Review by AncientPotion
"This game is like a stack of pancakes..."
...and I didn't like it.
"How is it like pancakes?" you ask? Well, I can compare it like this:
In the beginning it's freaking awesome. The pancakes look absolutely gorgeous. It's all hot and soft, the butter on top is slightly melting and the syrup is just drizzling down like a veil of amber heaven. Then you start eating and it's amazing. The flavors in your mouth just swarm together and attack your "HOLY AWESOMENESS! THIS TASTES GREAT!" taste buds until they surrender with the white flag delicious defeat.
Then you get to almost finishing it and it just isn't what it was. The melting butter is all gone now, and you can barely taste it. The syrup has soaked into the pancake itself, leaving it all soggy, heavy, dry and sticky on the inside, and the flavors got lazy and have stopped their Zerg rush on your taste buds. Now you're left with this disgusting pile of soggy bread on your plate that doesn't look the least bit appetizing and you're reluctant to even finish.
This pretty much describes FFXIII as a whole.
In the beginning, the battle system was awesome. The developers did a fantastic job in forcing you to swap usage of all characters to sample all of the different "classes" the game had to offer. Being forced to use characters, the developers had an easier time with boss battles, creating great tactical battles that forced you to use the differing Paradigms in battle to overcome them. Also being such a linear game, unless you went out of your way to do so, you weren't overly leveled and boss fights had somewhat of a difficulty to them.
Then, later on, when the game lets you choose members, you'll have access to all the Paradigms at once. This boils down to winning the game to one simple formula:
Are you absolutely kidding me? For a whole solid 1/2 of the game it's just that. Only that. In every fight. Regular mobs or bosses, it's just that. The whole tactical element is gone and is replaced with the mantra "Heal if you're dying, Mash X and stagger enemy if you're not." After a few hours, this becomes embedded into your muscle memory and your fingers just press the correct buttons for you almost subconsciously. There are no more tactics needed to think of. There are no more special conditions to care about. There are no hindrances to force you to come up with strategy. You don't even need to pay attention, as evidenced by me being able to surf the web at the same time I was in battle.
It's same thing with the story. It's engaging at first. You don't know what's going on, only that there are explosions happening and everything looks really pretty. Then you see this chick and she has a sweet gunsword and she's shootin' all sorts of insignificant NPC's and later you get to control her. You know nothing else except for the fact that you know you're playing a game, and the person you're playing as has somewhere to get to and that you need to get her there. You keep playing because you want to know what's going on, and you know the story will surely reveal itself later.
This was good. It's the sort of story telling that I enjoy. I appreciate the fact that Square didn't tell the story from the beginning to end but rather dropped you in the middle of it and handed you pieces of the beginning as you moved along towards the climax. Words, names and phrases will fly out in the dialogue and you won't know their meaning. It's an effective way to make the player pay attention to the story because you'll have to constantly put two and two together to understand it.
However, as well and it's presented, the story itself is just meh. Just overall standard JRPG fare. There are bad guys trying to take over who are led by a prominent political/religious figure. There are good guys trying to stop him and save the world. Throw in a cast of colorful characters, some cliche story elements and sappiness, and there you go: Le histoire a la FFXIII.
Graphics and Sound
This section is here only as a formality.
This is SquareEnix we're talking about. Graphic and audio production are top notch. Square has never disappointed me in this aspect of the games they produce. It's a constant and hopefully will be in the future.
Looking at another angle
There is one aspect of FFXIII that I did absolutely abhorred enough to warrant the creation of this section in this review, and it's the simple fact that I didn't care.
Didn't care about what? Everything. I had no emotional attachment to this game whatsoever.
Due to the linearity, the world felt empty. Completely empty. All you do is just walk. Walk forward and fight, and keep walking and fighting until you reached the end of the game.
Do you meet people when you walk? No. Why? Because everyone and everything in existence is trying to kill you. So what happens when you don't meet people? You don't create an attachment to the world; the same world that you are trying to save, nonetheless. If you don't care about the world, then why would you even want to save it? Oh yea, that's right. There's a certain individual in the beginning that your characters want to save, which why you started out on your quest in the first place. The problem is that something happens to her before the player will even have a chance to connect with her character, and she disappears until the end of the game.
You see, traditionally in RPG's you are able to meet and talk to the NPC's that are living in the world you're in. You get a feel for the state of the world, the goings-on of daily life, their opinions on current situations, etc. In FFXIII, you don't get any of that at all. You're supposed to be saving the world from an oppressive maniac bent on genocide, but who was oppressed? Seriously, I need to know! I saw no suffering at all in this game. The worst is just seeing people in hoods supposedly being sent to death on a train in the opening movie. That was it. Other times it was scenes of people enjoying themselves at an amusement park, or on a beach looking at pretty fireworks. Honestly the only people that looked like they were suffering were the main cast itself. Which leads into...
Not caring about the cast. Aside from Sazh, I couldn't care less about the rest of them. Lightning is just a moody non-talker badass, who isn't the least bit interesting. Snow is just there for Lightning's ride. Hope is particularly useless little kid who's just there because everyone else felt sad for him. Vanille is some annoying, high pitched, overly hyper, ADD girl that won't go away, and Fang is just alright. There's really little character development and finding out about the characters backgrounds don't change much either.
Looking at yet another angle
Like I've stated before, all you do is just walk and fight. As there are no towns and no human interaction, the entire game feels like one long dungeon. Not having towns, or even just a single central hub where your characters can convene and relax, is the single most horrible decision ever implemented in the history of RPGs, ever.
Towns serve as a good way to break up the pacing in games. Typically, you fight and fight intensely for hours then you come across a town to explore and relax in. Maybe in town there's a couple of quests you can take up, maybe save a little girl from the clutches of the bad guys, or interact with NPCs via a mini game. Essentially you build up relationships with the locals and actually start caring about the people that live in the world that you're trying to save.
FFXIII has none of that. There are no towns to break up the mundane task of fighting over and over and over again. There's never any place to relax. Any human interaction is limited to fighting off inept guards trying to kill you. You grind though one long, boring, and unimaginative dungeon just to end up watching a cutscene and then being thrown into yet another freaking dungeon. Honestly I felt burnt out by halfway through the game. I was tired of fighting and the game did little to give me more initiative to fight. The only reason for keeping on walking forward was to not get caught by the bad guys and to find a way to save that one individual from the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, your characters don't know how to save her, and you're basically walking forward aimlessly hoping that something will pop up and save the day.
All I wanted was to hit up a town and play a mini-game or two before venturing back out again into the world, but it just never happened. Apparently, it was too much to ask.
I accept FFXIII as an experiment and I appreciate Square trying to change up the JRPG market once again. Unfortunately this experiment was a failure. Commendable try, Square but try again.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 12/06/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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