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.
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.