Review by mixedlion
"A cliche jrpg with some nice twists, but not enough to merit the hype."
I will admit, I am definitely not a fan of Japanese rpgs but I was pretty hyped for Final Fantasy XIII since the Final Fantasy series is one of the few jrpgs I can actually respect. Maybe it was the look of protagonist Lightning, since its definitely about time the Final Fantasy series gets another female lead; or maybe it was the cool idea of the paradigm-shift based combat. All in all, Final Fantasy XIII is what I like about Final Fantasy but what I hate about jrpgs as a whole.
Without giving too much away, Final Fantasy XIII's story in a nutshell is pretty much standard jrpg fare; a ragtag group of unlikely heroes, half of them being children, is tied together in a story of friendship, following your dreams, and defeating the evil theocracy/force that pervades the world, nothing new in jrpg or Final Fantasy fare. Final Fantasy XIII follows the lives of six pretty diverse characters, ranging from a tough soldier to a fierce warrior to a gunslinging comedian, all of them very human and somewhat likeable in their own way. The main plot centers around humanity being controlled by l'cie, god-like beings capable of both benign and malevolent deeds, and the war between the utopian Cocoon and the underworld Pulse in a sort of cosmic Light vs Dark struggle.
The game's lead protagonist is Lightning; a soldier who is the female equivalent of several male Final Fantasy characters; Cloud from Final Fantasy VII and Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. In fact, she's the archetypal jrpg main character; a somewhat angst-ridden woman of few words whose personality shines halfway throughout the story, complete with a sword (gunblade, technically). Her overall design is really cool however, and she perfectly fits that "Final Fantasy" feeling that fans could hope for.
Accompanying Lightning is her future brother-in-law; Snow; an attractive, laid back, happy-go-lucky, kind of guy who constantly feels the need to play the big hero (or at least, satiate his oversized ego). Then there's Sazh, a wisecracking gunslinger who pretty much plays the token black guy there for comic relief (though he does shine in quite a few scenes and is fairly likeable, especially mid-game where his character comes out more). Then there's Hope and Vanille; your standard jrpg fare child party members as Hope plays the bratty, angst-ridden, tragic "misunderstood" little boy (who winds up employing an unusual amount of wisdom once someone "understands him"). Vanille, on the other hand, is your typical overly-animated "cute" girl, complete with an unusual amount of perkiness and a tendency to cry...often, unfortunately without anything really bad happening to her. Rounding out the party is Fang, a very beautiful female warrior whose flirtatious and deadly yet seems very underdeveloped, almost like a throw-in, which is disappointing since she's easily one of the most likeable members of the party outside of Lightning and Sazh.
Overall the story is very "Final Fantasy". Light vs Dark, strange god-like beings, a corrupt theocracy, darkness looming to threaten the world, misfit adventurers, a stoic lead character, yes its all there complete in HD graphics.
Anyone who has read anything about Final Fantasy XIII will probably know at least that the game is linear. Very linear. Even for a jrpg (which is saying a lot).
Much of the linearity of Final Fantasy XIII is due to the game being very story-driven. You don't get to choose who is in your party until very late in the game. That sounds fine, but unfortunately your given party is often very unbalanced, leading many battles to be a complete chore as you often get stuck with bad character combinations with enemies resistant to their specific type of attacks. Of course once you get to the point in the game where you can choose your party setup and roles, it just feels like it was thrown in there too late, since the game practically forces you even then to only utilize certain characters and ignore others.
Lightning is your primary damage dealer in the game, excellent in both swordplay and magic with some healing thrown in; Snow is your heavy hitting tank, Hope and Vanille are easily the best magic users in the game while Sazh and Fang are support characters; Sazh being more of a magical support as an extra caster and buffer and Fang providing a physical support, a cross between an off-tank and extra damage dealer. While all roles will eventually become there for all characters, it is very clear who excels in which role, leaving little option for customization. Any "customization" done for characters is used via a Crystal Board, similar to the Sphere Grid and License Board in Final Fantasy X and XIII respectively. However such customization is merely an illusion since the game forces you for the majority of the game to play certain roles and dictates exactly how you're supposed to battle enemies, leaving little room for experimentation or variation.
There are no random battles in Final Fantasy XIII as you can see your enemies in the "dungeons", therefore avoiding them if you can. Like most Final Fantasy games, battles are heavily reliant on magic and you will always need at least one caster beside you. The battle system is frantic, forcing you to switch roles on the fly constantly, which in some parts is very fun and exciting and other times rather long, drawn out and boring, namely against enemies with a ridiculous amount of resistance and immunities. Fortunately your party is automatically healed after every battle (any fallen party members are also automatically revived), and considering there's quite a bit of (forced) grinding, in this game, that's generally a positive. Final Fantasy has always been known for some tough boss battles and enemies, but some of the enemies in this game are ridiculous in the amount of health and immunities (you will hate a certain vehicular enemy) they have while boss battles are an even flow of challenge and playability.
Your party eventually acquires summons known as "Eidolons", complete with pretty cool CG entrances and attacks. They aren't ridiculously overpowered (maybe even a tad under-powered actually) but they do prove useful, especially when you're facing a lot of enemies at once. Each Eidolon has a mode where they automatically attack and a "gestalt" mode where you can control their attacks and eventually recieve an awesome "final attack" afterwards, all done via Transformers style. Some of these summons are familiar faces with a new mantle while others are all-new. Thankfully they're all pretty cool though they could have been much more useful.
Final Fantasy XIII has a fantastic soundtrack, especially its awesome battle theme. The downside is that half the music in the game is variations of that battle theme. The upside is that its pretty darn good regardless, and definitely sets the score and setting for the game itself. The voice acting in the game is also fairly decent, most of the characters speak either a clear American English accent with a few speaking in a British-Australian tone. Its your typical Japanese to English localization sort except its not too bad and you can understand the dialogue fairly well in this game.
Like most jrpgs, once you've seen and experienced the game once there's really no need to go back and play it again unless you really loved it. Final Fantasy XIII is no different. There's no plot twists, no branching storylines, no alternate scenes, its just one big movie with in-between parts that you "play". The so-called customization is so limited that you can't even go back and "try something different" such as trying Snow as a caster or Hope as a tank since the game forces you into roles so strictly. That's not to say that Final Fantasy XIII is a bad game, because its not, but its like a good movie that you only watch once and then never see it again.
Final Fantasy XIII is a gorgeous game, in fact its easily the best looking Final Fantasy yet if not one of the best looking games period. Characters have unique looks, animations and lip-synching are fluid, almost as if you were watching a cinematic movie. The cutscenes and environments look amazing, especially the scenes involving Eidolons and special attacks. Monsters are unique and bosses look fearsome and tough and even normal battles are quite animated and fun to watch. Much time and effort was spent into the graphics, making FFXIII a very stylish game.
While Final Fantasy XIII has awesome cutscenes, amazing graphics, and a solid soundtrack, the gameplay flaws give this game very limited replayability unless you are a diehard fan. This game has quite a bit of what I like about the Final Fantasy series yet everything I hate about Japanese role playing games since I outgrew them years ago.
Final Fantasy XIII is not a bad game, but its definitely not a memorable game either. Those looking for a solid jrpg would look no further, but those looking for a great rpg in general would definitely have to look elsewhere.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/22/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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