Review by cweaver8518

"Great addition to the series, with a few flaws."

Final Fantasy XIII starts with Lightning, your lead character, on a journey to rescue her sister from the Purge. The Purge is a government run operation to exile citizens of Cocoon, a paradise environment for humans, to Pulse, a wilderness which citizens of Cocoon fear. The Purge happens due to an ancient Pulse Fal'cie discovered within the borders of Cocoon. Cocoon and Pulse are considered enemy worlds, and the discovery of a Pulse Fal'cie insights fear into citizens of Cocoon.

Fal'cie are a race of almost divine nature, who watch over citizens of Cocoon nurturing and providing them with food, shelter, and guidance. Fal'cie can also make normal citizens their servants, henceforth called l'Cie, and give them a Focus, or a specific task to complete. Failure to complete this task results in the l'Cie being transformed into Cieth, a mindless zombielike creature who lives in eternal anguish.

Citizens of Cocoon feared anything Pulse-related, especially fearing the possibility that other citizens could have become l'Cie of the newly discovered Pulse Fal'cie, and thus the enemy of all Cocoon. Therefore, citizens demanded the Purge.

Wrapping my head around the story was the first obstacle in the game. The story makes sense to me now, but new players will be confused at first of the terminology. After figuring out the terms, you shouldn't have a problem with the story.

Linearity persues throughout a good majority of the story. Only more than halfway through the story do you get the standard exploration freedom, and even that is limited by story progression. Chapters 1 through 10 you have no chance to explore vast environments. This does, however, fit in with the story. Lightning and her comrades are a group fleeing from a government constantly trying to kill them. Anyone who has ever played Final Fantasy VII can identify with this aspect of gameplay, although there is a bit more freedom in Final Fantasy VII. Linearity is more for the storytelling aspect of the game. Considering the game was intentionally designed this way however, is a testament of a not-so-well-thought-out idea rather than a bad design. Having a more open forest to explore with Hope and Lightning might have been better than the completely linear path with lights to guide you in the right direction. I thought the lights were silly, considering I had a big yellow arrow on my minimap telling me exactly where I needed to go anyway. Besides, I didn't exactly have a choice.

In game maps are also annoying. The maps are not stationary, so it is very easy to be moving away from your destination unintentionally.

Fighting utilizes the Paradigm Shift system, a new take on the job system of previous Final Fantasies. You only control your party leader. Each character has 3 primary roles from which to choose. There are 6 different roles in total: Commando(physical attacker), Ravager(magic attacker), Medic(healer), Sentinel(defender, draws enemy attacks), Synergist(casts boosts, or "buffs" to allies), and Saboteur(casts status ailments, or "debuffs" on enemies). Each role if utilized properly can be extremely effective. You make best use of these roles by mixing and matching sets of roles, called Paradigm Shifts. For example, if you want to heal up and take little damage, have two characters assigned to be Medics and one character a Sentinel. The Sentinel will draw attacks while the Medics heal the Sentinel and themselves to full health. There are no magic points, or MP, in the game. Each role has specific spells and actions they will always use.

Also, the game makes use of Staggering. When an enemy is Staggered, that enemy will take significantly more damage from each attack and may no longer be immune to status ailments or attacks that it was previously immune to. Each enemy has a Stagger Gauge and a setpoint to Stagger them. Some enemies and bosses cannot be beaten without Staggering.

Your allies don't always have the best artificial intelligence, or AI. Sometimes your not controlled party members will not use more efficient methods of beating enemies, and instead focus on casting useless buffs to your party members. Example: enemy is weak to Fire, and you have a Synergist who knows Enfire(changes your attacks into Fire-based attacks). The Synergist will always use Haste first if he or she knows it. However, Protect or Shell could be used next. This can make many fights much longer than they should be.

Party AI is minor and mostly unnoticable throughout the game, though.

The fighting system is incredibly fun to play around with and personalize. Defensive players can always have a Medic active. Offensive players can kamikaze through random encounters with crossed fingers. However, many fights will not end well for either type of player. FFXIII forces players to fight bosses with almost too specific strategies. Quick reflexes are almost necessary as well. Paradigm Shifting to the wrong setup can end the fight early.

Bosses can also be a huge nuisance. Without the right strategy some bosses are impossible. FFXIII wasn't made for the traditional RPGer. If you are having trouble with a boss, you can't just "level up some more" to beat him or her. You have to develop proper strategy to take down bosses as quickly as possible. This means utilizing all combat roles and Paradigm Shifting properly.

This can be very annoying. However, the Retry option has also been included in this game. Gone are the days of leveling up for hours and not saving, then dying and losing it all. Retry is a fantastic addition to the series, especially considering how difficult this game is in comparison to previous entries of the series.

Leveling in this game uses the Crystarium. Those who have played Final Fantasy X will be familiar with this system, as it acts almost exactly like the Sphere Grid. Fights give players Crystarium Points(CP) which can be used to advance their Crystarium. Advancing automatically activates any node the light touches. Final Fantasy XIII limits how much of your Crystarium you can activate at any given point, until you have actually finished the game. This also further emphasizes the need for Paradigm Strategy instead of overleveling to move on with the story.

The only real sidequest this game has to offer is the Cieth Stone missions. Players of Final Fantasy XII will be familiar with this system, since it's pretty much just find the Stone, accept the mission, kill the monster, get reward. I miss chocobo breeding, Triple Triad, and Blitzball personally. Obtaining ultimate weapons for each character used to be an additional sidequest in itself. In FFXIII, it's simply a grindfest to get enough gil and/or the right item drops to do it. Sidequests leave much to be desired in this game.

Lush detailed environments, beautiful graphics, and better voice actors are all major benefits of FFXIII. Characters develop well enough to get attached to them(my personal favorite character is Sazh), without diving too much into unrelated storyline. Humor of course is present in small bursts via chocobo chick, but FFXIII does seem overwhelmingly serious through most of the game. Even the "perky" character, Vanille, has her dreary narrative dialogues.

Despite the negative aspects of Final Fantasy XIII, I welcomed a challenge in the battle system and loved the story and characters. I would recommend it to any RPG fan.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/24/10

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

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