Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Demon's Souls

Demon's Souls is a mix of games, a slice of monster hunter, oblivion, and Onimusha. If you have played and liked any of these I'd recommend you give this game a try.

Story 7/10
I guess some can say the story is almost none existent, but through small pieces and interactions with the NPC's the player will start to understand what era this may have taken place and possibly where in the world. The time period this game takes place is very suiting for the story, dealing with demons, holy miracles, and magic's. The base feeling I got when playing this game was pretty solid, everything was quite believable, and the tone was suiting. Overall the story of Demon's souls is a meh kind of feeling; nothing really stands out about it.

Game play 9/10
Some say this makes or breaks this game. It is the finest point of the game though I don't consider it as fine as many say. Controls, quite flawless, it does take time to get accustomed to locking on and disengaging lock on to do various actions and tactics but that deals with the player's skill right? There is also a parry animation the player may do pressing the r2 button, takes much practice to be used effectively in real combat. This is one of the games where you really have to play the game to experience the controls and have a feel for it.

When your large sword hits a roof and bounces off it still hits the enemy that is behind the wall.what a lie in animation, I feel pretty cheated here, it is actually an advantage to have my weapon hit a wall and still hit the enemy as the recovery animation is faster than the complete swing recovery....

Frame rates
A small problem but the more I have played the more I experience some of it. Not a huge problem but heck, sometimes it ALWAYS happens at the same point in the game and makes it very annoying, something they could really fix.

Hard? Yes for players who lacks reaction and just doesn't learn from mistakes. My first stroll in this game was quite normal, it wasn't too hard but still of some challenge and easy well, I felt it was easy in some parts of the game.

Now, down to the real game play. There are at many times due and not due to the enemy/boss AI that made things very easy, able to abuse, and I call a glitch. I won't delve into what bosses, though many, can easily be pelted to death by ranged attacks. Bosses get stuck can't attack, run into a wall trying to tear the player apart but fails to do so. Another incident would be that the player can simply walk into the boss room, and snipe the boss to death behind cover. What's the point of this? Why not make the boss stand right in front of the players face at the start of the "boss battle"? This is quite a major flaw as the bosses are supposed to be called bosses due to the difficulty and fear they impose. Another major flaw with one of the bosses I found out after a while, an inconsistency that makes no sense at all, I hit the boss using 1 hit for 150 damage and it does not notice me, while I use the same 1 hit with a few buffs and do 400 damage and now the boss notices me and smashes my face in. This is a very weird inconsistency as I am using the same hit 1 hit but the effects are different just because of the damage. Common monsters as well, in some of the acts in the game there are times where you shoot them; they rush towards you and can't get you as you are on a slightly higher plane than they are. If they can't get you, why not just GIVE the player an item they may be dropping as the player is going to kill it with almost no effort and skill at all. I find that ranged players have overwhelming advantages to the melee player making the game easy if one chooses to use range which almost everyone will integrate into their arsenal of weapons. Overall game play is well done, besides from some of these points the stage/bosses are very well made and unique.

There are many, many customizations as well. Each type of weapon plays quite differently. Here are some European straight swords, daggers, and large swords, as you can expect, the straight sword is fast but not as fast as a small dagger would be, and not as strong as a slow larger sword would be this makes sense and damage is proportional. There is also a stat called durability, proportional as well. European swords can without a doubt out last an Asian katana. Just like in real life a well made European straight sword will break a well made katana simply due to the weight and thickness of the blades.

Weapons 2 Customization
A very fine part of the game, almost every weapon can be customized to the players liking, some weapons when customized get added damage from the player's stats like strength. Other weapons can be laced with poison and some can even change into a different weapon. Every player can get what they want with this customization system.

Magic's and Miracles
A very interesting part of the game well at least for the magic portion is that the magic in this game takes slots, weaker spells take 1, stronger 2, and strongest 3, and of course you have a very limited number of slots forcing the player to think wisely of what spells they choose to "remember" in their slots. Miracles are very similar to magic in the aspect that they also take slots to use and have limits as well. This is pretty well thought out though the player will be pumping their intelligence stat quite a bit to be able to use either magic or miracle.

Graphics 8/10
Does its job and not much expected here. Everything looks nice overall

Online 5/10
Online is unique but it feels like a single player online game, with bloodstains that view players death don't really tell you anything when enemies start patrolling an area or the player has ran away from a pursuing enemy and is slain... quite useless. Player specters/ white outlined players are more of an annoyance than help...I can't see the enemies movement when they are in the god dam way. As for helping another player you have to be dead to do that and set up a "soul sign" can't reserve your "I am willing to help someone! sign but why don't I just join your game! It doesn't get that much harder anyway!" for your friends. When you are finished helping them you get revived and kicked out never hoping to really see the player again unless you message them ask them to die and help you with your acts, very primitive. Why not just have a party room stating what level and act you are on? Or even better automatically join a player's game that is in the same level. Finally something interesting, invading a player's game. This is only available when you're in soul form. The goal of this is to kill the corporal player and you get your body back. Not much there except trying to ruin an innocent person's game, this is for the evil! You can only get invaded if you are in corporal form as well. There is also an option to dual a player via a soul sign, wagering souls not very refined...why not make a challenging room rather than waiting in a spot hoping a player will come across AND accept. Overall online is very lacking to today's standards. To put it simply, it's a loner's game, when you need help you can get it, and when you don't you don't need to accept their soul signs.

Pure Music 10/10 Overall Sound/Music 6/10
Sound effects quite well done, many of the weapons, enemies make noises that suit them.
Music… I hardly heard any. Much of it is in boss battles, some of the "Boss Music" sounds nice as for most they don't pump me up as some should. Stage music, is probably one of my favorite things about RPG's, this game however has none! It would definitely spice up the mood for stages if there was music for them.

Playtime 10/10
You can keep playing NGs till you get bored the NG+ is limitless
The first play through a fresh player will take may vary due to the player skill, if they die a lot it then it will be a long time, for me the first play through was around 30-35 hours. Each NG+ gets faster and there isn't all that much to do in the main story.

Overall 8/10
Recommended for hardcore action RPG players, you will experience many deaths but no game over's. For those lacking reaction and experience in playing action intensive games refrain from wasting your money and time. Glitchy enemies took off a lot of points for this game, as well as the lack of music what's the point of making the music when for the majority of the game you don't even get to hear it. Online was something I was really looking forward to and playing with my friends, but this weird system disallowed that. Some flaws to this game but besides all of the flaws and glitches, Demon's Souls is one of the best action RPG's out there in the world let alone for the ps3, there aren't many games that can rival Demon's souls in game play.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Super Street Fighter IV

This was inevitable. Given the history of the series, getting an upgraded version of Street Fighter IV was a forgone conclusion. There's always something more to add. Including new characters. Rebalancing move sets. Speeding up the pacing. Anything, no matter how utterly minute, to justify re-releasing what is essentially the same game. It happens all the time in the fighting genre, and Capcom is arguably the worst offender. I'm sure I'm not the only one who took a wary glance at this and thought, “Do I really want to get this?” But once the fighting starts and you get a taste of what's being offered, any potential regret will vanish. The success of any revamped title is determined by the content it builds upon the previous version and how well it executes it. Super Street Fighter IV pulls it off almost perfectly.

You'll understand once you get to the character select screen. It's huge. There are so many characters - 35, a tally the likes of which hasn't been rivaled since the Alpha series - that you can barely make out their mug shots. Everyone is already available at the start, which means you can get right into the action without tediously playing through the story with each fighter. Every character from the first version of Street Fighter IV is present and accounted for; you've got all the World Warriors, Abel, Rufus, and the rest of the extra fighters. Super Street Fighter IV features several additional characters spanning the entirety of the series. T. Hawk and Dee Jay finally complete the lineup from The New Challengers. Cody, Guy, and Adon have returned from Alpha 3. Dudley, Ibuki and Makoto represent the best of Third Strike. That's enough cameos to leave the hardcore fans reeling in nostalgia. However, the roster would have benefited from having more original characters. Juri provides an interesting blend of sadistic villainy and Taekwondo, but Hakan's epic oil wrestling grapples and hammy voice acting are little much. Considering this is a game with a luchador chef and a guy with a perpetually flowing beer gut, that's saying something.

Regardless of who you choose, you'll have to spend plenty of time learning their movesets. The mechanics are virtually identical to those of the original Street Fighter IV; each character can perform a wide variety of punches and kicks with varying attack strength. More complex commands with the directional pad allow you to perform special moves, be they uppercuts, grapples, charged hits, flying kicks, and several other stunts. The stronger the attack, the longer it takes to perform. The trick is using all of these attacks in tandem to inflict as much damage as possible. A light jab might not do much, but it gives you just enough time to follow it up with another punch, a sweeping kick, a throw, and anything else you might be able to dish out. Everything is just as responsive and fluid (often even more so) as in the first version. With a firm grasp of the timing and mastery of the controls, you can spend hours developing your playing style. That's the cornerstone of any good fighting game, and Super Street Fighter IV utilizes it well.

As with the last game, there are a few additional systems built into the basic combat. By pressing the medium punch and kick buttons at the same time, you can charge up and release a Focus Attack. At full strength, these moves can stun opponents and send them flying. It even lets you absorb one oncoming attack without stopping the charge-up, which allows you to parry a la Third Strike and set up counter attacks. It's a godsend for defensive fighters. As you rack up damage, you'll fill an energy meter at the bottom of the screen. That can be used to perform multi-hit variants of the special moves or cancel attack animations into different combos. Or if you prefer something flashier, you can store up power and use all of it to pull off an Ultra Combo, which can be anything from a super-charged projectile and acrobatic pyrotechnics to an oily (and hilarious) slide across the stage. The game gives each fighter a completely new second Ultra, which is chosen Third Strike style during the initial character selection. The beauty of all this complex stuff is how well it balances the offensive and defensive mechanics; regardless of your strategies, the game has a way to cater to it.

If you think you've got a decent handle on everything, you can show off online. Veterans of Street Fighter IV will likely shudder at the mention of it, swooning from nightmarish visions of crappy Ken players. Back then, it was all about rankings; if you won or lost a fight, your rank would be affected accordingly. Capcom figured out a way around the problem by introducing separate point rankings for each character. Say you're good with Sagat (and who isn't?), but are having trouble using Ibuki. Your regular Player Points get docked if you lose with her, but not your earnings with Sagat. That way you're not having to scramble to find a cheap character and spend more time experimenting with the rest of the roster.

You'll have plenty of chances, too. Even when you're just messing around with different fighters, there's a ton of options for the online multiplayer. Aside from the typical Ranked Matches and the Endless Mode, you can get all your friends together and have epic 2vs2, 3vs3, and even 4vs4 Team Battles. There's also a Tournament Mode supposedly in the works, though only time will tell if it gets implemented. Meanwhile, you can tune into the Replay Channel and watch matches that have been uploaded by you and other gamers. It's broken down into categories based on which characters are fighting, which helps you narrow your searches. It's a decent way to observe and learn new strategies, though it serves little more than a distraction from the fights. With so many options and improvements, Super Street Fighter IV makes playing online fun again.

But if you want something a little more low-key, you'll probably spend the majority of the time finishing the Challenge Mode with each character. The trials start off simple, with objectives like performing special attacks or stringing basic attacks together. But as you get further along, the missions get more demanding; you'll find yourself awkwardly trying (and probably failing) to pull off some convoluted combo. You can spend as much time as you want exploring the obligatory Training Mode, though you'll probably get more out of a few dozen Versus matches with the computer on a high difficulty setting. But if you're in need of a quick nostalgia fix, you can smash through sports cars and wine barrels in the revamped 3D versions of the classic mini-games from the Street Fighter II titles. Not only are they separate challenges, but they're also featured optionally in the regular Arcade Mode. They don't add much to the game, but at least they break up the pacing long enough to keep things interesting.

It doesn't matter either way; longtime fans are going to eat them up. Super Street Fighter IV thrives on nostalgia. There are all kinds of references to the rest of the series and other Capcom titles. Cody and Guy's backstories provide several allusions to Final Fight and its mythos. Not to mention Dudley and Makoto's motives for getting into the tournament, which echo their origins from Third Strike. Even the win quotes have been changed to reflect the relationships between certain characters. Despite all these little nods, however, it's kind of disappointing how much of this is reused material. While everyone gets new animated introductory and ending cut scenes, a lot of pre-fight dialogues (the Ryu/Sagat exchange comes to mind) are taken straight out of the first version. Several of the stages, like the volcano, alleyway, and the wine brewery, are essentially unchanged. There are some new ones, like an African plain cloaked in the darkness of a solar eclipse and a bustling construction site (including a Hugo cameo), but it's not enough. It's understandable, given how this is nothing more than a facelift of an old game, but a bit more original content would have been nice.

But considering how much is already in there, it's probably too much to ask. Super Street Fighter IV is one of the best and most extensive updates to the series in a long while. It takes the old roster and adds several more characters to it, offering an incredible amount of variety that spans the best of each title. It uses the basic combat mechanics and builds upon them, offering a more polished and refined experience. All of the complex systems are back and reworked, creating a well-balanced experience. The various challenge modes let you get your strategies down perfectly, and the revamped mini-games ought to put a smile on older gamers' faces. The sheer amount of online multiplayer options and features make it so much more than just another cheap ranking-fest. It's just a shame that Capcom didn't go all-out with the rest of the game; there could have been even more moves and stages. Regardless, Super Street Fighter IV is well worth looking into. It might not be totally new, but it definitely feels like it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Back in the day, when you wanted a shooter you had only two real options; World War 2, or a futuristic/alternate reality shooter. With the exception of a few games, most non-WW2 shooters were not set in modern times with modern weapons, and the few that were the exception were often made with ‘hooks' that sometimes made them so off the wall that it never appealed to the mass market. But after a WW2 shooter veteran, Call of Duty, broke the trend and made their wildly popular Modern Warfare entry, it was such a game changer that they even had to split their franchise into two different properties, Infinity Ward sticking with Modern Warfare, and Treyarch continuing on with the WW2 line (World at War). A vast majority of people played the sequel as soon as it came out as the buzz for it was near deafening, but that aside, I figure I'll put my two cents in anyway.

For those of you who have avoided First Person Shooters like the plague, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the sequel to the original game. The story is a direct continuation of the first game, and makes absolutely no attempt to explain any of the events of the first game except with a type of ‘random images and sound clips' blurred sequence that plays in the opening credit sequence. This was a problem for me as I was unable to play the first game until afterwards and was lost on the story. But from a first-time perspective, the story involves the American military continuing to deal with unrest in the middle east while a secret multinational task force attempts to deal with increasingly difficult problems. Events in the first game have left an extremist party controlling the Russian government, creating a hero out of the villain from the first game. To make matters worse, one of his lieutenants, Makarov is continuing the work of his past superior, only his methods are far more drastic. As the task force attempts to track him down he gets closer and closer to his ultimate goal, an all out war between Russia and America that will bring down the west.

The game play is little changed from the original game. What the game offers is extremely well refined. You move through various missions as various characters, each one playing a part in the story. For the most part you shift between an Army Ranger working with his squad to help deal with an invasion at home while in other missions you jump into the new rookie in taskforce 141, working with the original protagonist from the first game who now acts as your superior officer to help him counter Makarov's movements. Your weapons change from mission to mission and you can pick up extra weapons that enemies drop or you find along the way. Often weapons have particular attachments which help to increase their effectiveness. Stealth weapons have silences and sometimes heartbeat sensors, sniper rifles have scopes and sometimes thermal sights, and rifles usually have a red dot or holographic sight and a grenade launcher. Weapons differ and all handle in their own distinct way so the attachments allow for an even more varied feel for each one.

Like most FPS games you move from simple ‘point a to point b' sections, to dislodging and sweeping actions of removing dug in enemies, to defensive areas where you have to prevent the same from being done to you. They also include areas where you have to sneak quietly past patrols, using stealth rather than brute force. Sometimes you even get a bit of swat team style action where you have to breach walls and doors and take out enemies before they can take out hostages or fire back on you. This is aided by a rather good aiming mechanic. Aiming down the sights reduces bullet spread and increases accuracy, and crouching increases that even more. When aiming down the sights, the gun auto-aims at an enemy, allowing you to aim at targets in quick succession. This can be very useful as sometimes enemies wear camo that makes them very difficult to spot. This is made more difficult when you take into account like paper flying in the wind and ash or other objects floating about that can be distracting to the eye and break up a silhouette.

That is only one of the three aspects of this game. The other major single player section of the game is the Special Ops mode. This can be done single player, split screen, or online with a friend. This involves you going through various missions, such as defending a soldier on the ground with an AC 130 in the air, or making it across a heavily defended bridge under a time limit, or various other missions. They attempt to cover every aspect that can be done with the game and it's engine and any aspect covered in the second or even the first game. Depending on the difficulty you choose or how well/fast you complete the stages, you earn stars. Each mission earns 3 stars maximum, and unlocking stars is needed to unlock different missions.

The last aspect of the game is the one that was a major focus of the first game, the multiplayer. Multiplayer has undergone the most improvements since the first game, since it was one of the reasons the game sold so well years after the release, people continuing to play the multiplayer well after they finished the single player campaign. Like the first game, you run through various maps, either on teams or free-for-all, your characters one of two factions for each map (Army Rangers vs. militants, Task force 141 against militia, etc.). There are various modes of play, the basics being team death match and Domination. As you play the game, you earn experience for kills, and for captures in games like domination, sabotage, etc. You also earn extra experience for various actions, like killing someone who killed you, killing someone guarding or taking a capture point, killing an enemy in a skilful way, and other means. Your experience unlocks extra levels. Each level adds benefits, the first being custom classes you can make. Second you can unlock weapons and abilities, different abilities like going undetected by UAV's, more melee range, and faster movement. What this game adds is extra abilities, and the ability to level them up with enough use. One ability allows you to do more damage with bullets, but use it enough and you can do more damage to vehicles as well.

In addition to new weapons and attachments, there are also new and custom kill streaks. In the first game, you had only UAV's, air strikes, and finally a helicopter. Now you can choose kill streaks like counter UAV's, sentry guns, EMP blasts, even tactical nukes. The simpler benefits take just a few kills, like the sentry gun needing only five, while the game ending nuke requires a total of 25 uninterrupted kills. The game also adds a bit of bragging in the emblems and titles. As you go through the game, your special achievements, such as killing two enemies with one bullet, or going a whole round without dying, unlock special extra XP bonuses, as well as titles that you can add to your character title. As well as that, you sometimes also get emblems that look like badges that appear alongside your title. Once you reach the level cap of 70, you can choose to continue into prestige mode. This resets you back down to level one, but opens up new achievements, new titles, and increases you creatable character slots by 1.

The game tries to be perfect but has a few flaws that do bring it down a touch. For one, the story works very well but near the end it makes twist that seems to make no sense and brings it down the quality of the story. It just makes no sense since the story works so well up to that point and suddenly makes such a hair-pin turn for no reason. Speaking of the single player story, this one is laughably short. It takes a little more than 4 hours to get through all the missions, and I've been told that the story in the first game was much longer. The special ops and multiplayer offers more replay, but to have the main play mode to be so short, it seems rather unfortunate. One suggestion was that they shortened the main campaign to make room for the expanded multiplayer and special ops modes.

The multiplayer mode also has some problems. The special ops is fine at what it does but it can get very aggravating and repetitive. When you flop a mission, you have to start at the beginning, and this is a huge problem in missions like one where you have to escort someone to a pick up point while providing cover with a helicopter. It is timed and requires every last second to clear enemies and move forward, but if you foul up at the very end, as it usually does, you have to start at the very beginning. With longer missions like these, it would have been nice if they at least had a mid-point checkpoint, rather than forcing you to start all over again. The multiplayer section has some bugs such as a cheat that lets people use a weapon to cause massive damage, and a bug that remains even after various updates. The most problem is how the game deals with lag. When you are lagging, it's common that what you see is an after image of an enemy. If your lagging a half second behind, everyone you see is a half second behind from where they really are. What the game also does is that if you're lagging, all your bullets, even if they land, do ‘glancing' damage. That means that if someone is moving faster than you, they need 2 or 3 bullets to put you down. It also means that if you manage to hit someone while your lagging, you may need to unload 15 rounds into them before they go down, even if your hitting them where they actual are and your using the same weapon. The game seems to consider all shots from someone moving slower to be weak glancing blows and not do as much damage. When you're lagging, this is infuriating as you have to pour fire on enemies and this leaves you open to counterattacks.

A lot of the other multiplayer problems are not the fault of the game but mostly other players. One can find himself getting slaughtered in multiplayer because your team-mates are utterly incapable of working together, it just all depends on the players. Taking into account all the aspects of the game, it's rather interesting to say the least. The mechanics are so clean and well made that it can be considered one of the best shooters out there. The only problems are relatively small and can sometimes be overlooked, however they are enough to keep this from being the perfect game. The ending is very open ended so its going to be interesting to see where they take this game next. I'm curious to see if they will find ways to improve the multiplayer further or leave it static to expand the single player to even it out. As it is, I'd say the game is mostly 30% single player, and 70% multiplayer. The game is so multiplayer heavy that if you don't mind a quick single player mode, the multiplayer will definitely keep you busy for a while. As of now the game has no expansions for maps but I'm sure that will change soon enough. There are enough people clamoring for more content to increase the number of multiplayer maps. This is a definite buy for anyone who enjoys multiplayer games and first person shooters.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII. Quite possibly the most anticipated Role Playing Game of this decennium. I picked up the Japanese version of the game and played it a lot for this internet scoop. This review will not spoil story related events, but all gameplay related aspects will be discussed in detail. For those looking for a nutshell, the game is essentially FFX's style meets FFXII's gameplay meets innovative battle system.

It's Final Fantasy in HD graphics. It's gorgeous. The cutscenes look amazing. The graphics are stunning and look good enough for a lengthy RPG like this. There's no need to go in further detail. Have a look at some trailers.

Without giving away too much of Final Fantasy XIII's story, let me get right to the point: It is not the game's strongest point. Worry not; this analysis focuses only on the first hour(s) of the game. The story revolves around Cocoon, a moon-like sphere with a cracked shell that houses several million inhabitants, kept safe from the lowerworld, also known as Gran Pulse. Consisting of thirteen chapters, the game briefly introduces various characters right at the start of the game, including the main protagonist, Lightning, the comic relief character Sazh, the young boy Hope, the cheerful Vanille, and the ‘I'll be your hero' Snow. The sixth and last of FFXIII's playable cast, a blue-dressed woman known as Fang, isn't revealed until several chapters later. The game starts off with a civil war-esque fight between civilians and Cocoon's peacekeeping PSICOM troops. The civilians are to be Purged because of a Pulse Fal'cie discovery at a certain village. Fal'cie are essentially enormous beings that monitor and maintain various aspects of life, and there are two kinds of Fal'cie, of which Pulse Fal'cie are considered to be dangerous to the existence of Cocoon. What follows is a story in which the six characters are enslaved to a Fal'cie's will and are made into l'Cie. The story starts off well but dips below mediocrity several times, and the introduction of the game's main villain might not be what you'd expect; advisable is to not get your hopes up for a cool, awesome, well done villain, because there isn't one in Final Fantasy XIII; sorry for bursting your bubble, guys! Not all is bad about FFXIII's story, however. Fans of the series will be relieved to meet another Cid, and there are various semi-villains present as usual which keep things interesting. The characters are worked out fairly well and some you might not like at the start will eventually grow on you a little.

FFXIII utilizes a completely new type of combat system, and it's ace. You'll walk around in fields in the same fashion as Final Fantasy XII, and you can thus avoid enemy encounters occasionally. Upon touching an enemy, the game flashes into an ATB-esque fight and the battle can begin. Characters will initially start out with only three ATB segments, but there is room for growth. Weak attacks use up one ATB segment while more powerful attacks take up more segments. You can either use the initial command, which automatically inputs efficient attacks for you, or manually select your attacks. The former will turn out to be the one that you use most.

You only control your party leader during battles. The reason for this is a combination of the extremely fast speed at which battles unfold and the necessary introduction of the Paradigm system to cope with this speed. The Paradigm system allows for up to six different configurations, each consisting of several roles with a maximum of three roles or three party members. Roles can be viewed as classic classes. There's the Attacker, a tough attacker with the sole intention of attacking and dealing damage. The Ravager is more your black mage using elemental magic to build up enemy chain bars – more on this later. The Guardian is a defensive character which draws enemies' attention and guards to decrease damage inflicted. The Healer cures your party, then there's a role that has access to protective spells, and the Saboteur inflicts negative status effects on your foes. Each character has access to three roles but will unlock the other three roles at some point in the game as well. When a character is in a certain role, they can only perform actions according to those available in that role. In order to use different attacks they'll have to switch to a different role, and this is where the Paradigm system comes into play. By customizing your own Paradigms it is possible to swiftly switch to a Paradigm of your choice with a simple click of L1 and selecting the Paradigm you want to switch to. After defeating a battle, a score is awarded based on speed. Your entire party is automatically healed. Upon defeat the player finds the option to retry the battle, spawning them just before the enemy they lost against. This sounds like it makes the game too easy, but the game would otherwise be far too hard. Expect to get killed often throughout the game, and expect to fall in love with the retry option.

Your characters develop through the Crystarium, an enormous collection of nodes that boost either your Strength or Magic, or grant you a new ability. There are no stats other than HP, Strength and Magic, which might feel peculiar at first. The simplicity that stems from little changes like this feels like a step in the right direction for mainstream gamers, but not so much for niche-RPG players. The Crystarium's path is linear, but players are able to choose from different roles and improve the ones they like best or need most.

The other possibility for growth is through upgrading weapons and accessories, which bears a slight resemblance to FFVIII's refinement system. Players accumulate enemy loot throughout the game as well acquiring equipment. Through the shops – accessed via save points only – players can also obtain loot and equipment, and save points also function as upgrade station, so they're quite multifunctional. Unfortunately, compared to FFVIII's refinement system, the upgrading/dismantling system in FFXIII is much more shallow. This will appeal to mainstream gamers, but much less so to the niche RPG gamers that favored the older FF systems.

Exploration in the game is linear, yes, and there are no traditional towns or conversations to be had with townspeople. Basically, FFXIII speeds through the story like a Lightning bolt. You may either like this or not, but it's definitely not boring.

Oh, before I forget, there are six Eidolons in the game, and each character has access to one Eidolon. Your characters will have to face the Eidolons in boss battles throughout the game first before unlocking them. Only your party leader can use an Eidolon, and usually only once during a battle because of how this system works. There are technique points spent on using an Eidolon, of which you have five in total and using an Eidolon uses up three points. It will fight alongside your party leader for a while - say 20 seconds – before the player is to enter the Gestalt modus. The character will mount the Eidolon and with several combinations inflicts damage to the enemy. Cutscenes are completely skippable, but I watched them ten times before I grew tired of them; they're really awesome. Unfortunately, Eidolons aren't all that powerful as you'd expect. Summoning one will heal your entire party after their departure, and they can inflict a decent amount of damage, but no more than that. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing - it actually makes the game more balanced overall.

Besides the exceptionally well done batte system, there are various mini games and side quests available in FFXIII. Notable is the Chocobo digging mini game. The mark hunting quest from part 12 also returns, this time with 64 to slay. This will keep you busy for tens of hours, and on top of the main story that is worth 40 hours of gameplay, it boosts the total time to at least sixty-five plus hours. Hunting down enemies sometimes activates teleports, allowing you to move between several areas. Other than these minigames, and a small minigame on which you ride a big mech somewhere in chapter 4, the game offers surprisingly little else. Sure, there's an amusement park, but why are there no minigames there? You can also forget about controlling an airship. There are a few really cool airships in the game, but you'll never own one yourself in such a way that you can board and use it for transport.

Music and Sound:
The soundtrack has improved much since FFXII and nearly returns to the former glory days of Nobuo Uematsu. The game's main theme is especially well done, and there are several beautiful (albeit too many) remixes played of it during the game, most notably the theme played in the game's biggest area. There are various boss themes, and as most of you know, the battle theme is actually one of the best in the series so far. If the soundtracks of FFVI, FFVII and FFIX are 10 out of 10 then I would give FFXIII a 9 out of 10. The orchestrated soundtrack varies from angelic choirs to typical Japanese girly songs to uplifting weeping violin boss battle themes.

Downloadable Content....?
While big, Final Fantasy XIII feels surprisingly empty. It's as if certain areas were purposively held back or kept secret from the public, only to be released as downloadable content later on. While I don't want to get anyone's hopes up, it just seems as if the game has certain things to expand on, such as the option to return to the rest of the game and do some mini games. Or maybe not - time will tell and we will see what Square Enix comes up with. Considering the vast project that Fabula Nova Crystallis is becoming, I wouldn't find it surprising in any way whatsoever.

+ Great Battle System
+ Great Graphics
+ Solid Soundtrack
+ Good voice acting
+ Lengthy (70+ hours)

- No minigames at the amusement park
- Main Villain is uninteresting

Final Fantasy XIII is better than the sum of its parts. The battle system is incredibly addictive and the graphics are definitely of this age - probably a little ahead of their time in terms of console style RPG's. Overall, Final Fantasy XIII hasn't become a perfect game, but you bet it's a triple A game that deserves a score of 9,5 or above - which is the reason this review gives a 10.