Review: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, Xbox 360)March 25th, 2010 | Written by Danreb Victorio | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
The Final Fantasy series is a franchise that is widely known for taking chances. The first game in the series was essentially a last attempt at a dream to make it big in the gaming industry, hence the name Final Fantasy. In the mid 90s, Square left Nintendo in favor of Sony’s disc-based platform, the PlayStation, and revolutionized the genre again with Final Fantasy VII, a much darker Final Fantasy title that featured 3D graphics. Then, years later on the PlayStation 2, Square introduced voice acting and facial expressions in Final Fantasy X, another great journey. No other RPG has come with the hype that Final Fantasy XIII has generated, and Square Enix should definitely be commended with the changes in the gameplay. We just hope it doesn’t become “revolutionary.”
Final Fantasy XIII follows the epic story of six individuals, who in traditional RPG fashion, end up crossing paths and help each other out for the greater good. Quite frankly, the game’s story is quite complex, but it’s interesting enough to inspire the gamer to keep playing in order to see what happens next. In a nutshell, the story is about the infamy of two worlds: Cocoon and Pulse. Cocoon is a high-tech shell of a city created by the fal’Cie, mechanical beings of god-like power. Cocoon was created because of the fear of Pulse, the world that surrounds Cocoon that is supposedly being run by uncivilized beings known as the c’ieth, which are alien-like beings that failed l’Cie become.
What’s a l’Cie? That’s where the characters come in. L’Cie are individuals branded by the Fal’Cie that live in Pulse. The l’Cie are given a goal, called a Focus, to accomplish but are not told what this goal is and must figure it out on their own. L’Cie have a time limit to reach their Focus, and if they don’t make it, they turn into c’ieth. If they do accomplish their focus, they’re permanently turned into crystals. In other words, being a l’Cie sucks, and because they suck, they’re enemies of Cocoon. This is pretty much an anime take on Nazi Germany, where the Cocoon fal’Cie are the Nazis and the l’Cie are the Jews.
As convoluted as the story may seem, it is the characters that really give it depth. The first two people you meet in the game are Lightning and Sazh. Lightning is a former sergeant of the Guardian Corps, who is pretty much the game’s main heroine who is oblivious to the fact that her sister Serah is a l’Cie. Sazh is a former gun-slinging military pilot who follows Lightning along for the ride before unveiling the secret of one of his family members. Snow, a cocky guy who likes to play the hero role, is an individual who was romantically involved with Lightning’s sister. Hope is a weak-minded individual who had to deal with his mother falling to her death because of Snow’s inability to save her. Then you have Vanille, a redhead that will irritate players because she has by far the most annoying voice in the game. And finally, we have Fang—an unlikely ally because of her connection with Pulse.
The problem with meeting all these characters is that you spend what seems like an eternity trying to do it, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for the open-ended adventure that players should all be accustomed with in the series. Roughly the first ten hours in the game are spent using parties of two, so you don’t exactly get to experience the full greatness of the battle system until really late. Exploration is limited to getting your characters from point A to point B, watching a cutscene, and going through an epic battle. While that sounds like any old RPG, it’s a tired process that’s only interesting because of the time you’ll spend watching the cutscenes in high definition.
The best way to explain the exploration is to think of a sidescroller; you follow a linear path to the level’s end. That’s exactly what you do in Final Fantasy XIII when you’re not in battle. While the environment in the game is extremely lush, it is essentially linear— you’re literally walking on beams, bridges, and paths that have no forks in the road. If you suddenly come to a fork, all paths will only lead to the same place, so it’s impossible to make a mistake. On top of that, you have an overhead map of the place you’re in at the corner of the screen, so you can’t possibly get lost. This makes the game seem extremely easy, but that’s far from the case when you consider the game’s new take on the Active Time Battle System.
While the nuances in Final Fantasy XII’s action-based real-time battle system definitely led to some comfortable changes, Final Fantasy XIII goes back to the ATB where you can’t spend all your time thinking of what attacks you’ll use because the enemies won’t hesitate to wreak havoc on your party. Unlike previous entries in the series, you only have the ability to control your head character while the CPU takes control of the other two characters.
Additionally, your list of commands is fairly limited, depending on the role of your character. You no longer get to choose between “attack”, “use magic”, or “defend”. If your character is of role that uses magic, magic is all he or she can use. If all your character can do is attack, all you’ll do is attack.
Given that limitation, the developers included Paradigms, which allow you to change classes on the fly depending on the situation. By using a Paradigm Shift, your party can instantly go into defense by turning everyone into a Medic to heal people. Alternatively you can focus on shapeshifting and stat-raising by turning everyone into Synergists or focus on magic by changing everyone into Ravagers, and so on.
New to the game is the Stagger system, which awards you for landing multiple consecutive strikes on an enemy. When an enemy reaches its stagger point, indicated by the stagger bar in the upper right corner of the screen, the enemy goes into minor paralysis, allowing your characters to attack its weak point. Putting bosses into stagger mode is essential for quick victories and higher post-battle ratings.
There is no leveling up in the game, so knowing the basics of Paradigm Shifts will be essential for survival, especially with the game’s tough bosses and the familiar summons, once again known as Eidolons. Some popular summons, such as Odin and Shiva, make a return, and earning the right to use them is similar to that of the Pokémon series; you have to weaken their health bar to a certain extent, and then press the Square button to tame them.
Unleashing your summons in battle is one of the game’s most exciting features. Aside from the beautiful cutscenes you’ll see when summoning, the battle system undergoes a little bit of a change. Your Eidolon will constantly heal its master, and at the same time, you can use different button commands similar to how GF’s were used in Final Fantasy VIII to wreak havoc on enemies. With those attacks, you also have the option of using their strongest attack at the end, right before the Eidolon goes into its slumber.
Summoning requires TP, which can only be gained by being rated highly in battles. The battle rating system tracks how long your battles last and whether or not you have anybody fall. So if you finish battles rather quickly and have nobody die, you’re pretty much guaranteed a five-star rating. This is a good way to keep players interested in battling, because anything less than a five-star rating should make the player wonder why they didn’t get a high score, and then find alternate means of defeating enemies—which adds to depth the game really needs.
Instead of leveling up, the game takes a page out of Final Fantasy X’s Spheregrid by introducing the Crystalium. Like the Spheregrid, the Crystalium allows you to raise a character’s attributes by redeeming points earned after every battle. However, like almost everything else in the game, the system is linear. The Spheregrid allowed players to be creative with their stats and raise whichever one to their liking, putting more variety into the techniques that each character could use. There is no room for creativity in the Crystalium, so it’s just there to beef up your characters–nothing more and nothing less.
To add a form of customization in the game, the developers added a few extra perks to the save points. Similar to how strategy games are, you have access to multiple shops and have the ability to upgrade your defense and weaponry. Here you can buy whatever you need for battle, whether it be healing items like potions or Phoenix Downs, or even the special items that allow enemies to not notice you walking by. There’s also an option to upgrade your weapons using the goodies you earn after each battle. While these are cool nuances, they still don’t make up for the fact that there are little to no towns in the game, and they’re all absolutely useless. With Paradigm Shifts, good players won’t have a need for items, much less upgrading their weaponry. These features really just feel out of place and make it seem like the developers just threw them in there for the sake of having them.
These conventions outline just the meat of what you’ll experience with the game’s battle system. From the beginning to the end, players will find that there’s always something new to discover and play around with in battle, giving the game some good pacing.
Speaking of pacing, that’s exactly why the game, despite its woeful shortcomings, remains worth playing. You don’t get any open-endedness until more than 25 hours into the story when you reach Gran Pulse, and at that, it’s only in a couple places before the game becomes linear again. Sidequests in Gran Pulse play out the same way as they did in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. You choose from a list, run through a linear path looking for a main enemy, and then kill it. It’s nothing truly inspiring. With each chapter and area, you can expect to come to a save point every ten minutes. This is good because it allows you to play the game in spurts, and there definitely will be times where a basic enemy can kill you due to the fact that if the main character dies, it’s Game Over. If one were to summarize their experience of Final Fantasy XIII in a few a words, it would probably be “Run. Fight. Run. Keep running. Cutscene. Save. Run. Save. Fight. Save. Run. Boss. Cutscene. Save.” And to be brutally honest, that’s a spot-on interpretation.
In terms of its overall presentation, it would be a gross understatement to say that Final Fantasy XIII is beautiful. This is the Avatar of gaming, and everything in the game has enough detail to have everybody in your home stop and watch for a while. The game’s score is also delightful. Nothing is catchy, but the soundtrack is nothing short of epic. The only real complaints one can make is that the original victory theme and title screen music are gone, but it’s quite clear that Final Fantasy XIII was made for the purpose of giving the game a totally new experience. That being said, if you’re not playing this game on an HDTV, something is dreadfully wrong. It’s also worth noting that there’s a huge difference in visuals when playing this game on the Xbox 360. The game seems to have been made for Blu-Ray, and it’s only on one disc, making the PS3 version the more appealing one to buy.
Final Fantasy XIII is a good game, but it’s definitely nowhere near great, and that’s extremely disappointing given all the press and hype that the developers, publishers, and other media seemed to generate for this title. The game takes roughly 40-50 hours to beat the first time through, and there is almost no replay value unless you absolutely must have a go and obtain the trophies or accomplishments, which would handily increase the hours tenfold. If this game had a few memorable towns and a greater sense of exploration, it easily could’ve been considered a pinnacle in the series. Instead gamers got an epic yet linear presentation, making the game play like a dungeon crawler. Scratch that, this game is a dungeon crawler, and while there’s nothing wrong with that kind of game—that is NOT Final Fantasy, and a lot of people are going to hope it doesn’t head in that direction.