Review by reno385
"A fantastic idea horribly presented."
A project four years in the making, Final Fantasy XIII is the first title of the main series to be released on a current-gen console. Led by Yoshinori Kitase, who was in charge of smash successes in the series such as Final Fantasy VII and X, it had quite a high standard to meet. It was designed to be the most radical installation to date, leaving behind and rewriting many traditions of the series, and reaching out to more gamers. In theory it sounds like an inspiring prospect. So how did it turn out? Not that great.
In Final Fantasy XIII, there are two worlds. One is Cocoon, the somewhat futuristic paradise full of happy denizens who lead comfortable lives. Cocoon is governed by deities called fal'cie, who control all aspects of life such as weather, food distribution, and such. Sounds too good to be true. The other is Pulse, vastly larger than Cocoon, believed to be a vile, uninhabitable place teeming with vicious monsters. Little is known of Pulse, as Cocoon is entirely segregated from it. The people of Cocoon despise Pulse, and have been taught by the government to fear and hate anything associated with it.
Due to a series of abnormal events, six people from different walks of life come together to confront a Pulse fal'cie who has appeared on Cocoon, and are soon branded as l'cie -- people who are charged a task by a fal'cie, and given magical powers to complete it. The l'cie brand is a fate worse than death, for if the task is not completed in time, the l'cie will become a soulless, miserable monster, and if it is completed, the become frozen in crystal for eternity.
Now labeled as enemies of their home world, these people must find out what task they must carry out before its too late, and set out to determine their fate.
Interesting premise, right? I think so too.
The story in this game is very character-driven. This would be fine if the characters were interesting and impressionable. But I was really disappointed with the way they were done. Most of them don't have believable or inviting personalities. I found them all to be one-dimensional and, at times, pretty annoying. They each have a personal goal, a goal which they are so driven and so determined to achieve against ALL laws of logic and common sense, that it alone defines their entire personality.
I really tried to like the characters, I think their premise is good, but they are often times just too annoying. When a character decides to go on some spiel, the game seems to assume that I'm interested in hearing it, but I really don't, because they've already done this speech several times. We get it already. It's not good when I'm literally shouting at my TV to shut up.
On that note, there was actually a web novelization prologue published some time before the release of the game. It depicts some of the characters in their daily lives, set within a couple weeks before the start of the game. It provides interesting insight into the characters and their personalities, and it presents them a lot better than the game does in my opinion. Most of the stuff in there really should've been added as cutscenes in the game, but I guess it goes to show how much care they put into the story. If you're planning on getting this game I really recommend reading the web novel first, you'll probably enjoy the game itself more if you do. It was never officially translated into english (again, you can see how much they care about something that isn't all flash and action), but it was voluntarily translated by fans of the series. You can google something like "FF13 episode zero english translation" and find it.
Because there is so much emphasis on the main characters, the supporting characters are deemed unimportant. Most of them have no more than a few minutes of screen time before becoming irrelevant. They have hardly any development or background; what little background they do have is a paragraph or two stowed away in the datalog.
Ah, the datalog. A convenient little tool where you get to read about the finer points of the story. A lot of things that would have been better expressed in cutscenes, but then again, they seem to like to make us read a lot. Sometimes I wonder if this game should've just been made a book. Would've been a lot faster and cheaper while leaving more resources for other developers who actually try to make a good game.
So, in a nutshell, because of poorly presented characters in a story heavily centered on the characters, the plot turns out to be painfully mediocre. It starts out strong, then just kind of coasts along, with no real villain being identified so for most of the game they're just stabbing in the dark and you're following along. The story admittedly isn't too bad for most the game, but towards the end, it really falls apart. The ending was uninspired and anti-climactic. I don't think they even tried on it. I think they just wanted to tie things together at the last minute and sloppily drew it up. It was nonsense but why do they care? It's FF, people will buy it regardless, so why bother doing work when you don't have to, I suppose.
Where to begin... after bashing the story so much you're probably wondering why I even bothered playing the game. Well the real gem of this game is the battle system. It's sort of an evolved ATB system; basically traditional RPG meets action RPG. Turn-based, but it behaves as though the battle is taking place in real time. It's really fast-paced so they start you off slow. A bit too slow, as for the first couple of hours you have available to you all of two abilities and you gain no experience in battles. Afterwards it picks up and introduces the battle system, which actually requires some strategy to successfully utilize which I was glad to see.
The system gives you six roles, whether they be healing, damage dealing, etc. Each character has certain roles available to them, and they can change roles mid-battle using the paradigm shift. Using this, you can control your roles to best suit the scenario. If you need some buffs, shift to a paradigm with a buffer. If the enemy is really wailing on you, shift to a paradigm with healing and defensive roles. The main drawback is that you can only control one character. You can control the roles for the other two characters but you can't control what they do, and the AI won't always do what it should do, which can get frustrating. But, overall, I thought the whole thing was pretty fun.
The growth system, Crystarium, is simple enough. If you've played Final Fantasy X, it's similar to the sphere grid in that you're given a path of upgrades that you move along by expending Crystarium points. It's more or less a straight path, but each role has its own crystariums so you have some degree of customization.
So, you ask, what else can you tell me about? Therein lies the problem. This is where I think the game is really hindered. Japanese RPGs are notorious for being linear, which is perfectly fine. I'll take most Japanese RPGs over a western RPG any day. But this game puts linear on a whole new level. There's a reason they call this game The Tube. The game itself consists of mostly fighting and cutscenes while making your way down extremely straightforward maps. Most of the time you'll fight, watch a cutscene, move and fight, watch another cutscene. You like mini-games? No mini-games. You like exploration? There's a few small paths that branch of to treasure chests. You like sidequests? None until the end, and even then they're not that great. Don't like the battle system? Tough luck, you're stuck with it.
The amount of substance missing from this game, honestly, is astounding. Locations are done similarly to the levels in those old Sonic the Hedgehog games. You go along the level, running and fighting some bad guys. Then when you get to the end, you go to the next level, and you can't go back. Ever. So I suggest you take in the surroundings while you can, because you won't see them again.
Towards the end of the game it does open up quite a bit. There's a big area where you can roam around and fight monsters, solving a few puzzles (I use that term lightly here) to unlock hidden paths. It even has missions where you take on tougher monsters for rewards. As fun as this portion of the game is, I don't think it makes up for the mind-numbingly boring gameplay aspects for rest of the game.
Needless to say the graphics were amazing. Not perfect, there are plenty of things they could've improved upon such as the flat natural textures and reflective surfaces that don't reflect the characters, leading me to believe that they are vampires. I don't care so much about graphics in an RPG so I'm well satisfied by the above average visuals, but for you graphics lovers out there, keep in mind consoles have seen better visuals.
As far as art direction, I really love the style of most of the environments. Both the urban and natural settings are quite beautiful and there's definitely a lot of detail, even in places you wouldn't notice unless you were really just wandering around and looking at the environment. Even in places I walk back and forth all the time, if I stop and look I might notice something I didn't before.
However, although I appreciate the obvious care and effort put into the visuals, it seems to me they put too much importance on it and as a result let the gameplay suffer. It's understandable, with all the pressure of developing the first current gen FF, that they would make it as visually stunning as possible, but I still think they shouldn't have neglected some actual substance.
The general consensus seems to be that the music isn't that great or memorable, but I personally liked a lot of tracks. Some areas have really catchy music that I whistle along to (once I'm sure no one is around), and there's other tracks that... well that get on my nerves a bit. The most prevalent themes are pretty catchy but the game tends to recycle themover and over in other tunes, which was annoying. But overall I was satisfied.
If I were to sum this game up in one word, it would be half-assed. It seems to me that the general design is intended to appeal to your average brainless consumer: awesome graphics, flashy battles, minimal brainpower required. Catering to gamers outside the RPG community isn't a bad idea if done right, but in doing so they've neglected everything else. Supposedly they meant to throw in some side stuff, but came out and said it wouldn't have been practical due to how much time it takes to design locations with that level of graphics and detail they put into the project. So, good to know where their priorities are at.
My final verdict? Meh. It's up to you. I would usually say rent it but I can't even guarantee you'd be willing to spend the $5 for that. If you want to pick it up, definitely rent it first. If you're a fan of the series, do not expect this to be anything like Final Fantasy. If you're not a fan of the series, well chances are you might like it.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 04/30/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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