- 9th March 2010
- 19th December 2009
- 9th March 2010
|Title: Final Fantasy XIII
Platform: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
Disks: PS3: 1 - Xbox 360: 3
Our Rating: 7/10
Final Fantasy XIII has taken the Final Fantasy Community by storm;
a series of three games under the name, Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy
XIII, (Translated as "The New Tale Of The Crystal: Final Fantasy XIII").
The three games are as follows; Final Fantasy XIII (PS3 and Xbox 360); Final Fantasy
Agito XIII (Mobilephone); and Final Fantasy XIII:Versus (PS3).
Read on for a spoiler-free review, some details from the beginning of the game will be mentioned, but nothing from the game's outcome...
Final Fantasy XIII Review
Story - 6/10
Final Fantasy XIII is a vast game set in the safe haven of "Cocoon" suspended above a dangerous underworld named Gran Pulse. These worlds are ruled by higher beings named fal'Cie (huge mechanical figures powered by crystals) that watch over and provide for the humans that live upon Cocoon. As if in payment for this service, the fal'Cie have the ability to enslave any human they choose and brand them as l'Cie with a mark upon their bodies. The human is granted the power of magic but is forever cursed by their "Focus": a task the fal'Cie have given them. Those that complete the task in time will sleep forever in a crystalised state: those that fail become monsters, or "Cie'th".
During a Focus, a l'Cie comes upon many hardships, and when they reach a time of particular struggle, a powerful Eidolon is summoned to kill them or spur them onwards. If the l'Cie wins the battle, the Eidolon becomes their's to summon at will.
But life upon Cocoon for the humans is threatened. Over the years the Fal'Cie have controlled the citizens through
the "Sanctum" that govern the people and again through the military force of the "Guardian Corps" and "PSICOM". These forces have taught the inhabitants of Cocoon to fear the l'Cie and the vast lowerworld of Gran Pulse so that any hope of salvation is near impossible.
This is where our heroine, Lightning,
comes in. A former sergeant of the Guardian Corps, Lightning seeks the fal'Cie Anima to rescue her recently branded sister. In order to reach it, she takes a train of citizens on the way to being "Purged" from Cocoon. Along the way she stumbles across Sazh, a father missing his son; Snow, leader of the resistance group, "Team NORA"; Hope, a young boy in the wrong place at the wrong time; and Vanille, a mysterious girl from Gran Pulse.
Unfortunately her plan does not end well, and your party are dumped on the outskirts of Cocoon, as newly branded l'Cie...
If you haven't guessed already, FFXIII introduces a complex world from the very start, but refuses to explain it gradually throughout. Instead, you are thrown in quite literally at the deep end, left to pick up the pieces yourself.
Towards the end, the story picks up considerably and brings it to a much more dramatic scale with themes of "Makers", corruption and rebirth of the planet in a very similar vein to "Neon Genesis Evangelion". Unfortunately it does not deliver quite as successfully and most of the cut scenes involve repeated morale speeches from characters who have no idea what's going on and discussions of 'where can we go from here'.
Although FFXIII presents an interesting and very modern plot with good twists at the end, the execution of the
storytelling is quite poor. There's too much going on at the very beginning and the very end and not enough explanation in the middle. Your main characters are so involved already in the world that there is no one to explain it to the player/audience. For example, in an earlier game like Final Fantasy X, Tidus was a complete newcomer and everything in the world was a new experience for him and for the player. Although 'spoon feeding' the story is also a bad thing, neither is spending the whole game feeling like you missed something.
Good try Square-Enix, but definitely needed more development here! 6/10
Characters - 6/10
Following the first ten hours of the game, I was excited at the prospect of discovering more about the characters I was playing as, in various cut scenes, flashbacks and side quests. Sadly, development of the characters is very thin. At the start you are presented with 5 characters you know very little about, and through a series of flashbacks covering the 13 days prior to the beginning of the game, we explore some of the events leading up to Serah's branding as a l'Cie and Lightning and Snow's quest to free her from each character's view point. However that's as far back as it goes! The games that were once laced with flashbacks and dark and mysterious pasts seem to have ended here, even though the character's clearly have much more to them, the game again does not explore it. If you read the Datalog and the strategy guide however, suddenly everything about the character's is revealed and you wish you could learn more but the game is so focused on the present that it doesn't like to delve into the character's pasts.
But maybe this is too harsh a point; a character's backstory does not have to be included to make them a good character, it's their actions that say everything. Lightning is a strong lead character, though she was originally modeled from Cloud in Final Fantasy VII, she doesn't have his insecurities or identity issues and stands strong on her own. Her attitude isn't always serious however as she also shows a motherly affection towards Hope, the youngest in your party, and strong dedication to her sister.
Sazh, who originally was thought to provide the comic releif of the series, is perhaps the most developed of your entire party. His past is revealed later with Vanille and his story is probably the most heartfelt. Hope also gets a short development with his father, though it doesn't last long and is the only case of tension between himself and Snow... When Hope believes that Snow was responsible for his mother's death in the beginning, he wishes vengeance for her death, to Snow's complete ignorance, creating conflict that unfortunately is not resolved well.
Fang and Vanille are curious characters that appear one way at the start and are then revealed to be something else entirely and they receive a great conclusion to their tale. Still, all the characters would have benefited from further exploration of their personalities and backstories as well as putting them into high pressure situations to question their character
and motives. Interaction with side characters would also have opened up something new, but apart from antagonists, they were none!
Bring back the intricate backstories! 6/10
Gameplay - 5/10
While Final Fantasy XIII has made huge efforts to create a seamless environment for you to explore, they haven't given you much to do in them. Moving through locations now requires no loading time (unless entering a completely different map) and the addition of 'auto-jumping' through the scenery creates a little more action. Treasure chests have been replaced with Treasure Spheres and Save Points (which double as your shops and upgrade spots now) are some of the few places of interactivity. There are few people to talk to, even on Cocoon, and none of the fellow wanderers have any involvement with your party.
This time round your party members are left to their own devices to explore the terrain as you move through the world, and you don't have to worry about them keeping up with you as they appear with you when you enter a battle. You can also hear your characters talking among themselves at certain story points, which is also interesting to spot. You can read this dialogue too if you switch subtitles on.
The maps for the first half of the game are extremely linear and there are no towns or villages to wander around in between. Approaching dead ends usually rewards you with predictable treasure spheres and there isn't much else to look for.
When the map finally opens up later on you realise what you were missing, right before entering more single path tunnels to progress.
The number of locations in this game is extraordinary--there are so many places you pass through, you wonder why the developers didn't expand on the place a little more so that you can appreciate the level design, which of course is stunning. In addition, the camera feels very 'sluggish' when you try and view the gorgeous scenery and doesn't always do what you'd like--Square really need to hand that control over to the player!
Healing between battles is gone now as your party are automatically regenerated after every battle, which makes a nice change: there's nothing worse than entering an important battle after forgetting to heal your characters! You'll also notice there is no way of upgrading/leveling your characters to begin with, but this changes after an hour or so when the "Crystarium" opens up for your characters.
Here and there are some side quests that you can undertake, but most of them don't open up until after watching the credits roll, then you boot up the game again and suddenly there's a whole new Crystarium level and Chocobos on Gran Pulse! This felt like a bit of a cop-out to me, why not integrate the side quests into the story like normal? Why were we rushed to complete the story as fast as possible and then do all the other stuff? Nonetheless, it's still nice to know there's more to do after you complete the game instead having to start over again.
Finally, there is very little "Role-Playing" to this game. Unlike previous FF's, you can no longer choose from dialogue options and the only impact you will have on the characters and story is where you go next, and even then there's not a lot of choice.
In short, the game plays like an interactive movie or animation as opposed to a Role-Playing Game--a game to be watched rather than played. 5/10
Battle System - 8/10
In FFXIII the battle system has been revamped almost beyond recognition. But don't worry, it retains a nice mixture of old turn-based RPG elements but with more action based visuals like in Kingdom Hearts and much, much faster gameplay.
At first, it's all so new and different you might find yourself feeling a little confused by the fast-paced action, but it quickly becomes such an immersive experience you'll feel like you've been playing it for years.
Instead of playing as all of your party members, you play as a single 'lead' character and your party support you as AI, like in Final Fantasy XII.But if you're lead character dies, then it's Game Over. If another member dies though, then they can easily be revived with a Phoenix Down or Raise magic. You can control what role they take in battle by assigning them on the menu and customising a selection of different "Paradigms" for your characters to switch between by using "Paradigm Shift" during battle later in the game. You can effortlessly change your party's abilities in battle by changing the Paradigms in the midst of all the action. This becomes such a key element, it's just as important as what commands you choose in battle which will be discussed below.
You select a string of attacks and commands to fill your 'ATB' gauge as a 'stack' of commands and pick a target to attack. Your character then inflicts all of these commands on the enemy in one smooth flow of combos. They then return to a neutral position and you can choose new commands while your ATB gauge refills. It's an extremely quick system for which you'll be thankful that you only have to play as one character!
In the creation of this smooth and fast-paced battle system however, they have replaced the strategy of thinking out moves and planning different attacks with switching Paradigms. After that you just take advantage of the "Auto Battle" option at the top of the in-battle menu. It chooses your stack of commands for you and you just have to select a target. This is not to say that battles are easy of course, enemies and bosses can be deceivingly difficult and you'll see the game over screen a lot during your first play through. Fortunately instead of taking you back to the last save point, it takes you back to just before you entered the battle when you select "retry" so it doesn't become a tedious affair. You can also skip any cut scenes that you may be seeing for the second or third time.
Because the battles become so quick later on, it actually becomes necessary to select your commands as fast as possible which is why the "Auto Battle"
is so useful. Of course sometimes it is more effective to choose commands yourself (when reviving a party member quickly for example) but to stop the auto battling becoming repetitive, make use of the Paradigms and special abilities to shake up the battle experience.
The aim of most battles is to "Stagger" your opponent as quickly as possible and then take it down with final moves or an Eidolon. Some Paradigms are better at Staggering while others will be stronger at finishing off enemies.
A great leveling system is implemented a bit later in the game that allows you to earn "Crystarium Points" in battle and spend them on new statistic boost and abilities. This is set up a bit like the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, which was a very enjoyable system and it's fantastic to see a similar one make a return. Each character has their own "Crystarium" and a separate grid for each available role. It is vital for making your characters stronger, but the amount of points that you need to complete the grid at the end of the game is ridiculous. Expect to be spending 60,000 points on each upgrade!
A very unique system with great fast-paced action! 8/10
Visuals - 10/10
The quality of the graphics really goes without saying, even from early screenshots this game was stunning and to play it for yourself is breath taking. The details in hair and clothes are amazing and the scenery and cut scenes are gorgeous. It really has to be seen first-hand!
The main in-game menu of this game is really beautiful. When you select a character to view their status and equipment, a short FMV quality clip plays of them as the background image before fading to black and white so you can see the text more clearly. It's a lovely addition that leaves me switching through the characters all the time just to see it!
Environments are highly detailed and character, monster and boss design is clearly crafted with care and attention. Cut scenes are rendered with in-game quality graphics that are utterly seamless and lip syncing has even been reanimated for the English version. Full Motion Videos are still movie quality, but suffer from very shaky camera work during action scenes, so appreciating the detail and animation can be difficult!
Excellent rendering and animation as usual! 10/10
Music - 9/10
Although Nobuo Uematsu has not composed the score for Final Fantasy XIII, composer Masashi Hamauzu really takes up the task with ease. The sound track for this game is incredible with epic pieces for huge landscapes as far as you can see, eerie vocals for crystalised lakes and the glorious battle theme with elegant but catchy flutes, "Blinded by Light".
In the English version, the game's conclusion is paired
with Leona Lewis' "My Hands". Though some were skeptical of this choice, this song fitted perfectly with the emotions of the final chapter and made that last sequence so much more dramatic and heartfelt.
Masashi has done an excellent job in capturing the feel of the world and really matching the musical tone with the stunning visuals. 9/10
Sound and Voice Overs - 7/10
Typically, the sound effects work of this game is very good, but there is one unfortunate flaw which makes the endless travelling so much more annoying, and that is the footsteps. Not only is there very little variation but each step is so loud! It seems very unrealistic and keeps disturbing the game experience.
The English voice overs are at a very high standard. The casting for the character's is great and I particularly like Lightning's voice. I think it was an interesting decision to have Vanille and Fang voiced by Australian actors as it makes their differences more plausible.
Great acting but turn down the steps! 7/10
Overall - 7/10
After years of waiting, many fans have turned Final Fantasy XIII down as a "disappointment" and while there are many flaws in the game's design, reworking a classic series from the ground up for the 13th time is no easy task. A lot was expected from this game and while it didn't always deliver, it's not a "bad" game. It's certainly challenging and the ending is rewarding (even after the 60+ hours it takes to get there).
What's curious is the amount of references to previous Final Fantasy's during gameplay; Palumpolum,
Fang's "Highwind" attack, numerous weapons and accessories named after classic items and places, the resistance group attacking from a train in the beginning all straight out of previous games. It's almost as if they're trying to relive the old FF's while trying to make something new, and it doesn't quite work. I think it's great that they're still trying to reinvent themselves and that's really the key to making great games. But if fans are so keen for a "classic" game, then maybe Square should just make one. Even if it is a Final Fantasy VII Remake (if that's ever going to happen).
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII is an interesting reinvention of a classic series that hasn't done quite as well as it should have, but we want you to try again! Fingers crossed for Final Fantasy XV... 7/10
by FFFreak (July 2010).