Final Fantasy XIII Reader Review
The Final fantasy series has always been about innovating. Rather then rest on its laurels every game has aspired to bring something new to the series. Whether its redesigning the combat system for almost every installment. Or pushing to new heights in visuals and cinematic storytelling. Sure many old time players would like to have seen the series stop chancing after final fantasy VI/VII and just repeat the same feats of storytelling and gameplay of these gems, yet it is the constant innovation of the series that has us looking forward to every new installment of the series and keeping the Final fantasy franchise at the forefront of gaming for the past 20 years.
There can be no clearer example of the series desire to constantly evolve then when looking at the difference between Final fantasy XII and XIII. XII gave us a brand new, somewhat controversial combat mechanic. Eliminating turn based random encounters in favor of semi-real time combat where victory or defeat was decided by how well you placed your Gambits (gambits direct how you and your companions act in specific situations), and gave us a large open world to explore with a almost staggering number of side quests (I know a guy who has put well over 200 hours in a single game).
The reason I drone on about the series past is because it helps to understand why Square Enix decided to go in an almost completely opposite direction with XIII. The biggest chance in XIII is that its linear.
Now Final fantasy games have often been rather linear compared to other rpg games. Final fantasy X for example was most heavily criticized for not opening up and giving you side quests or exploration until the very end. Yet you could always explore towns or play a round of blitz ball (I actually really liked blitz ball) or find hidden treasure in dungeons. XIII does not feature towns. There are almost no npcís to interact with, there are no minigames (unless you count riding a chocobo) all you shopping gets done at save points and there is almost no chance to miss treasure. The best description I have heard to describe the game is "a line" that basically sums up the game. In the 54 hours it took me to complete the game I was basically running one long corridor after another.
The pacing is actually reminiscent of modern warfare, the difference being that modern warfare takes 5/6 hours to complete whilst Final Fantasy XIII takes 50/60 hours before you see the credits roll by. The pacing actually makes me yearn for towns just so you can rest up a little before the next big sequence as it can get a little bit tiring.
About the halfway point the game world does actually open up a little, and your able to visit a few optional areas and fight a couple of unique enemies for rewards. Which is a welcome addition but far from making the game world feel open.
Though the gameís linearity is disappointing the rest of the game is fantastic. The storyline is epic, the combat is deep and engaging, the visuals are top notch and the music is excellent. Whilst the story has some faults, some characters are brushed off rather quickly and barring a few plot twists the story as a whole is a bit predictable. The main characters are fully realized people and though you might start out not caring much for them by the end of the game you feel with them as each character has developed and grown over their course of the adventure. Every character even has their own moment of realization symbolized by a battle with their own summon who, after defeating said summon, can be called upon to fight side by side with their caster and can enter the powerful gestahlt mode where the summon chances into a vehicle ridden by the caster and proceeds to cause havoc in battle.
And combat is where the game really shines. In combat you control one character whilst 2 team mates are controlled by the AI. In combat you have an ATB bar that slowly fills up depending on where you are in the story and your character progression you can line up between the 2 and 5 attacks that execute when the bar has filled up. Against many enemies especially later on normal attacks just wont cut it, instead you need to get your enemy in a break state. When targeting an enemy a break meter appears over their head that fills up as you attack the enemy and shows a percentage by which damage is multiplied, when the meter fills up all the way your opponent enters a break state and in most cases can be knocked into the air making him unable to act and growing the damage bonus percentage even faster, break state isnít permanent though so its important to capitalize on the opportunity. The trick with the break system is that normal attacks generally deal more damage but fill up the meter very slowly, magic attacks are less powerful but cause much more break (There is no mp in XIII so no limits on using magic attacks) additionally when an enemy is not in break state and your not attacking an enemy the break meter goes down, if you used magic attacks and you stop attacking the break meter goes down almost instantly, whilst normal attacks will cause the meter to barely go down at all. You need to use a combination of magic attacks and normal attacks to break the enemy, since many enemies require you to attack with all characters at once to break them healing and such becomes difficult, enter the optima system (paradigm shift in the west). In battle every character has a role, with each character having access to 3 out of 6 roles, You have attacker (physical attacks) defender (tank) blaster (magic attacks) healer (self-explanatory) jammer (casts negative status effects on enemies) and enhancer (casts positive status effects on allies). You can make up to 6 different configurations of roles with the 3 characters you have selected and chance between these roles at any time in battle.
Say I go into battle with: Character 1: Blaster Character 2: attacker Character 3: Blaster
This way my blasters can cause break whilst my attacker keeps the break meter from dropping. But I start take damage and need healing whilst maintaining the attack so I switch to:
Character 1: Blaster Character 2: attacker Character 3: healer
Turns out the enemy is a lo tougher then I thought and I need to rethink my strategy. I need to buff up without losing all the break I have just caused so I switch to:
Character 1: Attacker Character 2: healer Character 3: enhancer
Battles are a constant switching back and forth between roles but from being tiresome they keep the combat exhilarating at all times. As some battles took me over 30 minutes you have to be active at all times.
Unfortunately the combat doesnít really get all that exiting until about 10-15 hours in as you donít have a lot of options in the beginning of the game.
Its also regrettable that the progression system is, like the game, very linear. The crystarium system is a lot like Final fantasy XíS sphere grid system, you can obtain individual upgrades, like hp, strength, abilityís etc, the system itself is divided into 6 categories corresponding to the 6 roles. Problem is that you cant really customize your character. Usually your giving enough points to upgrade each of your 3 primary roles, and you cant advance in the character progression until certain plot points and you open up a new crystarium level.
Combat and game mechanics aside though there is one thing that is obvious right from the start, the game is stunning. Its not just the graphics that are fantastic but itís the art that really shines. Every nook and cranny of the game is made with such a staggering attention to detail that its not hard to see where the 6 years went in (XIII was initially in production for the playstation 2 until moving to the playstation 3 and finally xbox 360) some of the backgrounds are more detailed then entire levels in most games. The characters too are stunningly realized, and beautifully animated. The monster designs also show a lot of love and whilst most donít stretch the boundary of imagination they are so wonderfully executed you cant help but drool over your controller.
Musically the game is great overall but lacks any truly memorable tunes, it is nevertheless and very consistent soundtrack with arguably the best battle theme in the series.
Overall the game is good. No scratch that the game is great, just not the greatest game ever made, or the best final fantasy for that matter. The biggest disappointment with the game is its incredible linearity but beyond that this is a once in a lifetime experience. The epic story, the stunning visuals the engaging combat all make for one of the best games in recent years if you like final fantasy, no, if you like games in general then come march you should buy this game
9 / 10