Review by shaktazuki
"The Spirits Within"
This game is the essential Final Fantasy experience at its best; it is perhaps the most engrossing single-player game available on modern consoles. It is a work of art. One needn't have played previous entries in the series to enjoy this game thoroughly.
There are three core aspects to any JRPG - environmental exploration, story, and combat. For a JRPG to warrant a purchase, all three aspects must be compelling.
1) Environment - The environments are stunning, the music is (almost) always appropriate, and taking the indirect path to your goal is always rewarding. Words can't express the breadth and scope of the game world. One of the nice aspects of this game, unlike others in the series, is that if you miss a treasure at any point, you can always pick it up later on in the game from one of the in-game stores, meaning all trophies are available no matter how desultorily you explore.
2) Story - The story is, from a Westerner's perspective, complete, affording closure as it explains the ultimate beginnings (as far as is relevant to the game) and a coherent plot drivng the player towards the end. The epic of Final Fantasy XIII is told in stereotypically Japanese fashion - which is to say, in pieces, not necessarily (or ever) in chronological order - using stock character types from Japanese drama and culture (including mannerisms and interactions between the characters). The language localization is on par with Nintendo's first-party offerings, which is high praise, and all of the cutscenes have been done such that the characters' mouth movements mirror the English of the speech they are supposed to be speaking. It is a well-told, well-crafted tale.
Some have complained that the story experience is too linear, that one cannot make choices that make a difference in the basic plot, but I cannot think of a JRPG where that power has ever been present. The only RPGs that I can recall where one's choices make a difference to how the basic plot unfolds is the Baldur's Gate series of games - but comparing Western RPGs with JRPGs is, at a fundamental level, comparing apples to oranges. Certainly nothing one ever did in Final Fantasy VII made any difference to how the game unfolded - unless you count going on a date with Barrett as a significant event.
3) Combat - The combat experience is where the replay value of this game shines, quite unlike many JRPGs I've played, including previous entries in the Final Fantasy series as well as Dragon Quest. Without going into too much detail, the battle mechanics feel like the old-school Final Fantasy Active Time Battle system, with expanded classic Final Fantasy roles, merged with the strategic elements of Magic: The Gathering. Combat is as challenging as you wish for it to be, with plenty of unique enemies to stomp on at varying levels of readiness. The major confrontations are enjoyable, and the main storyline combat sequences can be beaten without recourse to level grinding. There is a sequence of optional, combat oriented, side-missions available in two chapters in the game - those wishing for a punishing challenge can try to complete them as early as they become available, or one may wait until after one has beaten the main storyline and has a much more powerful party. The levelling process is delightfully straightforward, and one can acquire certain powers in whatever order to suit one's priorities.
I rented this game with trepidation, due to the ire and scorn heaped upon it by the "reviewers." I've played Final Fantasy I, II, and VII through, and tried to get through VIII, X, and XII, but got extremely bored by those last three quickly due to lackluster storytelling. This game was a far different experience from those last two. After I noted that I had logged (a very enjoyable) 60 hours in the game, I decided that this game was a worthwhile addition to my game library.
I recommend this game to anyone.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/22/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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