Review by Swojguy

"An awesome game, but not for everyone"

Following the Final Fantasy series since the humble beginning, I was definitely looking forward to this new title when I thoroughly finished Final Fantasy XII. I do like some other FFs more than others, but I never actually abhorred one. (Well...except for X-2, but that's generally ignored, anyway) How about this new one, you ask? This new Final Fantasy is amongst us, but should you actually get the game?

Graphics : 10/10
I'm starting with graphics because it's the easiest to explain. I'll be quite frank...they are so beautiful. Square-Enix has done it again - it's no surprise. There have been times where I actually simply just stopped playing the game to just look at the scenery. Anyone can appreciate this aspect of the game.

Granted, there are some flaws with the hand polygons during the in-game graphics, but only occasionally. Considering the grand scheme of things, this VERY minor flaw is extremely forgivable.

Gameplay : 9/10

Speaking from long-term experience, I believe gameplay was always Final Fantasy's weak point. In most Final Fantasies, you can easily get away with simply attacking...and occasionally healing. Personally, I was starting to believe that this trend would never end...and I would only play this series for the story. Even FFXII, which tried to mix it up with its distinctly different battle system, failed in deviating from the trend. That's not the case for Final Fantasy XIII...

Final Fantasy XIII takes Final Fantasy XII's real-time system and significantly enhances it.

ATB is back once again, but it functions quite differently. In the past installments of the series, once the ATB bar was filled up, you could perform one action. This time around, the ATB bar is split up into different sections, and you can perform more than one action when it is filled up. For example, in the beginning of the game, you start off with the ATB bar split in two sections. Therefore, you can perform two standard "Attack" actions. There are also actions that can take up more than one ATB section. In the beginning of the game, you also start off with the ability "Blitz." It costs two sections of the whole ATB bar. Therefore, you cannot use the "Attack" ability because there is no more room for that ability. Once you perform either your two "Attack" commands or your one "Blitz" command, the ATB bar starts filling up again.

The ATB bar also serves as the "MP" from the previous installments. That's right, there is no more MP, but this is easily forgiven. One may think that this makes the game instantly broken because one could spam some overpowered attack. On the contrary, that's certainly not the case. That kind of thinking is assuming that a powerful attack takes up one segment of the ATB bar. Square made sure to make this problem avoided. High damage attacks cost more than your regular attacks. At the end of the day, you're not going to end up spamming Thundaga...or Lit3 for you nostalgia guys.

You are also given "roles" for each character. What are roles? They are classes, such as the Fighter and Black Mage from Final Fantasy I. There are six roles in all, the Commando, Ravager, Saboteur, Medic, Synergist, and the Sentinel. You assign different roles to the characters before you go into battle. Commando is your Fighter, Ravager is your Black Mage, Saboteur is your Oracle (status ailments), Medic is your White Mage (healing), Synergist is your White Mage (buffs), and Sentinel is your new class...a defender that provokes enemies.

There are many different setups to try with the roles. These setups are called "Paradigms." You can have one Commando and two Ravagers. Perhaps when the time calls for it, maybe you need two Medics and a Synergist. Well, that would mean you would need to somehow switch roles during battle? Well, yes you can! This new feature is call Paradigm Shift. This essential feature allows you to switch between different strategies. You have to use the right Paradigms at the right time or else you'll lose quite easily.

In addition, there is also a "Stagger" feature presented in the game. When you've chained enough attacks against an enemy,
the enemy starts to stagger. This makes the enemy very vulnerable because the damage dealt to it rises exponentially. Making an enemy stagger is not as easy as one may think, however, especially against bosses and formidable foes. Due to this feature of the game, there are no "Desperation Attacks", "Limit Breaks", "Trances", "Overdrives", or "Quickenings"...or the game would be quite broken. However, Summons do not fail to appear in this game!

Yes, summons are here once again...and Square decided to use name them "Eidolons" - homage to FFIX. You attack alongside with the Eidolon, just like in FFXII when you fought alongside your Esper. The Eidolon has a limited time to appear, so it must be used wisely. Once the Eidolon departs, all the party members are fully healed and revived.

However, these useful beings cannot be abused like in previous installments. Although MP does not exist in this game, TP (Technical points) does. You only have 5 TP, and these beings cost 3 TP to bring forth. Regaining TP takes a while to accomplish, making this game balanced. It should be noted that only a few classic Summons make it into this game - Shiva, Alexander, and Bahamut. The rest are new names...this can be a big disappointment to Final Fantasy fans.

As for leveling up, it's pretty similar to FFX's Sphere Grid. This time, it's called the Crystarium. The only difference this time is that you level up the roles. You use a grid to make your stats increase and to learn abilities for each character. In order to progress through the board, you use CP (Crystarium Points), which you earn from battles. Unlike the License Board and Sphere Grid, every character cannot learn EVERY ability. You actually have to decide who can be a better Commando, Ravager, etc.

Doesn't this sound complicated and too much to handle? Well, you are relieved since you only control one character per battle and get healed automatically after each battle. At first, this sound like that this makes the game too easy, however, you will be thankful for these features. You won't feel cheap and will gladly continue on to the next battle.

This should be noted. This is the hardest Final Fantasy up to date, even compared to the infamous Final Fantasy II (Japan). It's definitely a new challenge, and it certainly surprised me. It's not the hardest game I've ever encountered, there are certainly harder games out there, it's just harder compared to the rest of the series. Due to the nature of this game, I felt accomplished whenever I defeated a normal enemy, not just boss battles.

Give this battle system a chance, you will enjoy it.

But wait...I heard you can get away with auto-battle throughout the whole game!"

Please, do not believe this statement. Yes, there are some easy battles that you can just get overwith with just an auto-battle rampage. It's also true that you can get away with this tactic during the early stages of the game. However, as you progress, you'll find the auto-battle option to be ineffective compared to manually inputting commands.

Story/Characters: 9/10

I've heard better stories, but it's great, nonetheless. What really takes the cake are the characters. When you first meet them, they may be conveyed as a little "over the top" or simply annoying. I'll be honest, I certainly felt that way in the beginning. However, allow the game to progress, and you'll see them develop into better, mature characters. The interactions between characters are engrossing and are great to watch. While the story is alright, the presentation of the story is remarkable. It is reminiscent of the FFX narrative style.

Well, I'd like to know how this story compares to the other stories of previous Final Fantasies.
Remember Final Fantasy XII? It's story involved political warfare and the like. For some people, it turned them away from the game. The developers of Final Fantasy XIII made the story slightly more casual but allowed the story to still be engrossing. The story of this game reminds me of the story influences of FFVI, VII, and X put together.

I'm new to the series. Is this heavily story based?
Yes, yes, and yes. It's what keeps you going through this game. You'll be longing to see what happens next.

I personally believe you should find out what the story is for yourself, not even going through a quick summary of the first five minutes of the game. You'll enjoy taking in all the information the game gives you. Believe me, the amount of info you'll receive is more than substantial. It's more than enough to make you think, "What is going on?" As the story unfolds, it's engrossing to watch.

KEEP THIS IN MIND: The game's story starts off really slowly. You are given a lot of information at the beginning. Things do start to pick up later on in the game, though. Just continue to play through the game, and eventually the process of the game will feel natural.

Music: 7/10
Eh. If you don't know already, Nobuo Uematsu left Square-Enix. Masashi Hamauzu is the composer of this installment. Most of the music is forgettable if you're going to play casually; usually it's just there to set the theme. However, there are notable tracks, such as "The Promise", "The Prelude to Final Fantasy XIII", "Saber's Edge" (boss theme), "Blinded by Light" (battle theme), and more.

There are some unfitting light techno tracks when you reach certain areas. Easily, it makes one wonder why such a track was composed in the first place.

Long time Final Fantasy fans will be disappointed with the lack of standard tracks. For example, "The Prelude to Final Fantasy XIII" is not the classic arpeggio heard in the classic Prelude. Also, the track "Final Fantasy" fails to be present as well. As for the Chocobo theme, it does not disappoint. You should know that there are two chocobo themes in this one. The first one is absolutely horrendous. However, the second one is definitely a track worth listening to. Personally, I think Hamauzu is a great composer, but Uematsu is better at capturing the moment with his music.

I still decided to get the OST.
Although some tracks fail to match with the current settings/tone, they are good tracks in their own rights.

Replayability: When you JUST finish the game, it will be low. Very low, especially if you complete everything, considering that it's a long game. It takes 50-60 hours to complete the main storyline. You can rely on achievements and sidequests to make your total game playing time 100+ hours. However, as time passes, you may feel the urge to play this game again. The biggest factor is if you have enjoyed the story.

Miscellaneous - Why this game isn't for everyone:

"I HEARD IT'S LINEAR."
This is the biggest complaint about FFXIII. Yes, it's linear, until you reach endgame. For those who aren't used to this kind of style, it's linear so that you can focus on the story first. Developers of the game want you to enjoy the new tale Square-Enix presents before you. Please, appreciate the story. Even if you end up not liking it, you DO get sidequests at the end of the game.

NO TOWNS?
Yes, no towns. Given the storyline, however, there is a reason behind this strange phenomenon. However, the lack of towns really can repel RPG advocates just because towns are a staple of any RPG. It did not ruin the experience for me, however, for some, the lack of towns will present FFXIII as not just a linear game, but as a super linear game until later in the game. Some people will absolutely hate the linearity/lack of towns, some will not mind.

Bottom Line: Final Fantasy XIII is not the best representative of the past Final Fantasy series, but that's certainly not a reason to not buy this game. Hardcore fans may feel very alienated by it. Also, if this is going to be your first Final Fantasy, make sure to go back to an older one after you're done, (preferrably IV, VI, VII or IX) and witness for yourself the reasons why this series has such a massive fanbase. In addition, if you do not like games that are heavy on story, you may want to be cautious in buying this game.

Like JRPGs?: Buy
Like Story based games?: Buy
LIke WRPGs/Combat over story?: Rent


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/22/10, Updated 02/24/11

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


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