Review by gazm0tr0n

"Worth the number? Or is it only worth of an impersonation sticker?"

After many years of waiting, trailers, hype and the $120AUD spent to get it, Final Fantasy XIII has graced the gaming public with its promises of re-invention, breath-taking scenery and overall awesomeness. The overriding question that remains for gamers, fan and critic alike, is that is the newest instalment of the Final Fantasy legacy worth of the title “Final Fantasy”? Or has it just been slapped with a giant, impersonation sticker?

Like all recent Final Fantasy games, we are once again thrown into turmoil “In Medias Res” with a self-absorbed protagonist who thinks they are pyramid of solitude and requires no help etc etc and our adventure begins. In this instance, we are “welcomed” into the floating world of Cocoon, a peaceful place ruled by the benevolent fal'Cie, and human subjects. There is also a lower world called Pulse, a place teeming with terrifying monsters and savages. The hatred between these two makes the Middle-East conflicts look like a schoolyard scuffle.Then there are the l'Cie, those marked by the fal'Cie. As you can see this is very tedious and tiresome, and it is where XIII hits its first major, and probably most infuriating, roadblock

Instead of filling in the story gaps as the game progresses, XIII features the “Datalog” which basically holds all relevant information pertaining to story, characters, places, factions and anything else you can name under the sun. Players are then expected to read through page after page of information to get a basic grasp on what the story is actually about and how the major characters are involved. It also doesn't help that most of this information doesn't really kick in until about the 20th hour of game play, but which time most have found themselves frustrated and quite frankly, bored. Granted, the story is intriguing to those who are willing to wade through the information, but it is not good enough to hold the attention of the gaming public without a reasonable pace. Square-Enix, you fail here, big time.

XIII hits its second roadblock in the gameplay mechanics. The whole RPG concept of exploration has been completely removed and in its stead, we have been given a completely linear flow of play, which is very, very disappointing. There is no shift in this linear style of play aside from one miniscule section 10-15 hours in that last for about 5 minutes. Definitely an aspect that doesn't support its “Please Buy Me” argument

The concept of a world map is also non-existent and along with it, NPC interaction, sidequests, and the usual things associated with that. Any shopping, upgrading/saving is all done through little terminals scattered along the path. XIII infuriates gamers again with the difficulty. Here's a lesson for any budding developer, difficulty that goes from painfully easy to rage-quit hard in the space of 5 seconds will not help your career progress very far. It also does not help when 20 of the 60 hours playing the game is spent trying to raise the characters to the appropriate levels required to progress the story. That is the amount of time one expects to raise their party to a kickarse level. Once again Square-Enix, this is not a good sign.

Which brings us to the source of character development, The Cystarium. For those familiar with Final Fantasy X, you will recognise the similarities with the Sphere Grid, the difference being that any stat changes gained through any path are universally applied (more on characters roles later). Good concept, except once again, the absurd difficulty curve kicks in, changing what was a reasonable rate of growth into something that makes most players have a rage stroke at the amount of Cystarium Points required to move from node to node.

Weapon upgrading makes a return from FFVIII and this time includes accessory upgrading. Exp is gained for each weapon/accessory by using certain items on your weapon to raise its level. One it reaches it max stats for that level, you can use a specialty item to change it to its next form where you can once again level it up. While it is tedious to do, the rewards do generally pay off.

Moving on from what the game has done wrong onto something that I feel, was done right, if done differently. Combat is based around controlling the actions of the party leader, while your two other members are A.I controlled. Each action uses up a segment of the ATB gauge (e.g. attack uses one, Thundaga three etc etc. While it sounds just as repetitive and boring as the rest of the game, the saving grace is the introduction of the Paradigm System.

Paradigms are based on what one would call “jobs” from previous instalments; Commandos for physical attacks, Ravagers for black magic, Sentinels as defenders, Medics for healing magic, Synergists for enhancing magic and Saboteurs for status magic. Each role has its own advantages, spells, and abilities and each has its development paths. A level of strategy is required when operating this system as well of knowledge as to what paradigm is required in what situation.

Summoning creatures has also been revamped. Each character has their own personal “eidolon” (with a couple making cameo appearances) that can be summoned in battle. Once summoned, Eidolons take the place of the two A.I controlled party members, however they only last for a certain amount of time in their humanoid form. This is where the Gestalt mode kicks in, merging the summoner with summoned. Once activated, the summoned eidolon turns into its vehicular counterpart, increasing its power and allowing access to it's ultimate attack.

The final point of combat to be addressed is the Stagger gauge. Attacks from your party raise this gauge until the gauge is full. This is when the opponents become “staggered”. A staggered opponent takes on more damage than normal and is, more often that not, stunned or in some way incapacitated. More often that not, staggering an opponent is a sure fire way to victory, and you walking away from the battle with an arrogant grin on your face.

Graphically; Square-Enix, take a bow because you have yet again successfully created a detailed and immersive world that stuns us every time we are introduced to a new surrounding. Locales, characters and creature alike are beautifully created and cannot be faulted. This can be said again of the soundtrack, each track is perfectly suited to each battle, cut-scene and level in the game.

One thing that will be of interest to veterans of the series is that XIII pays homage to its predecessors in various, subtle ways. The city of Palompolom bases its name from the twin mages in Final Fantasy IV; The Palamecia is based on the evil empire of the same name from Final Fantasy II. Final Fantasy VIII is honoured with the return of the gunblade and the naming of Nautilus Park after the junk shop in Dollet.

Final Fantasy XIII is a good game, and it is worthy of its number. It is not however, going to be remembered as the classic it was hyped to be. If anything, it has earned the unfortunate title of “Final Fantasy for Dummies”. The linear play, lack of exploration and watered down (but still effective) combat system have contributed to this labelling. For any fan of the series, it is a buy. To anyone still deciding or wanting to get into the series, wait for the release of Versus XIII or download one of the re-releases from the PlaystationStore, because XIII is not one for the classics shelf.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/27/10

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

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