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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 Nev

Excellent review, Brad.

Posted by John_Bender

Only rented this game, got about 4 hours into it. Don't think I have the commitment to get to the great part's. Hope people who buy it enjoys it.

Posted by Sooty

It's a very marmite game, simple as that.
 
Really enjoying it despite being in the so called mundane first 20 hours of the game.

Posted by Mayu_Zane
@warpedzappa said:
" 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. "
Agreed. Japanese devs need to either play some WRPGs and learn about what positive aspects to take, or otherwise just send someone over to ask other developers for advice.
Posted by Nictel

Hmmm. I disagree with your review but I can totally see where you are coming from. As for the score, I feel three stars is too little, its a more solid game than that. But that's your opinion and I have mine.  It's an honest review and that's all I want from a review.
 
I personally feel though it is not a classic FF game, or perhaps JRPG even. Just like Mass Effect 2 it's a very streamlined game, even more so because it lacks the freedom you have there. Still Uncharted 2 is a linear game and that gets top scores. The question then, is if a RPG is allowed to be linear and straight lined. I feel that it is, sure I might like such an "open world go with your airship everywhere", but I don't resent the game for it. I don't feel that it MUST have freedom. Just like not every sports game need to give you the ability to pick and manage your own team.
 
As for the combat system, you state it is difficult, if you experience this than it is so. However I feel that you aren't able to pick choices that make the game impossible for you, harder yes, I myself have made same very bad choices in upgrading weapons and characters. Still is the system any harder than the e.g. Persona fusing? It isn't. To get the best Persona's you'll need a FAQ as well. Yes getting the best results requires experimenting, picking varies combinations of weapons and accessories. The combinations aren't that obscure either, at least not the ones I have encountered: Putting health related items together, ATB increasing, protective items they all will end up in a better combination. It is not difficult to learn, it's hard to master. Isn't that the point of gaming? Have we become so lazy that if the game doesn't lay it all out for us we throw our hands in the air and go "Aaah difficult, my brains, I must use them."? If so then perhaps Square-Enix's choices weren't so bad after all.
 
Still the fact that you still get a tutorial 20 hours in, is a bad design choice and undefendable. They totally underestimated the skill of gamers here in pressing buttons.
 
 As a final point I do wonder if you would have enjoyed it more had there not been the pressure of a review hanging over you. (That's not to say the review would be different, just your enjoyment.)

Posted by ptys

Bummer Brad, I thought you where going to grace it with a 4/5. I'm loving it!

Posted by Lautaro
@Mayu_Zane said:
" @warpedzappa said:
" 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. "
Agreed. Japanese devs need to either play some WRPGs and learn about what positive aspects to take, or otherwise just send someone over to ask other developers for advice. "
The games they make are enjoyed by people, if they made Final Fantasy : Mass Effect Edition, what audience would that ultimately serve?
Posted by MeatXbeatsXman

Good review. I agree with you pretty much on every point, yet the linearity never really bothered me. It didn't feel like they fleshed out the weapon/accessory upgrade system at all. I bought the strategy guide, and there are charts and graphs about what are the most effective items to use in upgrading, and their multiplier degradation values, and the potential and abilities of every weapon. Then there are all of the hidden abilities with selecting certain combinations of items. I felt in the dark until I bought the guide. I thought all of that was really sloppily implemented. I still liked it a lot, and I'm definitely interested where they go from here.

Posted by spatss

Like 5 years in development and it's getting 'meh' reviews. Square-Enix really need to rethink their formula. Also nice review, Brad.

Edited by Sanj

Fair review. I'd like to think that if you had not played the 360 version first, you may have given the game a 4/5.
Posted by Jost1

Completely fair review! I veer more torwards 4 stars myself but I can't deny the points that Brad puts forth. The game is WAY too long, the pacing is structured in a very odd manner, and the item customisation is needlessly arcane. Still, I wouldn't have put in 51 hours if I didn't enjoy the damn thing. 
 
But 12 is still the best one from the 2000s.

Edited by lolak47

LOL 3 stars i have noticed brad's dislike to eastern games and his very pro western game attitude.
 I think the expierence of the game is still worth having and sud be atleast 4 stars.

Posted by Devil240Z

I think the 360 version should of got 3/5 and the ps3 4/5. like bayonetta but switched around.

Posted by Vorbis

Agree with most of the review, but feel it was more of a 4 because of all the endgame stuff after the final boss, thats when it turns into a real FF game and gets really fun.
 
However some of these comments are pretty silly, people complain JRPGs need to change in order to be better, but FF13 DID change and people hate it for it. They changed the JRPG formula and people are upset its not like the old games... they can't win.

Posted by lilman1101

looks like im sticking to Mass effect and Dragon age d(^_^)

Posted by phrosnite

Great job Brad :P I <3 you.

Edited by Astras

Everything you said brad is basically everything I was feeling when playing this game. I was a Nes generation gamer also so I know what u mean, FFXIII just doesn't stand up against these.
Thank god someone had the balls to give it a proper review!

Posted by TripMasterMunky
@lolak47: Okay.
Posted by AutomaticSnake

strange, finally a good review by giantbomb.

Edited by MjHealy

Nice one Brad. It may have taken you a while but that was a damn fine review.
 
Still unsure if I will pick this up when it goes cheap, especially since I don't own the PS3 in my house and will have to be using the 360. Kind of a lapsed FF fan nowadays.

Posted by Hairydutchman

Boring game looks boring.

Posted by Drebin_893

Wow. Really amazing review, Brad. Good job.

Posted by Lautaro
@Vorbis said:
 However some of these comments are pretty silly, people complain JRPGs need to change in order to be better, but FF13 DID change and people hate it for it. They changed the JRPG formula and people are upset its not like the old games... they can't win. "
QFT
Posted by Risby

I want a video review!

Posted by FraggingRights

I'm thankful for this review. I understand that the game is good... after HOURS and HOURS, but I think too many people are looking at it with rose tinted glasses.  As a long time fan of the series, I think this one is way too much of a slow burn for it's own good.

Edited by EvolutionX0

Well written Brad, maybe some people wont make the same mistake as me and buy this game. 

Posted by Buscemi

Is this review late? Did this game come out long ago? Huh. I didn't know that because I really don't care.

Posted by amir90

FF13 is out? =O

Edited by thehuntsmen5434

Great review.  I have been waiting for your opinion on this game since I respect all the opinions of the critics on Giantbomb more than anyone else's.  I'm 30 hours into FF13, and I think this review confirms that maybe its time to stop.  I had no desire to keep going, and it sounds like the game isn't going to change that.

Posted by MrAriscottle

Well the review coming out this late just proves how stupidly long the game actually is. 

Posted by ch13696
@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.  "
Wow dude. When they reviewed Bayonetta and told everyone to play it on the 360, no one gave a shit. But now that he said play it on the PS3, everyone is all in an uproar. Achievements should not turn your decision making. Final Fantasy isn't all about that.
Edited by gike987
@Classic_Gs said:

" Brad does not appreciate great games. "

" 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. "
 
People here really need to look less at the score and learn how to read. He did like the the game even if it wasn't as  good as it could have been.
Posted by AndrooD2
@Scooper: I'm interested in Brad Shoemaker's opinions, so I enjoy reading his reviews regardless of when they're posted.
Posted by cap123

good stuff brad, a fair review, i'm really enjoying it but you backed up your points well.

Posted by pweidman

We all knew this score was coming from Brad's reluctant/labored comments on the bombcast.  Anyway, I'm playing it on the 360 and the game is very good.  It does take a while to get rolling, but it also really gets you familiar w/the deep combat system, which btw, is nothing less than stellar. The story is a bit convoluted admittedly and not especially inspiring, but the characters emote nicely, and the voices are fine; Lightning's is especially well done.  The game is gorgeous and I guess I can't compare, but the PS3 version, if Brad is to be believed, must be astoundingly beautiful.  I feel the game's better than people are giving it credit, including Brad, and I'm truly grateful MS was able to get Square to bring it to the 360.
Posted by FunExplosions
@MAN_FLANNEL said:
" In B4 all the people with anime avatars. "
Loll. Somehow.
And I'm insulted that they've changed the usually burly-looking Cid, into what I thought was a woman.
Posted by InFamous91

Great review Brad.

Posted by Simio

Spot on , Brad.
But let me ask something: is it really that bad for a game to be long (or of slow development) ?
I think some games that get positive reviews are too short to be considered even full-release-games... 


Posted by WatanabeKazuma

I personally love the game, but can see where people are coming from with their criticism, its justified.
 
Just make sure you've tried it first, theres nothing worse than those who post their 'opinions' when they clearly have no experience about what they're talking about.

Posted by Xanth93

You back up all your points Brad, and they reflect how I felt about the game. It's a great game, but there are issues. I'm glad you gave it a proper review. This game really is a 3-4 star game, as disappointing as it is for me to say it.

Edited by Lind_L_Taylor

I felt the same way with Lost Odyssey. About an hour into the game,
it's like "What the fuck am I supposed to do?"  I couldn't stick it out
& put it away.
 
I don't see how someone can stick out 30 hours of game play before
finally getting to the nitty gritty.  It must have been incredibly frustrating
& why it had a star knocked off it in the review.
 
I don't care what anybody says, I'll play the 360 version if I play this
game at all.  I NEED my s-ranks (or at least a hefty load of achievement
points).

Posted by Keeng

I'm about to say something that I'm 100% sure everyone here will disagree with, but it's my honest opinion. A little backstory: I've beaten every FF game with the exception of FF2. I'm 21 years old so I didn't grow up on the SNES games but rather on FF6-10. I've played essentially every BioWare RPG and I'm actually a huge Baldur's Gate fan, plus I'm working on a third playthrough in Dragon Age. So, here goes. 
 
Final Fantasy XIII is without a doubt the best RPG I have ever played. I remember thinking, at one point in the game, FFXIII puts all the other attempts to tell a story in an RPG to absolute shame. Hate me if you will but I found it necessary to share another honest opinion. 

Posted by Romination

Does it matter? If you want to get FFXIII, you'll have it by now. Unless you love Brad SO MUCH that it ALL falls on his shoulders.

Posted by Evilsbane
@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? "
If I had a nickle for the times I bought games Months after their release date, I'd have....a shit load of nickles.
Posted by Shinri

Disappoint
Posted by gettodachoppa

I agree with the review.  The only thing I'll say is that I actually enjoyed the slow rollout of the battle system in this one.  In almost every previous installment I've played, I ended up starting over about half way through because it took that long to fully figure out the battle system and by that point I had irreparably fucked over my party.  I'm definitely less concerned about that in this game since it gives you more time to figure out each aspect of it before moving on and getting more complex. 
 
Also the story recap while you load the game up is amazing and should be in every video game.

Posted by granderojo

I haven't truly liked a FF since VI and since Brad, you said you were of similar opinion on the bombcast, I stand by this review. Not going to be buying this one.

Posted by msavo

100% agree and if you don't agree well...have fun with FF13

Posted by pplus0440

I think its a good game...just not as good as the other FFs. I complain about the exact same stuff, no airship, no world map, its all linear. so rock on. but i agree 4 stars could be argued
Posted by Coolarman

One word 
 
Disappointing

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