Review by Kungfuanyone

Reviewed: 07/21/10

Not like any Final Fantasy I've ever played

I’ve played Final Fantasy 1-13 now (excluding 11). If you are a fan of the Final Fantasy series then you know what to expect: plenty of grinding, diverse enemies, potions, elixirs, chocobos, weapons, equipment, etc. Only a few similarities between the Final Fantasy's of old and Final Fantasy XIII actually exist. There are still some enemy and item names you will remember when you see them and something about the game will remind you of Final Fantasy, but it will only be a faint memory. Let’s get started.

Story (C-)
I am giving it a pretty low to average score. I don't want to get into the details, but the story is pretty wild and (at least for me) hard to follow for the longest time. The terms "fal'Cie" and "la'Cie" and "Eden" and "Cocoon" and so on and so forth get lost when they just throw you into the game and start belting them out. I don't know that it's convoluted, but definitely hard to follow. If you play the game, just be glad that Square had enough courtesy to put a synopsis of what's happening in the story on the load screens when you first load up the game and also in the data section under you menu.

There are also no towns to visit and really no reason to spend money other than to upgrade weapons and armor (not even to buy them, just upgrade them). To tell you the truth though, the way the story is designed there doesn’t appear to be a real need for towns anyway. If you play it, you’ll understand what I mean. The story takes itself pretty seriously throughout (no where near as funny as FFIX was), but when you visit the shops (and by shops I mean save points which double as shops) they have some strange names and little sounds to go along with their names. I don’t know if this is supposed to be the “funny” parts of the game we’re looking for, but they seem more strange and out of place than funny.

The thing I hated most about the story was how it bounced back and forth between characters, almost to the very end of the game. When the game first starts off, the story begins with two characters. As the game progresses the story switches between different characters (and combinations of characters) all the while selecting your party AND party leader for you. That means you never get to create your party. If you hated a character, then oh well, you’re stuck with them. You do get the ability to form your own party from the pool of characters I believe after chapter 10….but there are only 13 chapters in the game ….meaning not until close to the end of the game are you able to get rid of the ‘whiny’ or ‘annoying’ one. I guess the game developers figured this would force you to see that character and their back-story so when you were at the end of the main story you would appreciate how much they’ve learned and changed.

Character Development (B-)
At first, I didn't really like any of the characters other than Sazh. Every one of them was either "too hardcore" or "whiny" or "annoying" in some way. However, I think at the end of the main story, how much they've matured is really noticeable as a result of their obvious short comings earlier in the game. Only a few NPC’s are actually worth remembering and since there are no real towns to speak of, they are rare in any case. Even if you wanted to speak to them, most of the time they just randomly speak to you if walk by them.

There is also a class system of sorts associated with party characters. Each character early on the game has a few 'Roles' they can select to use (almost like 'Black Mage' or 'Knight' or 'Blue Mage' except named differently in this game). There are 6 'Roles' total and you can have up to 3 party members in you main party for battles with a total of 6 'Paradigm decks' (more on that later). Later in the game all characters can learn all roles available (such as Lightning's main roles of 'Commando' or 'Ravager' she is also able to be a 'Saboteur', 'Synergist', etc). The game kind of portrays the characters in a certain light through story events that even if you didn’t know the different ‘Roles’ that were available, you could probably guess what ‘Role’ they would be just by their attitude and demeanor. But when the game gives you the option to be in a ‘Role’ other than the way the character is portrayed it detracts from the uniqueness of the characters (at least in my opinion). On the other hand, it does give you more to do in the game. You will have to work hard for the ‘Crystarium Points’ (or ‘CP’) that you’ll have to accumulate to proceed through the ‘Crystarium’ (FFXIII’s version of FFX’s sphere grid).

Gameplay/Battle System (C)
The battles and cut scenes are fast paced. The cut scenes are maybe a little too fast paced though. There is so much going on in the cut scenes that it is really hard to keep up with and ultimately hard to follow and stay interested in.

You can only use the characters the game gives you to use for battles up until Chapter 10, once again, because of the way the story plays out. During battles, you only control one character. Technically, you indirectly control the other character(s) based on the ‘Paradigm’ you select…..

The new ‘Paradigm’ battle system is different from any battle system I've used (albeit similar to FFXII's gambit system in a way), but it was still decent. The multiple combinations for your party roles to be combined to form the Paradigm was a nice idea. Example: making Snow and Hope 'Ravagers' and Fang a 'Commando' gave you the 'Relentless Assault' Paradigm which consists of magic casting and physical hits. On that note, the battles themselves are of a different sort as well. Normally in an RPG, you can either inflict a status ailment or debuff of some sort to where down the defense of your opponent and then attack or just attack the whole way through the battles.

In FFXIII, the main way you (want) to attack is by magic casting and physical hits. Let me explain the reason behind this. There is a meter/bar in the upper right corner of the screen known as a “Stagger” gauge. I think the Final Fantasy Wiki describes this much better than I can. This is from the “Final Fantasy Wiki”: “Each enemy has a unique Stagger Point, at percentage value at which attack will deal the indicated percentage value more than normal. In Stagger, this percentage increases rapidly with each additional strike. Before Stagger, the percent value will increase slightly as the chain gauge builds, but only after Stagger does the gauge rise quickly. While in Stagger, the gauge will steadily decrease (although percentage damage may still build), and the enemy leaves Stagger when the bar runs out.” They also mention “This feature is not unique to Final Fantasy XIII, as it has been featured in previous RPGs such as Xenosaga Episode II & III. The Stagger system closely resembles the "Break" system occurring in Xenosaga: Episode III, but with fewer tactical attack choices to exploit the system.”I didn’t play Xenosaga II or III, but I guess it could be similar to it. Now, back to my earlier point. When you hit the enemy with Magic, it makes the chain gauge rise faster and when you hit the enemy with a physical hit, it makes the chain gauge decrease slower, so the combination of the two makes hitting the stagger point of the enemy a lot faster (not to say that it will always be easy to do).

Of course, you can also inflict status problems and debuffs on enemies and buffs and healing on your party still. My biggest gripe though hearkens back to the story and the way it forces a party leader and party on you for a good portion of the game. Eidolons in this game were not what I was expecting. I was expecting them to be comparable to summons or espers, but these were a lot more…….useless. I am not trying to offend anyone whose played this game, but I NEVER used Gestalt mode (which is where you summon the Eidolon) unless it was story driven and I had to. It’s not because I couldn’t use it, it’s because I never found a reason to. Some of the battles were tough, but it was only a matter of time before the enemy fell and it wasn’t that much time. Even if I fell in battle, there is no longer a “real” game over screen, just a quit or Retry option. If you select Retry, there is no penalty for this and you resume the game in a spot next to the enemy you lost to and could try again or avoid it all together if you felt like it.

The game itself is very linear up until Chapter 10, but that is pretty much standard to the Final Fantasy Series. FFXIII is a little more linear as there is no world map to move about. You have to just go with the flow of the game and at some point, you can use a warp gate to get back and forth. Boss battles can be challenging and maybe one or two of them are memorable, but otherwise they are just longer versions of your standard battles.

Graphics (A)
There isn’t too much to say here. The game is beautiful when you are just walking around and even more beautiful when the game goes to a cut-scene. Vibrant colors and awesome character design. You can tell they put some effort into the game engine and character design. Side note however, the characters jump higher and with more ease than Mario ever could.

Audio (A)
Great music once again, but the main reason I dinged 2 points off here is because they no longer have that winning battle music. That song is (or was) a staple to almost all Final Fantasy games. I don’t remember if it was in FFXII or not, but that’s not my point. There are a few tracks that while they can’t necessarily be hummed, are still catchy and easy to replay in your mind.

Character voice acting was actually pretty good for not being Japanese. Vanille however, was a strange one. I suppose she was going for an Australian type accent, but it didn’t come across that well. It made me feel as if I were drinking flat soda: You expect it to taste like soda pop, but without the fizz, it’s not the same…..that probably doesn’t make as much sense as I’d hope. =D

As optimistic as I was for this game, it ultimately let me down. Sure, it was a beautiful game. The graphics were better than any other Final Fantasy (or most PS3 games for that matter) I’ve played. But, with the lack luster story, the so-so characters, the long wait for any kind of control over your character(s), a lot of unnecessary items and Eidolons, the linearity, this Final Fantasy ranks below the middle of my favorite Final Fantasy game in my list of Final Fantasy games list AND also the lowest section of my favorite role-playing games of all time. If I had to give this game a grade on a scale from A+ to F, this game would get a C….and that is me being generous. After playing FFXIII I realize that change isn’t always good and that maybe I really enjoy playing the older Final Fantasy (or any other older RPG) more than I thought. I had to physically force myself to play this game. I found very little to like about it. I only hope that if you decide to purchase this game that you find more to like about it than I did. If you never played a Final Fantasy game before, but you love action games or RPG’s, then you might like this game more than I did.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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

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