Review by emeraldtryst
The best and worst game I've played in a long time
Final Fantasy 13 is one of the best and worst games I've ever played. For everything the developers did right, they screwed up two. And for every tired old cliche they used, the developers gave us two shots of fresh air. Lets break things down, shall we?
Plot - 5/10 - I'm not going to mince words here; the plot is nothing special. I've certainly seen worse plot lines out there, but there was absolutely nothing surprising or new in any of the story themes. The pacing is good, and there aren't any grievous holes, but if something was going to be recycled from older FF games, the plot is not what they should have chosen.
Music - 7/10 - The soundtrack was good all around. There was only one track I disliked (not a fan of jazz flute), and all of the tracks fit the scenes very well. This could have drawn a higher rating, but there was really nothing special about the music overall. The soundtrack also should have been much darker in places and really to capture the emotion that the characters were experiencing.
Characters - 10/10 - Honestly, the characters we simply exceptional. The only character that was a borderline cliche was Vanille, and she was different enough to dodge that label. The interaction between characters is what made a rather lukewarm plot fairly decent in the grand scheme of things. Even the default "hero" archetype character is aware enough to make jokes about his "hero" status. The voice acting was very well done in this iteration as well with the voices all fitting the characters very well.
Combat - 5/10 - The combat system is a breath of fresh air for the series and does a lot of things well, but overall falls far short of the mark. The first problem is that you only control the party leader--this would be such an issue if the AI wasn't so poor, that you get a game over if the leader falls, and through the majority of the game you can't even choose your party OR leader. Because the system is so quick, it's almost always faster to simply use the auto-battle function which further illustrates the weakness of the AI. To determine the flow of battle you'll use the paradigm system--a series of pre-defined party setups to determine the role of each character in the party. This system works well except when it doesn't--several battles after character changes don't allow you to set up your paradigms, and you're very limited through the majority of the game based on which roles are available to the characters in your party. The system works but the strict limits siphon out a lot of the fun.
Graphics - 10/10 - The graphics are the best graphics in any game ever released on a console. The characters look so good normally that its sometimes difficult to even notice when a cutscene begins. The art direction and design for the world is nothing short of amazing. The world is so pretty that it begs for exploration which sadly leads to...
Gameplay - 3/10 - If you hadn't heard yet, this game is EXTREMELY linear. Your choices for exploration outside of chapter 11 are limited to the left hallway versus the right hallway. You need to play through 70%+ of the game before you even have the option to change your party or leader. The set roles for each character give you zero freedom, and in fact many of the early bosses have 1 specific strategy that is basically required due to the extreme limitations on party/paradigm setups.
There is also no reason to "level up" through the vast majority of the game. Character advancement is done by purchasing attributes, skills, and techniques in a linear path using CP. Because the higher tiers are sealed off by story advancement, there is no benefit to grinding enemies until around chapter 11.
Overall the character development system is extremely poor. Your characters will develop exactly as the designers planned through the majority of the game, and some abilities are only available to certain characters. The system is very limited and can easily lead to frustration if you picked the "wrong" strategy for a given boss.
There are just so many things that were fouled up here that there were times I simply wanted to stop playing but continued on in the belief that I must simply be missing something. In reality the overall experience of the gameplay is very VERY shallow with little to no reward for creative thought.
Overall - 6/10 - With amazing graphics and characters, the mediocre plot wasn't much of a sticking point. The real killers for this game were the forced linear gameplay, poorly-implemented AI, and the extremely weak (stat-wise) character development.
If you take this game in the context of the Final Fantasy series the score drops to a 4/10. The crystarium is basically a watered down version of the FF10 sphere grid with less freedom, there is only one series of side-quests (which can only realistically be finished during the post game), there is no exploration through the vast majority of the game, large parts of the story are basically a direct rip-off from FF10, and the AI simply begs for a reimplementation of the FF12 gambit system.
The fact is that this game adds nothing to the Final Fantasy universe beyond a somewhat inspired concept of a battle system. The characters use weapons and eidolons from old characters, but there was nothing added in this iteration that I'd want to be reminded of in a future Final Fantasy game.
This game is worth a look for the amazing graphics and impressive character design, but given that there is zero replay value and a very minor post game, you'll find plenty of these floating around the bargain bin of your local retailer before too long.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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