Final Fantasy XIII
The story of Final Fantasy XIII takes place in the world of Gran Pulse on the futuristic sky utopia Cocoon. A purge led by PSICOM is beginning in the city of Bodham in response to one of the residents coming into contact with a fal'Cie named Anima-a being from outside Cocoon and a Pulsian. Lightning discovers that her sister Serah is the resident who was branded by Anima and she is becoming a l'Cie. While she and Sazh attempt to rescue her, Snow leads his resistance group NORA during the purge in an attempt to save the citizens from PSICOM, but they take losses in the process. The events lead every one of the characters to meet one another, but they get branded by Anima as l'Cie and are given the focus of protecting Cocoon from a creature they all envision named Ragnarok.
The story is very intriguing and engaging, but it has very big pacing problems. The game reflects that of Final Fantasy IV, VI (released as II and III in the U.S.), and VII in how it is structured and how it throws the player into the action in the first gameplay segment. Unlike those FF games that allow the player to comprehend what is going on and are evenly paced, this game throws about fifty percent of the story within the first ten, or fifteen minutes. As the game progresses, it becomes more intriguing.
Most of the events leading up to the purge taking place are told through flashbacks and each character develops his/her backstory as the game progresses. Sadly, being able to comprehend it at an even pace is very important in J-RPGs such as Final Fantasy and is the thing that the series is known for. The story isn't bad and is a welcome addition to the series, but it could've used more attention in how it unfolds and plays itself out. 8/10
The main highlights of the game, for me are the graphics and visuals. They are absolutely stunning. The environments look big and massive. I love the designs of the characters, backgrounds, and technology that is presented in the game. They do a lot to add to the sci-fi/fantasy look of the game and they push the PS3's and Xbox360's graphics capability to an all new level. There are no glitches within the game and the character animations are wonderfully done. Another great thing in the game is the visuals during the summons of the Eidolons. They are a massive step forward for the series and look unbelievable. The music is very well done and is perfectly timed with the events and settings.
The only problem I have is that while the environments are big, I wished they were more open. Some places like the plains and the mines have hidden areas to explore and plenty of side quests, but most of the areas I felt were structured more like going from point A to point B. The PS2 versions of Final Fantasy, more notably XII, had open worlds and plenty of side quests, secrets, and areas to explore. This game has a lot of potential to be the same, but I felt like the exploration factor of this game needed a little more work. This game truly shines on a technical level and looks fantastic. The load times are a little iffy, but is still fantastic. 9/10
The gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII is a little different from what fans of the series remember from the previous games. Final Fantasy XII created a more flexible RPG combat system that shunned out the random encounters. This game tries to innovate the traditional meter based combat that was presented in most of the previous Final Fantasy titles and combines some of the real-time elements that were presented in the Star Ocean games. Combat is not linear, but it's not free roaming like in Star Ocean. The characters are controlled by meters and perform certain actions that are within their assigned crystarium roles. Each character is controlled by battle menus and through their built-in AI. Each character moves closer or away from the enemy depending on their roles and where the enemy moves on the battle plain. The battles are all very exciting and engaging.
Players are given many choices as to how the characters get developed and what roles they want them to take on. There is also more strategy involved in the battle system. As I said, each character has different roles and how they develop is up to the player. These roles are developed via the cyrstarium using CP that is obtained at the end of battles. Many of these roles require not just leveling up, but changing in accordance to an enemy's attack patterns. The roles range from Ravager, Sentinel, Medic, Commando, Synergist, and Saboteur. Each has different abilities and each can be assigned to three different paradigms, which can be changed during battle. The level up system is not just limited to the crystarium, but also on the upgrades of the characters' equipment.
As I hinted in my talk about the technical aspects, this game is very linear. There are very few areas were Gil is obtained and most of it is obtained by selling precious metals. It's not until the later part of the game where the world becomes more open. Portals start to open up and the player is given the opportunity to freely backtrack and complete what wasn't finished. The quest is roughly 40 hours long. The gameplay is linear and I wished that the environments were more open, but it is still great to play. 8.5/10
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII is a fantastic looking game that has great music, sound, and visuals. Gameplay can be satisfying and is a decent attempt at trying to exercise something new with the series' traditional meter-based battle system. I would've loved to see a more evenly paced story and less linearity. That being said, Final Fantasy XIII is a welcome addition to the franchise and I look forward to the many sequels and spin-offs in this universe to come.