Review by Raiden782
A Masterpiece You Will Never Forget
Final Fantasy XIII is perhaps the most controversial Final Fantasy ever. A number of changes to the formula have been made, and I strongly believe they were positive changes, for the most part. I consider this to be one of the best Final Fantasy games ever, and also one of the best games of all time. It is not perfect, but the good aspects are so overwhelmingly positive, that a 10/10 is the only appropriate score for this masterpiece. Allow me to explain...
Lets start with the gameplay. The most notable difference from prior titles is that you will be more or less forced along a single path. Moreover, that path will often be a dungeon of some sort. Now, I don't consider this to be a bad thing, rather a good thing, since the linear design allows for a more tightly-knit storytelling experience. However, there is a different problem...the layout of the dungeons themselves. Particularly in the early parts of the game, the exploration boils down to walking down one long corridor after another. Later in the game, this completely changes, and you find yourself totally free to explore a vast world in front of you, as well as improved dungeon designs, but the uninspired layouts early on are inexcusable. Luckily, they are frequently punctuated by enjoyable cutscenes, making it more tolerable in those early stages. The cutscenes themselves are usually brief, but extremely well scripted. People that dislike long cutscenes will have no problem with this game.
In addition to the dungeons, you will sometimes be in cities, usually when all hell is breaking loose, which leads to some very exciting and dramatic scenarios. Coupled with the amazing character drama, the only way to describe the experience is "euphoric." And as previously mentioned, you eventually end up with a huge world to explore, with tons and tons of optional missions to do, allowing this game to easily go over 100 hours.
The battle system is the finest of any RPG I have ever played, with the possible exception of the original Valkyrie Profile back on PS1. While still turn based, time now plays a key role. Gone are things like "MP", and in its place a constantly recharging time bar dictates which moves youll be able to use. Do you want to charge way up and unleash a barrage of attacks, or quickly launch one or two? Much strategy is needed to decide. Also your HP will totally regenerate after every battle. This keeps the focus on battle strategy and gets rid of the micro-managing aspect. Given the intense battles that will have you launching far more attacks and healing MUCH more frequently than any other FF, this is for the best. Random battles are gone, and now you can see enemies on screen.
This is a VERY challenging game, and importantly, it is the enjoyable kind of challenge, not the kind that requires level grinding. If you get stuck on one of the many highly devastatingly powerful bosses or even tough normal enemies, level grinding will be of little help. What will be needed is a total change of strategy. Your main strategy comes from roles you assign to your character, called "Paradigms". Each one is very unique, and easily makes this game the most strategic of any FF title by a mile. You will need to constantly change them throughout battle in order to triumph. Adding to the challenge is that every enemy or boss will have very different properties...you absolutely cannot blindly attack and expect to survive. Even for regular battles, you cannot simply attack without thinking. You will ALWAYS be forced to think. I was constantly amazed at how skillfully the developers managed to make each boss battle unique, and requiring of such vastly different tactics. Sometimes you'll need to go all out and attack as fast as possible, other times you'll be getting pummeled by such powerful and frequent attacks that youll need to just heal CONSTANTLY trying to stay alive, and perhaps poison them and hope to last long enough. Truly marvelous and thrilling.
Given the fast paced nature of the battles, you only control one character at time. While potentially annoying at first, you eventually understand why, as the high speed battles would not work otherwise. Also, you will constantly be changing your allies battle roles to adapt to the situation, even within the same battle, so you do feel like you are controlling them. One minor complaint is that if the character you are controlling dies, it is game over, which is silly. In FFXII, you would just switch to a different character.
Character growth takes place on something similar to the Sphere Grid of FFX, and is very fun. Each different Paradigm has its own growth path, and you decide what aspects you wish to improve. Weapon and accessory growth is done by using items obtained from battle on them, causing them to improve. Unfortunately the tutorial does not cover it in detail, practically forcing you to look at a FAQ for the details. Demon's Souls had the exact same problem. Weapons and accessories can be transformed into new ones once you upgrade them enough.
The character models are the stars here. Incredible facial and movement animations, easily rivaling or surpassing the likes of MGS4 or Uncharted 2. The backgrounds are impressive as well, sometimes shockingly so. Not only impressive looking, but very large, with a VERY grand sense of scale for many areas, along with enemies so large they seem to be from a God of War title. The battle effects are marvelous and over the-top, and no matter how crazy the on screen action gets, the frame rate stays silky smooth. Of course, the CG cutscenes will blow your mind as well...I have no idea how Squenix manages to up the ante with every incarnation like this. You will not see anything better looking, anywhere.
Not only are the technical aspects impressive, but the artistic design is as good as ever. Tetsuya Nomura's character designs are extremely pleasing to just stare at endlessly, and the world design is very creative and gorgeous. Particularly noteworthy are the city designs, they are absolutely jaw-dropping.
Music this time was done by Masashi Hamauzu and I believe this is easily his best work yet. I was surprised within the first few hours of the game, because every single track I heard would blow me away with quality. One after another. Unfortunately, there is some serious repeating of tracks throughout the game. This is a common trend these days, but I still don't like to see it in an FF title. There is no reason each area should not have a unique theme. Another problem I had is some of the vocal tracks can get irksome. There is some really beautiful vocal chanting which I appreciated, but also some corny sounding lyrics in others, which is the last thing I want to hear while running through a dungeon. The ending theme was changed from the Japanese version which had me rather angry, but I ended up loving the theme they replaced it with. It fits perfectly.
The voice acting...is spectacular. This is easily some of the best voice acting ever heard in video games. Not only that, but Squenix re-did all of the lip-synching for the English release, so everything looks natural. With Crisis Core and now FFXIII, Squenix has proven that they are on the same pedestal as the likes of Konami when it comes to English dubbing.
Now we move onto the main attraction for an FF game...the story. While I am not surprised that this game has an excellent story, I am shocked at just how great it is. The most substantial of all the FF games, the story will have you hooked. It is incredibly deep and well developed, and even has a handy "Datalog" for keeping up with everything that has happened, as well as containing a TON of info on the world and people of the game, just like Xenosaga. Also like Xenosaga, there are many hidden layers to the plot that are not apparent at first...learning these details by doing side-quests and gaining new entries in your datalog is very rewarding. The plot itself is far from typical, thankfully, and puts a very unique twist on the "saving the world" thing. I wont spoil anything, but the entire mood of the game is rather melancholic and unique. Also, the relationships between the characters are VERY creative and will keep you eager to see what happens next.
The actual storytelling is just as impressive as the story itself. Uncharted 2 is frequently cited as a recent game with excellent storytelling, and rightfully so. Well, I am pleased to say that this game surpasses Uncharted 2s storytelling. This is an extremely impressive feat, considering how much longer this game is and consequently how many more cutscenes there are. The cutscenes are so wonderfully animated, the facial expressions so incredibly expressive, that you'll see each character as an actual human, and not as just some character that happens to be involved in some devious plot, as with many RPGs.
This is when the beauty of the linear game design comes into focus. If they had given the game a more open-ended progression, there is no way they could have given such coherent and focused character personality development. This is why people need to look at both the positives and negatives of linear gameplay. It is always a trade-off as far as freedom and storytelling are concerned. Yes, it is possible for open ended games to have good PLOTS, but reaching this level of storytelling and character development is not possible in open ended games, unless the developer is willing to spend so much money that they'll hardly break even. It simply is not going to happen, at least not anytime soon.
It is ridiculous to expect every RPG to adhere to typical standards of RPG game progression...if some developers want to put the focus on story at the expense of freedom, what is wrong with that? Every game is unique, and should be judged on its own merits, not on how much it conforms to accepted typical standards. Moreover, as already noted, complete freedom eventually is available to you. This is extremely clever on Squenix's part. It is like the best of both worlds. You get all the storytelling benefits of a linear game, yet eventually get to explore to your heart's content. I cannot imagine a better setup for an RPG.
The flaws with this game are inconsequential when viewed against its strengths. Any fan of RPGs or even anybody that enjoys a well told story would be making a big mistake if they don't play this. Even if you dont care much about story, the mind-bogglingly fun and dramatic battles are reason enough to play it.
This game is a true classic, meaning it will never lose its appeal. Most games that come out are fun while they are cutting edge and new, but eventually lose their appeal when newer games come out. I call those games "diversions"... just things to distract you for awhile. This title, like other FF games and the MGS series, will be just as enjoyable 10 years in the future as it is now.
One more thing...this game has one of the BEST ENDINGS EVER. Now go play it!
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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