Review by KillerCrono599

"Did Square really take five years to make this?"

I don't know how to describe it. The introduction video and scenes from the beginning of the game can only make you feel like you're taking part in something big. You're even thrown into the starting of the game with much happening that you won't initially understand and it feels epic. However, as you continue along, the flame slowly weakens to the spark that it once was. Final Fantasy XIII, as the next-gen Final Fantasy had bigger shoes to fill than XII, and in some parts, fulfills that. However, it's lacking in a few things…

Story: 7/10

BAM! Right from the start, you're getting attacked by a robot scorpion with saw blades on its arms while fighting as Lightning and Sazh. Shortly after, you'll realize Lightning is here to save her sister; Serah, from a certain fate. Sazh himself is initially along for the ride, but as his and her back-story open up, the events at the beginning of the game make sense. Not going into big spoilers, Lightning is a trained military soldier; kind of like Cloud, which she is basically the female version of him anyway. Hope, who's on the train that gets attacked during the beginning of the game, is grouped along with Vanille. At the start of his story, his mother is killed while defending him from the soldiers attacking civilians who are to be ‘purged'. Vanille gives Hope confidence because what little he had was lost upon his mother's death. Hope, however, thinks Snow was directly the cause of his mother's death. As for Snow, he's strikingly similar to Zell. Throughout the game, he tells himself that he's the ‘hero', and trust me; you'll hear that line more than enough to be (slightly) annoyed by it. He's also here to save Serah, but for another reason. The last character (Fang) will join the party after quite a tromp into the game. Due to the time she joins, I can't really explain much about her. Eventually you'll hear about fal'Cie, l'Cie, Pulse, Cocoon, and a few other choice words that will essentially explain the story.

The main problem with FFXIII's story is that it's already been done before. It has a character that has a love interest, a soldier, an evil entity, and even the characters themselves are not very original. At the end of the first chapter, a major part of the plot happens and then the evil entity becomes the main focus which elicits the majority of the choices and emotions from the characters in the game. Unlike FFXII, you won't need to figure much of this out, as the first two discs are packed full of cutscenes. It would be hard not to know what's happening. By the end, it's a bit heartwarming, but getting to that point doesn't make the journey much more appealing.

Graphics: 10/10

Not surprisingly, Square took full advantage of the graphical prowess of the 360. CGI's look fantastic and the in game graphics are quite well done. It's easily the best 360 game I've seen so far in this category, and considering the PS3's version is superior in this aspect, that's saying quite a bit. It's a sight to see some of the classic enemies on next-gen graphics.

Music: 7/10

It seems like this isn't as strong as it could have been. From the intro, it was close to the standard, but after that there's not much to talk about. The battle music isn't nearly as good, and even old victory tune is absent. As for the towns and dungeons, they range from good to terrible. I can honestly say except for a few pieces, the rest are quite forgettable. I should also note that a few songs play in one area and then play again in another, as if Square couldn't make a few more to add to the collection of music in this game.

Gameplay: 7/10

I'm going to split this into a few aspects of the game.

~ * ~ The simplified Sphere Grid, erm… Crystarium ~ * ~

As you gain Crystarium points, which are basically experience points, you can assign the points into your stats and skills. The only stats you're raising is HP, Strength, and Magic. There are no other stats. Nope, not even defense, speed, or anything else. You'll also learn skills such as Fire, Cure, and the likes as well as getting a few other bonuses on the Crystarium. As you continue along with the story, the Crystarium will expand, allowing each character to raise their skills and stats even further.

However, like the Sphere grid, you can only take certain skills, and they're separated as Paradigm Shifts. These shifts will change the way your characters react. If you want to cast magic, be a Ravager. Like getting physical? Commando all the way. Want all of those positive status effects like Protect or Haste? Use a Synergist. The Saboteur is the exact opposite of the Synergist, the Medic will heal your HP as well as cure status effects, and the Sentinel will let a character guard against ongoing attacks as well as provoke enemies into attacking that character.

~*~ So, how's the fighting? ~*~

For a first, FFXIII gives you control of the party leader and the party leader only. Initially, this may be a turn off, but since combat is so fast paced, you'll see why it wouldn't work well any other way. However, also unlike previous FF's, if the party leader dies, that's it. Game Over. You will see that quite a bit in this game, as you'll be able to retry after dying and you'll usually be at the same spot that you last fought. Most normal enemies won't kill you unless you plan horribly; but bosses are much harder than previous games.

As for the fighting, it's fast-paced, and somewhat similar to FFX-2. You initially have 3 bars to input choices for your character. Attack takes 1 bar, Blitz takes 2, and so on and so forth and your character will use these attacks. The AI will often attack with the best choice(s) if you have used Libra on the enemy, assuming they're in the Ravager Paradigm Shift. Otherwise, they will attack randomly until the enemy is attacked with their weaknesses. Other shifts will do as I stated above except with their own different skill-sets.

You can get away with switching to other Paradigm Shifts with little worry initially; however, after a certain point, good Paradigm Shifts become critical. The earliest point of this is when you're going against a monster that takes far too little damage… until you stagger it. All enemies have a stagger limit, and once it's filled, it not only becomes easier to interrupt their attacks but they take greater amounts of damage. As for filling up the stagger bar, Commandos/Sentinels/Saboteurs fill it up slowly, while Ravagers fill it up quickly. You have to balance the two because you'd think using 3 Ravagers would always be the best choice, but the quicker the stagger bar fills up, the faster it falls, so the other roles will regress the bars slower.

~ * ~ I haven't been here before, but why is there so little to do? ~ * ~

FFXIII is linear. Very linear. For nearly 2/3's of the game, you'll go down futuristic cities, a crystallized lake, and even through something I can't quite describe. However, your path will always be set in stone and you'll have no reason to backtrack, at all, for the majority of the game until a certain chapter. Heck, if you fight every enemy along the way, your Crystarium will usually max out for that chapter, leaving you with not much incentive to grind. That is, unless you want to make your weapons stronger.

This leads to me to an odd note. It's not essential to upgrade weapons and accessories even though you can. For accessories, you'll usually find a better one a chapter or two later and for weapons; they cost far too much experience to level at this point with the materials they give you. Weapons and accessories can level up via components. One kind of component will often give little experience for them, but will raise the experience multiplier for the other component, which is usually in the form of metallic items, such as conductors. These items will give you plenty of experience, but will often drop the experience multiplier. Unless you grind, it's doubtful you'll even have a higher tier weapon or leveled accessories until mid to late game; where it's much more flexible, but not by much. (I'll explain a bit later)

~ * ~ Party separation via the story, but the eventual joining of heroes ~ * ~

Due to the story, you'll never have control of everyone in your party, but what I don't understand is why you can't change your party leader until nearly 20 hours into the game. By this point you're more than used to the game. Even with the split, why was it done like this? During the beginning, you couldn't play as Sazh even though he's with Lightning the whole time. When you do reach that point, the game truly opens up and becomes less monotonous. In quite a few hours after that; it loses some of its linearity, which is the most fun I had with FFXIII.

Length: 9/10

When you finally get to that certain chapter, you can participate in missions which net you items ranging from things you can get commonly to one-time-only items. Essentially, this chapter also ironically serves as the post-game. The problem with this is that it's possible to do most of the post-game before you even get to the post-game. This part of the game can add 20-60 hours; and the main game itself is about 30-35 hours, so 50+ hours isn't hard to do assuming the combat hasn't grown stale due to:

~ * ~ Post-Game Woes ~ * ~

It has some oddities that slowly drain the fun out of the game:

* - The best monster to fight for CP is also the best monster to get Gil on.
* - A good number of the missions are repeats of the same monster. One monster even has the pleasure of being hunted 4 times.
* - Traveling around this area, even with a certain animal, is a chore.
* - There are no mini-games at all. Nothing to kick back and relax on.

Mostly every fight in the post-game may net decent CP, but not decent Gil.

To get decently leveled weapons and accessories, you'll need Gil, and lots of it, especially for the highest tier weapons. Essentially, this will let you buy the best components as there's no monster that will drop these high experience items.

In conclusion:

I wanted FFXIII to do what other FF's did for me, but quite a few things kept it from being at the top. The Crystarium could have been refined to a point where it was at least equal to FFX's sphere grid; the music and story could have been better, the AI could have been slightly better (or even had the option of gambits, which IMO are better) with the Paradigm Shifts, and the post-game could have been worked on much more. As it stands, its potential falls a bit short.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/22/10, Updated 03/29/10

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

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