Final Fantasy XIII Review
Platforms: Playstation 3 | Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: March 9, 2010
I am a pretty big Final Fantasy fan, so of course I was going to pick this game up as quickly as I could get my grubby little hands upon it. As the first Final Fantasy game on the current generation of system, I was excepting to see the next step up in graphics above the last game, which was one of the best looking games on the PS2. More than that though, I just wanted a game that was familiar to me while having enough change so that it didn’t feel exactly like the last game. Like I said, I’m a fan of the series, so I know pretty much what I’m going to get, and this game succeeded in giving me a game I had fun with and that was worth my time. It took a little while to convince me, but once the game had its claws into me, I knew I was in for the next 40 hours of game play.
Story has always been a big element of Final Fantasy games, and this one is no different. The players live in the world of Cocoon, a land that is under siege by fear of creatures from a world below theirs called Pulse. Both worlds are controlled by entities call fal’cie, and these entities give out quests to regular people by turning them into l’cie. The l’cie are charged with a specific goal, and if they reach that goal, they become crystals and gain eternal life of some sort. Those who don’t complete their goals become monsters. Into this world walk six characters who become l’cie, and must then find out what their quest is. (Trust me, if your eyes have glazed over at that last paragraph, I don’t blame you. These are just a few of the concepts that are thrown at the player in the first few hours, and it is not the easiest thing to keep track of.)
Everything that fans of the series enjoy about these games is here. Chocobos, airships, crystals, battles between the forces of good and evil, summoned creatures, Cid; basically every familiar trope of the series shows up. In this way the game is very much like putting on a warm blanket. After thirteen games, the people at Square-Enix have gotten the design of a new game down to a science. The game doesn’t take a lot of chances from a design stand point, but I don’t hold that against them. I want a new story with the same basic Final Fantasy framework, and that’s what I get here. This is not a game series that I’m necessarily looking for the creators to break new ground and reinvent the wheel. I play Final Fantasy games because I like them, and if you’re like me, this will be more of the same, but an enjoyable more of the same.
Unlike some of the Final Fantasy games from the past, this game does not focus on one main character, but splits it’s time between six characters. Each character has their own back story and is central to the plot in some way, and part of the joy of the game is learning who these people are and how they got to this point. Each character is fleshed out, and while some are kind of annoying (I’m looking at you, Hope) others are a lot of fun. The voice acting certainly helps to make these characters more real, and they’ve done a good job with the translation. The character designs are what we’ve come to expect from Tetsuya Nomura, who has designed the characters for several other games in the series. This gives the characters a very distinctive look, but it’s very Japanese, so I can see it turning off some people, but really, if you’ve played any recent Final Fantasy game, or any of the Kingdom Hearts games, you’re used to this look by now.
If you prefer games like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2; games where you are given lots of choices from the very beginning, this may not be the game for you. This is a very linear game, especially in the early portions of the game. Much like Final fantasy XII, you travel a straight course from plot point to plot point and you are not given a choice to deviate from that path until late in the game. Some may find it an easier experience, since you don’t have to stumble around to find what you need to do next. Others may find it too constricting and enjoy the challenge of having to find out the next step for yourself rather than having the game hold your hand. It comes down to what kind of experience you prefer. The linear nature of the story does lead to some problem, as there is a lot of story and not enough of the actual game. At the start of the game, you rarely go more than 10 minutes without the game stopping to show you a conversation or some other plot point. There were times when I just wished I could spend more time killing stuff than listen to the characters talk about their feelings. The balance between story and game play is just off, and there has to be a good balance for a game to be great.
If you liked the sphere system from Final Fantasy X, you should like the leveling system in this game, which is called the Crytarium system. Each battle awards you with Crystogen Points (or CP for short), which allows you to advance each character in specific battle roles that will be familiar to anyone who has played a MMO before. There is the commando (DPS), ravager (magic user), sentinel (tank), synergist/saboteur (buff and debuffs), and medic (healer). As you spend the CP you earn in combat, you move along the path, gaining bonuses to stats, as well as new attacks and spells. It reminded me of the sphere system straight away, and that’s a good thing, as I enjoyed it in Final Fantasy X, and I enjoyed it here. It’s simple enough to follow, and gives you some options on how you can individualize the characters.
For the combat system, Square has brought back the ATB system from previous games, and added on to it with the Paradigm Shift system. The Paradigm Shift system allows the player to change the roles of each character on the fly during combat. Do you want to dish out a lot of damage in a hurry? Then you want to start with a commando and a couple of ravagers. But what if you start to take a lot of damage? Simply use a Paradigm Shift, and change one of you ravagers into a healer, and then once your party is healthy again, change the healer back into a ravager and start dishing out the damage again. The flow of combat is very fast paced, and I found myself constantly engaged by the combat system. You have to stay focused and pay attention to what is going on, especially since some of the regular battles can kill you pretty quickly. The problem though is that I didn’t feel like I was controlling the battle as much as I would like to. You have to move quickly in combat, and in order to move as quickly as possible, you need the computer to control your actions to a certain degree. This is not really that big of a change from previous games in the series. Let’s be honest, most of the time when you’re playing a Japanese RPG, you’re scrolling through menus and pressing the X button, and that’s essentially what you’re doing here, but there’s an element of the game play that just made me feel like I was watching the game instead of participating in it.
Much like Final fantasy XII, you control one character in combat while the computer handles the rest of the party. This has never been my favorite style of game play; I generally prefer to be in control of everything that is happening, so that whether I succeed or fail, I know that I did it myself. This ties in to what I said earlier about not having control of the combat as much as I would like. That being said, the computer handles the other party members well and I didn’t feel like I was dying because of the computers ineptitude. As long as I had the other two characters in the correct roles, they were always doing what I needed them to do. It is kind of annoying that there’s no way to take control of the other party members during combat. You can only control the person designated as the leader, and the leader is determined by the story until later in the game, so you’re limited in that aspect. Since you can’t change who the leader is, the player is limited in the early portion the game to controlling a couple of characters, mostly Lightning, the main heroine. The elimination of magic points is nice, because it means I don’t have to micro manage that aspect of combat and make sure the other characters have enough magic points in order to be effective. I just assign them a role, and they do their own thing while I focus on attacking. There is an annoying side in that you have to keep the character you’re controlling alive, because if they go down, it’s game over. Fortunately, it’s only a minor annoyance, since “game over” is generally not a big loss, as you simply restart at the point before the battle you just died in. It makes experimentation in combat fun, since you know that if you die (especially in boss fights) you won’t have to go back to wherever you last saved, you just try again.
Random encounters are gone from the game; instead, you can see where all the enemies are, and you can try to sneak up on them to gain a preemptive attack. Generally, you have to use an item that cloaks you in order to sneak up on anyone, and you can’t really avoid the groups of enemies, so it basically amounts to still being random battles, but at least you can see them coming generally, and prepare ahead of time. At least you’re not stuck in the constant loop of walk five paces, fight, walk five paces more, fight again that plagued earlier games in the series.
A piece of advice if you are going to pick up this game; find the biggest, most HD screen you can get your hands on, and play it on that screen. You will want to experience this game on the biggest canvas you can find, because this is a drop dead gorgeous game. The graphics in this game are what you would expect from a Square-Enix game, and are some of the best I have seen in a Playstation 3 game. The cut scenes look like they could be from any big screen CG movie, and the graphics for the regular battles are not far below that quality. These are the kind of graphics you think of when you imagine what a next-gen game should look like.
The Final Fantasy series has also been known for its music, and while it’s certainly not my favorite soundtrack ever, I suppose it gets the job done. There’s an odd mix of orchestral music and more guitar based rock songs on the soundtrack and it doesn’t really add much to the game. This is the first game in the series not to be composed by Nobuo Uematsu, and you can feel his absence. It’s easy to forget how much his music has meant to the series, and there are times when you can feel his absence. The music is one of the things I look forward to about a new Final Fantasy game, so this ends up being a disappointment for me. Other may hardly even notice the change, so your mileage may vary.
The game is not without flaws, however. This is a game that takes a while to get going, and by a while, I mean 3-4 hours of play time. In the first few hours, combat is very limited and not a lot of fun and the player has a lot of concepts and characters thrown at them without a lot of explanation. Gradually, as the story unfolds and more combat options become available, the game becomes more familiar to what Final Fantasy fans are used to, and I found myself enjoying it a lot. It’s an interesting way to start a game, I just don’t know if it works very well. When I play a video game, I want to be engaged from the beginning; I don’t want to wait as long as this game makes you wait in order to become fully invested in the story and game play. Some people may not find it as annoying as I did, others may find themselves turned off completely. If you find yourself not enjoying the early portion of the game, I’d give it at least until about the four hour mark, and then see if you’re still not enjoying it. Odds are if you’ve made it that far and still aren’t enjoying the game, this isn’t the game for you.
One last note about the game is that it’s out on both the PS3 and Xbox 360, so if you don’t own a PS3 but have an Xbox, you don’t have to get a whole new system just for this game. I’ve read that the Xbox version is not quite as nice in the graphics department, but I would assume it’s not different enough to make a huge difference. It shouldn’t be surprising that this series has gone the multi-platform route, since that is just another way to maximize the profits for a game.
If you enjoy the series, this is more of the same, and I’d think it should rank somewhere in the middle in terms of being a fan favorite in the series. I still have a ways to go on it, so I can’t judge where it sits in the series for me, but I’m having a good time with it, and it is more than worth it for a fan of the series to pick up. I’m worried that this review makes it sound like I am not enjoying the game, and I don’t want to come off that way. I have some issues with it, but I’m enjoying my time with it, and look forward to spending more time in the world. There are a lot of things the game does correctly, and there are few games that have this kind of visual punch. I’m giving this one a very solid 4 out of 5. It may not be the best game to introduce people to the series, but long time Final Fantasy nuts will find plenty to enjoy about it. Now stop bothering me, it’s time to kill a few monsters.
Images courtesy of RPGamer.com