Review by nephilimalchemi

"Final Fantasy XIII: Is Change ALWAYS Good?"

The common question in regards to this series is, "When is it REALLY going to be a FINAL fantasy?" Well, if Final Fantasy XIII is any indicator, that ending isn't coming up anytime soon. It combines some rather interesting features from older versions while introducing fun and interesting new aspects to keep the game fresh. However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows as this game does have its fair share of flaws as well.

Story: 8

The story is simple enough, as in the beginning five people all fight to reach a floating ruin containing a Pulse fal'Cie- a creature of great supernatural power that enslaves human beings to do certain tasks. The characters have a simple choice to make: complete the task, or Focus, given to them by the fal'Cie, or become Cie'th- which are pretty much just ghouls.

Despite the simple nature of the story at first glance, it can be a bit hard to follow at the start, especially since it's told as a narrative from the perspective of one of the six playable characters (I know I said five earlier- another joins your party). It doesn't help that there are several flashbacks spanning the course of thirteen days prior to the players becoming l'Cie, slaves to the fal'Cie.

If you examine the story on a deeper level, however, it can be interesting how the theme of being forced into a journey is played out. Considering that many of the Final Fantasies prior to this installment involve some characters being forced to go on some quest just because, the issue regarding being forced to participate is an interesting one for examination- and not one that characters in previous installments readily took part in.

There are some other interesting twists and turns as well, but as they're fairly major and important to the story the farther the player goes, it wouldn't be right for me to spoil anything here. The plot can be a bit confusing at times, but it will usually bring itself together and explain what's going on.

Gameplay: 8

This category is a bit more difficult to examine, as there are several aspects to the game to take into account.

The battles start out being very fun. That is to say, until you realize that in most situations, it pretty much boils down to tapping the X button (or A if you're playing the 360 version). There's also the interesting issue that you only control one character at any given time, so the other two characters in your party will be controlled by the game's AI- which isn't always helpful.

Under most normal circumstances, the AI will perform admirably. Healers will heal, attackers will attack, guarders will guard~. As the game requires more complex strategies, however, the AI tends to fall behind a bit. There are actually six "job classes" in this game. Commando is your run-of-the-mill warrior. Ravager is the mage. Medic is the healer. Simple so far, but that brings us to Saboteur, whom gives status ailments to enemies, the Synergist, whom buffs up the party, and the Sentinel, whom provokes enemies and guards.

The AI is very formulaic, and often gives buffs out to the character that needs them the least (giving the mage whom has no physical attacks fire attack elemental properties to their weapon, for instance). Sometimes it won't cast the spell needed for a specific fight at all, opting to wait until it feels like doing it. This becomes especially annoying later in the game when having the designated Synergist give the Commando elementally endowed weapons is the most probable and straightforward way to deal with some of the more annoying enemies- and they do get very annoying around chapter 10 or so.

An interesting mechanic makes a return, however. Those that enjoyed the Sphere Grid in FFX and License Grid in FFXII should feel realtively at home with XIII's Crystarium. It functions much like the Sphere Grid in FFX but only giving certain abilities to certain characters, and only requires CP- or LP for those coming off of the License Board in XII- to master. At the get go, each player may have access to only two or three paths on the Crystarium, but as the game progresses more paths open.

Also, what would a Final Fantasy game be without summons? Well, either an older or a spin off installment, but that was a rhetorical question. The summoning system has been completely revamped in this game, having only mild similarities to previous installments of the Final Fantasy franchise. Each character gets ONE designated Eidolon, or summon, and can only use the Eidolon when they're the leader. In order to acquire these Eidolons, the player must fight a story-based boss encounter that gives a time-limit and specific task to complete while in battle. The summons are also very helpful, unlike the Espers (summons) in Final Fantasy XII. They fulfill two of the six roles (Commando, Synergist, Ravager, etc.) that each player can use and are often the main focus of enemies. When they're about to be dismissed, they may enter Gestalt mode and transform into vehicles- like the Shiva Motorcycle or the Odin Horse. Depending on how well you chained and performed when they were hacking and slashing the opponents into oblivion designates how many actions you can perform in Gestalt mode. The final attack is always the big one, dealing damage to multiple enemies in a large and flashy fashion- in true Final Fantasy spirits. What HAS changed, however, is that if you're sick of watching Odin appear, you can skip the summoning animation.

Another thing that Final Fantasy has changed is the ability to skip cutscenes- without doing something crazy like opening up the disk tray in FFIX or even PLAYING FFX-2. While this seems kind of silly at first, it's also a nice feature when paired with something that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been included in a Final Fantasy before: a retry option. Even though the game recovers your HP at the end of every battle, there's still a pretty good chance that the characters will be wiped out unexpectedly, so the retry option is a god send, especially in some of the longer dungeons.

The exploration is almost nonexistent however. There are no towns. No major deviations. All shopping is done at save points. The game has severe tunnel vision in this regard, and old fans of the series may be turned off by this.

In summary, the gameplay is interesting, but could use some polish. It's also a tad bit repetitive, but it looks very nice while players mindlessly mash the X (or A) button early in the game.

Graphics: 10

If there's anything a Final Fantasy can do right in almost any facet, it's have pretty graphics.

This game is positively beautiful, with only a few minor issues here and there. As you play, you'll begin to notice that the game transitions between CG animated cutscenes and regular gameplay quite often. Even the regular gameplay is breathtaking, and the characters are all well animated.

Running the risk of sparking some controversy here, the one thing that's obvious is that Tetsuya Nomura did the designs for the characters. They all have several accessories on their persons and many of them, especially Lightning, have Nomura's tell-tale spiked hair. This is actually one of the few times where the main characters being over-accessorized and flashy doesn't take away from the game, as the rest of the game is extremely detailed graphically. Each of the characters has at least one thing about them that makes them easy to pick out and follow should things become kind of hard to follow on screen.

The battles are all well animated, as one would expect for a Final Fantasy. The spells all look great while being cast and the Eidolons are really cool to see in use. There are a few times, however, that I feel that the game is relying TOO heavily on its good graphics. This is an often fleeting feeling, however, as the game's story and gameplay are both pretty good, if a bit underplayed.

Extras: 5

To be honest, the only reason this score's so high is because of the upgrading system. As I mentioned earlier, this game has severe tunnel vision, only having a couple side quests. Deviation from the path is exceedingly rare early in the game, and only appears a few times later. As such, there are very few secrets. Very little to discover and do. There are a few easter eggs here and there, but none of them make up for the lack of exploration- an aspect that fans of the older installments are well accustomed to and were probably expecting.

Which brings us to the upgrading system. It's annoying, but it's one of the few things that can be considered extra in this game. In order to get secret and special items and weapons, the player must participate in the upgrading system, which allows the player to use loot they got from enemies to increase the level of their items and weapons. Organic components raise the experience bonus that weapons and items get for each item used on it, and mechanical components give more experience to level up the item. There are some special items and weapons that can ONLY be found by upgrading and dismantling items. My personal recommendation is that you should not dismantle an item until it's at its max level- and this isn't as hard as it sounds. It's only a bit tedious at times to do, especially since gil can be difficult to come by in this game. There are two shops that sell organic and mechanical components to be used in this process.

I don't really consider this much of an extra either, but there's also the ability to learn all roles for every character starting at Chapter 10. The time needed to do this is a bit annoying, however, so there's little reason for players to enter other roles with certain characters- unless you're after the Trophy (Achievement) for mastering all roles, of course.

A few side missions are available, and give a bit of extra stuff that may or may not be helpful to you in your playthrough. Doing these is a requirement if you're after all trophies/achievements however. Otherwise, this game doesn't have much extra going on for it.

Sound: 8

There really isn't much to add here. The music isn't bad, but it's repetitive and often times forgettable. The voice acting is actually quite good most of the time, though. I say most of the time namely because Vanille's accent confuses and annoys me.

Final: 8/10

Final Thoughts: An interesting, but surprisingly short experience. The gameplay can be fun, but repetitive requiring some patience and creativity to get the most out of it. The graphics are great as one would expect. Final Fantasy XIII lacks greatly in extras, however, and suffers greatly from tunnel vision. Otherwise, a great game and a simple one for most players to get into and play.

Memorable characters
Visually stunning
Summon System is greatly retuned and helpful
Customization for each and every character on the fly

Very few extras
Relatively short
Tunnel Vision
AI partners can be annoying at times

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/17/10

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

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