Review by Leon_Hisaragi
Perhaps the most controversial game to exist
Final Fantasy 13, probably the most controversial FF, if not the most controversial game to exist. We've waited 5 years for this game to come out. Some liked FF12, some didn't. To those who liked FF12 and the previous FF's, this was probably one of the most anticipated games you've ever waited for. For those who disliked FF12 and some previous FF's, this was probably a final shot before you gave up on the series. Many were wondering how would possibly the most anticipated RPG turn out. Does this game beat past FF titles? Was it worth the wait? These questions, along with others, will be answered later on, but enough of this talk, let's begin with the review.
Does this really even need to be discussed? The graphics are simply amazing. Each area you go to looks beautiful and amazing. I'm glad Square Enix still lives up to their name in having the best graphics. Although the graphics are good, I do have to say that it almost feels wasted at times and I'll properly explain that later. For now I'll just say that there is little to do in these places and you such spend a little amount of time there that these beautiful places feel shallow and lifeless. You don't interact with the world and nothing exciting really happens. As beautiful as the world is, it doesn't feel real. You won't actually feel like you're there. It's a shame really that such beautiful places really are just lifeless beings on the inside.
Luckily, the characters and animations look absolutely gorgeous. The face, hair, clothes, skin, body, etc all look simply stunning. The spells you see will look so damn powerful and captivating that you will really feel like you just killed your enemy. Not much to say about the graphics besides simply gorgeous and amazing. The best graphics you'll see out there is all on this game. I'm honestly surprised technology has gotten this far sometimes. Remember this though, for it will also show up in the future of this review.
The soundtrack is actually pretty good, considering the fact that the legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu isn't composing this time around. The main battle theme is very nice, although I feel it didn't actually belong as the main battle theme right in the very beginning. I think it would've fit better later on in the game when things got more epic and the characters got more diverse. There are also some songs that don't really fit the moment and just sound odd in this game. Nevertheless this game still has a wonderful soundtrack with a few standouts. If you're looking for a standout like heartless angel, heart of a lion, to zanarkand, otherworld, etc, you will be disappointed unfortunately. Oh I'm also extremely disappointed that this game took out the Victory fanfare. This game takes out alot of things and some I didn't mind, but there was no reason this had to be taken out. If it did what FF12 did and play it after certain situations, it would've been just as fine, but no they've taken it out completely. This is going to annoy many people because this is such a classic and one of those things that define FF. But whatever, the soundtrack is still great and that's what counts.
Now the voice acting is also pretty good. The main characters all have great voices, some with wonderful Australian accents that most will like. All of the other side characters, enemies, and even npcs all have great voice acting and all npcs are voiced, which is a plus. You may even find some notable voice actors such as Yuri Lowenthal (voice of sasuke in the naruto series) who voices some of the npcs. The only thing I can really find that some people might not like about the voices is a character named Vanille who fits the JRPG staple of high pitched and annoying to many people. When she gets really excited, her voice gets kind of high-pitched and some people may get annoyed about this. She also makes moaning noises in battle, and that's not a joke... But besides that, there's really nothing wrong with the voice acting. Everyone is top-notch, hits the moment perfectly for the most part, and is always nice to listen to.
So let's get the basis of the story out of the way. There are two worlds, Cocoon, the highly technological, utopia world and Pulse, an extremely huge and ferocious natural wildlife were all life roams free. There are gods called Fal'cie who control both Pulse and Cocoon. These gods can curse any human at will and turn them into l'cie, servants of the Fal'cie. They are given a Focus (a task), which they must complete in certain amount of time. If they complete it, they become crystals and are given eternal life. If they fail, they become cie'th, walking zombies who wreak havoc and has no hope of returning to their original form. After some great war between Pulse and Cocoon, Cocoon is extremely afraid and paranoid of anything that has to due with pulse or pulse origin. The government of Cocoon called Sanctum, purges any who has come in contact with pulse, fal'cie, or anything of pulse origin. In the beginning you play as Lighting, who is on board a train with people about to be purged in hope of saving her sister Serah who became a l'cie. Another character named Sazh tags along with her for unknown reasons while another character named Snow is trying to fight back against sanctum, and then everything goes to hell from there. This will be how most of the characters meet.
Now this story has a lot of basis for it's setting alone if you ask me. The story seems like it's going to be exciting and epic right? Well...it is and isn't at the same time. What people expect to be the strongest point of this game, will turn out to be one of the weakest sadly. Now this game definitely is a character driven story, not a plot driven one. Throughout the 1st half of the game, that's what you get. Now the scenes between these characters are pretty good, you definitely seem some interaction between them and some character development, all of that is good. Each character gets an equal amount of screen time to help balance out this character driven plot. But now here comes the problem. Although each character gets an equal amount of screen time, some needed more than others. Lighting for example, gets over her problems way too quickly and makes a sudden change without much of a reason why. Vanille does have problems and personal struggle to deal with, but there was so much about her that wasn't explained. We never truly know what Fang's big struggle is, and like Vanille, so much about her past is unknown that more screen time would've helped.
And for a character driven story, there definitely could've been more captivating, epic scenes between them. There are moments in this game were you will feel bad for a character or feel touched, but never will you feel heavily impacted by the situation. Never will there be a moment were you'll be brought to tears. You don't get enough moments to remember in this game. More emphasis on the characters' backstories were also needed. Many times they just tell you a little about them but you never really hear more than that. For example when Lighting tells us about her past with Serah, you only hear about this once and she barely goes into detail. Maybe if we had learned more about what happened to them before their life as a l'cie, maybe we could've gotten a better connection with them.
This game makes some good use off flashbacks, but not as well as it could've. They normally only give us flashbacks of the 13 days that lead up to the purge, none before then really. Flashbacks of Lighting and Serah when they were younger or flashbacks of more moments between Snow and Serah would've really helped us feel the characters and better connect with them. As much as Snow shows his love for Serah in the game, never did I really feel his emotions. I never really felt the love between them. Maybe a moment were he does something extremely drastic for her would've helped. You can feel the friendship and love between Fang and Vanille, even though you don't know much about their backstory, and IMO that's bad since Snow basically yelled his fiance's name out for most of the game.
The game also has some pacing issues. For the 1st half of the game, we have mainly a character driven plot with alot of emphasis on these characters, their growth, and interaction. But then for the 2nd half, it completely switches to more of a plot driven story. The characters problems and situations have for the most part, been resolved in the 1st half. This is quite strange for a character driven plot story and it would've been more interesting if there were epic villains to make them question themselves and their resolves even more, and make their choices and lives that much harder. There is a villain who tries to do this, however he does this really late in the game and the characters are all pretty determined already, making his attempts at breaking them down fairly useless. Many characters in this game who could've been used so well, are just shown a few times into the games, then completely cast off. SE had many opportunities here that they failed to utilize.
Speaking of villains, there are none in this game worth remembering. One basically shows up out of nowhere and is gotten rid of VERY quickly. The other one lasts a bit longer, and is actually pretty cool, but barely gets any screen time so in the end he becomes a wasted opportunity. The main villain can do some mean things, but he is not really worth mention and doesn't do anything drastic that will make you think he's really evil. Near the end, so many things about the story are thrown at you, that when you thought you were getting the story, all of a sudden it's like the story just threw itself into your face, leaving many very confused.
SE did mention that they had to cut content out of the game, and I feel this happened for the 2nd half of the game. In the 1st half, the summons are introduced, for the most part, at the right moments. But in the 2nd half, the summons are completely random and no emotion is felt when these eidolons appear. Eidolons played a big role for the character's development, and its a shame that only half of the characters had great eidolon appearances. Hope in particular, had so many perfect opportunities to get his eidolon, but instead gets it at the most random time. That was a big letdown for me, as I felt that Hope was one of the more realistic characters and one of my personal favorites.
Now the characters definitely do have a tough burden to bear as l'cie. L'cie can basically be compared to as slaves. Not only do they have basically no choice but to complete a task or suffer a severe fate, they also do not know what this task, being left to figure it out for themselves. Not only that, but they are also hated by society, so this game definitely portrays racism in a sense. You can tell that the characters definitely had many struggles. However, as much as we know how hated the l'cie are by humans, rarely do we ever see any type of this situation throughout the game. Only one time do you see this, and that one time I did feel really bad for the 2 characters that this happened to. If the game had put more of these scenes, we would really be able to feel a stronger connection with the characters and it would help the overall story. The game has many strong themes along with it's complicated background story, so it really is a shame to see these opportunities not taken.
The story also had a heavy impact on the gameplay, which I will explain later. Overall the game's story is something that will definitely leave you hanging for more. It has many holes, probably implemented on purpose to leave for a sequel, but the holes do hurt the game. Characters do show development and each were given equal amount of screen time, but the characters never really come together and show true friendship for each other, mainly because they are separated most of the game. The story needed more stronger moments in this game, ones that were epic and captivating. For a game that put heavy emphasis on story, even going as far as to make gameplay linear for it, it definitely doesn't give you a story that will pull at your heart strings. SE can definitely do better than this...
Now the battle system is definitely a plus to the game. The game returns back to the ATB system, but in a new way. This time, you don't simply wait for turns, although they exist. You now wait for an atb bar to fill up and as it fills up, you can either pick the abilities you want, or select the auto-battle command and the game automatically picks the abilities best suited for the situation. Once the bar is filled, you can choose the enemy you want to attack, then the character will unleash these series of moves on the enemy. You can also stop the bar mid-way if you want and use a shorter amount of moves. I thought this was a unique way to use a turn based system and it helped make the battles more visually impressive. IMO that's a step above FF12's boring looking combat, but I'll get more into that later.
That's not all though. You now play with something called the paradigm system. First you assign roles to the three characters you are using, and this will create a paradigm. You can equip a total of 6 paradigms and a total of 6 roles. These 6 roles range from: commando (attacker), ravager (blaster), sentinel (defender), saboteur (jammer), synergist (enhancer), and medic (healer). After creating the number of paradigms you like, you can go into battle and use any paradigm you selected as your primary paradigm. When the situation calls for it, you can switch paradigms at will during the fight to suit your needs. This is called a paradigm shift. With this, you instantly change your parties roles, and can effectively take down your opponent. This helps keep combat fresh and offers a unique way of strategy.
While fighting the enemies, you will try to bring up a meter called the stagger gauge. Once you fill this meter up, the enemy will become staggered, and will receive more damage. This affects enemies differently, with some enemies being unable to move or attack, appearance changing, or even battle phase changes. Now I'll explain how a normal battle could work: You start with a paradigm of Com/Rav/Rav, Ravagers help build up the gauge quickly, while Commandos slow down the rate at which they decrease. After the enemy is staggered, you could use a paradigm of Com/Com/Com to deal massive amounts of damage. If you need to heal, you could use a paradigm of Med/Sen/Med, as the two medics heal the party, the sentinel draws attention away from the party members and takes the damage while defending himself. This is how battles could play out, it all varies. You also level up with something called the Crystarium. You don't earn exp, but CP and you use this to gain hp, strength, magic, and abilities.
Now the battle system is pretty solid all around, but there are flaws and general disappointments. You can only control the party leader in battle, your partners are a.i. controlled. Now in previous FF's you could control all characters and in FF12 you could control all characters, but you could also have the a.i. influence them with the gambit system. With that, you were able to set up gambits to deal with every situation in a certain manner. For example health 30% or lower= cure, enemy health 50% or lower= blizzaga. In this FF, your only influence on the a.i. is by paradigm shifting, so this loss of control of the characters will upset many people. Another thing many will not like is that if your party leader dies, you automatically lose the battle. Now while this does force you to watch your party leader and be even more strategic, people will find that this takes away from strategy also. Characters like Hope, who have low amounts of HP, dies fast and using him as a leader becomes very risky. People who want to control their sentinel might find it harder to make that choice since the party leader will receive the most damage and possibly increases his chance of dying.
Now the a.i. is ok at doing its job, however it's far from perfect. When you want your a.i. to give you a certain buff, it will go in particular order going from haste onward, rather than more important buffs. When debuffing the enemies, once they apply all debuffs to the enemy, the a.i. just completely stops acting. When healing, they would prefer to heal the party 1st, rather than the party leader, who is the most important person in the situation. These common mistakes get very annoying and there's no way to stop this. Giving us control of the a.i. would've at least made the game more strategic, but sadly we have no control.
Sadly however, the battle system can be very simplistic for the most part. Alot of the spells you cast, mainly the buffs and debuffs, you'll have no idea what they do because of the abuse-able auto-battle function. Many times battle will feel like it all comes down to: stagger enemy, paradigm shift, attack enemies, paradigm shift to heal when necessary. In previous FF games, you had to take into account your level, the enemies level, their weaknesses, how much mp you had, whether or not to buff, who to attack 1st, etc. The simplicity of this battle system at times makes the game feel easy, boring, and unrewarding.
Depsite some of these flaws, the battle system is still solid and works fairly well. However, many will feel that the game requires no strategy and isn't as difficult compared to past FF's. This game does require strategy, just a different type of strategy. The skill and strategy is more in the paradigm system, not what level you are, enemy weakness, etc. This battle system isn't bad and can be quite fun sometimes, but the older games feel more difficult and rewarding than this. Any person who played FF4 ds remake will tell you that is one of the most difficult, but rewarding FFs. I think the game would've been much better off being an action RPG, but I commend it for having a pretty solid battle system for an RPG at this speed. I hope to see SE evolve on this battle system in future installments.
Sadly, this is also another one of FF13's major flaws. Now some of you may be wondering well if I liked the battle system so much, why do I find the gameplay to not be that great? Well to put it simply, there isn't much to the gameplay. Some will like the battle system, some won't. For those that don't, this game will be unbearable because that's what this game is mostly made up of. For those that do like it, many will still find it to be boring at times and feel like the game just drags on. This will particularly happen in Ch 9-13, as the enemies suddenly seem to drastically increase hp. I personally feel this was done only to prolong the game, rather than increase difficulty, but that's just my opinion.
Now many of you have already heard this before, but this game is very linear and a good amount of people dislike this about the game. Now this is mostly seen as a problem because most RPGs aren't linear. It's not exactly the linearity that kills this game, but the way SE went about it. The game's linearity makes sense with the story, but the story wasn't exactly the best and didn't always capture you, so the only thing left to save it would be the gameplay. Sadly, like I mentioned earlier, the battle system is the only thing you are really offered throughout the entire game. There really isn't much to do besides move forward, fight, rinse and repeat. The lack of interactive towns, sidequests, and mini-games are really going to be a big disappointment to people.
Now being that the game has a vastly different battle system than what most people are used to, it only made sense that SE included a tutorial for the game. Now SE has had a few long tutorials in the past, but never this long. The tutorial for this game seems to last for almost the entire game. This game also tends to hold your hand the whole way through with many different things such as: Retry battle option, a.i. controlled characters, etc. Not only that, the battle system takes exceptionally long to flesh out and show its true colors. Your level growth is also capped, preventing you from leveling up to be as strong as you want. Although in this game it won't be necessary until end-post game, it still comes off as a disappointment to those who like to get strong early.
The leveling system is also really linear, which is surprising for an FF game. Most FF games required more than one way to fully level up and customize your characters. The crystarium system is similar to the sphere grid in FF10, but not nearly as fun and depth.You level up three stats: HP, Strength, and Magic. Most stat gains are either one of these three, a new skill, or more equipment slots. Most of these stat gains are predetermined and straightforward, with like 1 or 2 crystals branching off occasionally. Now while there are 6 roles to level up in, you don't unlock these roles until late in the game. Not only are they unnecessary to level up until post-game, they are also extremely difficult to level up, making it very impractical to level them up.
Now the game really becomes monotonous when you're playing due to all of these caps. For a game that barely gives you freedom and exploration, it would've been much smarter to implement mini-games in areas were they were possible. There was only 2 mini games to do, and both weren't really necessary. They could've implemented playable sections in areas were Hope steals the flying machine to go after Snow in CH1, when Sazh steals an airship to help the party escape, or when Snow uses Shiva's gestalt mode to save Hope. There were so many opportunities were the game could've eliminated an hour or two of boring gameplay, and make the game much more interactive and enjoyable. Sadly, this is also one of those various moments that SE has failed to utilize.
Now summoning, I like the approach they tried with it, but it really didn't turn out so well. Many people will find the whole transformer design of summons to be stupid, but that's besides the point. The game tried to balance the summons in this game, for they were over-powered in previous FF's, but instead of balancing them, they just came out useless. You will hardly use them in the game, except for a last minute recovery or turtle farming. Their damage output is severely low and against most enemies, especially end-post game, will do little damage. The only reason to use summons after awhile is for eye candy, and even then I've seen better ultimates for summons.
While I'm talking about ultimates, I think I should point out that there aren't any limit breaks, overdrives, etc. Something that many people looked forward to aren't here. The characters do get a unique attack near the end of the game, but I would've liked to see more. This could've also helped reduce the monotony and helped keep combat fresh, but this is also something they didn't include. These unique attacks also come far too late in the game for my liking. This isn't a major gripe, just another disappointment about this game that could've helped for the better.
Weapon customization, now that may seem deep at first glance, but really it's just more of a simple system that appears more complicated than it should. Basically, one set of items are used to build up an invisible multiplier counter while giving little exp, while the other set of items you use give alot of exp, but deplete the multiplier counter. So build multiplier to 3x with one item, use item with 500 exp to gain 1500 exp, pretty simple. But the game gives you so many items that have pretty much the same function, to level up your items that it can get really confusing to level up the items when it really shouldn't be. It's actually pretty fun to level up your items, but that's what all you're really doing for the most part. You don't exactly "customize" it. But it's still a fun addition to the game and also something I'd like to see improved on in the future.
All in all, the gameplay isn't that great. The exclusion of many FF classics and things such as interactive towns and mini games will disappoint many. The game's linearity isn't saved by the story and becomes rather monotonous because of the length of the battles. Leveling is capped, the battle system takes too long to flesh out, and leveling is also linear and not as exciting as previous FFs. Abuse-able functions like auto-battle and the retry function also take away from the thrill and difficulty that was so rewarding in previous FFs. The only good side to the gameplay is really the battle system sometimes and the customization, and even these have their own fair share of flaws.
This killed the game for me unfortunately. This is probably the least replayable FF to date. There are sidequests, but it consists of one thing: monster hunting. Alot of these enemies you've fought before, they just have a different design. Some of these missions were challenging and really put your skills to the test, but it's a shame that these were few in number. There really isn't much incentive to complete these side quests. What really shocked me though, is the sheer amount of grinding you have to do post-game. It's completely shocking because a game that was totally a game that required no grinding, all of a sudden switched to a major grinding fest. It's not just grinding for CP that's a problem, because once you have a good pattern down, grinding for CP isn't a big deal.
What really is going to kill it for alot of people, is that you have to grind one of the hardest enemies of the game in hope that you acquire a certain item from him. Now remember how I said money was scarce in this game? Well to really get far in these side-quests and post-game in general, you will need to sell a particular item to get the money you need. Now to grind these turtles, you are going to have to be very powerful, unless you're using other tedious methods to defeat them. Now it's funny when you think about it, because essentially you are grinding for luck. Most games that you have to grind in, you knew you were getting something out of it, one way or the other. In this game, you have to grind and hope that the enemy drops this rare item you need. This sheer amount of grinding will be a huge turn off to many, and is what completely stopped me from playing this game further.
Besides this, there isn't much to really do. You don't have an airship to fly, there aren't any secret powerful bosses to face like: Ultima, Omega, Yiazmat, etc, no secret dungeons, no new skills, no hidden summons, no powerful weapons to unlock, nothing. The ultimate weapons aren't very rewarding to get either, as every weapon in this game can achieve the ultimate form when reached to their max tier level, basically ruining what made ultimate rare weapons so "ultimate and rare". So unless you can put up with the sheer amount of grinding you'll need to do post game, there is no reason to play this game after you've seen the credits roll. It's a shame really, that some of their spin-offs had more replayable value than this...
Overall, this game isn't terrible. It's definitely not one of the best RPG's out there and it's definitely not of the best FF's. The Graphics and Soundtrack are great, the Story is average, The Battle system is good for the most part, the gameplay isn't so great, and the replayability is awful. The dialogue is pretty good for the most part. The game is decent, sometimes good. This game definitely isn't for everyone and I wouldn't recommend this to be your first FF game. If you're a die hard FF fan, you'll get it regardless, just don't keep your hopes high. Really to properly tell you how you're going to feel this game is basically impossible to do on paper. Rent it or buy it at a lower price. It isn't worth the $60 for everyone.
Final Fantasy 13 unfortunately is a huge disappointment and wasn't the worth the 5 years of wait. It was not an absolutely terrible game, but definitely isn't one of SE's best. I know there are many reasons for this, but still 5 years for this? People do have the right to be upset. SE, please listen to your fans next time and stop experimenting with all of your main projects. For the next 2 games, try sticking to the normal battle system we're used to. Please, don't forget what made your series so great and popular in the first place. Let's all hope that FFV13 is the "true" next installment in this great franchise.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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