Review by The_Bones

"Not what you would expect of Final Fantasy"

Final Fantasy XIII is the latest installment in the Final Fantasy series but will most certainly not be the last. It is divided into 13 chapters which is quite different from other RPGs. I have beaten the game so my review will cover everything it needs to be able to cover and I will try not to spoil anything about the game. I will also try and not compare this to other games in the series and instead focus on the game in question.

Graphics: 10/10 - This is one of the things this game does well. It is fully HD and everything looks great. From character models to enemies and terrain I don't think there is anything to complain about. The characters and people are really well detailed and have fluid and realistic animations. Cut scenes are also done brilliantly and don't disappoint. Enemy designs are fresh and unique. Areas like the lake in chapter 3 look splendid and you can tell there was a lot of effort put into it. All that being said there might be games that technically look better out there but the areas you see in FF XIII you won't see anywhere else.

Story: 7/10 - (May contain minor spoilers to the beginning of the story). The story of this game revolves around going against fate and is another one of the games strong points. It can be a bit hard to grasp exactly what is going on the the beginning and doesn't make sense all the time but despite these setbacks it still remains a gripping story. The story begins in the floating world of Cocoon which hovers over the lower world of Pulse. The people of cocoon consider anything from Pulse evil and consider anything that comes in contact with it tainted with its evil. So when a Pulse Fal'Cie invades a residential sector of Cocoon it is decided that the citizens living there must be exiled to Pulse. Fal'Cie are beings that help maintain the prosperity of the world and there are Cocoon Fal'Cie as well as Pulse Fal'Cie. The characters you play as in the first two chapters all have their reasons for going to see the Pulse Fal'Cie that has invaded Cocoon and all make their way toward it during the chaos in Cocoon that has erupted since the Pulse Fal'Cie showed up. I don't want to get too caught up in explaining the story but suffice to say it was quite confusing to me in the beginning and I didn't completely understand it till later in the game. The story gives a lot of depth and background to your party members throughout the game however the other characters suffer from a lack of development. As for the ending I believe it ended a bit suddenly. It wraps up the main conflict well enough but thats pretty much it. Some may be satisfied with it but I believe it was a little lacking.

Characters: 8/10 - This will be a small section but I felt it needed its own section. As mentioned before the characters are well detailed and fluid. Your party members all have their own unique personalities especially Sazh who has so much character to him. Unfortunately he takes a major back seat role after chapter 10. Lightning, the main character, is a recently turned ex-soldier of Cocoon with a tough attitude. Snow is the leader of NORA who helps fight the soldiers of Cocoon when the exiling begins and considers himself a hero. Hope is a victim of the exiling and ends up following Snow after certain events happen. Vanille is the light hearted girl who tries to always be cheerful despite the chaos that surrounds her and goes with Hope o give him courage. There are several other interesting characters throughout the game but it is unfortunate that most character interaction is between your party members.

Sound/Music: 6/10 - This is an area where this series usually shines but unfortunately that is not the case with this game. Every song is well done and the songs are generally fitting to the setting but too few songs stick out in this game. There were about 3 or 4 songs that I really enjoyed in this game while the others were just the standard background music fare. As some of you may know the song "My Hands" by Leona Lewis is the main theme for this game and while it also is a well composed song I felt it never really belonged anywhere in this game. The voice acting in this game is some of the best I've heard. Voices suit each character well and sound natural.. As for the sound effects they are done well and should receive no complaints.

Gameplay: 3/10 - The gameplay of FF XIII is where it really falls short. While most RPGs allow some form of exploration in the game FF XIII puts you on a set linear path in every chapter. The only exception is chapter 11 in which it gives you one big open area to explore but as you progress through that chapter you are put back on a set linear path. There is no break from these linear paths except for that one area in chapter 11 meaning there is no exploration in towns like in traditional RPGs. This may make sense due to the story but a lack of npc interaction really takes away from the world of FF XIII. Since there is a lack of exploration there is also a lack of interesting side quests. This in my opinion hurts the game more than anything else.

The battle system is completely new. You can have 3 characters in your party at a time and enemies are seen on screen and when you run into them or they run into you it initiates a battle. Battles utilize the ATB (active time battle) system in which you perform actions as your ATB gauge is filled. The ATB gauge is divided into segments in which you'll gain more over time and every action takes up 1 to 5 segments of the ATB gauge. So the more you let your gauge fill up the more actions you will be able to take. Actions can either be entered manually or with auto battle. Enemies have a stagger gauge which you can fill up and once it reaches a certain point that enemy will be staggered and will take massive damage. While not essential in the beginning it becomes a must to stagger bosses and most foes in the later portions of the game. Your party members can take up to 6 different roles in battle which are good at various things. Commandos are physical attacks and best at doing damage. They also keep the stagger gauge from falling quickly. Ravagers are mostly magic users that use elemental strikes and can quickly raise the stagger gauge of an enemy. Sentinels draw enemies attention to themselves to protect other party members from harm. Saboteurs cast spells that weaken the enemy. Synergists will enhance allies with their magic but cannot attack. Medics are the invaluable healers of your party but also cannot attack. You can shift your roles in battle by using 6 different paradigms which you can setup outside of battle. Party members are controlled through A.I. based on their current role.

Now while all of that presents a rather unique battle system its execution isn't perfect. For one if your party leader dies (the one you control) it is a game over. This presents a particular frustration considering you cannot switch control to other characters in battle so even if your party members are fine it is still game over if you die. This may have not of been a big issue if they had not gave some bosses the doom spell which instantly kills you after a certain amount of time. So even if you are strong enough to beat that boss if you don't do it quick enough you must restart the fight from the beginning with the retry command. The retry command is also a very broken feature which you can use to get out of some battles or let you restart from right outside of the battle you died in. Party A.I. is also not the best and there is no way to direct them what to do in their current role so sometimes they will do things you will not want them to do. The paradigm system puts more focus on strategy than strength in harder fights and while this isn't necessarily a bad concept it really just forces you to use the same roles in each battle. So basically the game forces you to stick with certain paradigm setups on boss fights which really limit the ways to beat a boss or tough monster. Some enemies can really only be beaten after being staggered and while this too is an interesting concept it becomes more of a chore the more you do it since some enemies are difficult to stagger and you are again forced to use specific roles in order to raise the stagger gauge.

Your characters level up through the Crystarium which is similar to the Sphere Grid of FF X for those who have played it. Instead of exp you gain cp after battles which you spend in the crystarium to gain stats, abilities, and other various things. You only gain access to the Crystarium after chapter 2 which means there is no way to get stronger before hand which may or may not be a big deal to some. Each role has its own Crystarium and each character will get 3 main roles while being able to unlock the other 3 later on in the game. The abilities you gain in that role can only be used in that role while stat gains are universal. Some things can be passed up as you progress through the Crystarium so you can save cp for more important things. The Crystarium has a limit to its expansion in each chapter so you are very limited to how strong you can get in each chapter which also contributes to the game making you use very specific strategies to beat harder enemies. The only stats to gain are HP, strength, and magic so you are also limited in what you can increase compared to other RPGs.

The equipment system is one of the most interesting and complicated things in the game. You only get weapons and accessories to equip in FF XIII and you have the ability to level them up with the upgrade system which is accessed through save points. Components found or dropped from enemies can be used to level up your equipment till it reaches its max level. Once a weapon reaches its max level it can be transformed by using a specific component piece and thus be able to level up again. A third and final transformation is available for all the weapons and also require a specific component piece to transform. Each character can get about 8 weapons and each one can be made into an ultimate weapon. The difference in them is their strength and magic stats as well as some of them having passive abilities to help you in fights. The complications come from the process of upgrading them. Components are limited unless you buy them and most components have a different exp and exp multiplier value. The ideal process is to use components with high multiplier values and then use components with high exp values which then reduce the exp multiplier so you would need to start the process again. The problems lay upon the fact that the exp multiplier values are not shown on components and it takes a lot of exp to level up most weapons.

Summary - Final Fantasy XIII isn't a bad game but not a very fun one either. The lack of exploration combined with a flawed and sometimes boring battle system aren't made up for by the graphics, story, or music. Even fans of the series may be put off by this title as was I but even with all that being said that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. If you don't like linear gameplay then the chances are you won't enjoy this game but a interesting albeit flawed battle system await those who still want to give this game a try.

*Well done graphics and animation
*Interesting story and characters
*Soundtrack is well produced
*Intriguing equipment system

-Extremely linear
-Imperfect and sometimes boring battle system
-Few noteworthy songs
-Crystarium gets capped at each chapter
-Equipment system may be too complex for some

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 03/23/10

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

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