Review by Switch77x

"XIII wildly exceeded my expectations."

I went into this game with little expectations, as Enix's efforts have not been on par with their predecessors in all honesty. However, loyal to the series and to the name, I pre-ordered this title. Much to my pleasure, my expectations were radically blown to pieces. However, I will do my best to judge this game in the most non-biased fashion possible (but let's be honest, everyone is biased one way or the other). I will also try to address any of the complaints I have researched or come across with the game and offer you my insights and opinions.

This seems to be one of the largest complaints I've seen. I've read that the story is 'melodramatic', weak, too-thin, etc. On the contrary, calling it too-thin is laughable, as the story is so rich with backstory and detail that if you're not paying attention to what's going on you can quickly get lost. Sure, if you play the game for two hours and decide to write a review, then you're going to say there's nothing to it. But then again, you're a fool writing a review on an 80 hour game, having not even touched on a fraction of it. The story is one that gradually unfolds itself as it goes on, with the various FMV flashbacks of the thirteen days that happened prior to the main events. The exposition starts out rather slow, which to much of the unfortunately mindless gamers is a bad thing, but to those that can appreciate a story like myself will understand otherwise (or maybe that's just the literature-lover in me). However, the story will rapidly pick up a few hours in, and you will find yourself captivated by what is happening with these six individuals. All of the characters are well-done, even Sazh whom I did not expect much from. I was rather amused by all the people saying Square stereotyped blacks with Sazh and his son, Dodge. Sure, they have afros, but that's it. That's like saying Square is racist toward whites because they portray them as skinny, long-haired, and effeminate. That's just how they portray individuals, if you don't like it, why waste everyone's time with your tireless pleas? Secondly, there are a lot of complaints about Snow. While I agree, early on, his rants of how he is Serah's hero and savior get a little tiresome, I knew all too well and was proven right that this is a classic case of character development. In fact, the story is rich with character development. Lastly, Hope. The kid is 14 years old. Do you know 14 years old? Do they act like Hope? That's what I thought. Unfortunately, I can't give more details to make my case for him without giving major spoilers, but I mean I guess if you don't like kids, you don't like kids. I, however, on chapter 11, have become strongly attached to both Snow and Hope. Guess you'll just have to see for yourself.

Gameplay & Graphics:
While some of the earlier areas are definitely rich with that linearity you've heard about it, I honestly didn't even really notice it until in retrospect. The graphics really do live up to that hype, and the areas you walk through are just magically rich with detail. You aren't doing yourself any favors if you run from point A to B and get nothing from it. A tremendous amount of work was done in designing the areas. But, yes, early on it is a lot of running from here to there, grabbing the treasure spheres you find along the way. But, if you go back and read reviews from many other titles in the series, everyone felt different ones suffered from 'linearity' in some way. I, however, did not think so. Notable areas for me were the Sunleth Waterscape and the Vile Peaks. I remember stopping halfway through the Waterscape to look over the ledge into the horizon and just admire the incredible quality of the scenery. Near-perfection.

The battle system does live up to the hype. It is assuredly one of the best in the series; refreshing and new. No, it is not too easy, and it is not too hard. Early on in the game it is meant to be easy, to allow the player to get a strong feel on this new system and really understand when it is best to follow through with which action. Because, when you're at where I'm at, you cannot mindlessly attack (although others seem to like writing in their reviews that you can). If you try mindlessly attacking against any of the enemies later on (notably bosses), you will find yourself dead in seconds. In fact, I just finished the last Eidolon battle, and it took me about five tries of working out different strategies to finally succeed. Your party consists of 3 members (fixed early on as the party is not united until the end of chapter 9). You control the leader, and if he/she falls, it is game over. With each group setup, you can either generate or customize your own paradigms by switching out the various roles; Commando, Ravager, Medic, Synergist, Sentinel, Saboteur. You alternate these paradigms depending on which is needed, buffs/debuffs, protection, healing, attacking, etc. While early on you might find yourself alternating between an attacking paradigm and a healing paradigm, you will find yourself later on frantically switching between 3 or 4 paradigms just to stay alive during a boss fight. There is no MP. All abilities cost an ATB bar. You start out with 3, and you obtain 1 from your eidolon, and others from unlocking them in the crystarium. You can choose the auto function in your role to have the computer generate the best options, however, this can be ineffective quickly as if you have never encountered an enemy (such as bosses) you will not have any info in your enemy intel. Yes, this means Libra is a very useful skill in this game. The more full your intel is, the better you can auto-generate the best options. Even having said that, I myself often manually enter commands as the computer simply cannot match up with the expertise the individual can offer. But you better be quick.

There are no levels. Yes, it is very similar to FFX's sphere grid. Each crystal has some sort of effect, i.e. Str+20, HP+100, an ability such as Fira, or an additional accessory slot. You boost your stats through these crystals, and can obtain huge overall boosts by role crystals (these enhance the level of each role with a maximum level of 5 on each). Your only stats are strength, magic, and HP. Some characters will learn abilities sooner than others, and some will learn spells that others cannot in the same role. I didn't think this hurt the game in X, nor do I feel it does here.

The most unique part of the game is the weapons and accessories. You will find many weapons and accessories for each character throughout your journey, those of which you don't find you can buy in the shop. What is unique is that, each new weapon is not simply stronger than the last. They all have different stats and natural enhancements for the character. Meaning, to have your characters at their peak, it is best to use all these weapons based on the need of the situation. Your weapons and accessories have experience, which is obtained by using materials found to upgrade them. For example, Lightning's Axis Blade will start at level 1. It's maximum level is 26. Once you level it to 26, you then have the option to use a special catalyst material to transform it into another weapon. The process is then repeated, until you can transform it again into Ultima Weapon. What makes it different though, is that the natural enhancements carry with each weapon, so you may have several of each weapon to swap out different enhancements for the character. You can also do this for accessories to simply boost the effects it offers. This can lead to countless hours of farming materials to level all your weapons up.

LASTLY, the gameplay does truly open up halfway through the game. Screw the talk of there being no sidequests or exploration. Without spoiling the latter areas, they offer some of the widest and expansive maps in the game thus far. Offering 64 Hunt missions that spoil drops you cannot obtain elsewhere, chocobo fun, optional areas, etc. There is plenty to do beyond the story while leveling your characters in the crystarium.

Being a MASSIVE Nobuo Uematsu fan, even going to the Distant Worlds concert and all, I was appalled when I learned he was not composing the soundtrack. Masashi Hamauzu takes up the role in this installment and does a pretty good job. Yes, it is certainly no Nobuo, but that is not to say he hurt the game. In fact, many of the tracks are beautiful. What kinda bothered me though, is that some of the songs seem overused. I'm used to with Nobuo hearing a unique track everywhere you go. You might find yourself listening to Defilers of Fate several times in tense situations, or Snow's theme quite a few times when he appears early on in the game. These aren't bad tracks, it's just I think he shoulda put in the extra time to create more unique tracks for each situation. Most notable tracks for me are "The Oath", "Atonement", "Saber's Edge", "Lightning's Theme", and "Hope's Theme". But again, a very opinionated subject.

There you have it. Take it with a grain of salt. While this game has flaws here and there just as any other game, I do not feel any of them are bad enough to really hurt the game. In fact, some of them aren't even noticeable unless you really step back and analyze the game. If you can play the game, and enjoy yourself, then that's what truly counts, and without a doubt, you can do that in Final Fantasy XIII. It is definitely no 6 or 7, but it is a worthy addition to the series.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/15/10

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

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