The Turbo Final Fantasy
I love the Final Fantasy series, so when I realized a new installment was going to be released, I looked forward to having another game to add to my collection. Unfortunately, this game is my least favorite Final Fantasy game to date. Even though the graphics were amazing (XIII contained the best graphics of any Final Fantasy to date), the game was governed by a weak battle system and the game can be considered “one big hallway.”
So here’s the breakdown:
Final Fantasy XIII is divided into 13 chapters (get it, 13 chapters for the 13 game!). It begins like many other games in the series. You are a human trying to enact a dangerous plan and then get thrusted into a long tale where the mysteries of the world will eventually be unraveled with epic boss battles along the way. There are two species of sentient beings, the god-like Fal’cie and the humans. The Fal’cie act as demigods of the world and provide and destroy at their whim. Fal’cie are further divided into those living on Pulse (a lower world) and those living on Cocoon (a pseudo-planet in the sky). This brings up my first problem with the storyline, at the beginning of the game you are given no knowledge of what Fal’cie are and the difference between Pulse and Cocoon. It makes no sense to start throwing terminology like that without at least a detailed description or animation. It is not until a chapter or two later in which I finally understood the distinction and how the world works. This early confusion eerily annoyed me. The story tends to be boring and includes some plot holes and a few Chekhov guns which are not fleshed out later on. Additionally, most characters are not memorable. Once everything becomes explained, the story becomes slightly better but does not fix up the earlier problems. I was satisfied with the ending because it gave the story a nice close.
Final Fantasies are known for including an enormous world with many secrets, locations and bosses. Very few of what you see in the beginning you find again. There are no shops, bazaars, hotels etc. because that is managed when you save. Most of Cocoon you only see once and Pulse is where most of the exploration takes place. There are no NPCs on Pulse and this makes Pulse a very lonely environment. The sidequests are all on Pulse as well. It is the same system from FFXII where you hunt marks and get rewards. My first wow moment of the game came from when I first found a great plain on Pulse because of the scale of enemies and size of the plain, but having the majority of sidequests found here with you just running back and forth became boring. The first five chapters are extremely long. They mainly remind me of the three hour beginning of Kingdom Hearts II. Afterwards, the game is simply running through a corridor, fighting enemies, then the next chapter. There are no airships, so getting through areas are reduced to: chocobo, running and “warping” (the latter of which requires you to complete quests). You also have to beat 14 quests until you unlock chocobos. What does this mean? Lots of running. The lack of ability to find new places and linearity of the game’s level design ruins the game’s fun and reduces it to run, fight and repeat. The way I define a level as boring is when I start avoiding enemies on purpose. The frequency that this happened was too much for me to consider this portion of the game good.
Battle System/Leveling Up:
The game’s battling is done via the “Paradigm” system. There are six classes in the game and six characters. You can mix and match classes to characters and create preset lists of class associations. In battle you can “Paradigm Shift” to another preset depending on what you need at that moment. This sounded exciting to me at first because I tend to like the ability to customize how I use my characters. Unfortunately, this turned into a letdown later on. In order to engage in battle, you literally run into an enemy (enemies are animated on the field outside of battle) and get switched into a pre-XII-like battle. The battles are a mix between Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy XII. You have a bar that you can fill up with moves which are subsequently executed. There is an “auto-battle” button and you have the option to customize your own battle sequence (this allows you to use summons, techniques etc. which are never utilized by auto-battle). You only control the party leader. My main problem with this method is the auto-battle option. If you press this, the game automagically decides which moves you will do next. I would have preferred it if I was given the option to decide which moves are given priority similar to XII. Later in the game, I found myself just pressing the auto-battle for speed, but I would be annoyed when it wouldn’t do what I wanted to do and I wish I could have controlled the auto-battle a bit better. Each battle is given a rating and the reward is adjusted to accordingly. This is the main part of the battles I like because it gives an incentive to think about how you control the battle. It also makes up for how you are auto-healed at the end of every battle because due to the auto-healing I feel a lack of need to care about how I manage my battle as long as I win. Overall, the battle system suffered from an annoying redundancy.
Leveling up is done in a way similar to FFX. Each character is given a crystarium for each class. I consider it a “hyper-spheregrid” because it is basically the spheregrid with levels. The problem with this setup is it makes the crystarium unnecessarily dizzying. In order to progress through the crystarium, you obtain CP through battling. All characters are given the same CP each battle. As you progress through the crystarium, the cost of items increases respectively. My main problem with the crystarium is how the game limits how much you can progress based on what chapter you are on. Limiting the freedom to grind as much as you want is an experience I was annoyed about missing. The rate at which you obtain stat increases and abilities are decent. The crystarium and the way battles work are a nice mixture, but they fail to impress me and in fact disappoint.
For lack of a better word, this game is beautiful. I loved the scenery and detail given to everything. But the emphasis on artwork seemed to explain why features I usually expect to see in Final Fantasies were missing from the game. The battles were cinematics reminiscent of the battles seen in Final Fantasy Advent Children (which if I recall correctly was a goal of the game). The first time I was wowed by the game was when I saw the giant Adamantoise on the plains of Gran Pulse. At some points, the cinematic portions of the game looked almost real. It was amazing to see two huge beasts fight and then join in the battle. The in-game looks were better than previous iterations and again added to value of the game. The only problem I found with the game’s artwork is that sometimes it seemed like they reused scenery from FFX and FFXII. The graphics of the game were one of my favorite parts with the second being music.
As always, the music of the game includes a full orchestra. You get uplifting sequences when one character gives one of his (annoying) speeches lifting morale and you get appropriate songs during the sad sequences making you feel sympathetic. One thing which I look for is if the music matches the mood of the scene and in this game, the music was always on the mark. It even included the chocobo song, which was as fun as always to hear. On the topic of voice acting, it was mostly spot on except for one character, Vanille. She has the most annoying voice and her accent switches way too often. I did find it interesting that characters from different areas had different accents.
As you can see, I found the gameplay and story as the weakest parts of Final Fantasy XIII. The reason I call this game the “Turbo Final Fantasy” is due to how you could beat any enemy simply by buying a controller with turbo and putting a weight above the X button (A for Xbox 360s). Staples in the series I enjoy were lost and instead replaced with something extremely boring. Mechanics that should have given incentives and replay value instead led to annoyance. I will admit if this was a standalone game I may have been a bit nicer, but I was disappointed. I feel that so much attention was given to making this game look and sound good that little was left for everything else. I personally believe this game is only rent worthy, but you have to keep in mind that without sidequests and trophy/achievement hunting the game is 40-60 hours long. The one feature I wish was in the game is a gigantic world map. Everything else I can ultimately withstand making this game average. This game failed my biggest test which is to be fun and interesting. It was rarely either of the two.