Final Fantasy. When most people think of it they think of spiky haired protagonists, airships, characters named Cid, evil villains trying to take over the world, and a brand new world to explore. Well, not much has changed since the original. Final Fantasy XIII is the latest entry in one of the longest running series in gaming. Square Enix has taken some bold new directions with this particular entry and in my opinion, it is for the best. They have really made a quality, streamlined game that shines in almost every way, but with just a few bumps along the way.
Final Fantasy XIII begins with an explosive opening. You and a group of other civilians are being deported to the lower world of Pulse from the upper world of Cocoon. These two worlds have been at odds for years, and it is now coming to a head when Pulse soldiers have been moving up to Cocoon. You are Lightning, former Cocoon soldier and now fugitive as you break away from the train that is transporting you. You are hunting down a fal’Cie, a legendary being that has turned your sister into its l’Cie, its servant. You are soon joined by Snow, who is your sister’s fiancée, and who is also in the pursuit of the fal’Cie.
You also soon find that a number of others come to join you through a series of events, and you end up having to go after the very government that you thought was protecting you from the lower world of Pulse. Overall, I really enjoyed the story of Final Fantasy XIII. Square Enix has really gone above and beyond to create an interesting, involving story. The dialogue is a lot better this time around, and the cutscenes are pretty interesting to listen to. However, the story does take a while to get going, with you just getting tiny little scraps of information here and there, and then being interrupted by a battle until you can get to the next cutscene to find out what really happened.
The story also gets more involved when you read a summary of events in the new datalog. The datalog gives detailed information on various topics, such as everything that has been happening in your story so far, your enemies, characters, events leading up to your story, and tutorials for all the elements of the battle system. The datalog is an awesome addition; it really shows that Square has truly created an involving and engrossing world. However, sometimes it is better to read the datalog than watch the cutscenes. Sometimes you can discern more from just reading than you can from listening, such as an emotion that you couldn’t really tell a character was having just by listening to them. Overall though, the datalog is an awesome addition that I am really glad they included into this entry into the series.
The most involving part of the Final Fantasy games is the battle system. This time around, I have to say it is one of the best and most challenging battles systems that I have ever seen in a JRPG. The battle system in FFXIII is called Active Time Battle. Over time, a bar will fill up that will allow to do an action, maxing out at three to four actions. This can range from just attacking, doing magic, or healing. The big addition to this new battle system is Paradigm Shifts. This is where you can switch jobs on the fly, between different styles depending on how your character develops. The number one thing you need to know about this system, is that you have to switch jobs in order to survive. There is no “one style rules them all”. You need to be strategic and choose jobs that fit the situation.
A few more elements to the battle system include TP points and techniques. This is similar to prior battles systems. TP points allow you to perform different techniques in battle, such as powerful magic, identifying the enemy’s weakness, and to summon your eidolons. You gain back TP points by achieving high ranks in the new ranking system. You earn ranks up to five stars depending on how well you battle, taking into consideration the time it takes to defeat the enemy, damage inflicted per second, etc. The final new addition to this very involved battle system is the Crystarium. This is the new way that you develop your characters abilities. It is similar to the sphere grid introduced in Final Fantasy X, and offers a fresh way to develop your character based on their job.
Every job has specific abilities, but to get to those, you can also upgrade your HP, magic and strength along the way, which applies to your overall character. You earn points to upgrade abilities from battle, and you have plenty to go around. At the same time you need to choose wisely depending on who is in your party, and what job you will be focusing on. In a new addition, you also only control one character at a time, and that is whoever the leader is at the time. If this character dies, the battle ends and you have to retry. This can be somewhat a frustrating feature, especially if an enemy boss specifically targets you all the time.
All in all, the battle system really comes together to make a fun experience. However, later in the game, the battles can be very frustrating and tiresome, with you switching jobs constantly just to hang on. These battles can be very over the top, and may deter some people with their difficulty and dedication to learning the system. Overall though, they have really crafted an awesome system, and one that I am sure will stand among the best over time.
A lot of complaints that I have heard with the game is that it is too linear. However, I am surprised to say that I like the way that they did this. I don’t mind being funneled down a path, and it is the only real way you can go. I like this because a lot of times in these games I get lost, and I hate being lost for three hours in one dungeon. I mean yes, there really is only a couple things to do in areas, and that is battle and open treasure spheres, but the battle system is crafted so well, that this is not really a chore. They designed the game linear for a reason, and that is to tell a well thought out story, which is exactly what they did.
The visuals in Final Fantasy XIII are gorgeous. I really cannot think of the words to describe how beautiful they are. The environments are detailed, and the character models and animations are all top notch. Sometimes you really cannot tell what is a CG cutscene and what is the game engine. The music is also superb, with just one exception. Sometimes, if you have to battle enough times, the music in battle can get a little annoying. Overall though, they have designed music that fit well with what was going on.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII is one of the best games that I have played so far this year. The team at Square Enix has really taken a leap in the right direction for the JRPG genre. They have made a gorgeous game that is fun to play, yet at times challenging and rewarding. The story keeps you interested, as does the characters, and at times there is nothing else you want to do than to just find out what happens next. There are a few choices that I know some long time fans of the series will not like, but for someone like me, who was really only exposed to this series from Final Fantasy VII to now, I have to say that this game stands among the best JRPG’s of all time.
We only reviewed the PlayStation 3 version of the game. Content wise they both are identical but the 360 version suffers from issues such as lower resolution, multiple discs and other technical faults. If you have the option go with the PS3 version, but if not the 360 is definitely still a fantastic game.