Review by Dan_pentagram
Transforming an RPG into a Scrolling Platformer
News of this fourteenth instalment of the main series was first introduced in 2006. Finally released on the Playstation 3 in early 2010 shows that Square Enix has been working on it for nearly five years. Its also been announced that it has become the fastest selling episode in the franchise. With raving reviews and sales galore, surely this game must be a hit? Well Ive stripped this one apart and believe me there is plenty to say on that matter.
Humans live on a world called Cocoon, a shell like planet that inhabits itself within another planet. Pulse looms down below. God like beings known as falCie let humanity flourish until a war broke out between the Pulse falCie and the Cocoon falCie. Since this War of Transgression, humans began to fear anything Pulse related and after being fed a media plague of hatred about the world below supported the Purge, a mass exile to anyone who has come in to contact with Pulsian matter. It is during the Purge that we find our heroes introduced to on another.
With betrayal, lies and secrecy running the show, it is no surprise that all is now what it seems and Lightning, the main protagonist, suspects a corrupt government. After becoming into contact with a Pulse falCie, all six of the main cast are cursed into being lCie puppets of the falCie who cursed them. Now branded an enemy of Cocoon, they must trust each other in escaping the law, whilst not only bringing down the Sanctum (government of Cocoon) and completing their focus. All lCie are given a mission (focus), if they fail they will all turn into Cieth, monsters who must linger the world forever trapped.
So before you even get stuck into this, you know that all of the characters have a secret and are in it because of their own agenda. It just obviously takes playing the game to unravel these truths. To start with, the player is introduced to very little and with so many things going on, this can be very confusing. Events just dont seem to make sense at all and as a result this halts the drive and addiction needed to getting into the story and grabbing on with both hands and teeth in unison. Terms are thrown at you in all directions. Its almost as if they were given a set of Scrabble letters and told to create as many words as they can. Cieth, falCie, lCie; this list just goes on. In all honesty, it isnt until you familiarise yourself with all of the names and divisions that you start to sit up and appreciate the complexity of the world Square Enix has created.
Despite of this complexity, the story just reveals itself too slowly. With the most successful RPGs they make you believe you are fighting for a cause or establish a connection between the main characters and the gamer. Whether this connection is emotional, respectful of admirable varies on the title. Sadly, Final Fantasy XIII does neither. The characters just seem too familiar. Lightning is obviously a female carbon copy of Cloud (FFVII), Vanille is Selphie (FFVIII) and antagonist Dysley is just too similar to Seymour (FFX).
With other Final Fantasy titles, the story has always been so definitively defined. I dont know what went wrong here. Its like it fused Transformers and Power Rangers into one. The infamous eidolons make a return here and unfortunately just seem to add to disappointment list that is evidently stacking up so quickly. Everything in the world is so mechanical, both physically and environmentally, which results in a manufactured sort of feel to it.
On a plus note (lets face it we need one) as expected, it is very pretty to look at with such clean lines and design. I would go as far as to say that it is arguably is the most realistic looking final fantasy. So much detail has been put into the faces of each character, so that we can even read the emotions they emit on so many different levels. Background scenery consists of a mixture of 3D and 2D structures to really give a fantastic illusion of being set in a very real world.
Cut scenes and FMVs are in one word; phenomenal. Clever camera work and luscious lighting creates a magnificent atmosphere, whether it is in the beautiful but lonely landscapes of Gran Pulse or the ambush scene in Palumpolum. Colour is vivid also and never falters in helping it difficult to notice transitional points between cut scenes into FMV. Despite my distaste to the futuristic mechanical theme it nonetheless looks brilliant, mixing levels of dark caves to ice covered lakes means it has a brilliant variety in level design.
Voice acting is overly familiar again, though this doesnt mean it is necessarily a bad thing. There is emotion and belief in Ali Hillis voice (Must Love Dogs) who plays Lightning and Troy Baker (Resistance 2) doesnt do an awful job in bringing Snow to life. But I do have to mention the voices of Vanille and Fang. They have got to be the worst acted characters I have ever heard in a game this serious. Their ridiculously over exaggerated Australian accents left me rummaging around for the mute button. To a certain extent it leaves a part of the game a joke and anything serious they have to say; cringe worthy. Vanille is played by Georgia Van Cuylenburg and Fang is voiced by Rachel Robinson.
I suppose this up and down pattern is even more true to the entire sound department inside of Final Fantasy XIII. Whether it was the classic winning sound in FFVII, Liberali Fatali in FFVIII or Suteki Da Ne in FFX, there has always been a memorable and strong stand, but sadly this instalment misses out. There are some blood pumping themes in some very tense moments forcing an increase in pace. However on one level, a dark industrial themed level I may add has a funky jazz/blues melody screeching out of your TV. It was so out of place that it even urged a response from my other half. The most out of place award must however go to the main theme song. Imagine, youve just spent 25 + plus hours completing the game, youve just survived a lengthy boss battle and along with the final cut scene Leona Lewis starts whining in the background. What a mistake!
Ok, so in FFXII, developers Square Enix made some big changes to the battle system and this title some things have stayed and others radically changed again. Random battles havent returned with visable enemies on screen, but the old style battle screen makes a welcomed return. It does use an active time battle system but allows you to create an attack combo from individual abilities learned from the Crystarium, which ultimately is a spiral world of abilities to learn and a place to spend accumulated experience points. Unlike the License Board in FFXII you do not need a license to wield a weapon.
Instead you create roles for your characters such as commando, medic, sentinel and ravanger. Each having a different purpose. Again you can only control one character in battle (which I find a shame) and therefore must set paradigms for your other two battle members. This is basically an AI command on which role to take and which attacks to use. Only certain members can use certain roles, which mean players will have a very strategic decision to make at each crucial point in the game as to who will make up their party of three. Brand new is the stagger state. Each enemy has a chain gauge and when this is raised and full it will become staggered, essentially weakening the enemy and becoming easier to defeat. Ravengers are magic users that help raise the chain gauge.
Though the stagger state is original and helps create a more tactical approach to the game, the rest is far from original. Weve seen it all before in FF X- 2 with the costume systems havent we? At times it makes the game more interesting, but in others it can make the game feel a little monotonous as you flick back and forth between roles. I certainly would have loved to see something more exciting and refreshing. The crystarium is also a weird and laborious way of levelling up your characters. I can remember spending an hour or two trekking the world map to level up my characters so they were fit and ready for more advanced enemies. Here however you can expose an enemys weakness by simply switching to a different role. Where has some of that old school charm gone that made the PSOne adventures so addictive?
The game is split into chapters and for the first eight maybe nine at least the game is so straight forward and simple most RPG fanatics would have simply switched off. The game does become much more strategic and worthy of playing though after those chapters, but thats about twenty hours into the game. Is that really such a worthy sacrifice? At times after this it also becomes ridiculously difficult in patches, with enemies having enormously high health making battles sometimes last for more than fifteen minutes. You also get a star rating out of five at the battle end screen. The more stars obviously means better items you loot.
Any Final Fantasy fan will tell you that the side quests are some of the juiciest elements hidden away for their pleasure. It also pains me to say that yet again there arent that many in here, never mind interesting ones. On Gran Pulse you are given the opportunity to complete missions from Cieth stones. Basically completely the focus from the lCie that failed them. This involves killing a hoard of monsters that get stronger with each mission. Unless you are looking to prove yourself in killing strong enemies then Im afraid thats really it. No bonus summons to find, no secret weapons (although there are ultimate ones), no extra bits of story to unlock. Oh, there is a Chocobo treasure hunt, but that is just lame. Running around on a Chocobo until a sign appears above its head telling you to dig is not an entertaining side quest. It was obviously really just put in to act as an Easter Egg. The addition of other memorable Easter Eggs is nice, for example an aircraft is called Lindblum which was a town in FFIX.
Square Enix tried hard to add something different into their first PS3 outing, but sadly misfired on so many levels. The battle system is far from perfect, although it does create some tactical battles, and its linear walkthrough makes the game overly simple at times feeling rather like a scrolling platformer than an RPG. The graphics are gorgeous but the storyline is confusing yet complicated to a laborious degree. It is pretty much a rollercoaster ride of ups (FMV) downs (Familiarity) and some total disasters (Voice Accents). If you are a hardcore FF fan them I recommend playing this through once, simply to get to the good parts in the later stages of the game. If you are simply an average RPG fan then stay away from this instalment as it most certainly doesnt illuminate any of the series highlights. It really is the weakest FF game since X 2.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIII (EU, 03/09/10)
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