Before I begin I would like to explain why this review may be some what late. Not only have I been extremely busy, but as well as that I wanted to play enough of this game to better my opinions on the game. Final Fantasy is one of the top franchises in gaming and because of that fact I wanted to go through as much of Final Fantasy XIII as I could to give it it’s fair chance. Final Fantasy games are known for being long, and thus with my hectic schedule the past few weeks it has taken long to get to the 20 plus hours of the game that I have reached now.
So with that being said it is time to commence my review of the product, the product which Final Fantasy fans alike have waited long for. What puts an outstanding amount of pressure on Final Fantasy XIII is the fact that it is the first one of the series to appear in a time where HD has become the standard in vision, and gaming consoles have become reflective of the era in which we live. Of course it is always a challenge when recreating a franchise on a new system for the first time, but in this generation many gamers see visual presentation as the most important thing. Final Fantasy XIII satisfies on that front, there is no doubt about that. It features stunning CGI sequences, and highly detailed environment’s. The characters themselves look detailed to the point you can notice slight facial blemishes upon them, in those close up moments. You may notice some dull, faded textures here and there. However, not enough to stop the game from being a joy to look at. So the game looks great in high definition, but at what cost did Square Enix achieve this?
Previous Final Fantasy installments have been criticized for being linear, but this addition fits the word in every way. What we usually expect form a Final Fantasy title is a great storyline, which this one has. However, they should also include mass areas for us to explore and discover secrets; as well as towns where we can walk around freely, question npc’s (non playable characters), buy and sell supplies and learn of new information. To say Final Fantasy XIII lacks this is a huge understatement. It doesn’t just lack it, it damn near doesn’t have it at all. In all my 20 plus hours of playing the game, not once have I been able to walk around an area and question npc’s. The most I have gotten close to that is being put in an area full of npc’s that can not be interacted with. In that specific scene I was still unable to do any kind of trade, and there may have been one or two discoveries which consisted of finding either a potion or a bangle. This has been the root of my disappointment with Final Fantasy XIII, as it is hard to imagine a Final Fantasy game lacking this much.
So what exactly do you do in the game? For the most part you will be starting at one point of a level, and following a very narrow path that rarely expands into multiple paths. Along this path you will of course encounter enemies and beasts which you will initiate the battle mechanics. Once you take them down you can either continue, or go back to fight more re-spawning enemies. You will repeat this process until you spark a new cutscene, in which the story will continue to progress. The whole thing is rinsed and repeated so much that it can put you off the whole game, which is a shame because the storyline is actually gripping.
The game at least keeps some essence of what makes the franchise special however. You can still acquire summons for instance. Every character will have a summon that they gain throughout the games story. To obtain a characters summon you need to build up a specific battle pattern, the pattern will depends on who’s summon it is. If you do enough of what’s required before the timer runs out (you have to fill up a bar), then you can hit the square button (X on Xbox 360) to claim your summon. From that point on, whenever you are in direct control of that character you can summon their Eidolons (as they are called) as long as you have enough technique points to spend.
Another aspect that keeps the spirit of Final Fantasy alive in this game is the memorable characters. Every character has their own unique focus, and that focus allocates their place within the story. It is great to see how all these characters get thrown into the same frantic plot right before your eyes. They all have their own reason to be apart of the story, and they all interlink. What makes this more fascinating to see is how the character combinations are forever changing. Though Lightening and Snow may be the two main characters, you will still get the chance to be in control of one of the other six playable characters. One minute you might be controlling Lightening with two others in your party; then the next minute you will all get separated, being left with only two characters to utilize. The constant shift keeps things exciting, and sometimes you may welcome it seeing as you will come to like and despise certain characters.
What makes this constant shuffle of different characters exciting is the battle system. The battle system is without a doubt one of the best things about Final Fantasy XIII. Though it may seem simple at first, as you progress and come across the more difficult foes you will come to love the excitement. The meat of the battle system is the new class system which is used, and to take advantage of the classes you have to utilize what’s known as Paradigm Shift. It’s as if Square Enix became fans of Modern Warfare when they manufactured this class system, but that is not a bad thing as it is a nice addition to a JRPG game. Basically each character has a set of skills that they specialize in, for example Lightening specializes in the Commando class but she is also a Ravenger and a Medic. Each character has their set classes, and once the story pairs them together it’s up to you to mix their classes together in combat to formulate the best method of destruction. What makes the Paradigm Shift utility so great is that it automatically puts together a selection of different ways you can use your given characters to interact. So for example if one character has the medic class and one has the commando class, the Paradigm Shift will have a selection where the medic focuses on healing the party while the commando attacks the enemy. Get it? Well just think how exciting it gets when you have more than two people in a party. It all seems complex at first but once you get to grips with it, things get very enjoyable.
As the battles get tougher, you will see yourself switching through different paradigms throughout the battle. When an enemy is getting the best of you, you may have to switch to a paradigm that focuses on healing and strengthening the party. Once your team is strong again, you may switch back to a paradigm that focuses on out right slaughtering the enemy. This ensures that someone is always doing something productive in battle, and creates some very intense moments. That is just the complex part of the battle system however, the rest is way more simple. Evidently you will only be in command of one character at a time, and all other characters in the party will act according to their current paradigm.
To choose which actions you wish your character to perform, you have to queue them up on the ATB (Active time battle) gauge. Once you queue up your actions, the ATB gauge will fill up, once it is full your character will perform whatever actions you queued up for them. It’s as simple as that, so simple that there is even an auto battle option. However, if you get into the habit of using the auto battle action, the game will become incredibly boring. It will get to the point where you feel like all your doing is tapping one button, until you require a paradigm shift. So I recommend queuing up attacks for yourself to keep the excitement going.
Overall the system may trick you into making you feel like everything is real time. But essentially it is still very turned based in a way, but it is far from a bad thing. If you have been playing a few other JRPG’s on offer recently, you may feel disappointed at first for not being able to move your character around freely during battle. Do not stress though, because you will quickly become accustomed to Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system and it will gradually blow you away.
The true spirit of a Final Fantasy game is the story, the story is what intrigues you. The feeling of acting out a new adventure each time is what makes this series one of the longest running ever. Final Fantasy XIII’s story though confusing at first, will draw you in gradually. Many gamers may be put off of the story because of the lack of a sole evil entity that you are just waiting to sink your sword into. At first it may be difficult to see what the true purpose for the adventure is, but thankfully things become more clear as you progress. To avoid giving away too much I will simplify the basic plot.
Years ago an organization called the Fal’Cie constructed a floating humanity called Cocoon which floats above an area known as Pulse, along with machines to govern the humanity. Then a war erupted between the Fal’Cie of Cocoon and the Fal’Cie of Pulse. The Cocoon Fal’Cie prevailed, but there was always fear that there would be an invasion from the world of Pulse. Stories emerged that Pulse was a dangerous place, and that anybody who ventured to it’s surface would encounter strange effects. The Fal’Cie of Cocoon aims to purge the world of pulse, which brings about a resistance. Snow leads the resistance, while Lightning aims to find a Pulse Fal’Cie who turned her sister Serah (Also Snow’s fiance) into a L’cie. The story continues to get more complex, but it is a rewarding experience if you manage to follow it.
Overall I have to say that for a Final Fantasy title, Final Fantasy XIII may be considered a let down. However, it still features enough relative elements of the franchise to keep it enjoyable. There is much that has changed in Final Fantasy XIII that might put off long time fans. Even the leveling up system has been given a complete overhaul. You no longer level up the characters themselves, instead you level up each of their classes via whats called the Crystarium. This is just one of the many changes in the franchise. Fans may consider the lack of towns and exploration more than just a change as it can be seen as more of a loss from their experience. The fact is that if you can manage to bare all the change, then you can still buckle down and take in the experience for what it’s worth. And just maybe you will come out at the other side feeling like you got a completely fresh experience and not a scaled back version what Final Fantasy once was.