Review by Orphandelus

"A comprehensive look at one of the most controversial Final Fantasy titles..."

Introduction

Ah, Final Fantasy XIII. The newest installment to the Final Fantasy franchise. After four long years, Final Fantasy fans finally got the game that was overdue. Since it's release, it has sold around five million copies. When it first came out in Japan, there was a lot of hate going around on forums saying how Final Fantasy XIII was doing a disservice to Final Fantasy. Upon release in other regions, many soon seemed to see why much of Japan was complaining about Final Fantasy XIII. Other people were not perturbed by the changes and fell in love with Square's latest product.

To be perfectly blunt, Final Fantasy XIII is going to be a game that you either love or hate. It has made numerous changes from previous Final Fantasy titles, and it even retained some of the drastic changes seen in the previous Final Fantasy. In this review, I'm going to avoid using nicknames and address some of the criticisms that Final Fantasy XIII is known for. I hope to retain some level of objectivity, despite my love for the game.

Plot

Final Fantasy XIII consists of two major worlds, Cocoon and Pulse. Cocoon and Pulse were at war centuries ago, but they are now at peace. The Fal'Cie rule over Cocoon and created a massive phobia against Pulse, who is deemed to be evil. The Fal'Cie create L'Cie, who are essentially servants of the Fal'Cie that are given a Focus. This Focus is very important to a L'Cie. If the L'Cie completes their Focus, they are granted the salvation of eternal life. If they fail to complete their Focus before their L'Cie brand fully develops, they are turned into monstrous Cie'th, creatures who suffer a fate worse than death.

The plot has a pretty nice idea behind it; however, the progression of the plot is a little slow. You begin the game on a train, where you aren't really sure of what's going on. A young woman manages to knock out the guards. This is our protagonist, Lightning. Basically, her and five other people end up becoming L'Cie, so they must complete their Focus before they are turned into Cie'th. The only clue the L'Cie have is a vision and the name "Ragnarok". Once you become L'Cie, the party will split into different groups and go on separate paths. The story will not pick up again until Chapter 6 or so. Once you learn some more story elements, the plot goes back down until Chapter 9.

The pacing of the plot was not presented very well. Also, there were certain things that should have been included in cutscenes that were not. Instead, the game gives you a Datalog where you can read about certain elements that are explained. The problem is, the Datalog is not required to be read. Because of this, you'll miss out on quite a few things that really explain the story or even develop some of the characters. For example, the villains have zero development in the game. Once you read the Datalog, you actually find out a little bit about them. Overall, the plot was very intriguing; however, poor plot progression really held it back.

Characterization

Final Fantasy XIII's cast may appear very dull at first. The protagonist, Lightning, is very dull in personality. She's very similar in personality to Cloud, who we all know wasn't Mr. Personality. Our male lead, Snow, is basically a big kid who doesn't think before acting, has a big ego, and thinks he can save everyone. Not much is known about Sazh, but he's actually one of the better characters. The kid characters, Hope and Vanille, are both annoying in different aspects. Hope starts of as a whiner, but he quickly grows out of it. As for Vanille, she just doesn't shut up. The last character, Fang, is really cool. I honestly don't have any complaints about her.

Even though the cast didn't have the most personality, I have to say that Final Fantasy XIII's characterization was some of the best in the series. Each of the characters had great development and interaction. I really felt that these characters interacted the most with each other out of every Final Fantasy game. The dialogue and motivational speeches were very cheesy, but the voice acting was incredible. Overall, the characters lacked some personality; however, they made up for it with great development and interaction.

Presentation

I don't think we can deny that Final Fantasy XIII has beautiful presentation. The graphics really are the best technology can offer. Thanks to high-definition, the realism is simply incredible. The environments were well detailed, the battle animations were out of this world, and everything was overall just amazing to behold.

Accompanying the stunning visuals was an epic soundtrack that was no composed by Umatsu. He's usually known for doing the soundtracks for the Final Fantasy series, but he did not do the compositions for Final Fantasy XII or XIII. Despite not having the long-time composer, Final Fantasy XIII absolutely impresses with its soundtrack. There were many great compositions that could rival Umatsu and were on par with his work. I will say that the classic victory fanfare and prologue were absent, which was a bit disappointing. Overall, though, the music was incredible.

Gameplay

Now, it's time to get into Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay. For a lot of fans, this is where the game lacks the most. The gameplay department takes a lot of flack because of several new changes that were implemented. It wasn't that these changes were necessarily a bad thing... Some of the changes didn't appeal to personal taste.

For starters, the game is pretty linear. Even though the previous Final Fantasy titles had some form of linearity, Final Fantasy XIII goes above and beyond to show just how linear the game is. For the first twenty hours or so, you'll spend your time walking through hallways or areas that are basically paths. There is some branching here and there for treasure chests; however, there's not a lot of it. Linearity isn't necessarily a bad thing; however, it did ruin the game for a lot of people. I personally didn't mind the linearity, but some players did.

Secondly, Final Fantasy XIII's battle system is, without a doubt, the best battle system in the series by far. It is very fast-paced and requires strategy to win. For the first couple chapters, you will be limited with your battle options. Once you get to Chapter 4, you'll be able to use Paradigms. Basically, these Paradigms are different roles you can do in battle. There are six different roles, and each of them offer something different. Basically, you must utilize Paradigms to remedy different situations.

In battle, players control one character who is designated as the party leader. The other two characters support the party leader through the AI. The AI isn't always the best unless you use Libra or Libra Scope to determine the enemies weakness. Also, sometimes it takes forever for them to use certain abilities you want, and they might not use abilities on the person you want them to. It's a hit or miss, really.

During battle, you can use Auto-Battle to pick abilities for you. I found Auto-Battle to add more strategy because it can really save your neck in situations where you need to be quick. A mix between Auto-Battle and inputting commands is a good way to battle. Since Auto-Battle picks the best abilities suited for a situation, it's best to use it when you absolutely need it. Even though it's designed to pick the best abilities, sometimes you'll find it doesn't pick certain abilities that you need. It's basically got it's pros and cons; however, you can turn it off if you don't want to bother with it.

If the party leader is killed in battle, it's an automatic game over. Thanks to the new retry option, you can reset in front of a previous encounter with everything the way it was before that encounter.
Another feature that was added to the battle system was a battle rating based on time. Depending on your time, you get a rating from one star to five stars. It doesn't really affect anything; however, it is a neat little feature and sometimes a challenge to get five stars in certain battles.

Final Fantasy XIII has a very comprehensive upgrade system that is very fun to level up in, called the Crysterium. The Crysterium is basically a combination of Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid and Final Fantasy XII's License Board. You must travel along the paths to unlock the spheres; however, you need Crystogen Points (CP) to progress. The Crysterium is capped at different points, which prevents overleveling. Personally, I don't think a cap was necessary because it takes many points to max the Crysterium, which leads to tedious grinding. Not only that, but there are other worthwhile things to grind for besides CP points and leveling up the roles.

In addition to the Crysterium, you can upgrade weapons and accessories by getting points by adding components to them. These upgraded accessories provide different powerups depending on what they are. Also, you can dismantle weapons or accessories to get components to upgrade other ones. Overall, the upgrading system is really fun. It can be pretty complex, but it's really not that bad once you get the hang of it.

Well, that pretty much sums up Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay. Overall, the changes are really nothing that bad. I think Final Fantasy XIII was trying to draw new fans into the series by appealing to the modern casual gamer who likes the linearity and limited things distracting him/her from the main plot. Unfortunately, while trying to appeal to the modern casual gamer, Square disappointed it's long-time old school fans.

Replay Value and Additional Content

The biggest flaw with Final Fantasy XIII is the lack of additional content. Once the final boss has been defeated, the Crysterium will completely open up. There are also missions you can complete; however, it's basically more fighting. Maxing the Crysterium and getting the trophies also require fighting. Outside of finding, there are no minigames, optional dungeons, superbosses, or things to do.

For some people, replaying the game is a chore because of the linearity and tutorials that block the plot progression. Some people found these so called "flaws" to not bother them and have completed multiple playthroughs of Final Fantasy XIII in the short time it's been available. Overall, Final Fantasy XIII does lack in extras, which is a shame. It had so much potential with sidequests and whatnot.

The Myths of Final Fantasy XIII

This section is going to address the myths that haters and trolls like to spread that gives an inaccurate depiction of Final Fantasy XIII. Basically, people who dislike this game will exaggerate something about the game and make it into a big deal. These exaggerations cause potential buyers to become uneasy in buying the game. This section is an attempt to expose these "flaws" as nothing more than myths.

"All you have to do is Mash X and press up to win the game."

This is blatantly false information that pokes fun at Auto-Battle and the game's linearity. For of all, pressing forward will not help because parts of the map do branch in different directions, which cause the player to become stuck. As far as mashing X goes, this false as well. A lot of the bosses require Paradigm shifts to defeat them. Simply mashing the X button will not help you. This game is not a button masher. If you want a true button masher, play Kingdom Hearts.

Also, people say that battles require no strategy because of pressing X. I'm sorry, but when have any of the other Final Fantasy titles require complicated strategies to win? For most of them, you can get by with attack and curing every couple of turns. To say that Final Fantasy XIII doesn't have as much strategy as the previous Final Fantasy battles is baloney. Seriously, it's a serious exaggeration.

"This game is as linear as a tube."

Another popular myth you'll hear is that Final Fantasy XIII is called the "tube game". This is just wrong because a tube or hallway is a straight line. I'm not one to be picky, but the people who are saying this are being picky. Well, I'm going to be equally picky and say that the true definition of a tube is a straight structure. A lot of Final Fantasy XIII's areas twist and turn and occasionally branch off. Yeah, that's not a tube. Don't be fooled by this inaccurate name.

"NO TOWNZ?!"

Finally, the most annoying myth about Final Fantasy XIII is the absence of towns. This is simply not true. The haters will say, "Well, Final Fantasy XIII's towns lack the 'classic sense' of towns. Classic towns had NPCs, shopping, and were located on a map." Well, let's take a look at FFXIII's towns. There are NPCs inside of them that you can interact with. The only difference is they will speak to you buy running into them or past them. You don't actually go up to them and press a button to interact. It really doesn't matter because the NPC is going to say the same thing whether you press a button or not. Okay, so we have NPC interaction. Next complaint was shopping. Shopping is done through save points because of some explanation of Cocoon's shopping in the Datalog. Gee, look at that. You can shop at save points in towns. Okay, we have NPC interaction and shopping. The final complaint is location on a map. I'm not even going to debate that because that's just ridiculous and does no define a "classic town". Okay, so it has everything else. What exactly is the problem?

Rent, Buy, or Skip?

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, it's a mixed opinion kind of game. Before buying, I would rent first. If you like the style seen in the first few chapters, buy the game. If you don't like the linear progression, this game is sadly not for you because 80% of the game is linear progression. I definitely wouldn't flat-out skip it or believe the false rumors by the haters/trolls. It's a game that should at least be attempted. Plain and simple.

Final Verdict

Final Fantasy XIII is not for everybody. It really depends on what kind of gamer you are. If you are a modern casual gamer, you may like the linear progression, emphasis on focusing, and the minimal extras that distract from the main story. If you are a classic gamer, you may be disappointed with the lack of freedom. It's definitely a game worth checking out, though. Don't be afraid to try it because of negative comments, reviews, ratings, etc. Just remember. These things are all strictly opinion. Just because someone else didn't enjoy the game, doesn't mean you won't find Final Fantasy XIII an enjoyable experience.

Plot - 6/10
Characterization - 9/10
Presentation - 10/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Replay Value and Extra Content - 3/10
Lastibility - 8/10
Overall - 7.6/10
Final - 8/10 (Great-fun to play, some minor but no major flaws)

Pros
+ Excellent characterization
+ Gorgeous presentation
+ Magnificent soundtrack
+ The game is fun for the most part
+ The best battle system in the series
+ Great voice acting

Cons
- Slow plot progression
- Linear gameplay
- under-developed villains
- Hardly any extras


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/31/10

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


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