Final Fantasy XIII: Great Aesthetics with Forced Training Wheels
Final Fantasy XIII, according to developer Square Enix, was the most anticipated title of all time. And, in a lot of ways, it was supposed to be. FFXIII is arguably the largest JRPG title on the Xbox 360, and the Final Fantasy franchise has obtained a certain level of prestige over the years. This was supposed to do for RPGs of this generation that Final Fantasy VII did years prior for the original PlayStation. Unfortunately, its lofty goals were short in almost every area.
Final Fantasy XIII puts you in the shoes of Lightning and Snow who are fighting at first to save the soul of Serah, their sister and fiancé respectively. Eventually, the story evolves into saving the world from total annihilation. The story is solid, with expected lulls and climaxes, but it fails to be the epic, genre-defining tale that the Final Fantasy seems to hold itself responsible for.
The aesthetics are top-notch. The characters have good designs, the graphics push the capabilities of the system, and the music is fitting and appreciated departure from typical series composer Nobuo Uematsu. If nothing else, this title is wonderful to experience, and has set a new benchmark in technical regard.
Another big positive is the battle system which has you taking control of one character (usually Lightning or Snow) and controlling the rest through macros known as the Paradigm system. The Paradigm system works well as a fast-paced Job-based model, and keeps combat interesting and fun. It also adds a much needed level of strategy to the game, making understanding the system essential to success in the game. It very rarely feels taxing to be in combat for combat’s sake.
However, the game lacks the cohesion to make these positive aspects work for it. The game’s tutorial, which extends almost to the 25 hour mark, doesn’t trust the player to take the training wheels off until close to the end of the game. It is the spoon-fed combat mechanics and the removal of even insignificant choices (such as choosing your own party members) that make this game an absolute chore during the tutorial stages. The story locks this mechanic in place, often segregating the party so the allusion of choice isn’t present and it still refuses to give you the wheel even when the entire cast is traveling together up until that fabled 25 hour.
The game also applies a significant growth cap until after the game is completed once. The game dictates what the highest level you can be at any portion of the game, so the art of grinding is completely lost. If the party is defeated during a particularly strong boss fight, the game essentially forces you to try something else instead of letting you become stronger. It locks you in to utilizing the Paradigm system, and while the system is solid, not everyone will appreciate its charm. There is no place for the brute force gamer in Final Fantasy XIII. In fact, the only type of player that will succeed is the type of player Square Enix forces you to be.
After completing the game, the achievements and hunting quests try to extend the lifespan of the title, but it comes off as forced. Trying to coexist with the high-level of enemies will test even the most grizzled JRPG competitor’s endurance. It’s simply not fun to play after the credits roll. There’s also no incentive to ever return to the game with a new file. Even choosing to replay the game with a different party is out of the question.
There’s a lot in Final Fantasy XIII that succeeds. Square Enix is unable to takes these working elements and mesh them with the pacing and story, making for a chore of a game for most of its duration. Even hardcore Final Fantasy enthusiasts will be turned off by the snubbing of series staples, such as towns and a customizable party. Some of the other systems in the game, such as the Crystarium and the experience system with equipment work well enough, but don’t take away from the harsh negatives of this game. If you’re a sucker for story, and have the willpower to push through the unbearable two-thirds of this game, then Final Fantasy XIII is a worthwhile purchase. Otherwise, it’d be best to explore another RPG altogether.