catalystx's Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3) review

Final Fantasy XIII Review

The long awaited next gen Final Fantasy installment is finally here… But does it meet the lofty expectations set for such a high profile title? I’ll get this out of the way first: this really isn’t like your typical Final Fantasy game, as it changes much of the expected formula. You won’t run through towns and enjoy the odd mini game diversion. You will be placed on a path and will follow it almost completely unabated till well over half way into the game’s story. Whether or not you will enjoy that is probably a matter of taste.

Despite the fact that this is the thirteenth (numerically speaking) entry in the series does not mean it is a continuation of any previous story arcs, as many of you probably already know. You won’t need to experience any of the previous titles, since this is an all new universe with all new characters. You’ll be thrust into the meat of the action right from the get go, getting things to make sense as you progress and watch flashbacks. You’ll hear the buzzwords l’Cie, Fal’Cie, and Cie’th constantly throughout, which takes a little while before it makes clear sense to the player. All the characters are mostly serious business (except for Vanille), devoid of any humour, speaking seemingly endless melodramatic quips of cheesy dialogue. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they mixed it up a bit more, since it’s mostly trying to be a serious drama, with the odd cutesy bit. It’s got moments that are incredibly moving, but as the story progressed the charm seemed to dissipate. By the end, I really wanted it to be over.

The biggest redeeming factor with FFXIII is the outstanding combat system. It moves fast and is generally pretty exciting, with a heavy amount of strategy. Also when you die, you will be placed right before the spot where the fight is, so dying never causes hours of lost grinding if you forget to save. You can get into a battle, and if it doesn’t go well, you can switch up your paradigms or party members (later on in the game) before re-starting the battle. It alleviates a considerable amount of frustration that is common in typical RPGs as well as provides incentive to continue playing. The paradigm system essentially assigns a class to each party member, which you can swap on the fly during the battle as you need to adjust tactics during the more difficult fights. So you can have a healer, tank, and magic dealer at one moment, and once you stagger an enemy, switch up to all damage dealers to bring the enemy down fast. The stagger bar acts sort of like a limit for the enemy taking hits before weakening allowing you to all out assault a stronger enemy. Most enemies can’t be taken down until they are staggered, particularly bosses and stronger mobs.

The level design, although beautiful is incredibly linear. Even when the game opens up in the later portion of the game, the areas the central expanse connects to are all largely linear as well. Although I understand it’s linear to drive you through the story, having something to explore or something else to do aside from combat would have been nice (and isn’t that typical in a Final Fantasy title?). From beginning to end, you will pretty much run through a linear map, fight some bad guys, watch a cut scene, and rinse and repeat. I have to say the linearity didn’t particularly bother me till I was a little over 20 hours into the adventure, right about the time it opens up for you.

I probably don’t need to tell you if you have seen any trailers, but FFXIII is absolutely visually stunning. The pre-rendered cutscenes are gorgeous, and even the in game graphics can rival the quality of the cut scene since it all looks so very good. The music is mostly upbeat jazzy beats, with the odd softer piece strewn in throughout. Despite the cheesy dialoge, the voice actors do a pretty great job making it at least somewhat believable, with no moments I noticed that were just text. Your eyes will certainly be pleased with what they see, and your ears shouldn’t be offended by any off-putting sounds. You may however find the battle music get a little annoying after hearing it so much.

If you plow through the main story with minimal grinding, you could probably finish it in under 50 hours. However, like most Final Fantasy games, there is more than double that amount of time in extra side missions for bonus gear and items. I really loved this game initially, but as I played I began to lose some interest, and I typically get rather addicted to RPG type games. I do intend to return to this game in the future to finish off some of the bonus stuff thanks to a great combat system, but I’m going to need some time off with some other games before then…    
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