Review by Kashell Triumph

"A fun game, a fun adventure, and a fun Final Fantasy! But, was it worth the wait? Final Fantasy XIII ends up being an interesting experience."

Where to begin with this. Well, I'm sure anyone reading this review in a sea of other user reviews knows all about Final Fantasy. Besides video games, the two capital Fs have been featured in movies, television, anime, manga, and even collectibles. Over 20 years later, gamers are now able to experience the next installment in Square's heavy hitter franchise. After dealing with games like Crystal Chronicles, Crystal Bearers, and other crappy sub-series, Final Fantasy XIII ended up being a fun game from start to finish. Unfortunately, it has some issues. But, the biggest issue of all is that it was not worth the wait.

Lightning Strikes Twice.
Final Fantasy XIII takes place in a safe-haven world called Cocoon. Cocoon is a large sphere that is protected by a magical shell that floats over another world called Gran Pulse. The people of Cocoon fear Gran Pulse due to an attack centuries earlier that resulted in a all-out war and cracked open the magical shell. Also, these people rely on the powers of the divine fal'Cie that provide them food, water, weather, and other essential living necessities. There are fal'Cie on Gran Pulse as well, but they are feared more than death itself. If one were to come into contact with a fal'Cie from the other world, they would be executed or banished. This is where the story begins, during an event called The Purge. Organized by the rulers of Cocoon, The Purge's plan is to take away all who had contact with a Pulse fal'Cie. Among these people is a mysterious woman named Lightning. As a result of The Purge getting disrupted, Lightning and four strangers are turned into l'Cie, servants of fal'Cie identified by tattoos on their bodies. L'Cie are required to fulfill a certain duty called a Focus. If their Focus is completed, then they gain eternal slumber in a crystallized form. However, failing means they turn into hideous creatures called Ci'eth. Rejected by Cocoon and without any idea of their Focus, these strangers must join together.

Needless to say, this story starts off with a bang. Luckily, it continues with this same momentum until the very end. As Lightning and her friends travel forward to find their Focus, they also develop amazingly well throughout this process. Each character goes through multiple personal struggles as they come to understand what it means to be a rejected member of society. Despite the fact that Lightning is regarded as the main character, all characters can be granted this title due to their interactions and roles in the story.

Trouble in Paradigm Paradise.
While the story of Final Fantasy XIII is exciting, getting through the beginning chapters is a drag. In fact, Chapter 11 is when the classic open-ended nature of the series opens up. Keep in mind that there are a total of thirteen chapters. Before Chapter 11, dungeons are one-way streets with a few branching roads that lead to treasure. Toss in some story events during midway points, and you have the formula for Final Fantasy XIII's progression.

As the initial chapters drag on and on, you slowly but surely unlock the cool features of the game. Battles, however, take place from the get-go. When your main character encounters an enemy, a fight will begin. The first battles consist of you hitting the Auto-Battle option as your character's ATB bar fills up and maybe selecting an item to use. Sound boring? Well, it is and you will have to deal with it until you unlock Roles for each character. These are basically Jobs, which have been featured in previous FF titles. The Commando focuses on physical attacks, the Ravager is the magic user, the Sentinel focuses on acting as a shield for the rest of the party, the Medic specializes in healing abilities, the Saboteur uses status ailments to whittle down enemy forces, and the Synergist buffs the party to make them perform at their optimum ability. Characters start off with a few Roles, but near the end of the game they have access to all of them. Despite all of these options, however, 99% of the time you will be selecting the Auto-Battle option because of the battle system's frenetic pace. In fact, you will be thankful for the Auto-Battle option.

Luckily, the fun to be had from these battles is endless. At one point, the Crystarium becomes available. Instead of leveling up, characters gain Crystal Points at the end of battle. By using these, they will advance in their favorite Roles and gain stat boosts to HP, strength, and magic. They will also learn new skills and abilities. If you remember the Sphere Grid, you will feel right at home with the Crystarium. With the Crystarium opening up, you also get the Paradigm system, the most exciting feature of Final Fantasy XIII's combat system. The Paradigm system allows you to create customized class set-ups that you can switch at any time during combat. Since each class has a unique and important purpose, choosing six Paradigms is difficult. Boss fights require very specific Paradigms in order to be successful.The combat remains fast-paced throughout the game, but also involves a great amount of strategy. Changing classes in the middle of battle to suit the situations that come up are key to success in this game. While you only control the party leader, the AI taking care of the other two party members usually does a great job at keeping the team up and running. Obviously, this is something you want because once the party leader is knocked out, the game ends. The game is difficult, but forgiving. Game over means that you simply restart at the point where you began a battle. Instead of an "Escape" option, you can pause the game during battle to retry the fight if the situation looks grim.

Alongside the Paradigms, a great feature is the Chain Gauge. When enemies receive damage, their Chain Gauge slowly builds up. Once it gets completely filled, they enter the Stagger state. Not only do they become more susceptible to damage, but they can get launched in the air and combo-counted into oblivion. Causing the Chain Gauge to fill up is another essential key to victory, especially in boss battles. Summons have made a return, as well. Each character will gain their own Eidolon. First they must fight the divine entity. In the battle, they have to build up a gauge by fulfilling certain conditions in battle. This is called the Gestalt Gauge. When it reaches a certain point, hitting the square button will grant you victory and the ability to summon. When you summon your character's Eidolon, the summoner and the AI-controlled beast fight the enemies. As this goes on, yet another gauge will build up. When you reach a certain point, you can enter Gestalt Mode. This is when the Eidolon will turn into a vehicle that the summoner will ride throughout the battlefield. While summons take a backseat to the Paradigms, they are still a fun addition to the already exciting battles.

There's a lot to take in with Final Fantasy XIII, but an equal amount of fun to be had. While the initial parts are boring, the game becomes exponentially more entertaining when the Crystarium, the Paradigms, all of the characters, and other features such as weapon crafting become available. Unfortunately, those looking for towns to explore will be out of luck. Also, shopping takes place at the save points. Final Fantasy purists will frown upon this at first, but they should change their opinion after all of the nifty features open up.

Push, Push, Lady Lightning.
Final Fantasy purists will not be able to get over the fact that there is not an ounce of Uematsu's classic work in the game. Classic FF themes are gone and have been replaced by a new set of tracks. They were good, but they weren't the same as what most FF players are used to. The fact that Leona Lewis' song, "My Hands," is the main theme makes the game feel as though Square has sold out even more than they did with Kingdom Hearts. The battle themes are as fun as ever, though. The voice acting was top-notch. The amount of emotion and charisma displayed by each character was truly epic in telling the story.

Realism Meets Surrealism.
The graphics in Final Fantasy XIII are, as expected, breathtaking. While most areas are VERY lengthy, they are at least beautiful. When you reach Chapter 11, the true graphical experience begins as you enter an enormous plain that expands as far as the eye can see. The textures and colors are lush, but the fact that life is going on during your visitation is the icing on the cake. You can see enemies of all shapes and sizes doing their thing from miles away. The monster models and character models were done just as well as their environments. Realism meets surrealism with the characters who have a touch of anime influence combined with realistic and believable facial expressions. Every emotion is mirrored flawlessly on their faces. Personally, I was not a fan of Lightning's side ponytail because it made her look a bit white-trashy, but other than that small gripe, the graphics in Final Fantasy XIII show the power of next-gen consoles. Oh, and I will abstain from telling you of the amazing movie sequences because seeing is truly believing at what Square did with the game's presentation.

Is it worth it? Let me work it!
Based on what has been written thus far, the game sounds fun. Yes it's fun, but there's a slight problem with it. You see, when it comes to RPGs, it takes a special title in order for me to countdown the days before the release. Xenosaga Episode One, Tales of the Abyss, and Tales of Vesperia are three RPGs, out of an ocean of RPGs, that I eagerly anticipated. Final Fantasy XIII can be added to the list. Was it worth the wait? Unfortunately, it was not and that is the game's biggest problem. Once this 50 hour game ends, you are given the option to finish any side quests you may have missed and grind for CP. However, since I already finished the game, there was no need to go back and tie up loose ends because I've seen the ending sequence and the credits roll. What's worse is, because the initial chapters are such a pain, I will never be playing this game again. There is only one ending, no secret characters to unlock, and the very specific strategy needed to successfully finish off the last boss will leave no room for trying out different characters with different Roles. Once the game ends, it ends. Getting to that ending, however, was a treat. Was it worth the years of waiting and the $64.64 price tag? Absolutely not. Was it still a fun quest? You bet.

Lucky Number XIII.
Final Fantasy XIII is hard for me to recommend to gamers until the price tag goes down. The adventure is a blast, but the chances of getting your money's worth will happen only if you wait for a price decrease. The game is severely linear, lacks typical Final Fantasy features, has a terrible first impression, and takes a while to get moving. Once it does, however, you are treated to a cast of well-developed characters that fight intensely fun battles in an exciting setting. Fans of RPGs and fans of the series should pick the game up only after the price goes down. One thing is for sure, though, and that is Square knows how to make a game that draws you in. It's such a shame it took too long to get here.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/07/10

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

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