Review by Bkstunt_31

"The battle within begins..."

Final Fantasy as a series is many different things to many different people, but if there is anything we can all agree on is that almost each and every time a new numbered Final Fantasy come out it will be different from it's predecessors. Now, whether people think the changes are better or not are up to each individual of course, as it is hard for many long time fans of the series to not compare the newest entry to their favorite. I'm no different than any other fan, so here I'll tell you what the game is like, what it felt like and then give MY opinion on what I, as a Final Fantasy fan, was looking and hoping for.


"The battle within begins..."

Two worlds were once at war with each other, the planet of Gran Pulse and the planet of Cocoon, each had their own Fal'cie (who appear to be ancient magical beings) who fought each other, but eventually the Cocoon Fal'cie triumphed. The Cocoon Fal'cie protected the humans on the planet, as well as provided a virtual utopia by providing food, water, and other necessities to the planet. In time the planet below, Pulse, was seen as a hellish place and the citizens were banned from going there. They also developed a deep fear of anything from Pulse.

The story starts off focused on the planet of Cocoon, where the military is rounding up the citizens of a certain section of the city to quarantine them after they discovered a Fal'cie from Pulse nearby. However the quarantine is merely a way of rounding up the citizens so the military can purge them (that's how great the citizen's fear of Pulse is). Among the citizens is the resistance group NORA, led by Snow, who are trying to save the citizens from the soldiers. We also meet the ex-soldier Lightning, followed closely by a former pilot named Sazh, as she is actually headed towards the newly discovered Fal'cie.

It seems Fal'cie can mark certain humans and makes them complete certain jobs for them (called a focus). Such humans are called L'cie, and are basically slaves to the Fal'cie that marked them and if they don't complete their focus they will turn into monsters called Cie'th. It they do complete their focus, they will be frozen inside of a crystal. Due to the stigma against Pulse, it is thought anyone marked by a Pulse Fal'cie is meant to destroy Cocoon. Lightning's sister, Serah (who also happens to be Snow's fiance) was marked as a L'cie, and so Lighting is on her way to the Fal'cie to try to save her sister.

The story of Final Fantasy XIII starts off at a rather fast pace, and keeps up that pace for awhile, but it leaves the background of several characters and events a mystery to the player, making the story feel unexplained and the only reason you're going from point A to point B is either unexplained or because someone or something is after you. It takes quite a bit of play time before the story is truly explained to you, so be prepared to sit in the dark for awhile. The overall story isn't too bad, but I felt that several parts of it were left unexplained or could have been explained better (including certain parts of Pulse and how certain Fal'cie could possibly be vulnerable).

The vast majority of the story is told in the game's many cut scenes, which serve to expand the character's backgrounds, moral standpoints and feelings towards their situations and towards each other. As I said before, these cut scenes take their time in explaining the story, but do their job in the end, and some of them can be quite lengthy as well.

In the end, what I found myself wanting the most was more side missions, which were almost completely lacking in the game. The game does allow you to assist fallen Cie'th by helping them complete their focus, by hunting various monsters through out the world and awarding you afterward, but these aren't so much a side mission as random hunts with maybe a paragraph of what the unlucky Cie'th was thinking before their death. I'm craving side missions with many other stories! Overall, the story won't go down as an epic tale, but it was decent. The characters feelings were definitely delved into, but their backgrounds and the overall arc of the story could have used more polish, and I'm left to wonder what several well-placed side missions could have done to remedy that.

Game play: 6/10

The game play is where I as a fan felt the most sense of wanting more from Final Fantasy XIII. First let me explain how the game plays. For the better half of the game, you will be placed in one of six characters shoes and will play as them and whoever may be their companions for that time (which is based on the story, as what character you're currently playing will switch at any given point). There are only two things which you will really do in the game: navigate the map that you are on or fight it out in a battle. the maps are displayed similar to how they were done in Final Fantasy X, but all your enemies will be wandering around on the map with you. Touching one of them will bring you to the battle screen, so you can somewhat choose whether or not you want to fight or not (depending on how big the area you're in is). Wandering around the map is fairly self-explanatory, there is really nothing special you can do but make your way to the target area and try to find treasure spheres along the way.

Battles are going to be a little different than what you're used to. FFXIII brings back the ATB system, where a character can only act after a certain period of time, but it also features an "auto-attack" mode where the game's AI will pick a series of actions for you to do. Each action, depending on how powerful it is, may take up more than one ATB slot, and during the game each character will earn more ATB slots as they progress. In the game, each character is assigned certain roles (think job classes), such as Commando (Fighter), Ravager (Mage), Sentinel (Tank), Synergist (Buffer), Saboteur (De-Buffer), and Medic. Once you get into the flow of things, you can set up a party of three characters and assign each of them a role. This called a paradigm (For example, a "safe" role might be Commando-Sentinel-Medic). You can then create several more paradigms and assign each character to another role. The idea is to apply enough damage to the enemy to fill their stagger gauge and make them stagger, where all of your damage to them increases. Normally, most roles apply large increases to the enemies stagger percentage, but the gauge drains fast, so you need a Commando to make the gauge drain slower. Using the stagger gauge is often the only way to defeat some enemies! You need to also switch between paradigms in the middle of battle to try to adjust to your needs and to your enemy. While you battle, you can use the spell Libra (or items) to look at an enemy's profile, which reveals their weak points and strong points. your characters will then automatically use that info while they auto attack. You can also choose which attack or actions to do on your main character, but your two other party members will only auto- attack.

For the better part of the game, this kind of automatic fighting takes almost all challenge out of the game, as long as you can foresee when you need to switch to a healing or tank-type paradigm, and when you may need to throw in some buffs from your Synergist of Saboteur, you will have very few problems. This easy game play will last until the difficulty jumps in the game's later chapters. Then there is the Crystarium, which is basically individual sphere grids (again, a Final Fantasy X reference) that each player has on certain jobs. Winning battles awards you with CP (crystal points), which you can use to level up your stats in the Crystarium under whichever job you want to. For the most part, each level up rewards you with more HP, STR, or MAG (Magic Attack), but you will also learn abilities that each job can use. My main problem with this system is first, that they completely ignore any sort of defensive equipment. In fact, all you can equip in the game is weapons and accessories. So, the only real way to increase your defense is by acquiring more HP or by having a Synergist cast Protect on you (or equipping an accessory with protect). I happened to like equipping armor, don't you? Taking away all armor also takes away how many things you can find in them world as well. Secondly, the Crystarium, while dishing out abilities at a fairly good pace depending on what job you level up in, limits how far you can advance in it. So you say you want to grind a bit with the enemies where you're at right now!? TOO BAD, you've reached your Crystarium limit, and you can't get any more stat increases until you defeat that boss over yonder! Freedom to grind is sacrificed in the name of keeping the action going!!

Final Fantasy XIII also includes summons, which you can acquire while playing through the game (they are given to you at certain points in the story). There are six summons throughout the game, one for each party member, and you may only call on the summon that belongs to your party leader, as it replaces your other two party members when it fights along side you (it is not controlled in this state). You can also make the summon go into Gestalt mode, where it will transform into another shape, usually something your character can tide, and then you will be able to control it directly. Each summon has several unique attacks that they can do, and a special all out attack that they can do in Gestalt mode. One big thing to note about the characters often use these transportation in various cut scenes. And no, you can't use them as transportation in the game, even though that would have been awesome.

I personally really miss the free exploration of earlier Final Fantasy games that Square-Enix seems to have abandoned. Final Fantasy XIII really feels like several pretty hallways in a row that you must run through. It does open up later in the game, but it will take you several, several hours to get to that point. Since there are no real explorable towns, you are given a digital shop menu at all save points where you can buy items, accessories, and weapons. You will also need to sell the items monsters drop to gain money, as you will no longer gain money from random battles. And while there is no way to really up your defense since no one uses armor (get more HP!), you can add items (organic items and machine parts that you find after defeating enemies) to your weapons to level them up and increase your attack and magic attack. Once you level a weapon up to a certain level you can use a special ore to change it into a different weapon. This system uses items to increase the experience of a weapon but adds in a little strategy as well by using organic items to give small exp. gains but also exp. multipliers, and machine items to give larger exp. gains. However it will literally take the whole game to make one characters ultimate weapon, let alone one for each character. I also thought the amount of weapons to choose from was too meager.

Overall, the game play of Final Fantasy XIII, while it did a good job of keeping the action going and wait times down, seemed to sacrifice the depth and exploration of earlier titles, something that I wouldn't have given up. Perhaps all of the development time went to the graphics? Either way, now you know what to expect as you play through the game and can make that call for yourself.

Graphics: 10/10

While many people may debate the game play in Final Fantasy XIII and compare it to other entries, the graphics in the game are indisputably the best of any Final Fantasy game. Yep, all of those hallways sure are pretty! Everything is undoubtedly very crisp and sharp, with a nice variety of environments to travel between. I also found the main character designs to be pretty good (I liked Snow and Fang's designs the most).

Enemy designs were, for the most part, well designed. A lot of the enemies looked rather odd, using mechanical parts or unique shapes where you wouldn't expect (like the series-standard goblin, for example). There are also a few instances of recycling enemy graphics to be found, but they were usually few and far between and not enough to really detract from anything. Cut scenes are unbelievably well animated and look like they could have come straight from an animated movie. Animations were all very well done as well (in the map and battle screens), but even so I did see a few instances where a character's body parts go through a wall or themselves when they're clearly not supposed to. However, the graphics are clearly the best in the series and won't disappoint any gamer.

Audio: 7/10

The music in the game is honestly rather standard. They took a more atmospheric approach to most of the tracks in my opinion, and added in lots of chanting and group choral pieces as well (most of these are not in English, by the way, or at least they don't sound like it). Most of the tracks are pretty light and airy. The main battle track adds to the adrenaline of the fight, to be sure, as it's one of the faster tracks. Another interesting note is that you can find several tracks throughout the game actually sample music from the game's main there, Fabula Nova Crystallis, which isn't too surprising as it's probably the most memorable song in the game. Overall, the music is just not engaging or memorable enough in my opinion.

The voice acting was fairly interesting throughout the game, and the actors did a pretty good job of conveying the protagonists emotions, even if some of their emotions were repeated over and over just to make sure you got it, which can be annoying with the teenagers in the group. I also found it weird that apparently people from the world of Pulse are apparently Australian (and since Pulse is preached as being evil, what exactly are you trying to say Square-Enix?). Other sound effects are rather standard and do their job well enough.

Re-playability and Extra's: 6/10

Well, there really isn't too many things to do in Final Fantasy XIII besides the marks that open up in the later chapters. Many of these fights can eclipse the difficulty of the game's final boss but also provide extraordinary rewards. You can also attempt to make some of the game's best weapons, like I mentioned before, but this is a very arduous task that, if you're trying to do for everyone will have you grinding for quite awhile after the game just to do. You can also go after the game's remaining trophies, many of which involve completing marks, completing marks with a certain time and grade, and completing the Crystarium. I started to go after many of these trophies, but honestly to acquire the experience (CP) and money needed to become the best of the best was downright boring, and gave little to no motivation to complete. The various marks are by far the only interesting thing to do before or after you beat the game proper.

Overall: 7/10

Overall I, as a fan, was disappointed. I saw a lot of flash and fireworks as I played through Final Fantasy XIII, but where was the depth, exploration, and intriguing story. Back in the SNES days, Square was producing these games within a year and a half to two years of each other, and they were good! Final Fantasy IV and VI are rated as some of the best in the series! but since the move to 3D, there was a huge jump in how often the main numbered series came out. I know that there have been several side-projects, but other teams took care of those, so what's the difference? Graphical complexities. Well, even though I can't change the nature of the beast, I, for one, would rather have two Final Fantasy VI-quality games in the same time-span of one Final Fantasy XIII. Have fun and keep playing.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/16/10

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

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