Review by elan_morin79

"It's like climbing a giant hill expecting something great then falling off a cliff."

Introduction - Final Fantasy... Two words that invoke so many memories in my head. I remember the first time I took control of Cecil in his quest for redemption. Or the beauty of the Opera in FFVI the first time I heard it. Heck even VII had it's moments (those who played it know what I'm talking about). Every one of them unique, for better or worse, than anything else I've ever played.

Final Fantasy XIII continues the tradition of being different; more for worse than better I'm sorry to say.

FFXIII is set in an Utopian world known as Cocoon. Giant creatures known as Fal'Cie oversee everything in this world from food production to acting as the sun. Thirteen days before this game takes place a "rogue" Fal'Cie is discovered near a small town in Cocoon. This prompts the powers that be to Purge everyone in that town to the wilderness outside of Cocoon. Not everyone goes willingly, and this is where the story begins.

Gameplay - Finding your way around the world of FFXIII is easy enough. There is a mini-map in the upper right corner which have waypoints to hold your hand... I mean guide you through the game even though most of the maps are all but straight lines.

The battle system is what makes up the meat of this game, and in many ways it's great... for a little while. This game features the ATB gauge familiar from previous Final Fantasies. What is different, however, is that now you can queue your abilities, then when your gauge is full they will execute in the order you set them in. You can even interrupt your gauge and execute actions early. There is also an auto-battle feature which you, like me, will probably choose to do instead. The auto-battle feature will automatically queue the best abilities based on the info you've gathered in your bestiary.

There is another aspect of battles which I believe will make or break your experience in FFXIII. The Paradigm system. In the menu screen you can assign your active party members roles to play in the battles. This may sound simple at first, but you can assign up to six paradigms to switch at will in battle with the simple flick of the L1 button. The problem is the battle never pauses, there is always something going on which can feel overwhelming if everyone is dying and you need to make a mad dash for your curing paradigm.

There are two things in this game that made me pull my hair out more than anything else, and they are co-related. The first is you only control the Lead character. Your other two party members act independently of you within their paradigm role. There is no way to alter what your allies do outside of paradigms. There are times when I've needed to be at full health but the Medic isn't programed to heal past 80% or so. Or how many times I or my allies have died because they don't move away from the Sentinel (which is responsible for getting the enemies attention and absorbing damage) when the monster does it's big Area of effect spell. There is no way to position your allies, in battle or out. The second is if your Leader dies... Game ifs ands or buts.

Your characters gain abilities and attributes through a system known as The Crystarium. It is a system similar to Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid where you gain Crystal Points in battles and use them to progress through the Crystarium/Sphere Grid. You can develop along one of the six paradigms you can be in battle (though only three are available for part of the game). Abilities you learn are only usable when you are the appropriate Paradigm, but stats you gain are universal. There are certain roadblocks that will not allow you to progress in your Crystarium until you pass certain points in the game, the last level being unlocked only when you beat the game. I was against this at first, but it kept the game from being too easy.

Story - Story is THE most important thing to me in ANY form of entertainment. Gameplay can be learned (in most games), graphics can be pretty, but get old after a while. Music is pretty, but, one could argue, not strictly needed. Story is what keeps me coming back for more.

When I started this game, I quickly felt lost... Like I had missed something. And indeed I had. As I mentioned before, this game takes place thirteen days after a rogue Fal'Cie is discovered in Cocoon. Those thirteen days are slowly revealed throughout the first few chapters of the game through the eyes of you characters. This was maddening at first, but I slowly got over it and quite enjoyed it.

The pace of this game is lightning (no pun intended) quick; as are most aspects of this game. What I call the first half of the game (Chapters 1-11 out of 13) happened so quick I hardly realized it. For most of these chapters, your main characters are split up and scattered throughout Cocoon. Though this makes the game more difficult than necessary often times, it gave each of the characters a chance to shine.

After Chapter 11, when all your allies reunite, the gameplay gets much more robust. You can pick and choose your team of three now, who will be leader, and really diversify your paradigms. Sadly, plot and character development stagnate and seem forced to progress with cliches and poorly explained reasoning.

Graphics/Sound - I must confess, this was my first PS3 game. But after playing a few other games, I can still safely say that this game is absolutely gorgeous. I was most impressed with the detailing SE put into this game. Jewelry no longer "stuck" to characters bodies. The lip-syncing was practically perfect to English; I'm not sure if it was coincidence or if they actually took the time to redo the graphics, but I'm impressed nonetheless.

The music was very impressive as well, though I miss the traditional fanfare from previous Final Fantasies. In fact most of the music was very un-Final Fantasy though I enjoyed the remake of the Chocobo Theme with singing. Ever since Nobuo Uematsu stopped making music for Final Fantasies, the music has strayed farther and farther from the orchestrations I'm familiar with. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, I still enjoyed it very much.

Play Time/Replayability - It took me less than 50 hours to complete this game and most of the side quests; more on those in a minute. The first eleven chapters seemed to breeze by in no time at all. After Chapter 11 the game opens up. Though due to the Crystarium being locked by story progression, it makes it almost impossible to do anything other than the main storyline until after you complete the game and get the last level of your Crystarium. Yes, you gain your ability to become as powerful as you can AFTER you beat the main storyline.

Side-quests are what keep me coming back to Final Fantasies. This game has several, but they are much the same. They are Mark missions similar to FFXII. While you can do a few of them before you complete the story, it's better to hold off until you have your full Crystarium at your disposal. The problem is, Marks are pretty much the ONLY thing you can do in terms of side-quests. It got old for me really fast, and didn't even bother finishing all of them before selling the game and getting something else. It was just too boring to grind my Crystarium levels solely to complete Mark Missions.

Final Recommendation - I felt like this game's battle system was a good start towards something wonderful. However there are many tweeks and fixes SE should have done before releasing this game. The story is very well written until later in the game and there aren't many side-quests I felt worth doing. I would say this game is, at best, a long rent or something to enjoy for what it has to offer, then traded in.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 04/12/10

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

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