Review by MKillBill
"Gameplay before graphics"
Final Fantasy XIII is a game that received such monumental fanfare and spent many years in development. It is the first FF game to be released for the PS3/X360/Wii generation of consoles. For many gamers, it was the sole reason for buying a particular console. As such, you would expect nothing less than a superb game. Well, after having played the game through to completion, I am stunned to say that not only is the game less than superb, it's borderline mediocre by today's standards. A near-total departure from the previous FF games, the end result is like having your friend set you up with a blind date. You see the picture and she appears to be smoking hot. Then the big day comes. You meet her and she's hot just like the picture; but she's dumber than a box of rocks, has a lazy eye, and your friend forgot to mention she has herpes. Final Fantasy XIII is a shining example of how graphics can enhance a game, but they do not make the game.
The story is pretty decent, I must admit. Lightning, a young woman from a world known as "Cocoon," is shown with a man known as "Sazh." You come to learn that there is a struggle between Cocoon and the lower-world "Pulse." Cocoon is partly run by a race of creatures that are called Fal'cie. The Fal'cie will transform human beings into their war slaves which are called "L'cie." These L'cie must either complete their mission, or focus, and be turned to crystal, or fail and turn into hideous monsters for the rest of their lives. Throughout the game, you are given bits and pieces of history about the main story, the characters, and the villains. The protagonists in this game are somewhere between mediocre and decent. A couple of which show likable personalities, though there have certainly been better. The character development is pretty good overall. Initially you will form an opinion about some of the characters which will be 180 degrees opposite by the end of the game. In comparison to the other FF games, it isn't anything amazing; but it is still very good.
No question, Final Fantasy XIII is without a doubt the prettiest looking console game to date. The CGI cutscenes are jaw dropping and the actual game models are nearly as good. All characters and enemies are finely detailed to a degree you rarely see in console games. Emotions are easily conveyed through facial expression, weapons look very nice, and the action sequences are simply outstanding. Casting a high level elemental spell has never looked more devastating. The landscapes are beautiful and a joy to look at (walking through them isn't exactly always fun, but we'll get to that later.) You really can't get much better than this in the graphic department. No noticeable flaws, frame skips, anything to detract from the visual experience of the game.
This is the biggest part of a game and it's where the game should shine. Unfortunately, this is also where the game suffers. You take control of a party of six characters; only three of which are used in combat at one time. Basic gameplay consists of walking along, fighting enemies, gaining experience, weapons, etc. Most RPG's are known for being able to interact with NPCs, visit towns, buy weapons and accessories, and engage in mini-games to get a break form the constant grind of action. You will be sad to learn that FF13 offers next to none of this. NPCs do exist, but there are very few (if any) with which you can really interact. You can't learn anything useful or gain any items from them so you are just as well to avoid them anyway. Shops do exist in this game; however the way in which you use them is ticky tack. You will find "virtual" shops which are accessible from randomly positioned save points throughout the game. You can buy/sell items, weapons, accessories, and components used to upgrade your weapons. This aspect of the game feels like it was just hastily thrown in there and minimized the importance of going to shops as with previous versions of the game. It makes the buying process much faster, but less personable. You want mini-games? Sorry, non-existent in this game. I hope you like grinding enemies because that's exactly what you will be doing 85% of the time. This becomes very mind-numbing about halfway through the game with nothing else to break the monotony of fight after fight.
As with all other versions of Final Fantasy, FF13 takes the approach to leveling up a little differently. After each battle you earn Crystarium Points (CP) which can be used to power up your character however you see fit. This is very similar to the way the sphere grid worked in FF10. Unlike every other installment of the franchise's main series, you move along a predetermined linear path for virtually the entire game. There are noticeably fewer sidequests and things to accomplish outside of the main story and the things you can do afterward are rather limited. What makes this even worse is that most of the sidequest missions cannot (and should not) be attempted until after you have beaten the game's main story.
In terms of combat, FF13's battle system is a combination of FF10 and FF12. All battles are setup where you initiate them by running into or being ambushed by the enemy. Once battle begins, you notice an active turn battle (ATB) bar begin to fill up. This is known as your battle queue in which you can stock your battle commands. So does this mean you can use a physical attack, followed by an ice blast, then a haste spell, and then cast a summon? Unfortunately, there are limitations on the types of commands you can queue up. Your commands are limited based on the role or job you assign to your character during battle. If you are familiar with the "job" system from previous versions of FF, you might understand this a little better. This means characters can only use commands assigned to that specific class. The difference with FF13 is that you can change jobs, or "paradigms" as they are called, at any point in time during battle as you see fit. Sounds like fun right? It would be, if the battles weren't so easy. Unfortunately, there are very few battles outside of fights with bosses and post-game missions for which you really need to use the Paradigm Shift. This means you can simply mash the action button and let the AI take care of the fight for you. This leads in to the next section...
This number is based off the main story. FF13 consists of thirteen chapters (coincidence?) You will find that as you begin your quest and work your way through that the first 4-5 chapters are basically a tutorial that shows you how to play and how to perform certain key battle functions in the game. This is fine to an extent, but considering the number of chapters, I'd rather this type of tutorial occur much more quickly or have a separate tutorial mode where the user can learn the system without slowing down the first few hours of the game when a users opinion is mainly formed. Once the game breaks away from the hand-led tutorial, you will find the game is still incredibly easy until you reach the later chapters of the game. For the most part, you will be able to mash the action button and let the AI do the fighting for you. On rare occasion, you may have to Paradigm Shift and change battle roles, but you won't need to do this regularly until much, much later in the game. The difficulty does ramp up toward the end; however if you have been constantly grinding and pumping up your Crystarium (stats) you still shouldn't have any trouble defeating the bosses. A five is a warranted score given the ridiculous ease of the game in the first half and the increased difficulty near the end.
Final Fantasy is usually revered for it's outstanding soundtrack. Since Nobuo Uematsu's departure from Square Enix, Final Fantasy has seen a noticeable dip in the music which is associated with the franchise. The FF fanfare we've come to love, which begun in FF1, is completely non-existent in this game. The victory theme? Gone. Replaced by a theme which sounds like a victory, but it's just not Final Fantasy. The music is mostly symphonic, though there are some upbeat tunes mixed in every now and again. The battle theme is very good; one of the bright spots in the soundtrack. The music sounds very good, but it's just not very memorable. It's above average at best.
An average playthrough for the main story will run you about 40 or so hours depending on how quickly you pick up on the game. If you play through the additional content beyond the main story, the playtime probably doubles to 80+ hours which is typical of most Final Fantasy games. The game comes complete with trophy support which is probably a good thing because without it I highly doubt many people would waste that much time on some of criteria listed for the trophies. I'd wager most people would stop after beating the main quest. If you were to ask me whether to rent or buy, I'd say definitely rent. Given the deep schism this title has created amongst the fan base, it's best to try before you buy.
If you took this game for face value and removed the "Final Fantasy" tag from the box cover, this game probably would be ranked much lower than it already is. FF13 is by no means a horrible game, but we certainly have come to expect a bit more from Square Enix when it comes to this franchise; especially given the amount of time they had to create and deliver the product. When it comes down to it, an RPG (especially one of this stature) is about more than pretty graphics and mindless, linear, left to right (or front to back) fighting. It's about a good story, good characters, a good battle system. It's about how the characters develop their stats and how they develop in the story. It's about the total experience; some of which is present in FF13, some of which is not.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 03/22/10, Updated 01/02/14
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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