Review by superterrorizer

"Great...but strays quite a bit."

Through the years, Final Fantasy has shown us many great things through the eyes of its heroes: A girl who's half Esper, trying to find her place in the world, a Dark Knight looking seeking redemption for his guilt, a wanderer trying to see the world on his Chocobo, and even a pretender trying to be someone he's not. These are the stories and characters that many of us have come to love and enjoy. Now, in 2010, Final Fantasy XIII has been released for the PS3 and the Xbox 360 to much fanfare and anticipation.

Final Fantasy XIII is the first "next-gen" game in the series and is quite different from it's predecessors. It features no towns in the traditional sense, the maps are more "level designs" than open ended, the battle system has had a huge makeover and even some of the enemies we've become use to seeing have gotten complete redesigns.

Story: 8/10

Final Fantasy's main strength is it's world and characters, XIII is not an exception. The scale of the story is large and the characters, of course, each have their motivations for being part of the story. Snow, self proclaimed hero, is trying to rescue his "bride to be, " Sarah, from a fate not of her choosing. Using his N.O.R.A soldiers, he is introduced while attempting to evacuate victims of a military and religious "purge." Lighting, Protagonist of the story, is fighting her own war to try to save Sarah, her sister, the only way she knows how. The characters are deep, each with their own influence over the story as well as other characters. The characters are given life by some great voice acting that generally fits their appearance and personalities. The story has many twists and turns throughout the game that make it interesting.

I have a couple of complaints with the story as a whole. For one, the villains are weak, and I mean really weak. FF hasn't been truly villain driven game since VII. Even VI had Kefka, who was absent for the second half of the game and still had a major impact on the characters. There is no such impact on Lighting and her gang. The so-called villains are weak, even in dialogue but they do serve their purpose. In the next installment, I'd really like to see a change in this area of the story. FF has had some great villains over the years, but the last few installments have been seriously lacking.

Another problem with the story is that it takes a really long time to flesh itself out. 20+ hours actually. By now, most of you have already read about the "sweet spot" that comes around this time. It's great and truly makes up for the tedious movements of plot but it may lose those new to the series and it's a shame that it couldn't be more involving in the beginning because it is a truly great story.

Characters: 7/10

I generally would group the characters in with the story, but I felt they needed their own rating. The characters in XIII are great characters, however, they have a few minor flaws. On in particular, there aren't many likable attributes of the main cast. Lightning is a morbid soul, Hope is an annoying crybaby and Snow is an arrogant imbecile. It's very difficult to relate to the cast until after the middle of the game. The one redeeming feature of the cast is Sazh, thanks to some good dialogue and great voice acting, he's a very memorable character. His motivations and story are one of my favorite things about the game. I even like that he keeps a baby chocobo in his fro.

The voice acting for the characters, while generally solid, has a few hang-ups. Vanille's voice acting is a very negative thing. While not as bad as to make you stop playing the game, it seems like square couldn't decide whether she should be Australian or a really annoying Japanese girl. This is a growing problem in many J-RPG's and sadly, it's a very big problem in the game, because Vanille's motivations are interesting, and she's a great character, it's too bad they decided to flesh her voice out in a J-RPG way.

Gameplay 7/10

ATB is still around, it has just had some massive changes. For one, You now have an attack gauge that you fill up with random abilities. For instance, you have four spots open, you can select four attacks or four fires, or combine both. It's a great improvement and keeps the battle at a brisk pace. There are also "Roles" to fill via the Paradigm system. You assign roles like Medic, Ravager, and Commando to your characters to add an element of strategy to the battle There are six of these in all and they make a nice addition to the combat system. For Instance, Like the name sounds, the Medic heals your party by casting cure spells, The Commando on the other hand, is more of a direct attacker, he or she gets enhanced strength and helps you build combos with the new chain-attack meter.

The Chain Attacks work very much like the game's limit break system. As you hit an enemy, the chain gauge builds up in a percentage number, as it goes up, so does your damage. You eventually reach a tipping point known as "stagger" where your enemy begins taking extreme amounts of damage based on the percentage. This adds new elements of strategy in boss battles and even regular battles. Gone are the days of "attack till it dies." You're forced to use strategy in almost every battle. Even summons play a strategic roll in battle. You can summon them as an ally or you can have them turn into a vehicle and combine your attacks in unique ways.

This system is not without it's flaws. Some weak enemies can be as hard as bosses if the right strategy is not used. I found myself struggling in some battles where it seemed like I should easily win, and in turn of making a small mistake in my chain, a normal enemy because as difficult as any boss I had fought up to that point and I found myself getting wiped out more than a few times for stupid mistakes. The battle system may be too complex for younger people and even some experienced players may get frustrated.

it is a welcome addition to FF however, and adds a new style of game play. If Square continues to use this system, it will need an overhaul to work out the kinks.

Graphics: 10/10

These are the best graphics on PS3 and Xbox 360 at the moment. The environments are pristine. The map designs make sense and the surroundings are vibrant colored and the imagery is vivid. The character detail is sharp and precise, even down to the hair stubs on Snow's chin.

Sound: 6/10

If the game has one true weakness, it would be that of the sound. Footsteps are coarse and overly loud. Some area sounds are annoying and will probably remind you of that time a cricket was in your house annoying you to the point where you had to get up to kill it. I expected better with this game, XII's sound was top notch and I figured this would follow suite, but it leaves much to be desired. Some of the battle effects are too loud. Your characters who follow you sometimes begin conversations and as you run off, you can't hear them at all which almost makes it seem redundant to have those conversations at all. This is a failure that should not have happened and there is no excuse for this lazy design flaw in an otherwise great game.

Music 8/10

The Music is Final Fantasy. Not much can be said. The score is celestially vibrant and catchy. The music has a heavy Jazz type feeling and the piano and guitar melodies as well as the orchestration are top notch. The score is probably the best in the series next to Final Fantasy VI.

Final Thoughts- 8/10

Final Fantasy XIII is a great game but far from the masterpiece many expected it to be. The summons are boring and the designs of old favorites may alienate some hardcore fans (Odin and Bahaumat are unforgivably terrible) and magic leaves much to be desired. Magic feels weak and sometimes looks like large fire-flies hitting enemies and with that, the player loses a sense of power felt in past games. There are few end game side-quests and sometimes the levels feel too long.

These minor flaws don't ruin the game, but if this is the direction square will continue to go, it might not be for the best.

FFXIII's story and memorable characters make this game truly great but maybe not as memorable as past games. It is a solid entry in the series and the first in hopefully a long line of games on the next gen consoles. If I had to say which console to get it on, I'd have to go with PS3 if only because Xbox 360 has to use 3 discs. But it's a great buy on either system, especially if you are a longtime fan of the series.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/05/10

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

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