Review by doubleEXP

"Focused, too focused"

Final Fantasy XIII

I'm writing this review a full month after release. If you're reading this review then you either really like reading FF XIII reviews or you're still on the fence -- for whatever reason -- about whether or not to buy this game.

Graphics: 10 /10
As close to perfect as I've seen this console generation. If you play on HDTV via HDMI cable then it's sublime.

Sound: 8/10
High quality sound/voice/music overall. Some unevenness in recording levels will have you playing this louder than you might play your other titles. Other aspects like voice acting and "will I like the music?" are purely subjective. From a technical standpoint this game's sound is very good, borderline excellent.

Control: 9/10
The controls in this game are easily learned and very responsive. However, navigating the ability menu while in the midst of a battle is somewhat clunky (given the high speed of the game). This could have been better. Otherwise, everything from movement to camera control to menu navigation is spot-on, with little to no delay ever.

Story & Characters: 7/10
Much like music (and the quality of voice actors), story is really a very subjective thing to rate. One person can read "Watership Down" and experience a literary epiphany and be moved to tears by its impact on them, another person can read that same book and walk away saying: "So, that was about rabbits, right? Yeah..." I will say this: I was not entirely impressed with the story's concluding chapters nor its finale. Whether I liked it or not, the fact that this game lets you play after the story concludes is an interesting choice, though it's strange because it's as if you didn't even finish the story. It's hard to explain without spoiling things, but trust me: if you play this game and complete the story and then save your game and then jump right back in to try out the post-game options it feels a little weird. All in all, I found the story interesting enough, and the characters by and large interested me too, enough to fuel my desire to play through the game. Still, at times things seemed forced, and at times even inconsistent.

Game Play: 6/10
Despite the spot-on controls I mentioned a bit earlier, game play is the Achilles' heel of this title. How can that be if the control is good? There are a few reasons, some of which begin as positives but which the passage of play time turns into negatives.

First, let's be clear: unlike most rpg's with a party system that you might have played, you do not control all of your characters directly. You control one and only one, and for a huge portion of the game you cannot even choose which one. The only influence you have over the actions of the other two characters in your party is to tell them which role they are to fight as: commander (com), ravager (rav), saboteur (sab), synergist (syn), sentinel (sen), or medic (med). So, while you can determine every single action of your leader character, your other two mates are picking their own actions, based on the role they are currently assigned. On the plus side, you can create up to six total role assortments (called paradigms) and switch them on the fly with the L1 button. This plus the very fast pace of the battles (for rpg's, anyway) makes for some exciting battles in the early going. However, if you are buying this as a rpg player (and not as an action/fps player) then you may very well find that the cost you pay, as a player, for the quick speed of the battles is a high price indeed. The lack of actual control over 2/3 of your party is something you will likely lament sooner or later, especially when the A.I. makes bad decisions at bad times. Not only that, but because the pace is so fast, you will often find yourself basically letting the A.I. control even your leader (via the "auto-battle" command). This is because sometimes you really only have time to switch paradigms.

So, what starts out as something that seems fresh and potentially innovative for the genre (extremely high speed battles with characters able to switch roles mid-fight) turns into the realization that aside from switching paradigms you are practically letting the game play itself. 2/3 of your party are always playing themselves, and even your leader is often doing what the computer thinks is best. In part this goes back to the comment (above, under control) about the ability menu. Trying to string together all of your abilities before the pace of the battle has passed you by is often just not possible. Auto-battle is always faster and often good enough to get the job done, in terms of the skills it auto-selects for you. So you'll use it. Meaning that aside from switching paradigms via L1 and basically saying "yes, go ahead, play for me" by hitting X as it hovers over auto-battle, you're not really going to play this game, you're going to watch it play itself.

After each battle, you are ranked on a scale of zero to 5 stars. This has no impact on the CP you earn (CP is used to purchase abilities for characters) but it does have impact on your spoils. I should note that monsters do not drop gil in this game, only spoils (materials and items, if anything at all). So, gil is hard to come by.

Other than that (battles) the other main mode of play, between fights, is running down hallways. Sure, sometimes the hallways look like roads or forest paths or caves or canyons, but in the end this game is about running down hallways. There is no exploration, at all, save for one relatively small portion of the game that basically amounts to a modest sized field. You don't even visually explore the environment for possible hiding spots with treasure or secrets of some sort. If there's something to be found then it's in a generic bouncing round metal ball called a treasure sphere.

You also cannot interact with any of the non-player characters. In fact, aside from running down hallways and letting the game mostly fight the battles for you, there's really nothing else to do. I'm not exaggerating. That's it. There are no mini-games, there are no secret areas to find, there are no hidden characters. There's really no way to customize your characters' growth during the story (their growth path is, all things considered, limited and linear -- like their world).

When you finish the story you get to -- you guessed it -- fight more monsters, only now without even a story to drive you on. Now your drive, if you are so inclined, is to upgrade your weapons and accessories to more powerful levels so that you can take on the real foe in Final Fantasy XIII: the evil giant turtles. I wish I was kidding. And I hope you like killing skyscraper-sized turtles, because that's what the endgame is all about, since only the turtles have the potential to yield the valuable items you need to complete your item optimization. I suppose if you love the trophy system and/or have an obsession with maxing every game you have, this will be par for the course for you. But if you are wondering if the post-game is fun without any sort of artificial goal to strive for, then in my view: it is not.

Replayability: 1/10
It is almost impossible to miss anything your first time through this game. However, now and again I suppose you might miss a treasure sphere or two. Since you can't actually go back to any of the early chapters without a restart this would be the one minor reason I could imagine for replaying this game. Really, there's no reason to ever replay it again. It's simply too linear to offer even the illusion of something new to look forward to on a replay.

Conclusion: 6/10
This game had a lot of potential. It's shear beauty and brisk battle system offer hope in the game's early hours that this is going to be a special rpg experience. However, ultimately the game is too linear and it all but plays itself, leaving you wondering if this is a really long (and not very good) movie or is it a game. They took out literally everything that Final Fantasy fans have to come to love over the years: towns (and the npc's in them) which served as places to find secrets and break the pace, mini-games, and extras of any sort. They left us with fights and hallways with nothing but endless cutscenes to break the action. It's like they forget that the towns and other non-fighting areas of interest actually served an important purpose. Because they did, they gave us players a chance to learn a bit more about the world and to search for secrets and to give us enough pause from the otherwise non-stop fighting that we'd actually itch for a fight again. In this game you never itch for a fight because that is all you do: fight or watch the computer A.I. fight for you. So, in conclusion, this game is so focused that I feel it is fair to say that is too focused.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 04/12/10

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


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