Review by Pathi
"More filling, less taste..."
There are cut scenes in Final Fantasy XIII that put Avatar to shame. Of course, none of us expected any less. Many of the locales are breathtaking.
We also expected a story that was convoluted, had unexpected twists and surprising turns. Story on FF13 is merely a device to move you from one spectacular setting to another. Just like the game, the story follows a relentless linear path. Nothing special.
Instead of the single level up as in most RPGs, in Final Fantasy XIII, you can level up along as many as FIVE (realistically three) different chains for abilities, HP, strength and so on. It's by the numbers, a little detached from your characters. While you cannot level your characters fully until WELL after the end of game, the level up system (called crystarium) is, on balance, interesting and fun.
We are used to getting game changing eidolons in a FF game. In XIII, I used summons, if I needed healing in a pinch-- I had no use for them otherwise.
Storm and Sephiroth and squall and a numerous other characters will always be remembered by legions of fans. Not many characters here will be remembered. The protagonist is a humorless, chinless wonder who's lost a few of her marbles. Without spoiling, let me say that she may leave vulnerable party members in dangerous places to fend for themselves, or may create situations that very obviously endanger their lives. There's a kid who begin by hating but grow to be indifferent to-- but you need him in the party, not only because he's one of the best choices for the battle party, but his alternative is a coquetish, bubbly Lolita, even more annoying. There's black man with all the indignity of stereotypes from the 1970's heaped on him including an anachronistic afro, and a baby chocobo residing in it. There's one character that acts like an adult, has unwashed hair, and wears a sari-- that's about as good as it gets.
Did I mention that FF13 is visually stunning?
Weapon and accessories are plentiful and you can actually have a lot of fun with upgrading them. There's plenty to discover and experiment with. There will be debates on Lionheart vs Axis-blade and whether Hawkeye is the best weapon for Hope or the best way to get Hermes Sandals. Excellent, if somewhat clinical.
The only catch is the you do not get much from battles and treasure chests (sorry, treasure balls). Money is so tight, you may will forgo most upgrades until you reach Chapter 11 (of the 13). Also, the game does not let you know what you might get with your upgrading or dismantling until after you're done. On the whole, a net positive.
Did I mention that the scenery is gorgeous?
Recently, on a panel discussion, the lead designer stated that they could not commit resources to towns (because they wanted to spend them on other things). Seriously! Five years and $60 million dollars and you still cut out what a big chunk of the fans eagerly look forward to-- interactions with NPCs in towns, places that are oases after long chains of battles! There may be fans who want nothing more than 100 hours of battles, interspersed with some cut scenes, but many (including this writer) loved the thing we did in towns. Just like every place in the game, the towns desolate, soulless places. A major letdown-- for me.
As much a visual treat the scenery is (did I mention that?), the monster graphics are crude, dated and unimaginative. It is incredible that they dropped the ball on something this central. Even the returning legends such as Tonberry and Cacatur are disappointing.
Music is well done, pleasant to hear, not interfering with the game. While it does not rise to the level of Lost Odyssey, it is very good.
The battle system is new and quite well conceived. The player can set up combinations of roles for each team member and call up combinations (paradigms) at will. The player controls only the team leader directly. The routine battles require little intervention. The tougher battles require that the "paradigm" slate is tailored for each specific battle and you switch to the right paradigm at the right time. It works reasonably well, even when the party members do not always make effective choices. On balance, net positive.
The game has little replay value, unless one wishes to start from the scratch again (no Newgame+) at the same difficulty level and do it over. On the other hand, after the final battle in Chapter 13, the player can return Chapters 11 or 12 with new-found powers (a reasonable substitute for Newgame+).
Having said all that, I believe that most FF fans who pick this game up will be drawn to it, play it for some weeks or months and put it away. This game will not have the longevity of VI or VII, or the affection many (not all) have for VIII or IX, or a new generation of fans (with their PS2s) of X.
If anyone wanted to play a Final Fantasy closer to the older FFs, they should grab a copy of Lost Odyssey. This is more filling, less taste.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 03/29/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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