Review by joan2468

"Unexpected, different, and pleasantly surprising."

Final Fantasy XIII is yet another installment to that long-standing, now-decades-old, extremely famous RPG series that is Final Fantasy. Any follower of the series would know that Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) always tries its best to deliver fresh, new experiences within each new game. The fact that each one is almost radically different from the last is what makes this series so famous in the first place (besides the high production values, of course). Square has never been afraid to attempt risks, and they are well-rewarded for it.

Reviews are the person's thoughts and opinions on something - be it a book, a movie, or in this case, a video game - put into words and displayed for others to see. I don't think it would do to have this review be too objective - the point of them is, after all, to share your opinion. So that's what I will do here. I will share my opinion.

If I were to let my ardent love of this game fully take over, I would have given this game a 10, but very few games actually deserve a score like that, even Final Fantasy games. Honestly speaking, and after evaluating the game as a whole, I have given it a score of 8/10, and I'm about to explain why.

I will admit that I was a huge skeptic of this game when the first videos and trailers were released. There was little about it that impressed me outside of the (as usual) great visuals. But that was then, and this is now - now it has become my favorite Final Fantasy game.

Why this game, you may ask? Why, out of all the other 12 great Final Fantasy games, have I chosen this one - so stripped down and "watered down"?

I'll give you my short answer first : I play RPGs for a decent story, characters that I get to know and love, and to have fun, specifically, with the battles. And believe me when I say, Final Fantasy XIII definitely delivered the goods I ordered, and I was not disappointed. I can say that this game breaks all stereotypes that come to mind when someone says "Final Fantasy".

Gamers the world over have been singing (and still are singing) about this game's highly enjoyable, fast-paced battle system. Following FF12's step, combat in FF13 is real-time - fully real-time, without the option of switching it to turn-based. And the speedy and sometimes a little chaotic nature of battles has given this game the rep of "not having great battle visual effects". Magic-wise, that is true - in the case of low-level magic like Fire and Blizzard. Physical attacks-wise? Heck no. You don't just bonk your enemy with a sword now, you get to line up a string of attacks and watch your character execute the combo.

There is a large difference in how the ATB system now works. Instead of waiting for it to fill up to choose commands, you get to choose your commands line them up, then execute them when there's enough ATB "segments" to perform the command. Commands like Fire, Attack, and Cure take only one segment, whereas their larger-area counterparts like Cura, Fira and Blitz, take up two segments. Third-tier spells like Thundaga will cost you three segments, by the way, and each character has one special attack (you could say this is a little like a more practical, less broken replacement of Limit Breaks) that will consume a full ATB gauge, like Fang's Highwind, Lightning's Army of One and so on.

And the roles. Each character gets a set of 6 roles they can access (you only get 3 at first, the rest opens up later), and each role acts like a separate, simplified job - Medic : Healer, Sentinel : Tank, Commando : Physical attacker, Ravager : Magic attacker, Synergist : buffer, Saboteur : debuffer. You can customize Paradigm sets (max of 6), and switch them anytime in battle, according to your needs and situation. And you can't do any significant amount of damage without Staggering the enemy first - done by raising the Chain gauge, which goes up after each attack.

The game gives you plenty of time to adjust to the battles. When I say plenty, I mean a little too much. The game chooses to keep you so sheltered and just gives you easy stuff to deal with for the first 8 chapters, and the following chapters after that, they shock you with tougher fights that get steadily more difficult - even a difficulty spike at Chapter 11.

It is the toughest Final Fantasy game. Truly. Although, any FF fan would know that FF games in general aren't tough, so saying this one's hardest isn't saying that much, but still. The challenge is there. You can't grind your way out of trouble (because the game caps your Crystarium aka character growth each chapter), and even after you obtain the ultimate weapons, a degree of strategy is still required. No such thing as spamming Flare/Holy/Ultima and just one-shotting everything with uber weapons in hand, no siree.

The thing that I enjoyed most about this is the fact that it shatters the stereotype of "Final Fantasy's always easy turn-based stuff". More strategy is required, and it's a load of fun (as long as you don't ask people for help - following someone else's set up is just boring). For the first time, a Final Fantasy's strong point is, in fact, its battle system.

I can hear "so you say the battles is its strong point, what about the story? The characters?"

To be truthful, FF13 does not bear with it the most deep and amazing plotline. It's a tale of 6 people, who took a wrong turn on the wheel of fate and become Pulse l'Cie, revolted enemies of their own home planet, Cocoon. Most unlike FF12, which placed much of its focus on the things going around it and too little on the main cast, FF13 does the polar opposite - the spotlight shines super-bright on its very likable and well-developed main cast, whereas the things going on around them aren't given as much attention. A few vital plot elements are not fully explained, thus preventing the story from being complete and cohesive, but it does a good job of portraying what it was told to portray.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I love these characters. They are, quite simply, the best cast of characters Final Fantasy has ever seen. Each one is given equal individual attention (though, obviously, a few play more important roles in the story), and each one is well-developed. You don't learn that much about their background, but what you do get is a lot of character development. All the characters come with some flaw in their personality, some unresolved issue that they keep running away from, and the best part of the story is actually seeing them try to overcome those flaws, and try to approach their issues. You may not like all of them at first, but when I saw the ending scenes, and had tears well up in my eyes, I knew right then just how much of a connection I had with them, and that, is something I have never had before in a Final Fantasy game. This is one brilliant example of an ensemble cast done right.

I literally had to stop in my tracks and look around at my surroundings at some points of the game, because the environments are truly beautiful. It may not have the best PS3 graphics, but it has gorgeous art direction. I can guarantee that your jaw will drop when looking at at least one area, I can guarantee that in at least one place, you will want to stop and just admire the scenery, and listen to the beautiful music.

This game's soundtrack is not Uematsu's work. However, Masashi Hamauzu does a great job of replacing him. Whether or not you enjoy the soundtrack is based entirely on your preference in music, but FF13's soundtrack happens to be my favorite of the series.

The lack of exploration, a crapload of extra content and world immersion are true, and valid, complaints. It is the main con of FF13, one that does not actually ruin the game's overall fun factor. The game still manages to be a great FF game, without the filler and the fat. It is a lean, streamlined RPG, consisting of only your vital RPG vitamins - it has what's necessary, and it does them very nicely. There are 64 missions to complete, and you can even continue playing the game after beating the final boss (your Stage 10 Crystarium only unlocks then, too). There is still quite a bit to do after the main game, and though there are no sidequests, I feel the hunts are enough - the fact that I am here, 78 hours into the game farming for materials and gil off Adamantai, is proof that I enjoyed this game enough to want more fighting, and to bother with the trophies. If you too enjoy the battles, it will be enough for you as well.

It's not everybody's cup of tea - which game is? This is yet another strong, STRONG love it or hate it case with Final Fantasy, as it was with every FF game since 7. But if you like your RPGs more battle-focused with good characters, look no further than Final Fantasy XIII.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/25/10

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

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