Review by Almajo19
"Final Fantasy XIII, a bad game?"
Final Fantasy XIII is a bad game.
"Whoa! Hold on," you're saying, hypothetically. Then you say some other stuff but I'm not listening because you're stupid. That's fine. Most people aren't immediately capable of distinguishing hype from reality, especially after making the requisite time and money investment to determine that said game is, indeed, trash. In writing this review, I hope to objectively determine why FFXIII is a disappointment and what games would better serve the aforementioned intellectual underclass.
If I had to use one word to describe what FFXIII lacks, it's 'Interactivity'. The majority of the game is spent walking down linear corridors. Most encounters can be solved with only the autobattle command. Character customisation is superficial and amounts to nothing, because the best class choices are the most obvious and the development tree is almost entirely linear.
Many recent games have had similar issues with a lack of meaningful player choice. Mass Effect 2 boasted a Paragon/Renegade system where opposing choices would have equivalent consequences, as well as a points system that forced the player character to stick to a single alignment, or else be penalised throughout the game. Renegade options could vary between being reasonably sensible, to disrespectful, to downright racist, and your character is held hostage to the whim of the script.
On the other hand, Mass Effect 2 did give the player some choice over developing the skills of their characters, even if they were capable of learning most of the abilities by the end. And although the combat is not comparable to that in any turn-based RPG, it did require a greater level of decision-making and strategy than the turn-based system present in FFXIII. Admittedly, boss fights require an element of strategy, but you won't know that until you spend hours engaging in no meaningful interaction with the game-world. It's not good enough by far.
I played FFXIII on the Xbox 360, so it's only fair that I point out that the graphics probably looked beautiful in high definition. The 360 edition doesn't output in high definition, however, resulting in aliasing problems and a grainy image. FMV appears to be heavily compressed; the game opens into a CGI cutscene, showing us a view of a sky replete with artifacting and washed-out colours that you would typically associate with streamed footage. This issue wouldn't be so severe were it not for the game's insistence on using pre-rendered in-engine cutscenes to depict things beyond the capabilities of the console; it soon becomes obvious what is and isn't being rendered in realtime on account of the poor image quality, and the effect is often jarring.
Once you strip away the bland gameplay and unfulfilled graphical spectacle, you're left with the music, storyline and character interaction.
The music is okay.
FFXIII fails to immediately grip you, as the game opens with a completely unexplained group of freedom fighters at war with a presumably-corrupt authority. The story is constructed from tired cliche upon tired cliche and at first fails to inform the player of who these people are and how they know each other. Rather than being in control of the central character, it often feels that you're an observer, watching events happen from your bubble without the proper context or access to the thoughts of the character you are supposed to control. This approach only serves to deepen the isolation felt by the player, who must already consign themself to countless hours of non-interactive combat and weak customisation.
If apathy hasn't already set in, it will do by the time you're introduced to the cast. They're not so much obnoxious as they are boring. You have a whiny brat, brooding lady, happy-go-lucky girl, comic relief, well-meaning-but-stubborn guy, and so forth. Your party members evoke the exact same feeling as a pint of mass produced lager: insincerity. There's nothing real about these people. There's no rapport with the player and no relation to the real world. Like everything else they serve only to isolate the player and, in turn, the game becomes an unfulfilling experience.
At this point, I would like to recommend a few games to the newly enlightened. Lost Odyssey is the most enjoyable turn-based jRPG on the Xbox 360 and succeeds over FFXIII by virtue of a mostly excellent cast and somewhat more exploration. Tales of Vesperia is easily my favourite Xbox 360 game, featuring an entirely likable cast of characters, a fast-paced real-time combat system, character customisation and world exploration including a world map and the gaining of abilities that allow you to access secret areas. Finally, for anybody prepared to try out an FPS/RPG hybrid, the obvious recommendation is Deus Ex on the PC. The game sports subpar shooter mechanics but has the huge focus on player choice, exploration and allowing the characters actions to shape the character interactions rather than depending on dialogue choices. It's essential playing for anybody who is moderately interested role playing games and is available on Steam.
Reviewer's Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Originally Posted: 04/09/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII (EU, 03/09/10)
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