Final Fantasy XIII review
The backlash it gets is ridiculously exaggerative!


Expect the unexpected... to turn out pretty damn well!
Final Fantasy 13... I have to say, I had my doubts. It looked like a very, very different game from Final Fantasy 10. Now, Final Fantasy 12 had this kind of thing going on, and what we got was a battle system that felt more like an MMO, and a terrible story. Did the senior citizens at Square-Enix learn their lesson from Final F-- oh, wait, critics liked it, never mind. But still willing to try something new, they took the basics that made Final Fantasy 12's system, and added some command chains, meaning you can do more than bonk your enemy in the head with your sword. As well as that, the content of the story changes dramatically, meaning... well, we got ourselves a fairly different game from the norm. Does that mean it'll be good, or will it be something that only critics will like?

Fear of the unknown... why so angry, government?
Okay, this is going to be hard, trying to sum up just the first few chapters without taking a long time trying to establish heaps of points, but here goes.

Two people set out on a journey to rescue a girl by the name of Serah from the clutches of the evil Fal’Cie known as Anima, both within a giant monster-looking fortress known as a part of Pulse, which is the enemy world of the world they live in known as Cocoon. The two aren’t together, but they meet up at about where Serah and Anima are. The two in question are known as Lightning and Snow. Lightning is being transported to Pulse in a ship (and you learn why this is) alongside a black dude (haven’t seen one of those in a while in a Final Fantasy game... 8, wasn’t the last one in?) known as Sazh, and they escape, which manages to catch the attention of PSICOM soldiers (otherwise known as government soldiers). Meanwhile, Snow is leading a rebel faction known as NORA into battle against PSICOM soldiers while he finds a way into Pulse to rescue Serah.

So what about the other two protagonists, Hope and Vanille? Well, Hope learns that his mother is dead, and that Snow is responsible in some way (not directly, but let’s just say she sacrificed herself to keep Snow alive after a big explosion), so he and Vanille chase him down, but since Snow is so far ahead, he has to explore Pulse without a clue.

They all meet up and find Serah, but she transforms into a crystal. After defeating Anima, they get transported into a different dimension, and a mysterious force brands marks on them, making them Pulse L’Cie, therefore, enemies of Cocoon. Now, they have to figure out what to do aside from running from the government for the rest of their lives. If they accomplish their mission, they get turned into crystals, but if they don’t do it quick enough, they get turned into monsters. Quite the dilemma, don’t you think? Be a monster, or be a crystal – either way, they’re dead!

After a bit of time, they split up, starting with Snow trying to break Serah out of the crystal, although he gets captured later on. Later, Lightning and Hope go further ahead after a brief stop to go after Snow for what he’s done, while Sazh and Vanille just try to figure out their mission and hope they don’t get captured. So for the rest of the game, they go about their separate ways until they reunite, figure out their mission, and act upon it, all while trying to plow though government forces that try to kill them. Hell, the government becomes one of the main things they have to kill in order to proceed!

Think I went a little overkill, but I just want you, the reader, to get a good idea of what you’re in for in terms of plot. The beginning seems pretty cool – a big war with some awesome characters, and then it turns into a sort of rescue quest, and then evolves into a quest to silence the government and stop people from being L’Cie, puppets of the world below them in Pulse. The first few hours doesn’t exactly build upon it, but once you hit the 4 hour mark, the story shifts into hyperdrive, and bada bing bada boom, there’s your motivation. Eventually, you start to really dig the storyline, and the cutscenes really shine upon first glance!

Ultimately, it’s the characters that stand out. The characters develop a lot throughout the first 15 hours, explaining their pasts and how they all got into this mess. As you progress, the amount of dimensions to their character and personality traits expands to the point where you really feel for the characters, and end up caring for them.

One could argue that most of them can get a bit too much except for Sazh, and they’re not saying this just because he’s black, but because he’s the closest thing to a real human being a JRPG can get, and hey, I’d be inclined to agree. Sazh is a very down to earth guy that anybody could relate to, and he isn’t some ungodly badass or some guy who lacks a personality. He’s just a regular guy, like you or me, who has to deal with his problems without shoving them in your face. Although I could also say that Hope is somebody the angsty teenagers can relate to, since he’s fairly whiny with hardly any personality at first, and develops bravery as he travels with Lightning. Ultimately, they’re all likable in their own regards, with Lightning being the overly serious sort of woman kind of like Auron was, Snow being cool, calm and collected cool dude, and Vanille being the upbeat and innocent looking girl. Yeah, you should know the drill here... I think...

Let’s get the weak end of Final Fantasy 13 out of the way right now – exploration. It’s linear, yeah, but that’s kind of what you have to come to expect from a JRPG. This isn’t Oblivion and Fallout, people. I forgot the last time the Japanese opted for open ended gameplay; only Americans have done this lately. Oh, you mean that big expansive world map... that’s what the kids are calling open ended nowadays? I mean, there is no Point C and D in JRPGs, except when the developers give you some sidequests, usually towards the end, and usually, when you try to make a Point C, you get destroyed by enemies ten million times stronger than you. I like that Square did like what they did with Final Fantasy X, and made exploration a bit more like a line with some forks in the road for extra battles and some treasure, because ultimately, you want to progress the story along. Exploration should come second, unless finding clues relates to the story... Still, running is running, and it’s not all that interesting. Expected.

Where my shops at?
Exploration will take place through many environments, but when you’re in towns, you’re there to escape from the PSICOM. That means little to no NPC interaction, no sidequests, and no mini games. So you’re probably thinking “well there’s one less game to waste my time with”, and I say “hey mate keep your ass on your seat”, because if you actually pay attention to the story, the world HATES the main cast, and WISHES DEATH upon them. Only a couple of characters actually help out the party, and that’s because he’s Hope’s father and... probably doesn’t give a crap if the PSICOM raid his house. That, and... well, I don’t know about you, but I prefer to just move the story along instead of worrying about silly little games, especially if the main story is about 60 hours long. Don’t worry, you get a break towards the end with a few sidequests and some exploration...

So yeah, where are the shops? They’re actually in the save spots. When you get the license for each shop beyond the general supplies shop, you can buy more types of items from the save spots. Eventually, you can upgrade your equipment at save spots. They really come in handy for a lot of things; a fugitive’s favorite tool, essentially.

Intense and addicting.
Let's cut to the chase. The battle system is like Final Fantasy 12's or even more like Final Fantasy 4-9's, but much faster, and more intense. You lock onto an enemy, select a chain of attacks (there's an auto-battle feature to select some for you, you lazy bastards), and let loose once the meter fills. Rinse, lather and repeat for basics. Already, you can feel the heat. It forces you to work with a stellar ally AI to make sure the character you’re controlling doesn’t die, while delivering the hurt. There’s a fair amount to the battle system, yet it feels like nothing until the game decides to challenge you. Yeah, I know that for quite some time, you’ll be selecting the Auto-Battle command and occasionally pressing L1 to change Paradigms... I’ll explain why this gets to be a pain in the ass later, but for now, let’s just get through the system.

Once you hit the 3 hour mark (gee, that’s a bit long, guys), you’ll be introduced to classes, which dictates what each character does. Most will have the Ravager and Medic classes (Medic explains itself, but Ravager is the offensive spellcaster), and only a couple will have the Sentinel class (defensive class, works wonders when you’re all screwed). There are some others... The point is, you mix and match the classes the characters you have at that moment together to create Paradigms, which are different strategies. As you get further, you really ought to know what kind of Paradigms to have, and if you don’t, well, you deserve a game over.

It takes time to be allowed to level up, but instead of the typical “you have gained enough EXP to level up. STR +3, MGA +3, MGD +2, you have just learned the Godslayer attack”, you have to go through what looks like a streamlined Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. It’s not complicated; just select a class you want to level up, and hold X until you use up all of your EXP, gaining statistics and abilities on the way. I think it’s kind of weird to do it this way. Why not just select a class and go down a tree instead? Eh, this is just a tiny little problem, nothing to roid rage over.

I’ll touch on the other important parts briefly, because I can feel a long review coming. As you mercilessly beat down enemies, you fill up a stagger meter, and when you fill it, they take more and more damage until it empties, making battles end quicker if you keep beating them down. Eventually, you gain the ability to summon powerful monsters called Eidolons, which can help force your enemies to stagger, and when the monsters become vehicles and you unleash the big attack, you can deal heaps of damage. This helps fight off bosses your party had a bit of trouble with. There’s more to it, but I think you’re all capable enough for some surprises when you purchase this game.

Pace: The Final Fronteir.
The first 15 hours consist of a lot of character development, which manages to build up to the actual storyline as it goes. From right about the 4 hour mark, a motive is established – protect Cocoon, and annihilate the government. So yeah, it tells bits and pieces of the main story along the line, but it’s mostly digging into a character, talking about their pasts and how the events of the 13 days prior to the minute their adventure started have affected the way they are throughout, such as why Sazh always looks like something is troubling him, the significance of Serah to Snow, or why Lightning doesn’t exactly trust Snow. However, this is what gets at me – for the first 10 hours, the game chucks a ton of easy battles your way. I understand that you have to get used to each element of the battle system before the climactic final battles, but damn, Square, you don’t need to hold our hands so much! The beginning is pretty much the calm before the storm, but if you can’t tolerate the calm, get out and just rush into a storm via Modern Warfare. Go on.

After you hit the 15 hour mark, the game places greater emphasis on chucking some dungeons and tougher fights your way. However, it’s not until the last 10 hours that you’ll really dig the game as a whole. The fights will destroy those who haven’t gotten good at it, and the story will annihilate those who didn’t pay attention to the first 50 hours. This is when you really begin to enjoy the game, so for those with patience enough to trek through a character studyfest will get their money’s worth.

It’s... Beautiful! *sheds manly tear*
The graphics are, simply put, amazing. I won't spend too much time on this, though needless to say, this is the best looking game in the series by a long shot. Everything is so lush and vibrant, the FMV cutscenes are breathtaking and gorgeous in design, and best of all, it doesn't suffer from just being a Gamecube game smeared with honey and oil. The first few environments may seem rather bland despite the impressive technical graphics, but you quickly get to many areas which are full of life and color.

It also has a fantastic soundtrack, especially its awesome upbeat battle theme, which I can’t get out of my head for the life of me. The upside is that it’s pretty darn good regardless, and definitely sets the score and setting for the game itself. The voice acting in the game is also fairly decent; most of the characters speak either a clear American accent with a few speaking with an Australian accent. The downside is that half the music in the game are variations of the battle theme, but hey, I’m being picky! I could also add Vanille’s voice acting, since it feels like her Austrian accent is forced, but you get used to it, so... that cancels that out.

Closing up the crystals.
Despite what all of the bridge trolls will tell you, taking everything way out of proportion because they think every RPG has to be Oblivion and Fallout 3, Final Fantasy 13 is a fairly enjoyable title. I don’t think they’ll ever top Final Fantasy 6, 8 and 10, but this is still something worth playing. If you are able to get through a rather sluggish start, you’ll find yourself really enjoying the fights and, by extension, the rest of the game. Yeah, bits and pieces could be trimmed out to make the beginning shorter and, to be honest, more tolerable, but for the most part, it’s good, and you’ll certainly get your money’s worth out of this.

Story: 8.5/10
It starts with a fairly badass premise, and then becomes a whole lot of character development that is surprisingly rich. It's no surprise that all that happens after the 15 hour mark is just progression of the storyline. Only problem - it kind of fades into the background between the 15 and 50 hour marks. The last 10 hours showcases some nice storytelling.
Gameplay: 7/10
Intense and easy to get addicted to. It's nice how each element is introduced to you slowly through tutorials, but you figure them out quickly and have a blast. The level up system is a bit of a chore, but it at least lets you equally level up your dudes equally throughout their classes (ESSENTIAL). The other minor gripe is the difficulty. It's easy for a bit too long. Bit of a drag when you think about it, like you'd expect it to pick up, but it only picks up a fair bit once you're past the formatilities. Here’s the thing - when the first 10 hours are easy as piss, you really have to ask yourself “what were they thinking?” and “come on where is the challenge!?” Jesus tapdancing Christ!
Controls: 10/10
Simple and easy to learn. Then again, JRPGs rarely, if it all, have complicated controls. Every button responds finely... not much to say.
Graphics: 10/10
If you haven't seen the trailers, then here's the graphics in a nutshell - some excellent environments, nice looking character models, damn well rendered scenes, and, above all else, very easy on the eyes, especially on an HDTV. Seriously, if you're without an HDTV, you're missing out on this aspect A LOT!
Sound: 9.5/10
This is some impressive stuff. The soundtrack conveys many emotions at the right moments, and the battle theme is pretty addictive stuff. So that’s why the revise it at times... Voice acting is also awesome. Vanille's voice takes a bit of time to adjust to, but that's it.
Other: -5
With all that's said and done, man, this game felt like it went too slowly before challenging us, and honestly, I was getting bored until about the 10 hour mark when the story picked up more and more, and the enemies and bosses got a bit tougher.

Overall: 8/10

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