Final Fantasy XIII is a console role-playing game developed and published by Square Enix and is the thirteenth installment in the Final Fantasy series, as I'm sure you all know. It first appeared at E3 in 2006, being tagged as the flagship title of the Fabula Nova Crystallis collection of Final Fantasy games, and is the first game in this new series to utilize Square-Enix's Crystal Tools engine (though ironically SE has already commented on not wanting to use the tools for further projects that may arise in the current timeline due to some buggy tools as of the writing of this article. They did not go into specifics).
Coming home after picking up Final Fantasy XIII, I did as I always have since I brought home Final Fantasy II (Final Fantasy IV in the series) on my SNES. I was a huge fan of the NES original, and like all Final of the Fantasies since then, I opened the packaging with glee and popped this current game into my Xbox 360, trying not to let the bad press and all the moping of fan-boy's online diminish it in any way.
Everything started smoothly enough. The familiar opening scenes we've seen in trailers since 2006 greeted me and I set my controller down to enjoy the opening CG sequences. Though, oddly, for the first time I was greeted with a feeling of nostalgia while playing a game on launch day, which was definitely a new feeling. And a tug of annoyance I tried quickly to dismiss appeared in my mind. Just how long had I waited to play this game which was promised on launch day of the PS3, and yet, it's 2010....
I quickly quelled the rage and picked up the controller once I was allowed to move Lightning around. Not wanting to let trivial matters stop me from attempting to enjoy the actual product of all that waiting. And so I began the long road into one of this generations longest anticipated games that has broken fan-boys and sold and rebuked consoles alike, inciting enough flame-wars to kill 1,000,000 kittens.
Lets start with some backstory! Careful however, as a lot of this story section has some slight potential spoilers. Shouldn't be too much though.
Hundreds of years ago, the creator made two kinds of beings: Humas and fal'Cie. Humas, having been made in the creators image, were left to do as they please; free will and such. The beings called fal'Cie, however, were created for the express purpose of helping said humans in their everyday life, as well as the running of the planet.
At some point a fal'Cie gets really irritated that he doesn't have free will, feels jealous of mankind, and takes steps to attain what he feels fal'Cie lack. However, he needs lackies to do this, so he uses the le'Cie (instruments of the fal'Cie whenever they need to accomplish something outside of their programmed parameters by granting human beings some of their powers) to further his ends and we find our "hero's" in their current predicament in the story.
What I have just described above is not actually clearly explained at any time in full detail during the main events of storytelling in-game. You need to go into the data catalogue in order to get any kind of much needed back story in written format, otherwise you'll spend half the game wondering what the hell is going on.
And that is precisely the problem I have with this games story. We see a lot of "character development" in the game. But by "character development", I mean the games typical story telling experience in the first dozen hours of game-play are verbally explaining feelings by way of typical melodramatic interludes most 15 year olds are tired of seeing. That's not to say that the story is "bad. The story itself is fantastic if you don't pay attention to anything you see in the cut scenes and simply read the data log as mentioned earlier. The back story itself is imaginative, and well constructed like most Final Fantasy games. However, the story telling during the game as you are playing feels sloppy and non-cohesive. So much so that I found myself wishing I could skip the cut scenes altogether and just read up on what happened later, but I felt that would mean a waste of the money I spent on this game, as well as constrict me from aptly reviewing it later..
Therefore, I went slogging through the story as best I could until Chapter 12. At this point, I'm playing this game as if it were Eternal Ring. Just playing it to play it, and not getting any enjoyment out of it except for the "killed that, killed that, killed that, got item, killed that, killed that" rhythm you find in most King's Field games. However, once I finally reached Chapter 12, I was floored at the fact that the story began to blossom. FINALLY, they began to explain a little bit in game of what was going on instead of how much each character hates themselves and begging forgiveness for things that are clearly not even remotely their problem or fault.
I could have cried real non-raged tears of joy at that point!
From then on, the story was standard Final Fantasy fair, actually interesting and morally conflicting, where I finally began appreciate the characters who were showing me their true personalities through their ACTIONS, instead of verbally explaining their FEELINGS with cheap DIALOGUE. The only problem was it took 15-20 hours to get to this point. I finished the game itself in 55 hours, and that was after I was messing around outside of the storyline for at least 10 of that in chapter 12.
So, because of horrendous dialogue and terrible story telling through the first half of the game, I can only give this section of the review a low score. But because of how interesting the actual back story is, I'll be more generous than usual.Story = 5Visually:
This is a pretty obvious section. The game is beautiful. No doubt about it. The 360 runs it just fine due to its slightly lessened resolution size, but pumped everything in game out at 60 hertz a second (30 frames interlaced) during every cut scene and battle with no slowdown. It truly was a sight to behold when one reached new areas. Most particular in memory is the large vista that opens up for you to explore in Chapter 12, where you can see creatures on land and in the air throughout the plain. Truly a spectacle every time you return to it, and never really got old.
The game itself had virtually no loading times. None when going into battle, and literally half a second to 1 second in-between major areas. The art direction smacks heavily of Final Fantasy XII mixed in with some X, but does a masterful job of separating itself to give itself its own distinct feel in every area you come to.Visually = 8Music
A very important factor for me when it comes to RPG's, because when you're going to spend 45 hours listening to the same kind of music, you'd better enjoy it. Sadly, Final Fantasy XIII does not hold well in comparison to its previous cousins. Gone are the memorable character themes and area music. Gone are the well constructed orchestral pieces mixed with a rock or electronica flair that was truly unique. Now, we have songs that just don't stick in the mind, or feel as if they are a part of some unfinished j-pop song.
And sadly, upon further investigation after the fact, they actually are. Gone also is the typical Final Fantasy intro music that has been in each game since Final Fantasy IV; not that that should have any bearing on this games numbered score, but an interesting change nonetheless.. Is the degradation in musical quality because Uematsu is no longer music lead for the franchise anymore, or for some other reason? Masashi Hamauzu and Keiji Kawamori were the heads behind the majority of the music in the game, and only time will tell if Square-Enix will insist upon using them again.
Music = 6Game-play
Turn-based battles against mobs of fantastic creatures, elements of which took 15-20 hours to fully unlock whilst experiencing sporadic tutorials throughout that entire time.
I can only assume it's because Square-Enix doesn't trust the average Final Fantasy person to be able to handle action RPG's, or it's because they wanted this game to appeal to those not usually prone to RPG's, hence the giant lapse in a fully unlocked battle system until half the game is done with.
Sadly, the battle system is not that elaborate. Resonance of Fate, Valkyrie Profile 2, now THOSE are elaborate battle systems. FFXIII plays remarkably as simple as a Tales or Star Ocean game. Surely not so elaborate to denote such a staggered learning process to fully unlock the gold that actually IS the battle system.
Yes, that's right, the battle system, once fully unlocked of course (really, the dark lord is quite impressive when he's fully inflated) is actually very entertaining. EXTREMELY EASY, but very fun nonetheless.
I was very weary at first when Final Fantasy XIII decided to take the massive amounts of control that you have over every character in battle from FF I to XII, and whittle it down to one character.
However, it suites the style of game-play they had envisioned, and flows very well. There have been many times I've marveled at how quickly and brutally I've decimated rank upon rank of enemy soldiers and creatures, all to the beat of the (substituted) music of Ar Tonelico II's Hymnos Albums.
However, where there is room for praise, there is definitely room for complaints. And the single most glaringly unforgivable complaint on the battle system, is that I cannot switch control of my controllable character on the fly in battle. Not only that, but if the character you are controlling at the time manages to perish for whatever reason, you IMMEDIATELY see a game over screen. Never mind the fact that there are two other perfectly able allies still alive to throw a Phoenix Down your way, and never mind that if they die, you can revive THEM to no penalty save for that of said Phoenix Down or AP gauge. You die, you fail.
To be honest, the only thing hard about any of the enemies in the game, are the bosses who must be defeated within a certain amount of time, or they eventually throw a DOOM spell on your MAIN CHARACTER if you're not battling one of the few that throw it on you at the beginning.
Supposedly this is to keep battles fast and entertaining, and add a new challenge to the already easy battle system. But, all it does is add annoyance, especially if you're trying to roll through the game in an under leveled state, as some players do to have a more tactical challenge.
However, it appears that tactics and Final Fantasy XIII, are not words to be used together in any meaningful way.
So, though the battle system is quite fun, despite the previous stated problem, it's score highly suffers due to the fact you don't get to fully enjoy said battle system until half the game is over.Game-play = 6
All in all, the game is a highly overrated money making scheme that works. Do I want Square-Enix to make money to bring out more games? Yes. But this game hardly lives up to the hype that has surrounded it for damn near 5 years. So much so that I highly doubt I will be buying Final Fantasy XV on launch day.
The game has it's fun moments, and the battle system and graphics are superb. However, the negative aspects efficiently killed this game, and truly my hope for a continued franchise. Hopefully, the next one will prove me wrong!Final Score = 6.25