Review by slobmeat

"Heroes don't need a plan - and Square Enix didn't have one either"

I'm a big RPG fan and a Final Fantasy fan. I rent most games first nowadays, but I bought FF on good faith. I was very disappointed, even by normal rpg standards. I have beaten the game and done 70% of the side missions, 70 hours played.

The Good
+ Graphics are great
+ Top notch presentation
+ New battle system is fun (at first)
+ Fast paced battles (no pausing)
+ Visible encounters = avoidable
+ Full Recovery after battle

Story/Characters - 2/10
The story fell flat for me over and over. The game is almost 100% linear. Some people think this lets the game focus on the story - but that doesn't work if the story is bad.

First off, the game has a Datalog with a summary of events. The text in this often contradicted what I was seeing. I'd play through some events and then read the event summary and be shocked it was the same game. The text in the summary would tell you a character was feeling one way, but I never saw it portrayed in the game - and sometimes it would seem the opposite.

From the start there should have been a sense of urgency in your task. For the first 30 hours it seems like you just wander around without a plan and are only TOLD enemies are after you. It seems like an excuse to tell you each of the characters' backstories. Also, the event in the beginning never makes you feel the impact of the atrocity that is occurring, again you are only TOLD.

I found the backstories grating and dull. Not once did I care about their problems. The game failed to have any emotional impact on me. Particularly annoying were Snow and his 14 year old girlfriend. I found it hard to care when I kept thinking what a perv he was. Another character got suicidal and had me yelling at the screen on what an idiot he was being - his motives made no sense.

The characters seemed to have erratic and illogical motives. Their motives would just change all of a sudden without a proper transition. They also had many stupid motives just for the sake of having a reason to change them. The only character I liked was Lightning, for her looks and fighting style. My least favorite was Snow with his "Heroes don't need a plan" saying, right before he charges in and gets his butt kicked. Another was Hope (great name there) who is a little whimp with a boomerang.

There isn't a clear mastermind for most of the game and the Fal'cie that you're up against seem little more than pieces of machinery. Your characters almost never had a plan. You'd just enter an area and follow the straight path that somehow ended up where you needed to go. It'd be like stepping outside with a blindfold, having someone spin you, and then ending up where you wanted to get somehow. The name choices for l'cie, fal'cie, cie'th were also unnecessarily confusing. Most of the story was hard to get a clear focus on. I kept asking myself "why are we here?"

Music/Sound - 6/10
I found the music unmemorable. There were 1 or 2 themes I really liked. The sound effects were good though. I hope they never use english pop songs again either.

Battle System - 6/10
Each character must set one of 6 roles - Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist, and Medic. In that role, you can only perform the abilities specific to that role (there's no subclassing). This means a medic can ONLY cast Cure, Esuna, and Raise - that's it. If you want buffs, you need to switch to synergist. In battle you can perform a Paradigm shift, which shifts your 3 characters to a preset role setup - like Diversity = Commando, Ravager, Medic. This is the main way you fight battles, by shifting paradigms which is like a general strategy order for your units. You'll probably have paradigms for buffing, healing, all out attack, and some combinations of each. Unfortunately you can't save your paradigm setups and must redo them each time your party changes (even more annoying when party setup is forced right before battle).

Each character has an ATB gauge that fills and is divided into segments. You can select different moves to build custom combos. Attack takes only 1 bar, Blitz takes 2 - so with 4 segments you can Attack 4 times, Blitz 2 times, do a combination of both, or only use part of your charged ATB. You only control the party leader, and have the option to pick Auto-Battle and the AI will pick moves to fill your ATB bar - which is does based on the targets weaknesses. The AI controls the other 2 party members which is kind of nice. They usually act intelligently, but I miss not being able to change their behavior. You can't set preferences for buffing or disable certain abilities. This would have been circumvented if you could switch control mid battle - but you can't. You can also only summon the party leader's Eidolon, so unless you switch your party setup, you'll only see the one.

Enemies have a stagger point that allows you to do up to 10x the damage. You need to fill the chain gauge until the enemy's defense breaks and they become staggered. This tactics is critical to keeping battles short. Every battle plays out the same though. You start with buffs/debuffs if it's a tough enemy. Then you start a chain with a commando, build it with ravagers, and the go all out once its staggered. Mix in healing as needed. Later you can ignore what monster you're fighting and just look at the HP value. The HP values are huge and the battles shift from 30 seconds early on to 2 minutes as the norm. That's using the stagger system to do 999% damage too.

Mid-game the difficulty spikes and requires some grinding. You simply can't survive hits at your current HP. It's disappointing that only your "level" matters.

Game Design - 3/10
First I'll discuss the initial 30 hours of the game. It is 100% linear. There is no backtracking, side questing, or any kind of choices to be made. The game forces your party choice and routinely shifts between different groups in different areas. The game will even throw you into battle with a new party without giving you a chance to change paradigms, equipment, etc.

After this initial 30 hours, the game opens up and you can finally do some side missions. Unfortunately, all this consists of is 60+ missions where all you do is defeat one monster. The game tells you exactly where to go. It's like FF10's arena, but reuses the same monsters in different missions and forces you to waste time running to the target. All you get for your trouble is poor rewards that you probably already have or could have bought. All this takes place in one big plain, that's the extent of the side missions. Eventually you'll reach your limit and have no room to improve your stats at this point in the game. You'll have to come back later and grind to have a chance at the toughest missions.

I found the game's difficulty high for a FF game. There are a frequent save points though which is nice. You can also Retry a battle from the start with no penalty - I refused to use this though. The difficulty comes from extremely high monster HP and attacks that can kill you in 2 hits. There aren't many options to adjust your strategy though, HP is what matters.

I didn't like the item system. All weapons and accessories can be upgraded. There are 100+ components, but they all do the SAME thing, increase the XP on your items. I would have rather seen a recipe system to justify spending the time to create so many different components. Once you max your item, you can transform it into a more powerful version, or even something new. Weapons just change their name and a chance to improve their damage further. Accessories usually gained higher effect limits. I found the accessories annoying though. Your Resist Poison item starts at only 30%. You can eventually get it to +60%, but I like effects I can depend on, not random chance. You say: just equip 2 then and get 100% - it doesn't work that way either, 2 x 60% actually give you 84% , you can keep inching your way towards 100%. Items also have a hidden synthesized effect. If you equip 2 items with the same hidden effect, you get that bonus ability. Except for a handful of combinations, the rest are a waste though, mostly Physical Wall : 5 (you take 5 less damage, when you get hit for 100s). A big problem with this system is the lack of money. There's no where near enough money to buy the expensive catalyst materials needed to transform your items. Near the end game you can farm stuff though (feels like a MMORPG).

The Crystarium is the character upgrade system. It looks similar to FF10's grid, but is 3d and looks real fancy. Don't get fooled though, each character's path is linear, there are no real choices except which role to max first - and you'll usually max the roles by the time you reach the next Crystarium Stage. The only way you "level" is by grabbing nodes that increase your HP, STR, MAG, or give you an ability. There's no defense, magic defense, agility, etc. The stats are universal no matter your role, but the abilities can only be used if you're playing that role. FF10's system was awesome, it gave you freedom to truly customize your characters and forced you to make choices on what to get. This game's Crystarium is practically auto-leveling. The Crystarium is also throttled by your game progress and limits your advancement. So you can't focus on a Commando and get the top abilities first in exchange for falling behind in other roles. Also, roles differ slightly from character to character. This is nice because it defines each character a bit, but if you want to cast Slow, there's only one character who ever learns it. So certain characters are better in specific roles.

The game is missing many normal rpg features. There's no towns, no side quests (except for those missions mentioned), no puzzles, no one to talk to, and only straight line dungeons. There's even FF staples missing like certain spells (no regen, high level cure, hastega, etc.), no stealing - this might be good, no Remedy item, and more. Even getting a chocobo seemed like a mystery. You are given no clues and after 3 almost random optional missions you finally get one.

I estimate the main length to be 50 hours. I did 70% of the Cie'th Missions and ended at 70 hours total. I can see 100 hours if you want to do them all and get all the achievements. To do the rest of this though would require 20+ hours of boring grinding - for Crystarium upgrades and money to get best accessory upgrades. I wouldn't replay this game even if you paid me.

Closing/Overall - 5/10
I was really looking forward to 2 weeks or more of a truly great rpg. I was very disappointed and can only hope they return to a more traditional style in the next game. There were just so many things I felt were wrong. I make review notes as I play with little +/-'s and had less than 10 positives, but 3 pages of negatives.

Why did I play this game for 70 hours then? I kept expecting the game to open up and be more traditional. After I realized it wasn't going to happen, I wanted to just finish it - especially so I could write a review. I still may even play it to work towards 100% completion.

I can NOT recommend this game, even to FF fans. I felt compelled to write a review after seeing so many 9/10s. I believe "bad" reviews tell you the most useful information about a game, and I hope this one has helped.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 03/22/10

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

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