Final Fantasy XIII is a love it or hate it game
Final Fantasy is considered by some to be the pinnacle of the RPG genre. After all, some believe it was this franchise that put the genre on the map and it was a certain popular edition of the series that made me fall in love with the Role-Playing genre. Over the years, we have seen numerous spin-offs and main editions from this renowned series and now in its thirteenth edition; does the series still have what it takes to fight among other big hitters that have come from the West and East?
We all know that JRPGs have a variety of characters in them. Some you can relate to and like as the story progresses, others that are just plain annoying no matter what they do and you dislike them from the get-go. Final Fantasy XIII is no different as it has its fair share of characters that have interesting personalities and ones that just have their habits that you can’t stand. Luckily though, as the story progresses in XIII, those annoying characters tend to become semi-interesting but you will have to put the time into the game before that happens.
The story starts off on a train in the world of Cocoon, an industrial, high-tech world that has some similarities to the city of in Final Fantasy VIII. Here we are introduced to Lightning, the main heroine in the game and Sazh, a former pilot who carries a chocobo chick within his afro. Lightning is on the train to save her sister known as Serah since she was taken by a mechanical godlike being known as a fal’cie. As you progress onwards, you are introduced to Snow, a leader of a rebel group known as NORA whose main purpose is to stop the purging of innocent civilians, Hope, a teenage boy who has issues with Snow due to what occurs in the opening chapter and Vanille, a chirpy red-headed girl who you will either like or dislike from the get-go depending on your interest in the series.
A series of events brings this group together and unfortunately, they are marked by crystals that reside within fal’cie and become l’cie. The l’cie are given a focus by the fal’cie, which is a goal that they must complete within a set amount of time or they will become a corpse of their former selves called c’ieth. Their focus is given to them through visions and they must figure out what has to be done in order for them to prevent this change from ever occurring. Without going into more detail about it, the focus pretty much decides the fate of Cocoon. Later on in the game, you are introduced to the secret 6 character that has a special relationship with one of the heroes in the game.
If you are confused by the story from what you’ve read here, you shouldn’t be ashamed as the story is the most confusing, complex and weakest part of the game all in one. The main problem is that the opening 15-20 hours does nothing to help you invest your time into these characters, their backgrounds and the story of this universe and only when you get to a certain part of the game that it becomes interesting and for some, it maybe too little, too late when that time comes around. Fortunately, other parts of the game more than make up for this weakness of the game. The biggest strength of this game comes from its gameplay.
As we all know, Final Fantasy tends to change the battle system with each iteration of the series. Some work while others do not. I can safely say that when it comes to XIII, the gameplay has enough depth and has a likability factor that it becomes one of those games you don’t care about investing your time into since the battles are so fast-paced and exciting to do. A disadvantage of the battle system that can be considered is that there is a good chunk to take in that it takes a good number of hours for the various aspects to be learned.
First things first, Final Fantasy XIII is linear as hell. Gone is the world map, the exploration of towns and the expansive areas for you to explore and find its little secrets. Say hello to narrow linear paths with very few branching paths, save points that also act as shops and one main side-quest path that you have to invest a lot of time into in order to fully complete. Final Fantasy XIII does not have a world map but instead the game is spilt up into chapters whereas a significant area of the game takes the form of a chapter. RPG enthusiasts will probably not welcome this change at all while others who didn’t care too much for the vast exploration will appreciate the more streamlined approach shown in here. When you begin the game, you are introduced to this new type of battle system but as stated earlier, it won’t be the full complete system until a good while later.
Final Fantasy XIII reintroduces the well-known Active Time Battle system but in a different way than before. In previous games, you wait until the ATB bar is full in order to choose a command and when that occurs, you mainly choose just the one and then let that command unfold. Another thing that must be mentioned is that only one character is controlled by the player at all times while the other two are AI characters.
XIII lets you pick several commands at once and the great thing is that the ATB bar does not need to be full in order for certain commands to take place. Multiple commands are chosen and when the bar is full, the character does a combo of the chosen commands and lays some damage to the enemy or buffs your partners up etc. If you do not want to wait until the bar is full, you can choose certain commands and then press a specific button for it to deal out the commands chosen and retains any of the meter not used in the previous turn. Commands range from normal attacks to magic such as Fire, Blizzara and Thundaga. Final Fantasy XIII does away with Magic Points or MP and uses techniques and you are able to use these using Technique Points or TP for short. Some of the techniques include Quake and Dispel and use a certain number of TP with the maximum a character has at one point being 5.
The battle system might look and sound simple at the start but there is a lot more depth and has a more strategic nature that is easy to learn but possibly harder to master and you will have to find what the best strategy is to use in order to defeat the stronger enemies later on in the game. This has to do with one of the main aspects of the newly refined battle system known as Paradigm Shift. Each of the characters has 6 roles, which are pretty much this version’s take on the job classes that include Commando, which is the warrior/all-rounder, the ravager, which is the mage and the medic, which is the healer. In order to fully implement the paradigm shift, you have to use a number of role combinations called paradigms and work out what roles will work best at the start of battle. Then you can choose a different paradigm and it will switch to that desired one once selected. Throughout my experience with the game, there were mainly two paradigms that I switched back and forth to that helped me throughout the later stages of the game. When it comes to boss battles, it is a different story and its best to use other paradigms, which are most suitable for the situation in order to make things good for your side and just plain horrific for the boss.
Summonings make a return to XIII and they play a part within the story itself as each character comes to possess an eidolon for them to use. They are tied with the TP and once it is summoned, it fights alongside the player character and a variety of attacks can be used including an ultimate attack that transforms it into its gestalt mode, which is basically its driving/vehicle mode. During my time with the game, I rarely used the summonings as I didn’t have any major problems during parts of the game I assumed I would have.
Like in Final Fantasy XII, the enemies appear in the field area you explore thus you have the option to choose which enemies you want to do battle with. Once you encounter an enemy, the battle takes place in a proper battle field and you duke it out to see who comes out on top. This time around, just finding an enemy’s weakness isn’t enough and you have to find the right paradigm to get the battle over and done with. A paradigm consisting of the commando and ravager roles tends to do just that for most of the battles throughout the game in that the commando helps the stagger meter below an enemy name stay stable while the ravager boosts it up. Once the meter is full, the enemy becomes staggered and the damage dealt is increased depending on the percentage the stagger state is on. It is a great implementation in this game and makes battles more exciting and strategic that what you might usually see.
If you have played Final Fantasy X, the system used in this game to level up your characters is quite similar to the sphere grid used in X. The main difference perhaps is that the sphere grid was more expansive and that you could go in a variety of ways thus will take quite a while to fully explore it. The Crystarium, which is the system that is being used here is called uses a more linear approach but has branching paths that usually lead to new abilities or increase your attributes such your strength, magic etc. In order to use the crystarium, you need CP (Crystogen points) and these are obtained by winning battles and each enemy in the game has a set number of CP attached to it you obtain once it’s defeated. Each role has a different section of the crystarium thus leveling up each character’s main roles is pretty much mandatory if you want to survive some of the tougher encounters in the game. My opinion on the crystarium is positive and it is a lot easier to approach than the complex sphere grid.
At the end of the day, the gameplay in XIII might look a bit frightening at first glance and it does take some time to get adjusted but it becomes quite a treat once it becomes second nature. It is always great to see Lightning and crew juggle an enemy in the area dealing some serious damage and wiping it out entirely in a matter of seconds. Final Fantasy XIII isn’t an easy game because if you don’t know what you are doing half the time, chances are you are going to get killed in a matter of moments. But the more you get used to the slightly complex battle system, the easier the game is and you can easily know what paradigms are the best to integrate into battles during your 40-50 hour experience if you are not doing the side-quest path.
Shops take a bit of a backseat in XIII as they are only used in save points you encounter. Here you can buy all sorts of items ranging from healing items such as potions and antidotes to weapons for your character. Most of the weapons you find in the shops can easily be obtained in chests throughout the game hence it is a bit silly, as the main focus on weaponry is to increase the power of weapons that are best suited for your character. Materials you get from enemies, chests and in the shop help achieve this task. To be frank, I am not entirely fond of this procedure and enjoy getting the endless amounts of weapons so I know what is best from the get-go and what’s not instead of having to build each one up.
One thing that can be said about Final Fantasy XIII in its favour is that the game is a visual masterpiece. When it comes to the CGI cutscene, Square-Enix can do no wrong, as they are a luxury to watch visually. Exploring the different lands of Cocoon and Gran Pulse shine throughout the game with one area being particularly beautiful and reminds me of another stunning look RPG released back in 2007. The character models are etched in fine detail with Lightning’s glossy dark/light pink hair being a standout in my eyes. Monsters throughout the game are always great to look at and some of the monster designs in this game are quite unique while others are the same old stuff you’ve seen time and time again. The lip syncing is pretty much near-perfect but that is due to the fact they worked on that for both the Japanese and International releases. Animations are pretty much sublime and its always fun to see the characters fight with euphoria whenever they come across the interesting monsters throughout the adventure.
When it comes to the audio, it is a bit of a hit and miss. While the music in the game is good for what it is, I see myself only remembering one track from it and that is Blinded by Light, which is the main battle theme in the game although that tends to change a couple of times throughout and is replaced by inferior themes. The voice-acting I considered to be good all around although some of you probably might want to cover your ears whenever Vanille speaks although I am somewhat of a fan of that squeaky-style voice in games like this.
Final Fantasy XIII is a love it or hate it game. Some fans will treasure the changes the developers have made to the series and enjoy this new experience while others will hate for what it has done to this adored series. Unfortunately, most people might not get past the slow start the game brings but if you manage to get past the slow start and the complexity of the battle system, what you have is a good and visually stunning adventure that you will appreciate once the end credits roll on the screen.