Review by Kafkaligula

"Puberty, marriage, gods, tears, crystal tears, mums, pep-peps, Bahamut, it's all here."

It's inevitable that if you give the well-worn reins of a legacy to other artists willing to impose a personal stamp on it, that legacy will change. Especially since the 32-bit era, the Final Fantasy series has went through heavy variations on its main themes to the point where comparing it to other games in the series is futile. Similar to FFVIII, this one takes on elements of romance, low fantasy and melodrama, but to a frequently nauseating degree. The battle system however, is very involving and provides the hours of entertainment you can expect from this series. FFXIII will not be a very attractive game to many people, but it can be a strong experience for those who are affected by it.

There are many factors that make this entry in the series a divisive one. The story is painfully dull, relying on admittedly awesome action and spectacle, but also soap opera flashbacks and cryptically confusing the player as to who the enemy is. The characters lack any real drive and often act recklessly getting into annoying squabbles that essentially turn into melodramatic revelations about how they all shouldn't be so moody with each other. There are two impossible characters that are awful and typical of the terrible personalities and body languages that can come out of Japanese animation: Hope and Vanille. Firstly, Hope is 14. He goes from being a frightened 6-year old, to prude 12-year old to a responsible young man of vengeance in about 2 weeks. Vanille is a 19-year old who acts like a little girl, thereby inducing pedophiliac overtones in anyone that notices the sexual nuances in many scenarios. Sazh is the mellow black dude, Lightning is female Keanu Reeves, Snow is an emo jock and Fang is actually cool. There you go.

Many gamers worry that this is too linear of a game. The fact is, when you take the game as a whole, the first half is on rails. The first half is also the entire story part of the game. Your party is on the run in the story, so they must keep moving. There's no time to screw around. This type of pressure leads to the linearity, which makes for some strange design decisions and makes the player get over the fact that this isn't a dungeon-crawler or world-map excursion RPG. Shops and treasure chests still exist, though they stick out like a sore thumb everywhere you go. Save stations and shops are signified by floating monitor panels that are conveniently and mysteriously littered everywhere you go, from musty ancient hidden towers to war-zones. Not only can you buy whatever you'd like here, but you can somehow spend your gathered resources like crap, hair, anal fluid, teeth and horns on this machine to upgrade your equipment. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? Yet, the way these things are everywhere, floating around with the gray floating treasure chest balls on every small leg hanging off of your straight path, these signature RPG elements feel rather tacked on.

Though the expansive set-pieces and fantastic imagery kept me going through the story, the post-story gaming was my favorite part of the whole thing. At a certain point in the story you get access to a nearly prehistoric vast landscape where you can sniff around on chocobos, find little trinkets and hunt the pants off of a lot of unique monsters. Though this is a little repetitive, the awesome monster design and heated battles shine through more than they ever did in the main story. Going on these hunt missions, waiting for what's lurking around the corner, not having to hear the party talk. See, that was fun. That's why I played this for about 100 hours. Of course during this you get the chance to upgrade your characters and weapons to max-level. Your characters level up in each class to level 5, going around circles expending points. This is a very linear level up system, merely allowing you to see what's coming up in the future and the option to pass up some small upgrades. The weapon upgrade system takes a long time to get going, to where you will have to play many many hours after the story to see any ultimate weapons thanks to some mildly confusing hidden stats and the tedious grinding involved. Accessories also level up and can synergize buffs for you when equipped in the right family of items.

Luckily this game has a fun battle system, because if it didn't, you'd rightly have yourself a near dud. The Paradigm Shift system has you switching your party on the fly into different combinations of six-different classes which are "Commando", the fighter, "Ravager", the black mage, "Medic" the white mage, "Sentinel" tank/counterattack, "Synergist" buffs and "Saboteur" debuffs. There are many combinations to be had, each of them bringing a very different strategy from your automatically-controlled party. Battles can be done manually, though it quickly starts to slow you down since the fights are fast. Certain techniques and abilities thrown in manually to the automatic onslaught you've devised is the way to go. Creating a Paradigm deck and observing enemy techniques and weaknesses to come up with unique decks is a blast. The game provides many monsters to challenge your skills in this battle system until your characters are fully developed, which is something other FF games don't offer to this degree.

On the production level, this game is pure class. Graphically, the game is epic in scope. The psychedelic and highly stylized environments along with the organic-meets-synthetic monster design is very cool. Unfortunately Nomura was given the opportunity to design the clothes for these already banal characters. The half-cut-off buckle-hell spandex-capri tangerine-codpiece fashion orientation of this guy is off-the-wall. It's hard to feel sorry for these passive, yet aggressively dressed populaces in Nomura's games. I want Amano-san back (and make the game look like his art for once). Another disappointment is the music. The only tunes that come to mind when I think of notable or rad are just the ones that I heard 5,000 times and would have to try to forget. Nobuo Uematsu passed up the chance to score this Final Fantasy, and the replacement didn't come up to bat well. The music is just plain and ignorable, mildly orchestral and sometimes doesn't fit the scenario.

There's a lot I didn't like about this game. It's very typical and associative of mainstream Japanese animation, which I know will simply not click with many gamers including myself. The characters, music and story all border-lined on annoying at more than a few parts in the game. However, the new battle system is a success and there are many pleasant and diverse atmospheres to be experienced in the entirety of the game. The story portion of the game has a pretty good pace if you're willing to deal with the linearity and nonsensical item progression, and the post-story game lets you take your own pace on a fantastic planet fighting diverse foes. This FF game is not outstanding at anything but graphics, but it's also not a total bummer to play. I'd think the minor requirements for getting into this one are the slightest of interests and the desire to jump into a new FF game. If you can meet that you will be entertained, but not entirely satisfied.

PROS:
-Fun battle system
-Stellar graphics
-Creative monsters

CONS:
-Awful characters
-Dull and messy story
-Boring and corny music
-Nonsensical equipment/inventory progression
-Repetition in map linearity

OVERALL SCORE: 7.6


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/08/11

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


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