Review by carverx19

"This game should be titled "Press X 13""

I have noticed a trend in professional game reviews. It seems to me that professional critics are far more concerned with the graphics and presentation of a game than they are with its actual content. I can't tell you how many great games I see blasted because the backgrounds aren't pretty enough. My favorite example is when I see the throwaway nostalgia reviews of old games in a certain magazine where they post two scores: then and now. Invariably, the new score is slightly lower. Hold on, I'm sorry, did the game somehow get worse? How did that happen? Of course the graphics can't be expected to hold up but how does that change the quality of a game? FF7 is just as enjoyable now as it was when it first came out.

I don't mean to imply that graphics and presentation don't matter. They can make a good game a great one. What they cannot do, however, is turn a bad game into a good one. It would appear that the professional gaming community does not share this belief. For this reason and others, I choose to get my game reviews here, specifically the user reviews. I find they provide a broad spectrum of opinions and give me a balanced look at a game. I know this seems a roundabout way to start a review of my own but I want to stress something. If you look at the average user review scores for all the Final Fantasies in recent history (7-13), you'll notice something. While FF7-10 had their detractors, the average is never less than 8.0. However, both 12 and 13 (the only "standard" Final Fantasies since 10) are sitting at less than 7.5 at the time of this writing. That may not seem like much, but it represents an unprecedented polarity in Final Fantasy fans. To what do we attribute this phenomenon?

I think I can answer that question. Slowly, the makers of Final Fantasy are deliberately removing the role-playing from role-playing games. In an effort to attract new users, they are gradually shaping the series into something more palatable to the action/FPS community, shifting the focus from strategy and preparation to timing and reflexes. There is very little role-playing left to be done. In 12, you barely participated in battles, watching as your party executed predetermined commands. I did not care for that game either but, at the very least, you were allowed to determine those commands yourself.

In Final Fantasy XIII, they have gone beyond removing the role-playing and taken it one step further: they have removed the playing altogether. This is exactly what fans are expressing in these reviews. Pro reviewers, dazzled by it's spectacular graphics, fail to mention the lack of quality game playing this game has to offer. I honestly feel this game should be entitled "Press X 13...The Saga Continues" because that's all you X. And I am not exaggerating.

Graphics and Presentation 10/10

Come on, they're excellent, you already know that. This is it, top of the line. I won't lie, I'm impressed. But like I said, it does nothing to enhance the enjoyability of the game.

Sound 7/10

I'm actually kind of disappointed in the audio. There really aren't any memorable tracks and many are tiresome. Furthermore, I often found the music to be oddly inappropriate to the situation. It could just be me but much of the score seemed out of place.

Story 6/10

I won't delve too deeply into the story. It's your standard Final Fantasy fare. Much of it is largely incomprehensible and there's little depth to be found. I never thought the FF stories were particularly engrossing although some were well executed. The voice acting is invariably weak and 13 is no exception. I also found the characters to be bland and one-dimensional but again this is common to FFs and honestly video games in general. Overall the story is nothing inspired.

This wouldn't matter so much if not for the fact that the story is probably 50% of the game. It is uncanny how many cut-scenes and dialogues there are. It's about on par with Xenosaga if you've ever played it. There is so much "story," in fact, that at many times you watch a cut-scene, walk a few steps, watch another cut-scene and so on. It seems interminable. Like it or not (and I don't), the story is a major focus of the game.

Once again, I could live with this if not for the fact that the battles (the other 50% of the game) are simply awful.

Gameplay 0/10

How do I put this? There isn't any. None. No gameplay. Don't believe me? Allow me to explain.

The battle system has already been described ad nauseum but here it is one more time: You control one character, the others take actions on their own based on a role that you assign them. The process of assigning and changing roles is called the paradigm system and it is quite literally the only participation you will take in any battle throughout the entirety of the game. There is a modicum of strategy involved but it is painfully simple, amounting to little more than a flashy game of rock, paper, scissors. There are times where it will test your patience and times when it will seem pointless. Overall, I find it to be poorly implemented. The roles are either too broad or too specific. Sentinels are severely limited and useful only in very specific situations. Meanwhile, synergists are supposed to enhance your party but that can mean a variety of actions and they won't always take the right one. For the most part they make competent choices and those can be further optimized by scanning the enemy for weakness, but it stills pales in comparison to actually being able to control the other party members.

Of course, there isn't enough time for that. The battles are lightning fast, to the point where you can easily lose track of who's doing what. They are so fast in fact, that you really don't control even the one character. You have the option to input commands manually, but even early in the game you realize that it takes far too long and the AI almost always makes the same choices. In other words, the only action you'll take in almost every battle is to repeatedly select auto-battle and watch the carnage ensue. You will occasionally be forced to switch paradigms but there is almost never any reason to manually input a single command.

And thus I feel this game should be titled "Press X." The game is almost completely linear with no exploring to be done, the leveling is capped for each chapter and the characters are overwhelming suited for specific roles. You have almost no choices whatsoever. Follow the path, press x, press x, press x, watch the cut-scene, follow the path, watch the cut-scene, press x, press x, press x...and so on. The whole process is indescribably boring. At no point does it feel as though you are actually playing a game. It's more akin to watching a very long, very bad movie in which you must constantly push a button to continue the story. Where is the fun in that? That is not gameplay.

Depth 3/10

This is a category most people tend to overlook. To me, a game's depth is determined by how much additional and optional content a game offers and, as a direct result, its replay value. This includes the level of customization and development available. In this regard, FF13 fails tremendously. There is perhaps less depth to this Final Fantasy than any other previous installment. There is quite simply nothing to do but exactly what the game tells you to. Things do open up a bit towards the end but not in any significant fashion. There are still no real sidequests and customization is still severely lacking. I can't think of a single reason to play this game a second time as your experience will be essentially identical. If you've played it through from beginning to end, you've experienced everything this game has to offer, which, I might add, isn't very much.

Final Score 4/10

This may be the last Final Fantasy I ever buy. The way the series is going I'm beginning to think it has left me behind. I don't know who it was clamoring for faster battles and fewer choices but I guess they got what they wanted. For those of us who used to appreciate these games for how much richer and sophisticated they were than action games, I haven't the slightest idea where we are to turn next. I'm a fan of turn-based combat and I fear that may be a thing of the past. It seems no one has the patience anymore. I imagine I'd be able to make the transition to real-time if they put some effort into the gameplay and not just the graphics. I don't know how else to say this but GRAPHICS DO NOT MAKE A GOOD GAME! I really wish people would stop praising games for how they look. Pretty graphics are a bonus, something to enhance a good game. They should not be the primary focus of development.

Final Fantasy 13 is a bad game and I don't throw the term around lightly. This is my first review. I'm only writing it because I feel so strongly about this. I am truly disappointed as a long-time Final Fantasy fan. As pretty as this game is, it doesn't change the fact that it is absolutely no fun to "play."

Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 04/12/10

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

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