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Final Fantasy XIII Review

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Too longwinded and singleminded for its own good, Final Fantasy XIII still delivers a grand, gorgeous adventure...eventually.


 These are in fact both women.     
There was a moment late in my time with Final Fantasy XIII, somewhere around the 30 hour mark, when I crested the top of a tall cliff, looked out over the great verdant expanse below, and was forced to stop and consider what this game isn't. Most notably, it's not the sort of broad, sprawling, go-anywhere adventure you used to expect from Final Fantasy. This was the very first time I'd been allowed to veer slightly left or right of the storyline's stiflingly constrained central path, and even the handful of optional side activities that became available at this late stage of the game weren't nearly enough to offset the thudding need to progress that preceded them.

The old Final Fantasy games gave you at least a convincing illusion of freedom. Even when the beats of the storyline were plotted out in a straight line, when there was only one location you could realistically visit to advance the game, you still had a sense of a larger world out there waiting to be explored. Not in XIII. Here the designers know exactly which way they want you to go, and that way is always "forward." There's nary a significant detour or side quest to distract you from your singular goal of running from here to there, reaching the yellow icon on the map, and triggering the next cutscene. Would it have killed them to at least connect all these confined locations with a basic overworld? How about an airship to fly around? This is still Final Fantasy, right?

 The fast-paced battles are the best thing in the game. It just takes too long before they get interesting.     
It's true that Western and Eastern RPG design sensibilities have diverged dramatically over time; where the Fallouts and Dragon Ages focus on nameless create-a-characters roaming big open worlds and plotting the paths of their own storylines, the Japanese version of the genre casts you in the roles of iconic characters with their own agendas, with every major decision and crossroads already determined before you start. But Final Fantasy XIII takes this focus to a dangerously reductive extreme, almost losing itself in its relentless devotion to straight-ahead storytelling and nonstop combat. You're either in a battle or watching a cutscene or running to one or the other for most of the game. There just isn't much else to do, and what there is to do isn't always as exciting as it should be.

The tragedy, or maybe it's the saving grace, of Final Fantasy XIII is that it's eventually a great game if you give it enough time to become one. But it takes longer to pick up momentum and become engaging, mechanically and nararatively, than anyone should have to invest in a game they paid a lot of money for. I stuck it out because I needed to review the game and because I loved Final Fantasy once, and ultimately I'm glad I did. But if it weren't for those two drivers I'd have probably never made it through the first 15 or so hours it takes to see the good part, where the fighting becomes fun and you start to understand the story and care about what happens to its characters.

 Ditto the storyline.
At this point, you can't possibly be surprised to hear that the story of FFXIII revolves around a ragtag band of rebels brought together by chance to challenge their fate and save the world from certain doom. At least the writers have layered an elaborate fiction on top of this tried-and-true framework, where humans are subject to the whims of a race of enigmatic god-machines called fal'Cie that rule over both a large, dangerous lower world called Pulse and a hovering, idyllic shelter, Cocoon. The citizens of each world harbor such deep-seated, irrational fear and resentment for the other that the government of Cocoon at one point practices what amounts to ethnic cleansing, "purging" a peaceful group of its own citizens for the crime of haplessly coming into contact with one of the Pulse fal'Cie and maybe, possibly carrying the taint of its evil magic. Naturally, our heroes get tangled up in the machinations of these powerful beings early on, before resolving to take control of their destinies and affect the course of events for the common good.

Since Square Enix is already working on two more games (Agito and Versus) set in this universe, it's a good thing it's a unique and interesting one, and the story of this game does become quite intriguing as you go along and put together more of the pieces. But the game does a pretty lousy job of communicating all the necessary information to you upfront, leaving you largely in the dark about not just the characters' immediate motivations, but even the basic metaphysical nuts and bolts of how the fal'Cie operate and what it means to be cursed by them. You can't chalk this lack of information up to a reserved style of storytelling, either, since all the necessary pieces are there for you to...sit there and read in the game's massive repository of information about characters, places, events, and everything else that exists in the menu. If the writers had managed to contextualize the essentials of this complex world within the early exposition, it would have made the story a lot more engaging upfront.

 XIII is nothing if not beautiful.
The best part of Final Fantasy XIII is the combat, which is successful at reducing unnecessary complexity in favor of broader strategic decisions. Your characters each fit into three of six roles that aren't too different from the classes you'd see in an MMO, with damage-dealers, tanks, healers, and buffers all represented. You can assemble a list of "paradigms," mixes of these classes geared toward different combat scenarios, and then instantly switch from one paradigm to another as often as you want mid-battle. Two of your three characters are controlled entirely by the computer, and even your leader has an optional auto-battle function that lets the AI decide the best course of action for the next few turns. Believe it or not, this automation is actually a good thing; why should you have to manually use ice-specific spells on monsters you already know are weak to ice, every time? The battles are incredibly fast-paced, so once they start to get difficult you need that automated control, anyway; at some point, it's all you can do to swap your paradigms fast enough to keep yourself healed and efficiently deal damage at the same time.

 The character-development systems are powerful, but too damn complicated.          
In fact, as the game gets harder and the battles demand more and more of you, you'd be amazed at the elaborate sorts of strategies you can pull off by creatively setting up and switching between paradigms; it's immensely satisfying to start shredding through enemies that previously seemed impossible just because you're getting a better handle on how to exploit the battle system. But just like the storyline, the game takes far too long to roll out all of this complexity, and until it does, it's too easy to be interesting. You don't even earn experience points for the first three or so hours, and you can expect to grind through another dozen at least before it lets you start playing with three characters at once with all the roles available. There's such a great combat engine here, I can't understand why the designers don't let you access all of its potential sooner. The same goes for an incredibly arcane system that lets you upgrade your equipment and apply hidden bonus abilities to your characters. You can achieve some incredibly powerful results with these systems, but their specifics are so obscure and poorly explained, you'd have to hit the Internet and find a FAQ to do so efficiently.

Final Fantasy XIII just needed to be about half as long as it is, with tighter pacing and a faster ramp up to entertaining combat in its first half. But at least whether it's entertaining or boring you, it's unflinchingly gorgeous from one end to the other. The artists tackle environments as diverse as natural outdoor vistas, high-tech ancient ruins, futuristic space cathedrals, and the gyrating innards of an interdimensonal clock, all with the same zeal for vibrant, saturated colors and inventive architecture. Likewise, the quality of the prerendered video sequences this series has become known for is at a new bar of quality this time around; it's the best-looking CG you'll see this side of a Pixar flick. The soundtrack is also quite good, though it didn't reach the poignant highs and lows for me that some of Nobuo Uematsu's work in the older games did (though this game may have the most invigorating boss music of any in the series). And while some of the characters' voiceover can be grating at first, they all settle into their roles as the game trundles along and eventually contribute important pieces to the ongoing drama. In that vein, it's worth mentioning that I thought the quality of the localized English text was uniformly excellent.

 Guy named Cid, check.
The game looks sharp and splendid on the PlayStation 3, and...slightly less splendid on the Xbox 360, where it runs in lower resolution that isn't all that noticeable unless you put the games side by side, when it does become an issue. The prerendered video sequences are fraught with ugly compression artifacts on the Xbox, though, in comparison to the beautifully clean, smooth versions on the PS3 disc. Consider that the PS3 version fits on a single disc while the 360 version requires you to put in new discs periodically, and there is no excuse for playing the Xbox game if you own both consoles. I don't care how much you love achievement points. The side-by-side differences were stark enough that I yanked out the 360 disc at about nine hours in and started over on the PS3. Having finished the game now I'm quite confident that was the right decision.

I was ready to fall in love with Final Fantasy XIII. My history with the series stretches back over two decades to the NES original and I'd count a couple of those games among my favorite of all time, so if any game could have brought a lapsed fan of Japanese-style RPGs back around again, it was this one. And you know, after that first dozen hours, it kind of did. There are a lot of great things going on in this game--I genuinely loved something about every aspect, from the combat to the story to the visual design. These elements just weren't brought together and exposed as well as they should have been, to do a game of this magnitude the justice it deserves. But if nothing else, the glimmers of excellence in Final Fantasy XIII have at least convinced me that Japanese RPGs, and specifically Final Fantasy itself, haven't quite gasped their last breath just yet.     Brad Shoemaker on Google+
198 Comments
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Posted by Peanut

Brad's obsession with the fucking resolution of the cut-scenes really puts me off. I've got both consoles, but achievements > shitty cut-scenes. 

Posted by Brackynews
@SpiritOf said:
" I think it only right that Brad go back to the 360 version and finish his play thru.  For the integrity of the review process. "
He can do it on my profile.  I certainly do love achievement points.  It may take a (hella)  while but I can see myself getting a double S rank.
Posted by TheHT

you could feel the honesty in this review lol. bummer, now i'm having doubts about picking it up, determining if i really care that much to trug through the beginning.

Posted by hamchan
@Lambert said:
" Sad to see the Final Fantasy series die out like this. It was all Square's fault for not trying to adapt to the changing marketplace of better games and game design. At one point, this series was the best of the best, and now it is just average POS like 90% of the games out there.  No one will even remember this game by the end of the year.  Good riddance I say. And can we get rid of the whole JRPG classification? They should be rated and reviewed at the same high standard that all other, superior RPGs are rated on.   Good review, although it seemed like you gave the game mercy points (stars?). "
Die out? The game sold a crapload. 
 Why should we get rid of the JRPG classification? We classify games into genres for a reason. When JRPGs play the same as WRPGs then i'd agree with you.  
 
Also mercy stars? If you read the review Brad liked a lot about the game, it just takes too damn long to get there. I agree with him about this. Once you reach chapter 11 the game becomes amazing.
Posted by hamchan
@Peanut said:
" Brad's obsession with the fucking resolution of the cut-scenes really puts me off. I've got both consoles, but achievements > shitty cut-scenes.  "
but achievements = trophies. 
 Therefore PS3 version = 360 version but without the shitty cut-scenes. 
Therefore PS3 version > 360 version.
Posted by 88Fingers

After reading Brad's review, I feel a little better about passing on this game.
I'll probably pick this up in the bargain bin in a few months.
 
I'm glad I chose Resonance of Fate.

Posted by Darlan

Seems a little high for a game that takes that long to get fun at all.

Posted by Curufinwe
@Lambert said:
" Sad to see the Final Fantasy series die out like this. It was all Square's fault for not trying to adapt to the changing marketplace of better games and game design. At one point, this series was the best of the best, and now it is just average POS like 90% of the games out there.  No one will even remember this game by the end of the year.  Good riddance I say. And can we get rid of the whole JRPG classification? They should be rated and reviewed at the same high standard that all other, superior RPGs are rated on.  
Maybe you should wait for the March NPDs to be released before you talk about the FF series dying out.
Posted by floodiastus

I think the combat is quite horrible myself, they should have ditched the real-time stuff it really detracts from strategy as you have about 1 second to think about what to do next instead of careful planning and consideration. Controlling only 1 character in combat is also abit boring, sure paradigms are cool but they should have been optional for those easy-to-defeat mobs.  
 
Quite dissapointed in this game actually, it could have been much more. 
 
And whats up with vanilles dialect, can she make up her mind? :)

Posted by xionpunk

FFXIII is pretty great, the only thing that bothers  me is the fact that the Paradigm animations can take WAY too long (while you're still getting hit) . The story and battle system are awesome imo.

Posted by TerraDelu
@SpiritOf: hahahah, hasn't he been through enough?
Edited by Legend

I did not expect this at all. How dare you have an opinion, Brad Shoemaker??!!
 
:P

Edited by onan
@Scooper:  It serves me fine, there's been way too much stuff released recently for anyone with a day job to keep up with at a reasonable rate and still maintain a life. I've managed to plow through Mass Effect 2 (and ME1, full disclosure), Dragon Age: Origins, Heavy Rain, I'm currently working on Dragon Age Awakening even though I had to put down Bayonetta, Modern Warfare 2, and Borderlands in between all that, and there's still Bad Company 2, God of War III, and Just Cause 2 sitting on the sidelines. There are simply not enough hours in the day.
 
Brad is exactly coming from where I'm coming from as a former JRPG aficionado turned on to western RPGs, and even though early press warned against it, this cements it for me. I'll be picking up one of the many used copies as people finish or become fed up by this most linear of titles. The review isn't exactly late, we've been getting updates on it on the podcast which have been pointing us in the final direction, so the final review should come as no major surprise.
Posted by HydraHam

Great review even though you are about a month late to the party :)

Posted by onan
@Styl3s said:
" Great review even though you are about a month late to the party :) "
That's cool, FF13 was about 30 hours late too by all accounts.
Posted by Sticky_Pennies

I completely agree with this review. 
This is also a mildly pointless comment, I guess. :O

Edited by ColinWright
@Zenaxzd said:

" @CL60 said:

" I still don't see why everybody is complaining about it being linear...it's just as linear as every other Final Fantasy. It just doesn't throw an illusion that it's not in our face. "

Indeed, it is structured very much like X which no one had a problem with then. It just became overblown on the internet, it really isn't that different and hell the story justifies it and the game opens up when the story goes in that direction where you would expect it to open up, course that is completely overlooked by most people, this review too. "
Did you not read the first two paragraphs? He talks about the point where you are finally able veer right or left. 
Posted by LiquidS
@Scooper:
I was under the impression GB always tried to finish games before giving reviews which sometimes means late reviews. If that policy is correct then I'm all for late reviews as this game seems to be a good example how a long game can be a rollercoaster of quality. 
 
Well written review. 
Anyways I rented this today because of Brad on podcasts talking about it and the video store clerk talking it up. I'm 5 hours in & confused as hell on the story line (Never played a FF game before)  but will continue onwards over the weekend.
Posted by Lautaro

Final Fantasy has always been linear, better this than some crappy overworld with crappy random battles I say.

Posted by ArbitraryWater
@Peanut said:
" Brad's obsession with the fucking resolution of the cut-scenes really puts me off. I've got both consoles, but achievements > shitty cut-scenes.  "
I'm pretty sure of all the Giant Bomb staff, Brad is the main graphics whore. You may hear Jeff or Ryan complain about dated gameplay more vocally (both justified and unjustified), but I assure you that neither would start a game over again after 10 hours just so they could watch prettier cutscenes.
 
This review kind of confirms what I already know: I don't need to play Final Fantasy XIII.
Online
Posted by nail1080
@hamchan said:
" @Peanut said:

but achievements = trophies.
haha no one cares about trophies
Posted by The_Aus_Hulk

Great review brad. Unalike most sites you actually put in the hard hours and went through it all.

Posted by misplacedcircus

The west meets east, metaphorically and literally. I guess microsoft lost if this were a race. I shall now fap to my own existance (intentanal mispelling).See what I did just then?

Posted by ZenaxPure
@wh4tshisface said:
" @Zenaxzd said:

" @CL60 said:

" I still don't see why everybody is complaining about it being linear...it's just as linear as every other Final Fantasy. It just doesn't throw an illusion that it's not in our face. "

Indeed, it is structured very much like X which no one had a problem with then. It just became overblown on the internet, it really isn't that different and hell the story justifies it and the game opens up when the story goes in that direction where you would expect it to open up, course that is completely overlooked by most people, this review too. "
Did you not read the first two paragraphs? He talks about the point where you are finally able veer right or left.  "
Funny, since I wasn't talking about that. I am referring to the reason you are always moving forward being justified by the story (like I said in my post). The characters are running from people that want them dead, do you logically think if you were running from the military you would stop in every town and explore every household? Especially if said police had martial law in effect and there was tons of military check points around every turn. Now when the main characters escape from all this onto Pulse where Cocoon's government has no hold over them the game opens up and allows you to run around and explore, there is no threat in the plot that wants the characters dead and thus no reason for them to be constantly moving forward. 
 
I'm not saying I like this style the story is told in personally, but it makes sense. Something that most people seem to overlook when they say wahh wahh the game makes you keep moving forward and it doesn't give a reason... Well... It does give a reason but people overlook it.
Posted by ISmoochyI

I'm glad you finally got the review out bro...hope there is a video review. I have FFXIII...but i'm still hesitant to play it. The review was really helpful. Cheers mate

Posted by Milkman

The elusive Final Fantasy XIII review, finally. Take a break, Shoemaker. You've earned it.

Posted by hamchan
@nail1080 said:
" @hamchan said:
" @Peanut said:

but achievements = trophies.
haha no one cares about trophies "
If people want to buy a shittier version of the game just because of achievements then i pity them.
Posted by troyx
@Jiggah said:
" Excellent review.  The score is exactly the what it should be.  The game is good, just not great.  It's a competent JRPG, but that's really about it. "
this is what i call a perfect reply . i agree 100% with you and brad
Posted by Fjordson

 Great review, Brad. I want to play this game but it seems my reservations about the lackluster pacing and linearity have been confirmed. Maybe I'll pick this up for cheap(ish) sometime in the future.

Posted by Turambar
@xionpunk said:
" FFXIII is pretty great, the only thing that bothers  me is the fact that the Paradigm animations can take WAY too long (while you're still getting hit) . The story and battle system are awesome imo. "
It is kind of odd actually.  The first time you switch paradigms, each character will take a second and pose.  The second time you switch, and so on, the entire party will switch at the same time.  It made me get into the habit of switching paradigms first thing in the fight so that 5 seconds of downtime doesn't screw over my stagger meter later on.
Edited by Jackel2072

the battle system scares the hell out of me. but fuck it. im going to give it shot!
 
 
P.S.
Brad, if you could please give us a quick look of the game in action in the later parts where is really ramps up. That would be awesome and i love you long time =)

Posted by ReFracture
@Scooper said:
" I don't wish to be rude but what good is a review of this game this long after it's released. Who does this review serve? "
Because it's a long game and a man reviewing a game he has spent weeks playing is better than a man who marathons it for 3 days and spits out a review asap?
Edited by bybeach

Good review, and the fact you value the quality of the game over achievments tells me  you are the one to listen to. 
 
Too bad I just do not click with these games. Oh well.
Posted by gunslingerNZ
@ISmoochyI said:
" I'm glad you finally got the review out bro...hope there is a video review. I have FFXIII...but i'm still hesitant to play it. The review was really helpful. Cheers mate "
Wow that's a unique situation there. So you've bought the game but are just now using the review to decide whether or not you play it....
Edited by Theresonlyone

Brad is right about the game it does take a long long time to ramp up.
 
Bad things. 

  1. Long ass start up time. I found the game quite boring and repetitive until i got to the part with Sazh and Vanille where you're warned about the armoured lizards, for me this is where the battle got interested.
  2. The weapon upgrading is more opaque than a librarians tights (the old lady kind not the bayonetta type). i had to get online to learn about how to upgrade the weapons past T1
  3. Fuck off Leona Lewis we don't want you in Final Fantasy.
  4. And finally Vanille's and Snow's script writer and Voice actors should be shot. After some thought I realise why they used australian voice actors because any other strong english accent sounds too jokey just imagine fang and Vanille using an indian or irish accent.
 
Good things. 
  1. The Battle System is almost perfect. Once you get all the jobs and characters the feeling you get after you completely waste an enemy is almost indescribable. But I don't like how you can only control one summon at a time and are limited to one every few battles they look awesome and i used less than 10 the entire way through the game. Even worse was i had to control Hope to use Alexander.
  2. The graphics are insanely good. This game is very, very pretty and the cutscenes are equal to what Pixar puts out, The cutscene between chapters 11 and 12 is absolutely mind blowing if you have the 360 version find a friend with the PS3 version and watch it.
  3. I thought the story was brilliant it has a long introduction but then it really gets good  SPOILER WARNING: Click here to reveal hidden content.
One thing everyone has to realise about this game is it's fan service to people who liked FF7 square have commented several times how they took a lot of inspiration from it. From lightnings androgyny, to the train sequence at the beginning hell I think even the weapons work in a way that descended from materia.  In their haste to create another blockbuster like 7 and 8 you can tell occasionally that they were lazy and were content with copying too much.
Posted by Jedted

Great review Brad!  I was thinking of checking this out just because it's now multiplatform and i own a 360 i'm not a FF fan so i was unsure if i'd be into the story.  I geuss only fans of JRPGs will have the mental stamina to stick with this game. 
 
Come to think of it, from your brief description of the story it sounds a lot like ME2 to me only more long winded.  Paticularly the part about "humans are subject to the whims of a race of enigmatic god-machines"
Posted by CashBailey

The only FF13 review that matters is finally here!!
 
I totally understand Brad's frustration at the almost brutally linear path that so many modern JRPGs take. One thing I think we all loved about the majority of the other FF games (especially FF8) was that you could take a few days grind, do some side-quests and level up.
 
Feeling like your being dragged along like a bull with a ring in its nose is not fun for an RPG. And neither is waiting for 20 hours before you can go out and actually have some fun.

Posted by Teran

The level scheme is too complicated?  It took me all of ten seconds to figure it out... hold down X and make things light up, when at a "fork" in the tree choose the direction you want to go and hit x some more... I do agree that ability descriptions weren't always very descriptive but if I was able to figure it out without reading the manual or using google anyone should be able to figure it out because I'm the dumbest person I know.
 
I like what they did with their focused content.  Having a world map to explore is nice but often tedious.  Feeling obligated to search every last dark corner in a town for a hidden chest or item is not something I miss.  Instead of focusing on artificially increasing the length of the story with large open world areas they chose to increase the length of the game by having more content.
 
I don't understand how anyone could seriously miss a largely dead ghost town of an open world and explorable cities.

Posted by lilman1101

Brad, you can borrow my flame shield if you want.
 
 
also i was kinda expecting a video review but still, giant bomb has the best reviewers so this is (obviously) a great and honest review with no bias (looks at billions of other sites)

Posted by Wes899
@MAN_FLANNEL: Holy shit, I never realized the truth behind that statement.
Posted by Classic_Gs

Brad does not appreciate great games.

Posted by lilman1101
@Classic_Gs said:
" Brad does not appreciate great games. "
your right, god forbid him to have an opinion
Edited by mooncake

Hey Brad, not sure if you know (your text can be interpreted a bit ambiguously) but Nobuo Uematsu didn't compose the soundtrack for this game. It's Masashi Hamauzu. Whether that supports your argument even more, well, you can decide.

Posted by aurahack

I think reading the comments here made my day a little better. Some people just won't allow folks to have an opinion.

Posted by axman36

Good review,
 
rented, was pretty mediocre.

Posted by Shaanyboi

I fucking hate this game.  I'm not going to wait 15 hours for it to finally make me give a shit about its terrible story, or to give me an ounce of fun.  My game time is precious enough, I'm not going to waste it on a meaningless piece of pretentious, self-righteous tripe like this.  Glad you found something good out of it Brad, but I don't have the time to wait for the fucking thing to get its act together.  Worst-paced game I've ever played.

Posted by lordofultima

A good review, my sentiments exactly.

Posted by warpedzappa

After so many epic Western RPG releases over the last decade,  I could never bring myself to playing a JRPG again.  They just seem so primitive.

Posted by ch3burashka

Ouch! Granted, it's justified. I was fairly surprised that, although all outlet response and reviews admitted that it took a long time to 'get into it', it was still an 8,9 or 10. It was like the GTA Effect all over again.

Posted by HydraHam
@onan: Yeah, just saying great review and its about a month late where as most places reviewed it before it released up to the day and day after, not complaining i prefer GB's reviews over any other site i just wish some reviews would come out at least the day of the game, usually we get them up to a week after which i guess they spend more time with the game? none the less GB = the best reviews
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