Review by Unbridled9
"What happens when you try to appease everyone? This game."
Introduction: Final Fantasy XIII is the thirteenth installment in the main line of the popular Final Fantasy series and the first to be released on the current generation (Xbox360/PS3/Wii) of consoles. The game follows the story of ex-soldier Lightning and her struggle against a fate assigned to her by one of the deities of the world in which she resides. Before the game came out, there were many high expectations for it, largely due to how it seemed to be a game that would have a much faster pace as well as being the newest installment in the main series in four years (though various side-series in the Final Fantasy genre have seen recent releases almost consistently). However, the game was soon announced to be a multi-platform game and controversy started. Prior to this game, the main series of Final Fantasy had been traditionally released only for one platform (with 1,2,3,4,5, and 6 having been originally released on Nintendo consoles and 7,8,9,10, and 12 being Sony consoles. 11 was a MMO and was released on the PS2 and PC as well as the X-box 360, but due to it's MMO nature, is often overlooked) so the game had many high expectations by some, and was disliked early on by others who saw it as a 'console traitor'.
So how does it stand up? Is it a poor and weak Final Fantasy, or will the first Final Fantasy game to break line and go multi-console be a truly wondrous piece of work?
Graphics/Sound - 11/10. This is the first time, and probably only time, I will ever give a game a score that actually breaks the scoring method. Why? Because there is no way to hide or dice this. This game is outright one of, most likely the, most beautiful thing you will ever play on any console! Every bit of this game is wonderfully detailed and astoundingly gorgeous! From giant lakes formed entirely of crystal, their waves frozen in wondrous patterns that are simply a breathtaking sight to behold; to the soothing and happy riverside gardens that are soothing, relaxing, and simply tranquil to the point of you wanting to sit down and rest beside them, there is not a place in this game that is visually lacking in any way. Even the menus are so wondrously detailed and lovely that it is not impossible to feel outright awed by how lovely everything is to behold.
In a game generation dominated by black, brown, and muzzle flash, this game can only be described as a wondrous accomplishment of visual art. If graphics alone determined how good a game is, this would be one of the best games of all time. Every detail and facet feels at place, natural, and a minor miracle in of itself. From monstrous Adamantose peacefully roaming the planes, to flying military machines filled with razor blades that look incredibly menacing to behold, there isn't a thing that could be considered bad about the graphics in any stretch of the word.
Sound is a lesser, but similarly wondrous achievement. Every bit of music in the game is well placed and does a great job of bonding you too the world. Sadly, there seems to be a lack of the traditional Final Fantasy Themes within the game, which is a serious disappointment as it's been a while since I've heard the proper victory fanfare. However, there is a stain that needs to be mentioned. The voice acting.
I will not go out and denounce it as horrid, for it is not that. There are games with far worse acting than this and no matter how bad Vanille (the character whom most people seem to complain about VA wise) is, there simply is worse. I would rather save the characters for later in the review though and simply note that the voice acting is not as bad as people seem to think it is; thus saving this score.
Gameplay - 7/10 Sadly, this is where this wonderful game starts to come apart. The gameplay in this game is... less than stellar. Traditionally, there have been two types of gameplay in Final Fantasy games. The first, turn base, is fairly standard. Your characters line up, you input the command, and they act it out. The second, known as 'Active Time Battling' or ATB, has a bar fill up, and when it is full you input the command. Meanwhile, the bars for everyone else, allies and enemies, are filling up as well. FFXIII uses a variation of the latter, and sadly, it REALLY should not have.
The problem starts due to the lack of control you have over the party. Normally, you control the entire party at once in a FF game, or if not, have the option of switching over easily without problems (such as in FFXII). This game, in it's vie to be a faster FF game, has lost that degree of control. Up to three characters are fielded at once, but you only have direct control over the party leader. All other characters will act on their own in battle. This loss of control does yield faster gameplay, but removes much of the potential strategy and interactivity that has been enjoyed in prior games.
However, the game did not ignore the desire for people to have more strategizing. In order to do this, it provided many skills and techniques to be used. So many, in fact, that it couldn't keep up with the faster gameplay! To try and balance this out, they added in a new 'auto-battle' system which will figure out the 'best' skills to use on a given target. While it's not perfect, stopping to actually figure out what would be best would take far too long, and it is simply better to mash autobattle unless you have a very specific strategy in mind.
The result is that most fights are little more than you mashing 'autobattle' over and over again while changing the roles (there are six, melee Damage, elemental damage, healer, debuffer, buffer, and protecter that can be switched on all active characters on the fly to one of six preset arrangements) at select intervals. There's little incentive to get more involved in the game, and you can feasibly beat it while not looking at the television if you know what roles to assign and when and just keep mashing the autobattle button.
This isn't to mention that the maps are far too linear. This is a common complaint. More or less, most maps in the early game can be cleared by simply walking forwards and little chance is given to deviate from the path or to observe the environment. At best, most maps before disk three have a few branching paths that never leave sight of the main path; no sidequests; and almost no incentive to explore.
So why is this a 7 and not something lower? Well... Quite frankly, even though it's horribly flawed... it's still GOOD! There's no other way to describe it. If they had slowed the game down a bit and allowed for control over all three characters as well as expanded the maps, it would have been wonderful. Sadly, they didn't. This is what's left.
Story: 7/10 Another problem with this game is it's story. There is no easier way to put it than this. It is outright confusing! There is a lot of stuff happening at once, motives that never fully get expanded on, history that seems to be missing, points that fly by too fast for them to really sink in, and woe to the person whom is playing through with a friend! For if they miss a single cutscene, they can get lost in the entire story! Thankfully, it does calm down a bit later on and allow for you to catch your bearings. However, even then, it can be highly confusing and not easy to understand at times.
However, despite this, it is still a fairly strong story overall. Had they simplified it, moved some plot points out to sidequests and let others have a bit more development time, it would have been great. Maybe not a instant classic, but still rather good and interesting.
And now for the characters. Within this game are six playable characters. Lightning (the girl on the cover), Sahz (a comedic relief character who's actually funny and enjoyable with his own goal which is... very human to say the least), Snow (a man obsessed with being a hero to protect his fiancee), Vanille (a mysterious and seemingly cheery girl), Fang (A warrior looking for her missing companion), and Hope (a young boy unwillingly caught up in the trouble). Many people have problems with Hope, Vanille, and Snow, and it simply is not true. Allow me to state this simply. Many people look for badasses in games, desiring every character to be hardcore and extreme. While this may be fine for faster games, it is simply not a wise desire as it limits your characters.
All the characters in the game are very well presented and are more realistic than many other characters in other games. Though some of them can be annoying at times, it is not because they are bad characters, but because many people buy games expecting their hero's to be something that these characters are simply not. They are good characters, each being deep and showing much development over the story, and they fit the definition of what a good character should be; just not in the way people expect. I would give them a higher score, but the confusion that is the main story kept this from going up.
Play Time/Replayability 8/10. This... Is not a short game. On the 360, it's three disks long, which should be a good indication of how long it is. For the first bit of the game, most of it is simply running through long dungeons with little deviation though and thusly, is quite boring. However, it eventually opens up and your playtime will skyrocket as you explore the world and end up enjoying every moment of it. Additionally, there is plenty of post-game things to do, so it is not lacking there. However, it has no replayability due to the poor presentation of the early game, thusly giving it it's final score.
Final Recommendation - This is a hard one to say the least. I could easily harp on the problems within the game and claim it is not worth buying at any price, or I could focus on the goods and recommend you a game which you might not enjoy. I would not recommend renting first, namely because it will not give a good presentation of what this game is within the first few hours. If you buy this game, 40-50 for a new copy should be a good price. 60 dollars is also good, but if so, make sure you want it. Otherwise it may lead to disappointment.
Overall, this game is one that tried to appeal to everyone. Being fast for the speedplayers, while offering many 'options' for tactical gamers. Easy play for the newcomers, while trying to have some degree of depth. A deep story, but one that was suppressed and fast for those who dislike stories. It's sad really. Lightning is a great character and I wish she had been in a game that didn't try to appeal to everyone. If nothing else, this game is simply beautiful though!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/07/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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