Review by sixthsage
"A beautiful game, and one that applies a more tactical look to the series"
The thirteenth iteration of the final fantasy series (14 really, but who's counting) strikes hard at old notions and raises a new, more strategic face to the franchise.
Gameplay - (10/10)
The game starts slow. For the first chapter or two, you'll mostly be mashing the X (PS3) or A (360) buttons to let the game decide what to do for you. Don't lose heart, this changes rapidly. The best way to describe this game is to imagine that the developers went back to every final fantasy game ever made and chose the best thing about them. They then decided to merge these things in the best and most comprehensive way possible and then add a heavy dose of strategy, tweak the mechanics and introduce a good system for merging it all together, and you have final fantasy 13. As mentioned above, the game is rather linear, you will follow a single path toward a goal, but there are multiple ways to reach the goal (and it's often worth checking all of them for well hidden and often guarded treasure). The mechanics and day to day workings of the game are dolled out to you in small doses, so as not to overwhelm new players. By chapter 6 you have all you'll need, so don't worry if the beginning seems a bit boring, it gets MUCH better. Around chapter 9 or so, the game explodes, giving you a large area to explore and the freedom to craft your party any way you wish. The major difference from other Final Fantasy games is that you don't control the entire party. You will have direct control of the party leader and everyone else is delegated to a very capable and reactive AI. For example, if you are controlling a commando (the warrior of the game) and the AI has control of a Ravager (A dark mage with a few twists), the AI will begin by throwing various elemental attacks at the enemy to discover it's weaknesses and resistances. By doing this at the beginning, you don't have to worry if the enemy absorbs an element, as it's hp is already full. Once it homes in on the enemy's weaknesses, it targets them with brutal efficiency. In addition, you can simply cast Libra to completely reveal the enemy's strengths and weaknesses, and the AI will target the enemy efficiently from that point onward. This game really shines in playability with the release of the Paradigm system, a strategic way of managing your party. This system allows you to delegate roles to your entire party at once, giving them access to unique combinations of abilities and strategies to make even the most hardened enemies crumble. By changing paradigms, you can alter any or all of your party's class to fit the current battle. For example:
You've ran into an enemy that Libra has revealed is resistant to Physical damage. By swapping your entire party to Ravagers you can still efficiently deal damage with a strong flurry of spells. Should one (or more) of your party become severely damaged, you can easily (literally two buttons) change your paradigm to one that supports two ravagers who stay on the offense and a medic who works diligently (in AI hands) to heal everyone up. Should the enemy then summon in another foe, this one weak to Physical Damage (rarely do enemies summon in, but it does happen on occasion), you can easily set one of your characters to a commando to deal with the reinforcements while the other two remain / return to their ravager roles to dish out damage to the original enemy.
This is just an example, and it only reveals three of the 6 possible classes, others include the Sentinel, who acts as a guardian for other characters, drawing enemies attention to themselves and then boosting his defense and guarding while your other characters beat the enemy into submission, the Synergist, who casts support spells on your entire party and then keeps them maintained, and the Saboteur, who sticks negative effects on all enemies. In this way, you can easily build any paradigm to meet your needs. If you're fighting a large group of enemies for example, a saboteur, Synergist, and Medic can quickly turn the tide of battle, with the former two buffing your party / debuffing the targets and the medic keeping everyone healthy. Once all status effects / enhancements are in place, you can paradigm shift to a more offensive role and quickly crush your weakened enemies while they do little to no damage to you. In this situation, the AI truly shines, as if an enemy is immune to a certain status, it will simply pass it up and not waste time. If a status is already inflicted, it will pile others on instead of continuously casting the same one (as was common in final fantasy 12), all with no input from you whatsoever. A truly great game with a very intuitive and strategic battle system. If you enjoyed the Gambit system from final fantasy 12 or you thought it was ok but lacking due to the amount of micromanagement, you'll love the way 13 handles the battle system.
Story - (10/10)
The story opens with an intense battle scene on a train, from there things just get more and more complicated. Eventually things start to become clearer as the things that occurred before the train are revealed through a series of cut scenes. If you don't want to waste time watching them (which I strongly do not recommend, they are beautiful), you can easily get a recap from the in game database, and can constantly check it as the game progresses if you've lost track of what's going on. The twists keep coming, and you won't see them as they come either
Graphics / Audio - (8/10)
The graphics of this game are beautiful (Played on the PS3, I can't speak for the 360, though I imagine it's much the same), and cut scenes more so. All characters are voiced over and display realistic facial expressions (By all characters, I mean ALL characters, from the biggest plot entrenched character to the lowest non named NPC you pass in the street. The audio really pulls you in and keeps you there. All appropriate to the situation (mellow music for cut scenes, fast paced, upbeat music for battles). The only real problem I have had so far is a small glitch with the save menu, after you save, the game stops you from moving momentarily when you exit the menu, causing you to need to re-enter and exit it to fix the problem. Nothing major, and no freezes or skips / lag. A beautiful game that keeps you engrossed from start to finish.
Play Time/Re-playability - (9/10, 10/10)
This game is one that seems to end when it needs to end. It's not so long that you feel like its dragging out, but it's not so short as to leave you wanting more. However, this game truly shines after the credits roll. you don't get a new game +, but you can reload your game and continue to complete any side quests and max out characters after the main story is all over. Many of the enemies you encounter after-wards are much more difficult and require a more powerful party than even the final boss. This appeals to those of us (myself included) who enjoy maxing characters, but don't want to have a vastly overpowered party for story battles. Upgrade as normal for story mode and then quickly max characters after the story is over for easy maximization.
Final Recommendation - (9/10)
The only reason it doesn't receive a ten straight off is the slow start and the baby step tutorials. The combat system is complicated when you first start, because everything is new (even to FF veterans) but it doesn't require 8 straight chapters of linear movement and slow tutorials. After chapter 5 or so, the game picks up considerably and your tactical options improve greatly. That makes it more worthwhile and easily makes up for the starting chapters, even during chapter 5 and 6, it's still linear, but it's much more fun. I strongly recommend this to anyone who loves tactics games, RPGs, or is a longtime final fantasy fan. Be warned, don't come into this game expecting final fantasy 7 or final fantasy 10, it's not, it's something new and (to those who appreciate tactics over brute power) better.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/12/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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