Final Fantasy is one of the most recognizable names in the video game industry today, and with good reason. Spanning more than 2 decades, over a dozen games and spin offs, Final Fantasy developer Square Enix has shown they know a thing or two about RPGs.
The story is captivating and amazingly well told. While it can border on the melodramatic at times, it is easily the best story in the series so far. The story of Final Fantasy XIII takes place in a world known as Pulse where beings known as fal'Cie, which possess godlike powers, roam the world. Humanity resides in the city of Cocoon, which floats high above the world. As expected, you are out to kick some fal'Cie ass. (I mean the game wouldn't be Final Fantasy if you didn't have to kill beings with godlike powers would it?)
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Final Fantasy XIII is reminiscent of Final Fantasy VI in that you control each of the characters at different times and you bounce from group to group throughout the game. Over the first 20 hours or so of gameplay you switch between lead character Lightning, blonde-haired Snow, the gun-toting Sazh, Oerba Dia, the annoying Vanille, Fang, and Hope. The story progresses from different perspectives until they finally all come together near the game’s exciting climax. Because of this the story unfolds more like a novel, with cliffhangers at the ends of chapters to keep you reading, or playing in this case. The story is so well done you’ll find it hard to set your controller down to take a break. My wife has written a letter to Square Enix complaining about this, but gamers will rejoice at the great storytelling aspect of Final Fantasy XIII.
Final Fantasy XIII is rated T for Teen for
Gameplay - 87 / 100
The battle system in Final Fantasy XIII has been dramatically improved from previous games and it is solid and well designed, beginning simply and slowly evolving into a challenging and complex system. The system uses an attack queue which allows the player to build combos and tailor their attacks to the situation. Different attacks need different amounts of time to build up, so tailoring your attack to your enemy becomes very engrossing. Combat is fun and meaningful, constantly becoming harder and harder as you progress through the game.
The game also judges each fight and scores you on how fast you defeated your enemies. This affects the loot you receive and also makes it easier to summon monsters to fight for you. It’s a truly brilliant system in that it makes you want to always bring your A game. You never want to breeze through a fight because that will cost you points. This makes combat in Final Fantasy XIII entertaining and compelling.
You can only control one character at a time in Final Fantasy XIII. The AI controls the rest of your party, and for the most part it does a good with this. The new battle system is effective because you can work on setting up your combos and abilities without having to constantly queue up attacks for everyone else. Before entering combat you will assign roles to your team such as a Medic to heal, or a Sentinel to distract and provoke.
While Square Enix did a lot of things right as far as gameplay in Final Fantasy XIII is concerned, there are some problems that just can't be ignored. To begin with, Square Enix has broken from their tried and true formula from previous games. Gone is the huge open world with many cities to explore and discover. Instead, they have gone with what they call an "FPS-style vibe." While this does alleviate the need to grind that plagues the rest of the series, it leaves most of the game feeling more like a dungeon crawl than an open world begging to be explored. This is a slap in the face to many Final Fantasy fans who are use to huge open worlds.
The first half of the game is so linear that my 8 year old son could play it and not get lost. You are not just guided in the right direction, you are forced. There is simply nowhere to go except exactly where the game wants you to go. With that said, the last half opens up and you are free to explore the world, but it really is too little too late.
Besides the lack of openness, Final Fantasy XIII is missing all of those great mini games fans of the series have come to expect. In past games these provided me with hours of fun, and gave gamers small breaks from the fighting of the main story line. I want to breed my chocobo's and race them, damnit! In FFXIII there’s not much to do besides fight and walk forward.
The combat still forces you into a pull-away battle, with your enemies on one side and you and your team on the other. I had hoped combat would have been more seamless than it was in previous Final Fantasy versions. I must admit that, after playing games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2, having to use a pull-away fight system was a letdown.
With that said, the gameplay is still engrossing and fun, and RPG fans will find a lot to like about how Final Fantasy XIII plays.
Graphics - 100 / 100
Final Fantasy XIII looks great from both a technical and artistic standpoint. Models with crisp textures, dynamic lighting, and shadows make for a well-rendered environment. This is the first Final Fantasy for the current generation of consoles and Square Enix pulled out all the stops. The game is truly breathtaking to behold, with cutscenes that are better than movie quality, and a world that is beautiful and well fleshed out.
Sound - 97 / 100
Gone are the days of having to read all the text every time someone talks in game. Square Enix has embraced the latest generation of consoles with full voiceovers for everyone in the game. This greatly adds to the player’s emersion into this amazing story. I hope other games follow suit.
With one notable exception, the voice acting in Final Fantasy XIII is top notch. Listening to Vanille’s voice is like listening to fingernails on a chalk board, but outside of her, the rest of the cast does a great job of bringing their characters to life. This includes the villains, who gratefully the standard "Muhahaha!" generic villain fodder and instead really bring life to their characters.
The music is well done and suits the game, though I must admit I was slightly disappointed. The Final Fantasy franchise is usually known for its amazing soundtracks. While the music in FFXIII was adequate it did not stand out. However, these are small nitpicks and overall the sound quality is excellent.
Value - 100 / 100
With recent games like BioShock 2 releasing with only 10 to 12 hours of gameplay, it is nice to know that Square Enix has held to the tradition of long, drawn out RPGs. Final Fantasy XIII comes in at a healthy 50 to 60 hours of game play. More important than how long it takes to finish, the game is fun and engrossing. The story is well presented and you find yourself actually wanting to know what happens next. Any game that can provide you with 50 hours of fun is a pretty damn good deal to me.
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Lasting Appeal - 77 / 100
While Final Fantasy XIII is a fun and engrossing game, there is little reason to play through the game more than once. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the gameplay is so linear. It's a great game, breathtaking to see, and fun to play, but unlike games such as Mass Effect 2, where you can drastically change the outcome of the game from one play through to another, once you beat Final Fantasy XIII, you have pretty much seen and done everything.
Pros and Cons
Lack of Minigames
With Final Fantasy XIII’s release, Square Enix shows no sign of letting up on the franchise any time soon. FFXIII marks the first new Final Fantasy game in three years, as well as the first designed for current generation consoles Fan expectations are understandably at an all time high. The problem with high expectations is how easy it is to be disappointed. To be fair, it would be hard for any game to live up to the hype Final Fantasy XIII has experienced.
This is probably the best game in the series for a new player to jump on board and try out. It will ease you into a series that can be quite overwhelming to a new player at times. With that said, the linear gameplay and lack of minigames will probably keep Final Fantasy XIII from being a favorite of diehard fans of the series. However, I do not believe anyone can play this game and not find it engrossing, breathtaking to see and just flat out fun. The game is worth playing for the story alone. It simply can’t be said enough, the story is outstanding and shouldn’t be missed. Take that and mix it with a solid battle system and, if you are an RPG fan, you will find it hard not to enjoy Final Fantasy XIII.
I must say, though, I want my chocobo races back damnit!