"Annoying Characters and Extreme Linearity Create a Disappointing Experience"

I would like to precede this review with a background of my Final Fantasy gaming. I have beaten Final Fantasy 1-10 and enjoyed them all (except 2, everyone knows it sucks). I hated Final Fantasy 12, and have not really enjoyed many of the games Square Enix has made after the merger. The reason I didn't like Final Fantasy 12 was that the focus on the story that had defined the previous Final Fantasies was absent. When I found out Final Fantasy XIII was very story-driven, I was very excited. However, the story falls flat on its face due to weak writing and characters. I will detail this and the gameplay aspects below.


Story 5/10

Now, the premise is actually quite good, and there are some great ideas here. However, the characters are very annoying and melodramatic, and the writing is horrible. For example, Snow, calls himself a hero at least 20 times. NOT exaggerating. Calling yourself a hero is lame to do in the first place, but 20 frickin times!!! Jeez.

Vanille is maddening. She has a giggle that she does all the time. ALL THE TIME. We just defeated a monster, giggle. We're in the middle of a dungeon, giggle. Fang or Sazh you're angry or upset? giggle. On top of her questionably strange accent, this incessant giggling is truly annoying.

Any fan of the JRPG has had to endure the “friendship! Let's all stick together! We promised!!!” Themes that plague most RPGs. As I am aware of the incessant consistentancy with which Japanese developers cling to these themes, I was not surprised to see them present in the game. However, they are absolutely overly saturated. Almost every time you get to the middle of a dungeon, the characters stop to have a pseudo-intellectual and emotional discussion and one of the more annoying characters (Vanille or Hope or Snow) always perks them up talking about hope, friendship, promises and togetherness. If you are like me, you will be rolling your eyes at every cutscene by the end.

I've talked about why I dislike the protagonists, now for the antagonists. Their only problem is how poorly developed they are. Their motives for doing the evil things they do is not explained clearly at all. And when you finally found out who the main antagonist is, it's very anti climactic.

I know all I've done in my review of the story is focus on the characters but let's face it, if you are not interested in the characters than the events of the story really don't matter. That is what happens with Final Fantasy XIII. The story really had potential to be interesting, but the flat and annoying characters really ruin it.

Battle System 9/10

It looks like random encounters are gone for good. Which I like. In Final Fantasy XII you saw the enemies on the field and fought them on the field. In Final Fantasy XIII, when you touch an enemy on the field you enter a battle screen which loads and is a separate screen like the other games. Battle loading happens instantly and is not a problem.

The battle system is very fast-paced. You only control one character at a time and have three characters total in your party. If the character you control dies, it's game over.

The ATB system makes a return in this game. However, this time you are able to select more than one option or attack. You start out with two ATB bars and eventually get up to 5. You can select a mix of attack or magic or healing. You can either pick these yourself, or just select auto-battle and the computer will queue up the skills for you. In the beginning, it is easy and fun to pick skills yourself. However, towards the end when you have five ATB bars, it is too overwhelming to keep constantly and quickly picking 5 commands and most players will switch over to the auto-battle.

Another aspect of the battle system is the roles. These are essentially job classes that you can change in and out of quickly during battle. Commandos use the attack command, Ravagers use magic, Medics heal, Sentinels provoke and tank, Saboteurs cast debuffs, and Synergists cast buffs. To switch back and forth you will use the Paradigm Shift system. You set up six paradigms out of battle with each paradigm having a specific role for each member of your party. You can then switch to each setup instantly during battle. This is where the main strategy of battle lies, in switching to the right paradigms at the right time quickly.

The battle system is hectic, fun, and strategic. The only flaw is that towards the end, you really almost need to rely on auto-battle and have the computer select options for you.

Growth System/Customization 8/10

The growth system for the characters in this game utilizes the Chrystarium. It is essentially the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, except there is one for each role. So you have six different grids in which to advance. You advance the line and you learn the ability or gain the stat that the Crystal you advanced to houses. You use CP to advance this line and gain CP after each battle like EXP in the other games.

The Chrystarium is more limited than Final Fantasy X's sphere grid, but the fact that you can choose which role to advance makes it fun and gives you a decent level of choice.

Then, there is the weapon and accessory system. Weapons have levels this time around. These levels are upgraded by using components to level up your weapons. It's not a bad system, but it is a little awkward and feels like it could have been done better.

You start out with 1 accessory slot and eventually get up to 4. Choosing accessories is very important and a fun part of the customization. Accessories are where you can help define who you want the character to be. If you want them to be a Strength powerhouse, you can give them three strength upgrading accessories and level up the accessories as high as you want. Or you can give them various status defenses. I liked the accessory system and the customization it provided.

The main problem with customization is that you cannot choose your party or leader until about halfway through the game. Also the Chrystarium is limited during each chapter and doesn't allow you to progress until you go further. I don't know why this limitation was necessary and it really is annoying.

Exploration/Immersion/Sidequests/Replay 2/10

Ouch. It's really that bad. This game is as linear as you have heard. Yes, there are no towns. Now while this is not a big deal, there is not anything else either. There are really no environments you can interact with at all. You spend most of the game running through dungeons with cut scenes randomly happening in the middle of them. You are literally holding your joystick forward through 95% of the game.

Now, I say 95%. This is because in one chapter, there is a field. This field serves to be the only explorable place in the whole game, and the source of all the sidequests. There are monster missions to be done here, ala Final Fantasy XII, where you are given a mark and must hunt the monster. There is also a chocobo sidequest. The problem with these sidequests is that if you are interested in them, you literally must stop progressing the story for a while and spend about 10 hours in this field. You are able to go back to the field later, but not until another 10-15 hours of linear paths. And seriously, it's a field. One big field. It's like if the Calm Lands from FFX was the only place you could wander around in the whole game. It is just not enough exploration for a Final Fantasy game, or for an rpg in general. Also, the only sidequest is the monster hunting. No mini-games whatsoever. The lack of mini-games and sidequests makes even the entertaining battle system go stale, since there is absolutely nothing to do except hold your joystick forward, fight battles, and watch movies.

The game has no new game plus, so for most RPGs that means very little replay value. I don't really know why you'd want to replay it anyway since the story isn't that great.

Graphics 10/10

No complaints. Best graphics I've ever seen in a video game. I don't really know what to say except that they are unbelievable. The backgrounds and character models are beautiful. The only thing I wish for is more things I could interact with from these beautiful backgrounds. Also, the graphics are so good, they end up being too good that they distract from other parts of the game. So much work was put into these graphics, many gamers will inevitably be questioning why that same craftsmanship wasn't put into the story or gameplay.

Music 9/10

I've been reading a lot of complaints about the soundtrack and I'm not sure why. The music is eclectic and entertaining, and the battle theme might be the best in the series history. The main theme is very good. The music is actually better than the story and I felt bad for Hamauzu. He did a great job crafting some emotional pieces, but the characters were so lame I just didn't care. I wish the story had been on par with his composing.

It also seems like they didn't vary the use of his music enough. There is a lot of it, and they use a couple different tracks for the field, but repeat the same tracks for the dungeons. You spend most of your time in the main game in the dungeons, so you'd like for all the songs to be used there.

I'm not even gonna touch the Leona Lewis song they stuck in the game, I really just ignored it.

Sound/Voice Acting 8/10

Sound effects are fine, whatever, who screws them up? The voice acting is very good except for one glaring exception: Vanille.

What in the hell is she supposed to be? She has a very strange Australian-esque accent, but it's not quite Australian and is honestly just distracting. She includes a giggle every time she talks, and add all this nonsense to her high-pitched voice and you have one distracting character who is impossible to take seriously. I do not know what they were thinking with this VA.

Every other character is very well done, but Vanille alone is so bad it's worth a whole 2 points off.

Overall 6/10 (Not an Average)

Final Fantasy XIII had potential, but the cheesy characters and extreme linearity really ruin it. The music, graphics, and battle system were all Final Fantasy worthy, but the lack of sidequests and fun things to do in general are missing in this entry. I don't have much hope for the future of this series after the disappointments that were 12 and 13.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 04/07/10, Updated 04/08/10

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

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