your team members will take during battle. Once the roles have been established, this allows for some interesting customization. Each character can learn all six of the roles, and there are three members in your party. So, you can figure that this would give you 216 possible combinations of battle formations.

As you fight battles, your attacks will build against your enemies' chain gage. When this reaches a certain point, the enemy will enter “stagger mode”. While in “stagger mode”, the enemy will be susceptible to higher levels of damage and weaker attacks. This is a good time to try to wipe out difficult enemies with high health.

Summons reprise their role as your assistants in battle (this time known as Eidolons). When you earn a summon, you will be able to use Technique Points to call them to aid you in battle. They will attack on their own for the most part for a set amount of time, or you can enter “Gestalt Mode”, where you will take control of your Eidolon's actions.

Advancement:

This game uses the Crystarium system to advance your characters, and you choose in which direction your characters will go. You do not gain experience points after battle in Final Fantasy XIII. You collect Crystal Points to assign to the different roles that are a part of each character's Crystarium. As you progress each Crystarium, new techniques will open up, and your characters will have the availability to grow their stats. As the player, though, you choose which Crystarium you want to grow and when to grow it. If you want to spend your CP after every battle, you can, and if you want to wait for several battles before beefing up your team, that's fine.

Your weapons (and armor/accessories) also advance. As you acquire items from battle (known as spoils), you can use some of these items (components) to improve your weapons. When you add a component to a weapon, it gains experience based on the component added and any available experience bonuses that are available as well. Eventually, your weapons will reach their peak and can no longer be advanced. At this point, you can choose to keep your weapon as it is or advance it to the next level of weaponry. At first after a weapon transformation, your newer weapon may seem weaker, but the potentials will be higher. You can also dismantle weapons and accessories that you're no longer using in hopes of gaining unique components that you will add to weapons later.

Game play rating:

Square-Enix has made some big changes to the way their games are played. This game is truly like nothing I've ever played before gameplay-wise. It's easy to get around the world. I love the paradigm system, and the Crystarium allows for complete control and flexibility for your team. Learning how the six roles work together is a real joy.

Easily a 10/10.

Story:

For long-time fans of the Final Fantasy series, the story will be a bit of a let down as it is not as strong as others in the series. For those who may not have played any of the earlier games or have only played a couple of them, the story will definitely get you through a majority of the game.

Some gamers may find the story a little too linear, and I can understand that. There's no deviation from the story until later in the game. However, it does follow different groups in a “back-and-forth”-type pattern, so it adds a little variety.

The game starts off on a train leaving Cocoon. Cocoon is noted as a human paradise. The train is headed away from Cocoon in what is known as a “Purge”. Cocoon's residents are being forced to evacuate their homes by the leaders of Cocoon's neighbor Pulse. Two of your characters are on that train, and two are part of a rebel squad known as NORA. The action picks up as the four characters fight to resist the “Purge”.

Throughout the game, the story will reflect back to periods of time showing the days leading up to the Purge. These are never in order and can be a little confusing as to what order they're going in. Don't worry though, you're datalog will track everything that's happening and keep it organized. Anytime you need to leave the game and reload it, a brief synopsis of the story that's been revealed thus far will be shown as the file loads. This helps refresh your memory if it's been a few days since you last grabbed your controller.

The story follows six main characters: Lightning, Sazh, Snow, Hope, Vanille and Fang. Lightning is perceived to be the main protagonist of the story, but through the first half of the game, you'll have each character as your “lead” character. Not much is known about Lightning, but as her story unfolds, you'll see why each character has decided to join her in her fight against Pulse.

Story rating:

There's a little jumping around, but the datalog keeps track of everything that's important in the story. It feels a little linear until late. It's a solid story, but not the best I've seen in a game. It's enough to keep you hooked through the majority of the game, but it's also not overwhelming. Probably the weakest part of this game, but still respectable.

The characters make the story what it is. They're believable, and their stories mesh well together as you learn more about them.

Scrapes in at an 8/10

Graphics:

This game looks great. The scenery is absolutely stunning, and the characters are very believable. My wife walked in while I was viewing the beginning of the opening sequence one day and asked what I was watching. After I told her what it was, she told me she thought it was something on the “Discovery Channel.” The CGI looks that good.

There are some areas you will visit where your teammates might suggest you look at the scenery. I would take the moment out of your gaming to do this. I try to do it at least a few times in each new area I would visit - just to see what the creators had done with the backgrounds. Some of them are simply stunning.

However, the models of the enemies are a little overused. You start out fighting against some weird-looking alien wolf with red stripes, and after another chapter or two, you start fighting against weird-looking alien wolves with green stripes. This isn't a huge flaw, but it does get a little old fighting the same monsters just painted differently.

Graphics rating:

Backgrounds and characters could not have been done any better, but there could have been more variety to the enemies. Overall, a fantastic looking game.

9/10

Sound/Music:

The musical selections fit the scenes well, but it gets a little redundant quickly. However, if you can deal with that, it won't be a problem. It's definitely not the best soundtrack to a game I've heard, but it's far from the worst. Each area has its own “theme” music, and a few areas have a lovely song playing behind with actual lyrics other than the simple instrumental piece that normally accompanies games.

The voice acting was very well done. The story dialog flows freely, and the in-town characters each have their own voice and personality. You do not generally go up and talk to towns people, but instead, as you pass them, you can “eavesdrop” on their conversations. I enjoyed the children in this game acting like children as you pass them. They're usually involved in some form of game with whomever they are with, and it's a refreshing change from RPGs in the past.

While you roam, your teammates will talk to you from time to time, and it's sometimes refreshing to hear what they have to say. They rarely repeat what they have to say, and they often offer helpful advice as to what your course of action could be. If you stand still long enough, some of your teammates will even try to get you moving with a little sarcasm.

Sound/Music rating:

There's beautiful music, but it can feel a little repetitive at times. Great voice acting that really helps you understand the characters emotions. You get random helpful hints from your team. All-in-all, sound and music were well done.

9/10

Play Time/Replayability:

Don't expect to finish this game in one sitting. Like most Role-Playing Games, the story and game were built to take a little while to finish off. Once you reach a certain point, you can branch away from the main story and delve into a few side quest to keep you occupied and help extend your play time.

Even if you can't get fully into the story, the game play should keep you focused throughout.

This game is definitely replay-able. Like its predecessors, most of the fun in RPGs is the ability to try to finish the game once without a guide and then follow up (either with a guide or just doing a more thorough search of everything) to try to gain and learn everything the game has to offer.

The game also offers trophy support for those that like to get all of the achievements you can get from a game. These aren't important to me, but it's worth mentioning.

Play Time/Replayability rating:

Decently long game with the ability to play again and again. Go back and get a “perfect” or “complete” game and grab all of your trophies.

9/10

Final Recommendation:

If you are looking at this game with the expectations that it'll be like another Final Fantasy, don't buy it right away. You may want to rent it to see if you'll enjoy it first. If you're a fan of Role-Playing Games in general, then this game will probably be a pretty good investment. If you just enjoy Final Fantasy games and enjoy their differences, get this game.

The game play sets this game apart from anything I've played before. The characters are believable, and the background graphics are intense. It has a fairly good musical score, and the voice acting is commendable. I'll play this game a few times before I get bored of it, and that's saying a lot. I get bored pretty easily.

Overall, this is a very solid game and a good fit into the series.

Final rating: 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/05/10, Updated 04/22/10

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


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