Review by A1X_Jet
The Defining Moment of a New "Final" Era?
Final Fantasy XIII.
The first Final Fantasy on the PS3. The first Final Fantasy to be entirely in HD. The first Final Fantasy I'm going to review. Let's be honest with ourselves.
This is not the Final Fantasy that we heard about in 2007. This is not the Final Fantasy that commanded we set aside our impatience. Unfortunately, this is not the Final Fantasy that many long term fans of "Final Fantasy" wanted to play. Yet, play it we did. Some were astounded. Some were flabbergasted. Some, like me, sat back and just nodded and said "We'll let this one slide."
On the same token, lets imagine for a moment that SquareEnix, publisher and creator company of the Final Fantasy series takes their long loved series into this direction permanently? Is Final Fantasy XIII the definitive pinnacle of a new direction for Final Fantasy fans? Perhaps soon fans will not accept a second slip... By the way, have I mentioned the game itself is not even bad? Just oddly different from what we expect from our double F titles.
A strong portion of FFXIII, like any game, is found in its gameplay. A strong portion of FFXIII players seem to have found their largest gripe with the game, in the gameplay. I will refrain from using words/terms such as "linear", "x-button-mashing", and "point A-to-B". Instead, allow me to describe the game as an RPG with a definitive path in a single direction. This is not to say the game does not offer a journey along the way. Is there outward exploration? No. But when one describer of the game tells you the "overtly linear pathways are small scale", they're not being entirely honest. None of the maps are small, they simply lack branching. Furthermore, I think this is more due to the lack of the world map -- something that is absent from almost all current generation roleplaying titles. The question is, do you want an RPG which lacks exploration or do you want an RPG which lacks story?
More on the gameplay, which is 25% exploration, is the 75% and bulk, encounters. Unlike previous FF titles excluding XII, encounters are not random and all enemies on the map are visible before you fight them. This leads to a different take on the RPG encounter. If you tread carefully, you are able to perform a Preemptive Attack on your enemies; a highly effective strategy for enemies that clearly outclass you in raw strength. This strategic alteration to the regular status quo is both refreshing for an RPG and adds an element of longevity to the process of encountering your foes. Try not to spend 5 minutes attempting to preemptive attack a Tyrant after it initially spots you, I dare you.
Battles aren't much different from what they've been in the past. You utilize the FF trademarked ATB, though this time the ATB determines how many actions you take once you've filled it, not simply when you take action. Again, actions are chosen from menus and although some actions remain unavailable for a rather long period of time in the games opening, it all feels terribly familiar to other era defining Final Fantasy titles. This is something SquareEnix has mastered over the years, and is in my opinion one of the better results coming from the title.
Difference, however, does lie in "Paradigms" and "Paradigm Roles". Paradigms are a lot like the Gambits of FFXII in the sense that they are the artificial intelligence of your supporting cast. The difference between Paradigms and Gambits however is that each Paradigm is determined by the Battle Role of your character. With six roles to choose from and three characters in your battle party at all times, you have a rather extensive list of options presented for each battle. Another large difference with Final Fantasy XIII as opposed to other FF titles is the ways in which you can achieve a Game Over. You can still lose an encounter by having your three party members be KOd. On the downside there is a stipulation which reminds me all too much of a game called Forever Kingdom for the PS2.. if your main character is KOd, your Party is KOd. I'm not a fan of this.
Perhaps the one thing which poses the largest problems in the game is the thing the creators of the game wanted to shine the most. So shine it does. The story of Final Fantasy XIII regards an ancient land, Pulse, having sent its agents to the Worlds floating sub-world, Cocoon. These agents, dubbed l'Cie, are all but hell bent on the destruction of the happy world of Cocoon. But twist lies in the fact that Cocoon, like Pulse, have Fal'Cie -- mechanically organic elder creatures -- these ancient creatures can both create l'Cie; human subordinates commanded forcibly by Fal'Cie to abide by Fal'Cie bidding. It is only when the allegedly ignorant inhabitants of Cocoon realize a Pulse Fal'Cie is slumbering amongst their midsts that the Cocoon Fal'Cie act.
This whole ordeal of spirit in the machine and those who would fight against it is popular in modern Eastern art. The problem with "popular" is that it can often be misconstrued with "overdone". And this time, this misconception is actually abundantly clear. With games like Deus ex Machina, Star Ocean, and even old games like Xenogears, I think I expect something a little different coming from a company with two decades of expertise and millions of fans. I'm not saying the game's tale is bad, not even bland. It's just a little overdone.
Thankfully, the brash characterization and uniqueness of personality between each character can make up for the rather expected plot. The characters are vibrant and alive. I found it easy to relate to their shared emotions and I found it just as easy to agree with one argument point made by one character to the other. The writers did an excellent job of making their characters different and made their emotions feel real, for how absurdly fantastical the setting they dwell.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
I intend for this section to be my shortest for two reasons.
The first reason is because there is no argument that this game is designed absolutely gorgeously. There are practically zero flaws in the detail of design. The character models are as close as, I think, to a live action game you can get. Every map seemed as though the designers spent hours upon. No pence was spared in the design of Final Fantasy XIII; I am one hundred percent sure this is fact.
The second reason is because the sound is amazing. SquareEnix is known for hiring high end musicians to orchestrate their music. However: The theme song. It appears far too often in the game. I needn't hear the only song which is accompanied by vocals repeatedly as I traverse the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I even lowered the Music in the settings and listened only to the SFX of the game as I progressed. Much more satisfying after hearing the vocalized song over a dozen times.
FFXIII is one of the first Final Fantasies to offer post game adventure. Once you gain access to the world of Pulse, you can access to an enormous world with seemingly limitless girth, all of its corners and everything between boasting an impressively sized plethora of wild beast monsters meant solely for you to slay. Of course, each beast you slay does have some meaning. Like FFXII, FFXIII has Hunts. Mission Hunts, to be specific. The task? You're given a mark and you must kill this mark to receive your prize. There are 55 Hunts in total, and all of them are a task in and of themselves. Seeing as how these Hunts only start to become available later in the game, it is often the decision to pursue them only after defeating the final boss where you are no longer capped in your character strength growth. This is optional, of course, as you can do them all before beating the game, but to me it simply screams replay value.
All in all, Final Fantasy XIII is not a horrible game. It's not even remotely bad. In fact.. it's kinda good. But when you see arguments such as Linear. Interactive Movie. Easy. Don't jump the gun and call those people wrong. This is Final Fantasy. They've ALWAYS been easy linear interactive movies. But I can sincerely admit I have never felt it was so obvious until FFXIII. The story and graphics are so massive that it's not that SE forgot to make their gameplay enjoyable -- honestly, it's not as bad as some will tell you -- it's just that there just wasn't enough room for FFXIII to be a sandbox. Sorry guys, FF never was a sandbox and probably never will be. So, of course, we all miss the world map. But perhaps this is the direction Final Fantasy needs to take. We could go back to 2d polygon sprites and One Winged Angels, but before we do, let's give SE another chance. Final Fantasy Versus XIII is just around the corner after all.
Rent the game first. Play the introductory chapter. Then download some data and run around Pulse a little bit. If you can appreciate the complexity of the Cocoon pathways and still enjoy the enormousness awaiting you in the Pulse lands, then you might just find that FFXIII is the game you want to play, warranting you a buy.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIII (US, 03/09/10)
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