Review by tyran55

"A shallow and flashy game that could have been so much more"

Well, it's here, the first FF game to hit the newest generation of console – and opinion is very starkly divided about this game, I would like to point out I have read reviews since playing and noted both the criticism and defence and have based this review on my experience of the game as I played through, which I played without any aid and took as it came. I am a long-time fan of the series and have played every game (even X-2), most several times, but I do not hold it up to one particular personal favourite, but I do compare it to the series as a whole, and other RPGs, as a basis of what I expect.

Let's get into it – starting with Gameplay:

The battle screen is back, although the monsters are on the field screen and avoidable, and the battle system is fast…very fast, so fast in fact that you only control one character and even then it's a nominal ‘control'. Your job is effectively to choose the roles through the ‘Paradigm' system and whack X, a lot, oh and you get to pick the target.

At first glance it's a fairly reasonable system that enables high-speed, perhaps even realistic, battle, but it comes at a huge price. There are only six roles, two of which are offensive, meaning attacks are either a basic choice of magic or physical, the rest cover healing, buffs, and defence - the best moves are selected for you by the AI, therefore meaning all you do is press auto-battle, unless you want to manually select attack, attack, attack…which gets very tiring after a few rounds and won't save your X button. Therefore there is next to no tactical edge to this game, you just run into a battle and choose whether to cast magic or attack, with buffing and healing thrown in for good measure, all you need to do is prevent your HP getting down by bringing in a Medic and then whack auto-battle – gets somewhat boring after a while, particularly when areas crawl with the same type of enemy. The only time the Paradigm system comes into its own is in the boss battles, where you will need to shift constantly to stay alive as you grind them down and this will keep you on your toes, however the only thinking required is the speed of change required, if you don't get in to heal quick enough - you die, this means the battles themselves are generally challenging as you have to be very aware, but ultimately it's always the same, it's incredibly fast, but also incredibly shallow.

Fortunately if you do die, there's always the much-maligned ‘retry' option, which completely restores you outside the battle – while some would say this makes the game too easy, I have to concede the retry is essential, you will die, and it won't be your fault, being forced to reload would be immensely frustrating and it was definitely the right decision – ‘why is it so important to an experienced gamer?' you ask, well like I said, you will die through no fault of your own. Whilst you can handle most standard fights on your own, there are boss fights where you will need a couple of fairly specific Paradigms which you have no way to anticipate, and on occasion you will be thrown into battle and your team changed for story reasons, this means you get new, often useless, Paradigms and may well be using an underdeveloped character as you won't have bothered to develop, say, Sazh, which means you have to do the FF13 tactic known as ‘press retry, sort out your team', and when you re-enter the battle you'll get a menu this time around…because it was definitely my fault I lost the first time! You will soon lose the shame surrounding these ‘defeats', while in most FF games you could adapt to a battle every time, because here you are limited to your Paradigm selection in battle there's sometimes nothing you can do, you simply may not be able to access the right abilities. As an example, take an early experience with a team of Sazh and Vanille, because they have incredibly annoying paths that mean that neither could learn the right spell, which made it more tedious than difficult, I had to constantly fight (grind) the same creature with weak moves, this theme, by the way continues throughout the first half of the game, as the pair of them are useless and you will be incredibly frustrated by their Crystarium paths.

So the retry option, for me, works, it fits with this game – the battles are made harder and at times impossible, so it's a necessary function, doesn't mean I like the idea of it – it seems fairly daft (i.e. it would be far more rewarding if you could access the menu in battle and keep yourself alive), but it doesn't make the game excessively easy, so I find it a neutral addition to the game, although it brings into question why there's a save point every three feet when you only need them to switch off the game.

Likewise, the ‘harder' aspect to this game is mostly superficial – in essence enemy HP is higher, much higher, you'll be facing enemies with the daunting image of millions of HP mid-way through the game, while often several 100k will be ‘standard' – this is down to the faster and harder hits, and lack of any move limits, it's really no harder than any other FF game, it's just enabling faster movement. Some say you can make the game harder by turning off auto-battle – I'm not sure if ‘harder' is the right word – annoying maybe, but the only difficulty is finding and punching in the commands incredibly quickly – it's a test of reflexes, not skill. The AI is not doing anything that you wouldn't, all you would be doing is picking a physical attack or the appropriate elemental spell again and again, it makes the game bearable, not easy, and bear in mind that even with it off you will still have two on auto-pilot, so you are never going to have real control.

All in all, while the battles are fast and the Paradigm shift function is fun and works fairly well in theory; it doesn't come into its own until after the first 15 or so hours, as you can't control your party, having to put up with useless combinations (as I referred to) and the game releases new elements incredibly slowly and in practice you're limited to a tiny number of options anyway. In short it looks good, feels good, but it's actually very shallow and repetitive, the only time tactics come in is when fighting multiple enemies or in a handful of later boss fights.

Other wholesale changes are the lack of any MP, magic is no different to any attack, and HP refills after every battle – may sound odd, but personally I like both ideas – magic was virtually redundant in the last instalment, here you can't ignore it, although it hardly makes it any more special than a basic attack. To be honest, MP had to go in this game, you will use so many magic attacks in even a standard battle it's not funny, so the idea of conserving MP would never work, again, this change fits well with the game. The HP thing is probably the most surprising, a staple of all RPGs …even Pokemon, it means there's no healing outside battles, and no entering battles weakened (no statuses carry over either) – it's obviously to speed up the game, as there's no stopping to heal every five seconds, and personally I quite like it, I don't think it detracts from the game even if many eyebrows were raised at the concept (mine included). Healing was a mundane chore that wasted time, Square simply needed to compensate for the occasions where you trudge around looking for a heal by making battles challenging enough to kill you every time, and they did, mostly, in most other games you would face mostly weak, repetitive enemies who were little threat and you could let your HP slide over many battles with little problem, you won't miss this feature.

The only form of limitation that we do have in this game are ‘Technical Points' (TP) – these are spent on a handful of special techniques that don't require ATB charges, most notably Eidolons, and they take some time to replenish. For me, it's a step in the right direction as far as strategy goes to have something that carries over, but it's a really poor replacement for MP or a mana gauge, these TP are almost solely used for two things – Eidolons and Libra, the fact that you only get five means you can only use an Eidolon (as it costs 3) once in a battle, fine, but it seems a bit daft to install a points system when this is virtually your only expenditure – why not just limit summons to one use and be done with it? Do I need a bar that fills up ridiculously slowly, preventing me from casting the most pedestrian of spells (Libra) and seemingly feels tacked on at the last minute? It's an incredibly frustrating system that will see you rarely have a full bar to utilise, and with it only having six actions and no growth as the game progresses it seems a fairly weak and pointless addition to the game.

The other main problems I feel are that the battle system is particularly stifled by only being able to control one character, and the targeting system – particularly as you can't pick your team for over half the game you may as well be one player with a couple of supportive guests a la FF12, you don't get to pick their attacks, only you can use items, and you lose if only you die – seriously what's that about? I have accepted many of the dramatic changes to traditional RPG combat here, but why if one player dies is it game over, and yet if two others died it wouldn't be? It defies sense – FF12 had it right with the leader switching, why bother to change it solely for a bit of minor storytelling? Personally I don't mind the automated nature of your support characters, particularly where healing and buffing come in, it's a mindless chore usually – but I would like some control over some things, otherwise 66% of my moves are nothing to do with me and like I said – no tactics involved whatsoever, I can't pick any specific moves for my supporters, which is fine for a Ravager/Commando where the AI does a good job – but Medics don't prioritise reviving, and buffing, debuffing and status effects may not be what you would want, and in particular for Saboteurs, sometimes I would like to use a specific spell – this means your ‘Sab' has to be the leader, or else will be stuck spamming Slow or something, and yet you do not want Vanille as leader because if leader dies it's game over. It also makes it pointless to even choose your abilities – the AI is built to do it for you because two of your characters always act on it anyway, so there's not even a reason to tactically pick whether to slow, curse, poison, whatever. It is more realistic I guess, that's why they forcibly change the leader so much, so you get to control everyone, and in real life you would only be responsible for yourself, but there's no direction, just the generic role choice, why not introduce an instruction system like the Gambit system, this game definitely needs something more refined.

The other flaw I've found in the battlefield is targeting, you pick one target…but there are three Bombs on the field! I could kill all of them in a second if I could target my three attackers separately but oh no, we all move from one to the next and inevitably get hit with a self-destruct (no doubt I could've used an area-wide move…but this was chapter 3! It gets easier later on – so I'm glad I remembered these early frustrations) – this is in fact probably the one flaw that really grates at me, it's not something that's missing per se, it's something that's been restricted and made the battle experience far worse for seemingly no reason.

A few tiny other points – Eidolons…they are slightly more prominent than in FF12 but once again they are just a flashy, virtually useless feature that looks good in a trailer, all they really do is give you an emergency full heal. Once again the one character issue pops up – everyone gets one Eidolon at a certain point, however only the leader can use their Eidolon, so during the first half of the game particularly, you can't even use an ability you should be able to if your leader hasn't got theirs yet – again, I'm being limited from a basic common sense decision here and I don't like it.

There is also a weird ranking system with battles – they give you a star rating and points for winning, these points do nothing, and nor do the stars (aside from improve item drops) – why do I therefore care about my point multiplier and a five-star ranking? Both this and the ‘Transformers'-style Eidolon system seem like another babyish move to appeal to the action market, the star system probably would have worked if it was solely on the missions, but alas they follow every battle.

In short it's a fairly entertaining, well-crafted battle system that looks good and is easy enough to allow mainstream gamers to get to grips with battling, whilst making opponents tough enough to present a threat. However it is clearly aimed at this mainstream audience with its retry button and reduction in control and has failed to replace any of the components that no longer fitted with the change in gameplay, so it will quickly bore experienced gamers and will eventually bore everyone else, it lacks any real tactical depth past mashing the X button, meaning it's all a pretty show for idiots really.

I would rank it as one of the lowest battle systems – for all its flaws, FF12 was enjoyable and gave you control, even FFX at least had an element of tactics involved and likewise so did the older ATB systems, even if they were slower.

Weapons/Equipment etc:

Yet another of Square's usual trick of going overboard when fixing a problem is the weapons system, FFXII had a ridiculous amount of weaponry that was completely redundant, so here we have a system that's essentially gone back to FFX, one weapon slot each, and some accessories. Only here we have a combination of FFX's variety of weapons, and FFVIII's upgrade system, but all it does is to make equipment virtually meaningless, and rather confusing – you never know whether to upgrade your weapon or not (should I be upgrading my initial, and therefore presumably weak, equip? Will there be a better one round the corner?), and it seems to make little difference whether you bother or not, I didn't really touch weapons for the first half of the game aside from a few plays with upgrades, which is an incredibly messy system that sees you throwing all your loot at equipment, making you wonder what is the point in having such a large variety of items as it has no function other than to level equipment. Eventually I realised there's little difference between most weapons, later weapons aren't massively stronger, just varied for magic and strength, looking at boards it seems most people share this problem, but alas unless you read a walkthrough or guide beforehand you won't really work out the weapons system until the end, and unfortunately you probably won't be replaying the game (more on that later) with this knowledge. In short it's yet another flawed equipment system, it's messy, confused and is incredibly far removed from the heart of the game, not helping with the shallowness of the gameplay at all.

As for accessories, the levelling idea works a bit better I think, but the weapons, which cost far more, will divert your focus and in all honesty I forgot all about accessories about halfway in, as I no longer needed any added advantages, and I just breezed through the main game and the vast majority of missions – again, showing that there is next to no strategy element in this game.

Other elements of gameplay are virtually non-existent – the shops are at save points and open up as you progress, however they just sell stuff you already have! Unless you missed the poorly hidden treasure balls throughout the game you won't need shops, I presume they have some function if you know lots about weapons, but it's just buying a few items and loot for upgrades – gil is sufficiently hard to find, but unlike its predecessor, virtually pointless anyway. There is a serious balance issue with the shop system - you won't need to spend the little money you do find in the course of the game, yet anything you do need (principally in post-game) will be extremely expensive and require farming a select few enemies.

There are zero minigames – anything you do find off the beaten track will be…another battle, and rarely will you be rewarded with anything special, neither in terms of story or items. The Ci'eth stone missions are the sole non-story area of the game and they are well…weak, while I have been compelled to complete them, being that sort of person, they offer next to no reward and most of the challenging ones cannot be completed before the game ends – meaning most of your side-quest play is what they call ‘post-game', as much as I tried to get it all done in Chapter 11, I maxed out the Crystarium (thanks, Growth Egg) and simply did not have the power required. But it's ok, because there's essentially no reward for doing the missions – there's a handful of decent equips, which you get in the post-game…to do more post-game missions, but you won't gain anything for the final chapter, unlike in virtually all previous games, so it's purely for the satisfaction of beating all 64 of these daft stones. Despite the last few being pretty hard, there's no ‘real' challenge, as in an Omega, Yiazmat or whatever – you can grind at the end, as some do, but you don't really gain anything out of it as you've already finished, so all in all, it's under-developed and here's that word again - shallow. As I've mentioned there are no NPCs apart from in a handful of early scenes, so in essence there is nothing to the gameplay apart from battles and running.

Overall I'd give gameplay a 4/10

Crystarium:

In a virtual clone-copy of FFX, we don't have levelling, but an abilities board where you develop yourself – only it's far, far worse than the Sphere Grid, because rather than allowing you to choose your own path this grid is all linear – the branches in the road usually only lead to one crystal, and so you just go round and round, the only choice you get is which role (of three, in reality) to develop, and they all provide universal stat increases, so basically it's levelling, but more annoying and tedious, and using the X button (theme developing here…). Not only that, but it actually gets worse as you go on, because while initially it's annoying, as the moves require more and more CP you have to hold the X button down for even longer to move a tiny little space, it's goes from annoying to sheer tedium. Why exactly they chose to dumb down probably the best feature of FFX I don't know, but regardless it's a poor system that seems completely pointless as it provides next to no control over development and they might as well have EXP levelling for each job – it would be a lot quicker and have the same result (perhaps it's because the battles were too quick?).

They all have to get strength/magic upgrades as well, which are a waste of CP on several characters!…Not only am I being denied customisation, but I'm being forced into frankly ridiculous decisions. Add to this the fact that there are only these two basic stats, and HP, to grow – it's all too simple, what's the point in even having to develop when it's one long line which you have to take and it's all the same stats? There's not even a pretence of variety or customisation. Again, it's another frustrating aspect of the game, because they've clearly tried to provide an illusion of customisation, as the characters overlap in terms of their qualities, but have totally botched it and turned into mind-numbing levelling. To me it seems like a lazy patch-up job on FFXII's ‘sameness', where no character had anything special going for them, basically they've kept the sameness, but just crudely limited their abilities, again, it's an RPG staple that's been completely dumbed down. Also, because of this system there are clearly three characters who you should use right from the point when you can change your team, by the end of the main game I just left the other three because they clearly weren't as good and I had all roles covered sufficiently – I didn't even bother developing them, until I realised it maxes out at 999k CP, again, it's lazy – the characters are purely there for story purposes, aside from having a few advantages in the more difficult missions, and that's why you are forced to use them at certain points.

And would you like to know the single most frustrating point about the Crystarium? No…okay then, this is already a rather lengthy review…

Kidding…Actually, it's been CAPPED! Yes, that's right, you are physically prevented from going beyond a certain point in development, while initially I didn't notice too much – once you get to free play in Chapter 11 you simply cannot get stronger to fight those tougher missions, so that you aren't ruining the end of the game. This has got to be the single laziest and cheapest way of preventing a gamer from being over-developed, basically saying ‘sorry you can't go over level 55 right now and will have to come back later' – this is solely because the development is so dependent on three simple stats that there's no other (i.e. subtle) way of blocking your progress.

I give the Crystarium a 0/10, it's a frankly pathetic version of the Sphere Grid with next to no innovation, I challenge you to find a single positive about it

Story/Characters:

I wrote this as I went so as not to forget – so my opinions may have changed along the way.

As you may know, the plot surrounds our characters marking as ‘L'Cie', which for some reason is a proper noun that isn't usually capitalised so I thought was I'Cie (another point – too many ridiculous words). Anyway, L'Cie are humans marked by the incomprehensible ‘Fal'cie', who are gods or something, and given a specific task, the plot surrounds our characters dealing with said tasks – not bad, in fact I quite like the overall concept, but alas the writing and dialogue really aren't up to the job (and nor are Fang and Vanille's fake Australian accents), I don't know if it's better in Japanese, but once again, it's pretentious, silly nonsense much of the time with rather strange body movements thrown in.

In my opinion it's a reversion from FF12, which I felt had decent writing and acting at least. The idea of Cocoon (where the people live in safety in the sky) is in fact one of Square's better set-ups, and the mutual fear of the unknown other worlds is a nice plot point, rather Cold War-esque, I'm actually happy with the plot and the setting – it's just the dialogue and storytelling that stinks. Whilst there is a clearer story here than in its immediate predecessor, you really do have little involvement in it – there's virtually no other characters aside from your six, who you are just directing until their next boss fight and chat between themselves, which is essentially the only way the plot is developed, there's no memorable scenes or locales and the main villain is limited to an old guy who isn't developed enough to carry any sort of presence, and whose appearance in battle as essentially an airship means there's even less relevance to the character.

The characters did not impress me – unfortunately they are the usual long-haired Japanese anime rubbish that we always get – and it's getting a little predictable! Snow, Vanille and Hope in particular are completely unremarkable and would fit in any game since FF8, back when Selphie and Zell were original, and the few NPCs that there are look as daft and unremarkable as in both PS2 instalments – there really does seem to be little creativity in this department and hasn't been in about ten years, is this a Japanese style thing? Or is it just Square are purely focusing on engines and graphics? In short the characters range from the dull to the plain annoying, Lightning isn't bad, though she is one-dimensional and would be rather forgettable if she wasn't on the box, and Sazh (what sort of weird-arse name is that btw?) is yet another Afro-Caribbean cliche (emphasis on the Afro), thrown in for the yank audience, but he's not bad, he also has a young son so basically he's a non-swearing Barrett. Hope is yet another angsty teenage boy thrown in apparently for the key demographic, whoever they are, while Vanille is yet another peppy teenage girl thrown in…because it's Square-Enix and that's what they do. At least however, this is the first time since Cloud that the lead has not been a teenage boy, perhaps we can thank Vaan for that, because no doubt somebody wanted to make Hope the lead…It is an improvement on FF12, not hard considering the character development in 12 was virtually nil and had even more annoying Japanese pretty-boys, and likewise so is the plot (for similar reasons) – at least there is a plot relating to our characters this time.

However, that's about as far as it gets, the story is not fleshed out, and while there's a clear storyline from start to finish, it's a very weak one that you have very little involvement in featuring mostly drab conversations and action scenes that drive you to the next ‘level'. There is virtually no NPC involvement and virtually nothing but the main plot, there's a level of depth missing here. The conclusion is ultimately rather confusing and unsatisfactory, the motives of the main antagonist are somewhat bizarre (‘I want you to kill me! But we shouldn't! We will anyway! It's all ok!'), while the driving force (to save Cocoon) is clear, everything else is just a load of random battles and confusing dialogue, and in the end I really saw little point in saving Cocoon, this world of hallways that I felt no connection to.

Personally I feel quite saddened, because while I liked the driving ideas, I gained no attachment to the storyline because the plot was underdeveloped and none of the characters really impacted on me, it was like watching a soulless, pretty film. So, the story can be summed up as cliched, predictable characters that are very uninspiring, mixed with some cool ideas and settings, but to be honest the lack of innovation in the characters means this could be FFX or FF12, and that's really disheartening, I think they need some new writers – and give it some mystery, trepidation, drama, where's the epic of titles past? The linear, non-yielding story-telling of this game where you go from A to B to watch a new cutscene is like watching a long movie (see: MGS4), why not introduce some variation to the plot, a bit of user control, rather than make us watch drivel – particularly as cutscenes have become a bigger and bigger part of the game, it's dull watching a rubbish movie that we have no control over! I've actually thought for a while maybe they should get some new writers in and give the series a new look, and maybe a more adult one, surely the audience are bored of this repetitive anime stuff too?

Also, not strictly on the story, but has anybody noticed the rather curious similarities of this instalment with FFX? You have the story – which is incredibly linear and sees you challenging the evil establishment, culminating in a decision to become a legendary monster (probably the biggest similarity) with no way to escape your 'destiny'. They both feature a single expansive area in which to explore quite near the end, the equipment system is nearly identical and the development system is a bastard child of the Sphere Grid – there's a very new battle system (which is similar to X-2, however) and a different plot of course, but underneath that there's barely a difference.

100 Lines!

As I have now started ranting about linearity this might be a good time to mention one of the issues that's dominating opinion of this game – namely this game has tunnel vision. Similar to FFX you have a set route to travel from point A to B, and there is incredibly little besides – now I am fully aware all J-RPGs are linear – there's a story to tell and as some would say, it's all smoke and mirrors to make it appear non-linear, you are always going from point A to B, and there's plenty of straight lines in your favourite titles – remember Mt. Nibel, or Esthar? And at first it was fine, but eventually I began to feel it detracted from the game when so much of it is simply walking down a track (or indeed…actual tunnels), the same way it detracted in X.

I'm not really sure why it's so important, it shouldn't be really, but perhaps there just needs to be a degree of exploration and freedom – here you can't wander around, you just follow the route in front of you until the exit and beat the long line of bad guys along the way, it's not simply ‘smoke and mirrors' in the other games as some have said but it's giving you a little more to do with the game than just walk and battle, walk and battle, they deviate and give you some variation, people that dismiss all the games as linear actually miss the point. It feels somewhat like an action/adventure platformer, the areas are more like levels than places – there's no continuity between the locales, one minute you'll be in a wood, the next a cityscape, the next a dungeon, it feels like the production team just wanted to fit in as many backdrops as they could, and you won't be coming back to these unmemorable locales, and there's really no need to, perhaps that's part of the problem. The games have always had towns to track back to for whatever reason, you might want to wander around certain areas later in the game, but here it's all part of a continuous line, there's no connection to a place like you had with Midgar, Balamb or Lindblum for instance. Here, the only area you will return to is the single open area, the Archylte Steppe, which has some hidden paths to explore and missions to do – you can't revisit Cocoon, and nowhere else in Pulse is worth revisiting – which is a shame seeing as you need to if you want to do the missions.

Personally I would've preferred a little more freedom to explore, I appreciate that this aspect is probably a direct response to the criticism that 12 was too open, too much like an online version, but here it's just too restrictive – take the ‘Whitewood' for example, another completely forgettable area – you're supposed to be in a wood (I suppose), and there's lovely graphics all around but you just walk along a man-made path that has no deviations, rarely do you get to interact with the world around you, FF12 was brilliant for sightseeing, and while XIII naturally has top of the range graphics you really can't enjoy them as you travel along the repetitive path, and frankly the minimap doesn't help – why bother with it? You could just have an enemy sensor if need be, it's completely pointless showing you a straight line, and then when you get to the single open space it's useless anyway because it doesn't have a fixed axis (i.e. so it swings around with you, it's like running around the snow field in FF7) but then I've always hated the mini-map since it was invented - the first nine games never needed one! In short, the places you travel through are merely wallpaper, they aren't memorable and you'll have no connection to them, they are simply there to dress the plot and you really never have any sense of where you are. Similarly, not having any real NPCs to interact with, even shops, or any side-quests to do, means there's literally nothing but battles and cutscenes, and I think it really prevents you from connecting with the world the game creates.

When you finally get to ‘Gran Pulse' – you get excited because there's some great graphics…and sky! It feels like a real place finally, a barren world, perhaps modelled on Australia, spreads out beneath you, and yet, while I prefer Pulse to Cocoon, it's still incredibly linear, you just walk along mountain tracks and, rather sadly, down a bloody tunnel! Pulse could have saved this game, but in the end the only open area was tiny, despite the lovely opening scenes of monster-filled plains, the lack of anything besides monsters made it rather dull, and a bit like a pit-stop. The side-quests are purely battles and offer little reward, and so add very little to the game – it's strange how FF12 had essentially the same system in its hunts and created a far better experience, perhaps because they were better tied to the story and had a degree of structure, here it's completely random (unless you consult a guide) and very time consuming locating all the stones, and ultimately pointless, and I'm still trying to work out how exactly you were meant to know which missions you had to do to unlock the pretty essential Chocobos – did I miss a clue? Because I just walked right through...

Unfortunately once you leave Pulse, you are presented with what is perhaps the worst area in the whole game, despite witnessing probably the best cutscene on your arrival it's now time to run through the capital city facing throngs of monotonous soldiers and beasts you've seen before. Then you enter Orphan's cradle as your final ‘dungeon' – featuring a tiny variety of beasts to slay and a ‘puzzle' system that involves endlessly running back and forth pushing X at the glowing statue until you eventually reach the end of the strange floating red corridor, I do actually wonder why they made it like that, it's a completely nonsensical area. In truth it's just more of the same from Cocoon, but upon realising it was back to this I just wanted to end it, there was no pleasure to gain from these final battles or scenes.

Toriyama has defended the linearity by saying you need structure to make a ‘compelling story' – that's true, a sandbox does not make a good tale (see: FF12), and I respect the fact that because the story is the driving force here it has to be linear for the structure, however – this is not a compelling story. It's got a good, possibly excellent, set-up – they've created a wonderful backdrop of a world but that's about it. You never truly engage with Cocoon and Pulse, just run through them and watch a lot of drab conversations between six people along the way, and the fact that the story needs to be understood through the comprehensive 'datalog' does not help – plot points and terms are introduced and not explained, ridding the game of the annoying questioner (e.g. Tidus) who provokes an explanation for you, but because so much is left out you need to go and have a read to understand any of it – how is this beneficial to the story? It's outright poor storytelling, no film (and that's essentially what this is) provides a book to explain while you watch the movie, it just shows a lack of effort and skill from the developers.

Also, while on the datalog, I found the removal of a backstory on enemies to be a sad reduction in depth, here all we have is a list of enemy weaknesses that you have to read to remove the annoying blinking icon, FF12 did a great job explaining the mythology of the many beasts, for example we would know why the Oretoises had shackles and seats, here they couldn't be bothered to elaborate and yet made me read something that I had no reason to view.

If you don't mind the datalog, then your view of the story is essentially a subjective point, I personally found it weak – I provide the suicide scene as an example – ‘compelling'? What should have been surely the most emotional point of the game outside of the conclusion was well…comical and ended in you jumping in a fiery sports car. When you compare it to previous Final Fantasy titles they were almost all more compelling that this, they were much deeper and more involving than what we have here, and so I actually find these snide remarks from the man responsible for X-2 (surprise, surprise) rather condescending and wholly inaccurate. However, I leave it to your judgement

Sound

Always the most subjective of areas – all I'll say is it's not synthesised like the PSone games were, naturally, but I do still remember some of those, unlike anything here, which has all seemed to merge into one generic theme. It's nice and inoffensive, but little more - although one particular track early on had some weird bangs in which I thought was my PS3 breaking. To be honest I haven't really liked any music since IX, once voice acting came in the music had to take a step back, and it used to be a crucial element, music defined a character, and now they have voices, but they haven't matched up in any of these games.

I thoroughly liked FF12's improvement in the voice department and have been left bitterly disappointed by its successor, Vanille in particular is truly awful, and she narrates! Every time she spoke, I winced, there's nothing else to write home about in the acting department - 7/10 (minus 1 for Vanille) = 6/10

Graphics

Yawn…They are beautiful, battles look amazing as well - in some ways Square suffers because they get little points for expertise in this area because we simply come to expect it, but that said – the FF name also gives them a lot of sales (and therefore cash), so maybe we should be tough critics. 10/10

Replayability

Zilch – why would you re-watch a rubbish movie? The game is incredibly linear and you just run from cutscene to cutscene while having barely any control on your characters' development, what is there to re-do? There are no side-quests aside from the Ci'eth stones, which are just more battles that lack the sophistication and difficulty of the hunt quests from the last instalment (and many are the same mark...) Running down the same track, developing the same stats, fighting the same battles, watching the same bad movies….yeah, it's not bad first time but there's nothing to make you come back

I took around 40 hours to 'finish' the game, including most missions (46-ish), and I completed all missions in just under 70, but didn't grind to the top of the crystal tree or bother with 5 stars on all missions, the content was finished so why should I go any further?

Overall:

FF13 has made some impressive strides into a new type of gameplay that is incredibly fast and in some ways realistic, and there are several staples which they've reinvented quite well, but it's seriously let down by the rigid development system and frustrating lack of control in battle, as well as the promising but ultimately weak plot and completely linear progression. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that you know this would be so much better if you just had the freedom we normally get in Final Fantasy, but alas we are restricted, almost deliberately, from unleashing the true potential of this game presumably so that it appeals to the lowest common denominator. The game is also woefully underdeveloped in every area, it's stripped bare essentially, and to be honest that makes the game quite weak and boring in my opinion. All that (and Vanille) make this rather a disappointing game, which could've been saved by a few systems from older, ‘less advanced' games, or indeed, an actual ‘compelling' story.

As an aside, I have seen many reviews that defend this game, (albeit they are getting less and less as the series goes on) and I can appreciate that the game has some good points – it looks nice for one, but I do not feel I am simply a naysayer. It is far too simplistic a game and gave me very little enjoyment, it's not nostalgia for older games – it's boredom. I don't understand people who think this game encouraged strategy, I found there to be no challenge aside from switching between a few basic set-ups in timely fashion, fine for a while but ultimately easy and just plain repetitive. It's a good ‘game' – if you like simplistic corridor shooters it's perfectly crafted and entertaining, but the Final Fantasy series comes with a little more than that, to be honest it's actually not really a role-playing game at all, and this is not just about shops or fetch-quests, but the overall game having an immersive world, character development and a compelling story, I feel the fans have been left out in the cold by this and that this is just another game, unworthy of using the series name to achieve high sales.

I note that FFXIII has got the lowest rating for a Final Fantasy game on this site and slipped off the top spot for PS3 remarkably quickly, surely the people have spoken – this is a pretty, but shallow and soulless game.

I'm giving it a 6/10 - not a bad game, but considering it's an RPG with very high production values, it could be a lot better

Final recommendation:

Generally, I've found older FF fans do not like this game, I can understand why - if you are not big into RPGs or Final Fantasy and like decent action titles then you should like it, it's a good looking game with a fast pace, but anyone with a taste for stories, character development and involving gameplay will probably be disappointed - I'm a fan of the series and own it, and let's face it most fans will buy anyway, but I recommend finding it in the pre-owned section for 17 quid like I did.

Pros:

+Battles are fast
+Some decent innovations in battle
+Excellent appearance and graphics
+Nice plot set-up

Cons

-Battles are severely dumbed-down with tactics virtually eliminated
-Shocking development system
-Atrocious writing
-Cringeworthy dialogue
-Weak, poorly developed plot
-Too much walking down long corridors
-Virtually no content beyond walking, fighting and (melodramatic) cutscenes


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 09/13/10

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


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