drekly's Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360) review

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Too linear for it's own good.

I’ve been playing Final Fantasy since it first started a long while ago on the old NES system. In Final Fantasy (the original) the game mechanics were rather simple but it was still quite ahead of its time for the amount it allowed you to do. You could travel around on a map, use different vehicles, and complete quests which awarded you a plethora of weaponry and items. Not only this, but there was quite a variety of character development choices. You gained experience for killing enemies which you used to upgrade your character and gain new abilities. Later in the game, the characters are given ‘jobs’ which ultimately change their play style or simply enhance it, allowing the player to use different magic spells in addition to wielding weapons.

You may be asking why I’m talking about a game that was released 20 years ago—well it’s to make a very strong point later on in the review about the new release, Final Fantasy XIII.

Story

Final Fantasy is set in two separate worlds; Cocoon and Pulse. The latter is a primitive place where dinosaurs and other strange creatures roam and dragons fly through the clouds. In a striking contrast, the world of Cocoon is a technologically advanced world created by the Fal’Cie over a thousand years ago. The Fal’Cie are ancient god-like beings which govern the inhabitants of Cocoon and ultimately control their lives.

The two worlds of Final Fantasy XIII are at war with each other. Although Cocoon has seen relatively little from Pulse in a long while, they are in constant fear of another invasion due to the intense destruction brought upon them during the last attack.

Our main protagonist is Lightning, a loner who isn’t too good with other people. She is initially perceived as quite a cold character but as the story progresses she begins to come out of her shell and show a caring side towards other members of the group. She is part of the Guardian Corps, a group created by ‘The Sanctum’ (a government which actively encourages the hatred of Pulse) out to deal with anything connected to their enemies.

Her personal goal is to save her sister, Serah, who became a pulse L’Cie. An L’Cie is basically a slave to the Fal’Cie (getting confusing, huh?) who is forced to complete a task for their master. If they fail to complete the task, they turn into a monster known as a Cie’th. Completing the task doesn’t offer up a better reward however, instead it turns the being into a crystal which causes them to sleep forever. The L’Cie aren’t given specifics on what their task entails, but are given subtle clues through ambiguous visions. Their main job is to work out their task themselves, and quickly.

The story follows Lightning as she meets up with a variety of colourful characters, makes tough choices and explores the weird and wonderful worlds. I’d love to go into more detail, but I like to attempt to make my reviews as spoiler-free as possible.
 

Gameplay

The gameplay is split into two different things, combat and exploration. I'll go into detail with each one individually,

Final Fantasy XIII has once again completely altered the way the battle system functions. This time, it’s much faster paced, but thankfully you only have to control one character, much like Final Fantasy XII.

The largest change comes from the seemingly limited choices you can make whilst in combat. There’s a basic ‘auto’ function which changes suffixes depending on your role. For example, if you’re a healer, you’ll see an auto-heal function, and if you’re an attacker you’ll see an auto-attack button.

This auto function does make the combat simple as it basically lets the computer decide what actions you should do at any one point- meaning it’s your go-to button for most battles.

At first you’ll think the combat sounds far too simple, but trust me, it’s very deceptive, especially once you hit the half-way mark and are juggling around all of your paradigms to make the most out of your limited team.

The battle system uses paradigms which are ultimately classes or jobs for your characters. There are six in total, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. I’m not going to go through them all, but needless to say the aggressive Commando paradigm is fine for all out firepower, but it has no healing abilities and relies on support from other party members to stay alive.

As you can have up to 3 members in a party at any one time, you can assign each character a different paradigm. Discovering which 3 paradigms work best together is a fun task and will involve plenty of trial and error. A good example would be having two commandos and a healer (known as a medic) -- this allows for consistence damage output without the risk of dying.

The six paradigms complement each other perfectly and no single paradigm is over-powered in the sense that you’ll end up using it too often during the story. Square have created a perfectly balanced battle system, which both feels fresh and can lead to some very exciting battles.

After you defeat your opponent you’re giving a rank based on your performance. This rank seems to be based on how many turns it took you to win the battle. The higher your rank, the higher chance of getting some spoils from your enemy. Although the ranking system may be important to some players, as I played it, I grew increasingly blasé and basically uninterested with it, as I felt the rewards from a 5 star battle were just more of the same item you’d get from a 1 star battle, an item with little use for the most part, like a potion or a weapon upgrade part that you could just purchase from a shop anyway.

Another thing you receive after a battle is ‘Crystarium points’ which are used in the ‘Crystarium’ to upgrade your paradigms. The Crystarium is much like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X.

Although the Crystrarium has many paths, you’ll still notice that (much like the game itself) it’s extremely linear. You’ll end up picking up everything in your path and by the end of the game many of your characters will be of equal strength with the same spells and statistics. It’s a huge disappointment.

There are plenty of boss fights which certainly test out your skills. The bosses are intimidating, with a large amount of health and often of a much, much greater difficulty than previous enemies. Some bosses are immune to physical attacks, so if up to that point you’d only been using commando’s, you’d have to switch to a Ravager class which is the main spell-casting paradigm. Don’t be too down-trodden if you end up dying plenty of times whilst fighting a boss as they’re probably some of the toughest in any Final Fantasy game yet.

I personally spent maybe 3 days trying to kill the final boss. I think it’s mainly because the game isn’t just about raw skill, it’s also about picking the correct paradigm arrangement, which can take a while as there are a huge variety to choose from.

There are also Eidolon battles, which are just as difficult but even more so because of the time limit set upon you. If you fail to kill an Eidolon within about 2 minutes, that’s it, you die and have to start again. It’s obnoxiously frustrating but once you do eventually prevail, you’ll get to keep it and are able to summon the Eidolon during battles.

I actually found Eidolons pretty useless and rarely summoned them unless I was out of choices and unfortunately out of health. Eidolons replenish your health and each have their own specific abilities during combat. Eidolons will stay in combat for only a small amount of time before they fly off somewhere and leave you to fight alone.

To summarize, the combat system is great but it can occasionally feel a little repetitive, especially towards the end of the game. If you have some patience you’ll certainly enjoy testing out paradigm options and maximizing your group’s effectiveness in battle. There a huge variety of enemies to battle, each with their own tactics and quirks, making the game very challenging, even for the most hard-core fans.

Exploration

Exploration is much like that of previous Final Fantasy games. You control your character though a huge world, examining objects, opening chests, talking to people and generally looking badass with your huge weapons.

There is one major difference though, it feels really lonely. There really aren’t that many NPC’s and there are no busy towns to explore. Unlike previous games, you don’t have inns, you don’t go to a weapon shop to purchase items (in a literal sense, anyway) and you can’t explore homes and openly steal items from under their noses. No, this game, instead, substitutes all of that for well, a save point…

At a save point you can do many things, more importantly (and most obviously) you may save your game, which is a godsend considering the above mentioned difficulty this game likes to whip you with. Saving isn’t the only thing, however. Save points are a town all in one! You may also buy items and upgrade your weapons. Upgrading your weapons is a simple as finding the upgrade materials you need and clicking ‘upgrade’! As you progress through the story, new shops begin to open and they’ll end up selling 95% of the items you will ever need to upgrade. Upgrading your weapons doesn’t really change much apart from its very basic statistics, like strength. Once a weapon has reached its maximum level it can then be upgraded to the subsequent weapon, providing you have the component required to transform the weapon. This new weapon will have a higher maximum level and other addition benefits.

Overall, the upgrade system seems a little too simple and you’ll end up wishing it had a little more depth. The weapon parts required are given to you early in the game, but the weapon upgrade system is only available after maybe 6 or so hours of gameplay. This mean you’ll probably end up selling them as the game doesn’t really inform you that you need to hang onto them.

Another issue I have with this game’s so-called “exploration” is that there really isn’t much of it. The game is far too linear and for a Final Fantasy game, that’s a cardinal sin! You always feel like you’re just going forward. This would be fine for most games, but not a RPG! A veteran RPG player wants variety, they want to be able to do side-quests, explore different parts of the world in their own time and pick up weapons other players may miss! There aren’t even many side-quests in Final Fantasy XIII, at least not until very late on where the game FINALLY breaks out from its dungeon crawling, straight path habit.

Overall the exploration is rather plain and the opening up at the end of the game is just an annoyance. You’ll wonder why they saved it for the end and not spread it out throughout the game.

Without a doubt, Final Fantasy XIII is probably the best looking game I have ever played. The visuals are breath- taking and vary considerably as you explore an ice cavern, a destroyed village, a rural plain and basically any other environment your mind can possibly comprehend.On the XBOX 360 I noticed a little bit of slow-down, and although it wasn’t enough to affect my gameplay, it was noticeable. Also some textures are a little bland up close, but considering the huge amount of beautiful textures, and the vastness of the game in general, it’s easy to look past it’s minor downfalls. The Playstation 3 offers the best experience out of the two, providing sharper graphics and much clearer FMV sequences. Although if you don’t have a Playstation 3, don’t worry too much as they both look better than any console game you’ve probably played. The character models are truly beautiful and the level of detail is jaw-droppingly impressive and the animations are also brilliant.

The sound is a mixed bag, the music although great, doesn’t have the memorable feel of the previous soundtracks. The voice acting is solid but certain characters vocals are extremely annoying and you’ll be reaching for the mute button during certain sequences. 90% of the game is voice acted, but there are certain NPC’s without dialogue which is a shame considering how few NPC’s there actually are.
The interface is simple and effective. The menus offer a wide variety of information along with an encyclopaedia which grows as you progress and meet new enemies and allies alike.

Control wise the game is very fluid, allowing you to perform actions quickly(thankfully!)and without difficulty. It’s pretty intuitive by default, although you may change these settings if you wish from your menu depending on your personal tastes.

The game is beautiful to look at, beautiful to play, but is far too linear for its own good. The story is a little in love with itself and if you’re not into J-RPG stories, then this is no different.

If you’re willing to wait for the satisfying content towards the end of the game, then you’ll really appreciate this title. For others, it may be a wait that’s too long to stick with.

 
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