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Final Fantasy XIII Review

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  • PS3
  • X360

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.    
199 Comments
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Posted by ChickenPants

No problem with the score although the last paragraph does give a pretty strong 'this-is-a-4-star-game' tone.

Posted by Afroman269
@MAN_FLANNEL said:
" In B4 all the people with anime avatars. "
lol
Edited by Cleric
@SparkMandrill said:

"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...  "

It is if playing it becomes a chore because of poor decisions. Such as letting a game open up after 20 hours of running straight down a predefined path.

You've gotta keep the player constantly entertained with more than just cutscenes, you know...other than that, I don't care if a game is 15 or 80 hours long.

As for me, I'm on my way to finish this game and I fully agree with Brad. It is by no means a bad game, I'm having a lot of fun with it, now that it finally opened up.


Posted by steve86uk

I read the review out of curiosity. I'm 30 hours into the game and I'm really enjoying it. Review is pretty much what I expected though.

Posted by TwoOneFive

No wonder Sony allowed them to make this mutliplatform- the game stinks and it would end up looking like shit on 360 anyways.
Edited by Peanut
@ch13696 said:

" @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. "
I wasn't one of those people, I had no interest in Bayonetta anyways. Also, yes, achievements did turn my decision making because the game doesn't play any worse, the in-game stuff looks less crisp, and the resolution of the cut-scenes is worse. Big fucking deal. 
 
And I don't care where people play it, it's everyone's choice, I'm just saying I'm amazed at how many times Brad has dug into the resolution of the cut-scenes and made it seem a LOT worse than it actually is. It's not like it matters to me much, I stopped playing the game around hour 17 anyways.
Posted by ApolloBob

Fantastic and well-thought out review.

Posted by hanktherapper

This was my first Final Fantasy game, and I quit after seven or eight hours. To me a game needs to be more than 20 seconds of gameplay followed up with a one-or-two minute cut scene.There were some parts where my character walked ten steps after coming out of a long cut scene to be followed up with another cut scene. I mean what's the point? Now I may come back to it. I did like most of the characters (even vanille) and I did find the story interesting.

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Posted by ChrisTaran

Truly exceptional review.  I think you've perfectly captured the highs and lows of the game here Brad. 

Posted by Ouroboros

Good review - Destructoids review of this is another good one as well.  Thanks Brad

Posted by Lepuke

Xbox 360 Gamer score points was about the only hurdle between console versions I had to jump. I eventually went with the PS3 version and I am glad I did so.

Posted by headcase

 IMO that's a very good description of the battle system in the review.
 
I like this game a lot more overall so far. Battles were boring for the first 3 hours but after that it's a lot of fun. All the stuff that's missing was BS to me. You walk into a town, talk to some guy who says "have you heard about person X? Sounds like a scary guy to me", or "If event Y happens, it could mean the end of the world", or  "Welcome to town Z. Now I'll bumble on about how I don't know about anything that's going in the plot for 30 unskippable seconds"... also in the other games, you could go back to towns you visited before, but what's the point. Unless it's a true sandbox (Western RPG style), It's all filler and a waste of time. XIII knows it's style, removes all the time-wasting stuff and that's why I like it. Obviously there's a lot of good reasons to prefer the open games but for what it is it's awesome and I prefer it (this is my favourite from VII up).
 
As far as the pacing, people would complain if the game was shorter. Frankly I like the battles enough that I like any excuse to keep the game lengthy (even during the boring battles, thinking about the paradigm strategy kept it interesting). They do a good job of having little backtracking... the late (open-ish) chapters have some but that's basically it. 
 
I think the crystarium is pretty simple but it would *feel* more simple if it didn't jump so much from section to section. Also, I like to press the select button in there to show all the labels instead of the nearby ones.

Edited by Homeslice

This is the first high-profile game for multiple consoles where the PS3 beats the 360 purely based on performance. I wonder if this will be a trend, or an anomaly suited to games as massive as FF13...

Posted by bakemono666

yay Brad! Glad to see you finished this Odyssey. Now you can go on to better games... like finally picking up Demon's Souls lol.

Posted by teamvernia

I wonder if he didn't like the first half of the game.... BECAUSE HE PLAYED IT TWICE IN A ROW!!!  It may have moved faster if he had played it straight through to begin with,  I also feel like this review had a lot of words, but said nothing.  The game should at least receive 4 stars for being such a polished experience from start to finish.  This is easily the best JRPG of the generation.

Posted by KinjiroSSD
@Homeslice:  Incorrect. Burnout Paradise was the first.
Posted by teamvernia

I'm glad to know this game is a good as Dark Void.....

Posted by MAN_FLANNEL
@teamvernia said:
" I wonder if he didn't like the first half of the game.... BECAUSE HE PLAYED IT TWICE IN A ROW!!!  It may have moved faster if he had played it straight through to begin with,  I also feel like this review had a lot of words, but said nothing.  The game should at least receive 4 stars for being such a polished experience from start to finish.  This is easily the best JRPG of the generation. "
Yet another person joins GiantBomb simply to complain about a review. 
Posted by Nettacki

I guess, in the end, I'll get the game sometime down the road, say, when there's a discount or something.

Posted by Riven
@Scooper: Would you prefer Brad put up the review before finishing the game?
Posted by Yagami

Nailed it Brad! I fullyagree with nearly everything. Best review out there.

Posted by Skanes

Great review, but how the fuck did you find the development system complicated?

Posted by Deathpooky

About right to me.  Great battle system tied down by some terrible pacing decisions both gameplay and story-wise.  And in their effort to cut out all of the RPG fluff and provide a streamlined experience they cut out a lot of the soul of a Final Fantasy game. 
 
A lot of little things (minimap with an arrow pointing ever onward, no real towns, no sidequests, no overworld map / indiana jones style "world map" travel, no airship, one open "quest zone" and the rest straight corridors) combine to overall kill the experience.  I can see why they made some of the changes, but others just baffle me.  It's like they didn't even do any introspection and realize why RPGs had some of the conventions they cut out, and in the process made the game a corridor crawl with (average) cutscenes and awesome (after time) battles. 
 
I fought through it for a while, loved the 10 hours I played post Chapter 11, and then got burned out when I tried to continue the plot and the game returned to corridor central.

Posted by Zlatko

Even though I think FF13 is a solid 4/5 stars in my book I can't argue with Brad here. He makes valid points and for some people the wait for the game to start is ridiculous. While this FF game won't go down as manys favorite of all time I do think it was a step above 12. If they can combine the good things about 12 and 13 then 15 will be an amazing RPG worth the name Final Fantasy.

Posted by ocdog45

Brad got deep on this review.

Edited by misplacedcircus

I have heard by at least 4 people that you can play this game 4 hours in by pressing x the entire time. I just don't get the high review, I guess. Then again, I really strongly dislike a lot of conceptual things about this game. First Final Fantasy where I didn't 'want' to play. Thought the last one was subpar/meh. What a bummer.  
 
Oh well, I am really digging on my iPad...

Posted by SneakyPenguins

I disagree with the 3 stars should be four and wish it was up quicker but they work hard hear so i dont mind a slow review for such a long game

Posted by Stuart444

While I disagree with some things in the review, it is a good review and your certainly entitled to your opinion. I personally thought the game was fantastic and was deserving of 4 stars (although outside of giant bomb on a score of 1 - 10, I would give it 8.5 due to certain things). I honestly enjoyed the game from start to finish and would say it is fantastic. Still I can see why some people might not enjoy it (or not enjoy it as much as some of the previous games)

Posted by D3adend

Thank you Brad for putting down in a review what I have been saying to my friends, even though once I got the story and finished the game, I decided that the story was good for a game which means it's not a good story.

Edited by Zalasta

Illusion of freedom is overrated.  Not to mention the qualifying term of "illusion" means that it's not even real.  If you want true freedom in RPG you should be playing MMO, not single player games.  I have contended and will continue to do so that not all games need over world.  There is a place for straight forward designs such as FF13.  It may not be for everybody, but it is in no way a bad one.  The downfall for FF13 is in the storytelling.  If it was a good one, the narrow-mindedness of its gameplay would not have been so glaring.  Unfortunately, its overarching plot is rather cliche and nonsensical, the only saving grace is in the characters and their interaction with each other.  FF13 is a good game, especially if you don't try to judge it by your own expectation of what it should have been.

Posted by rugripper40

that sucks brad but ill probably still buy it cause the world,story and cutscenes are awesome...too bad they dumbed the game down...this would have been a classic
Posted by danimal_furry

Perhaps they will use this game as a test of their new sytem. This way they can develope the story and game flow better in any follow ups. That would be exciting.

Posted by rugripper40

thats a brilliant thought...i hope square is thinking along those lines...thats would be kool
 
 
danimal_furry on April 8, 2010

Perhaps they will use this game as a test of their new sytem. This way they can develope the story and game flow better in any follow ups. That would be exciting.    
Posted by Frostburn

The first Final Fantasy game I've played since FF10 and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.  Yeah it takes a little while to get going but after playing so many FPS Online games recently its nice to take a break from all the yelling and lag and have a nice long single player experience.

Posted by gnarlycore

I got to the end of chapter 4 and put the controller down with the intention of picking it back up the next day.....that was 3 weeks ago...still havn't picked it up.

Posted by darkjester74

As someone who has not played a lot of FF games (played some of 3 on the DS, that was about it) I will say that I believe that my enjoyment increased dramatically as a result of purchasing the excellent strategy guide available from Piggyback.  Extremely well laid out, explains in very clear terms the admittedly complex battle and upgrading systems found in this game.  
 
I don't mind the linearity as much as the lack of variety of things to do.  Some small distractions like mini games and more town areas to explore to break up the constant dungeon crawl would have been nice.

Posted by PediatricUrology

Found a typo:
 
"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."
 
It's all good; as you can tell from my username, I'm used to noticing problems with very small things.

Posted by Ujio

I've decided to wait till this hits the bargain bin. Too many conflicting opinions in my opinion.

Posted by Xsjado911

Good review!

Edited by JayHo

I think the review suffers because of Brad can't remember what was good about final fantasy. Maybe never knew. I's a fine game. I'm not reviewing it but I'll say it's not missing a world map or sidequests or an airship. Brad is missing those things. Final Fantasy 13 simply doesn't have them. Brad feels like its not enough of an rpg, never stoping to wonder if it really needs to be an rpg at all. 
 Let FF13 just be a game for effs sake. .As an rpg it will be subject to your personal minefield of expectations. 
As a videogame it is world class. It's fun as hell. 
 

Posted by Kidhayshun

I think this review is slightly harsh in the sense that the 'linear' aspect of the game so many people are talking about is being used more as a tutorial for when the game actually opens up. When the game does finally open up you have spent the previous 15 hours or so learning the deep and complicated fighting system and techniches required to play the rest of the game.

Posted by rjayb89

If Hope had boobs, hell if everyone had boobs in this game, 5 stars, bro.  And looked of age, too.  6 stars.

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Posted by EternalFox

This game is brillant....wth?

Posted by Jayzz

spot on review. nice job.

Edited by LazerGum

Thanks for giving FF13 lower marks than all the other sites, I appreciate it. I put a lot of hours into it and I thought the character design and dialogue were absolutely terrible, I'm all for unique characters and exotic fashion design but the anime boyband/bubblegum pop aesthetic is a major turn off. (I do like a lot of innovative anime like studio ghibli, satoshi kon, samurai champloo etc...) I think streamlining the battle system is a good idea but they made it fast paced without allowing for more customization and control of decisions! For me, it adds up to fast pacing but dull gameplay. Maybe they should have made this a movie instead of a game. I really wish I had more time to sink into this and admire the amazing aspects that I'm sure are there, but the inscrutable story line and frustrating elements prevent me from playing more than 6 hours. Again, thanks for your scrupulously fair review.

Posted by syenchik

I'm playing through the game right now and just reaching the point where the superfluous hoo-ha starts to give way to the actual game. The characters are getting less whiny, the real storyline is coming into focus and the game is becoming much more fun. Unfortunately, most gamers will probably have given up well before this point. Glad to hear that the payoff is worth the slog.

Posted by NorseDudeTR

I'm nearing the end of this game now. In 2012, y'all.

Edited by johnohara

@scooper: Me!

This is years after your comment, but yeah, I'm looking around to see what's been going on with FF since I last played it about 10 years ago. I've got some PSN store credit that's burning a hole in my virtual wallet, and this review was a damned good read for letting me know what I'd be getting into. Looking back from now, I'd way rather have a late, more comprehensive review than a quick one banged out to get views or stir up controversial buzz. Shit's good son!

Posted by ArcLyte

Playing this for the first time in august 2014, on psnow. About 10 hours in and loving this game so much. I'm not a huge jrpg fan, the only ones I've enjoyed besides this are the Baten Kaitos games and Resonance of Fate. FFXIII has virtually all jrpg bullshit stripped out of it, leaving only and a fun/engaging battle system and a very tight, fast-paced story.