Final Fantasy XIII review
Amazing, but falls short in many areas
Soundtrack and Voiceovers
Overly Linear Story
No towns/villages/cities to explore
NPCs and Enemies poorly developed
Lack of side quest variety and no mini-games
I’m in two minds when it comes to FFXIII. On the one hand (which is what I felt while playing the game) it is an amazing, addictive experience. Everything works well together in creating a role playing game of the highest quality. Then there are my post completion thoughts. What do you get when a supermodel with the perfect body, beautiful enough to make your jaw drop to the ground, sits her perfectly moulded ass on the couch every day, chows down on Twinkies, all while watching endless re-runs of the Ellen DeGeneres show? The answer to that is wasted potential. Final Fantasies of the past (not so much FFXII) have made a name for themselves by giving the player certain features that are both regarded in the highest possible way, and something that has come to be expected. Many of these features have been completely discarded in FFXIII and had they not been, this game would truly be one of the best games ever made. While being far from the best, FFXIII is still a very captivating game which will give the player at least 40 hours of solid fun.
I’ve said it countless times before: The two most important aspects in an RPG is the story and the characters. FFXIII goes all out in both of these areas. While the story isn’t as captivating and involving as FFVII and FFVIII, it is still packed with countless moments that would make a grown man skip around the street screaming “THIS IS AWESOME” as well as a couple scenes with performances worthy of an Oscar. I’m not a fan of giving away too much in terms of the story, so I’ll break it down. There are two planets at war; Cocoon and Pulse. Both of these worlds are governed by their own superior-to-human life forms called Fal’Cie. These Fal’Cie have the ability to manipulate humans by giving them a task to complete (called a Focus). Once given a focus, the human receives a brand on their body, which makes them a l’Cie. Once a human is a l’Cie, they have two choices. One is to complete their Focus, which will turn them into crystal and give them eternal life. The other is to ignore their Focus and turn into mindless monsters call Cie’th. Humans are fearful of the l’Cie (since in the past they have only been destructive) and the government of Cocoon has made it their priority to destroy every l’Cie that walks the planet. This is where the game begins. The main character, Lightning, starts off on a train with many other l’Cie, about to be executed. From here she manages to escape and along the way meets up with the eventual other party members who are also l’Cie. Now you have a bunch of wanted criminals, on the run, with no idea what their common Focus actually is. All they know is that if they stick around, they will be caught and killed.
The context may be hard to grasp at first, but once the player is up to date with the terms and history, then it’s all smooth sailing. There is a lot to know, but it should be noted that there’s an expansive section in the menu called a ‘Datalog’ which gives a detailed explanation of just about everything. I have already mentioned that the story is great, but at what expense? Linearity! This game (or the first 60% of it) basically involves running from A to B, watching a cut scene, running from B to C, and fighting a boss. There is absolutely no level of exploration for at least the first half. This is the biggest criticism that the game has received, as past Final Fantasy games focus on allowing the player to roam free and explore the world. On the plus side, it allows you to be heavily involved in the story that it being told. While I’m here, outlining the weakest point of the game, I may as well branch into my second biggest criticism: There are no towns. Well technically there are, but they’re usually full of monsters, and still incredibly linear. Gone are the days of fighting through a tedious dungeon only to be rewarded at the end by a large flourishing city full of shops, houses and most importantly, lively villagers that will tell you exactly what’s on their mind. Yes, I am completely serious. For some reason, which is beyond me, towns as we knew them have been removed from the game. Some could argue that they wouldn’t make sense because your party is on the run, but I do not see that as a viable excuse. Play the game for yourself and tell me that they couldn’t have found a way to add villages/towns/cities to the world.
There is no better way to drive a quality story than with a cast of unique, memorable characters. Much to the delight of long time fans who were horrified by FFXII’s main characters, each of the six main characters in FFXIII have their own reason for doing what they do, which in most cases results in some deep development and very memorable scenes. Despite the common criticism that certain characters are whiny and immature, each one develops through the story and it is very hard to imagine the journey without them. This is characterisation at its best, and it has been a trademark of FF games since FFIV. Below is an image of the six main playable characters, as well as a main NPC.
So what is it that brings out the characters strengths and flaws so well? If you’ve ever played Suikoden III then you would be familiar with the Trinity Sight System, which is essentially a system that gives the player the choice in which thread or character they would like to play as. Eventually, all these threads merge into one. FFXIII utilises a similar system, however the player has no control over which events they see first. Early in the game, the characters take different paths and during this time, the characters truly shine. In most games, the party forms early in the story and travel together for the rest of the game. The problem with this is that some characters are neglected more than others. Having the characters branch off on their own based on their own personal reasons allows for more intimate interactions and ultimately causes the player to care about what happens to them, which in my opinion should be the end goal of any (hero) character constructed in a text. These main characters really are memorable and worthy of praise, however there is a downside to this; the villains....
FFXIII spends so much time fleshing out these six main characters and showing the player the strengths and weaknesses of each characters personality that they seem to have forgotten something.... every other character in the game. That’s right, apart from these six characters, no other character in the game is really worthy of praise, whether it be because they’re killed off before they can shine (*sigh*) or that they never had the screen time needed in order to flesh out their character into something like a Sephiroth. They are completely neglected apart from occasionally seeing glimpses of the awesomeness that could have been. I could only imagine the wonders that developing these other characters would have done for the game.
Well, now that these narrative elements are out of the way, it’s time to talk about the reason why people play games; the gameplay. In short, the battle system is amazing. Yes, it may be true that you can only directly control one character in a battle, but the battles are so fast that you would need multiple brains, hands and controllers if you wanted it any other way. However this isn’t to say that you can’t control the other party members at all. The Paradigm system allows you to select a role for each character and with this; they automatically perform a series of actions based on the aligning role. For example, you may assign a Paradigm consisting of a Commando (attack based), Ravager (magic based) and Saboteur (status inflicting) which will focus on dealing damage to the enemy. Within seconds the tides my change after a few heavy attacks from the enemy. The current Paradigm does not allow for healing, so it will be need to be changed to something that will, such as two Medics (healing based) and a Sentinel (Defensive abilities). You’ll find yourself changing Paradigm a lot, and since you can only assign 6 prior to battle, there is a serious call for strategy. While simply attacking may be able to get you through the first several chapters of the game, soon you will have to plan out every attack because some of the enemies and bosses will give your brain a workout, rather than your thumbs. Check out the battle system below.
Another important aspect of RPGs is the way in which you build your characters. There are six roles in the game, and each character specialises in three of them, so it is usually these three roles that you will focus on upgrading for each character. This system, the Crystarium, works like the Sphere Grid from FFX. After battle, you are given CP, and you can spend this CP on activating nodes which may increase stats, or teach the character a new ability. Yes, it sounds simple, and it is. It doesn’t allow for much customisation at all, as like the story, there is a linear path you must follow, which is truly a shame. On the other hand, the weapon and accessory upgrading system (which I won’t go into) is fresh and probably the best in FF history. All in all, there’s a mediocre level of personal development, but not nearly enough to rival the story, characters and battle system. Below is a video on how it works.
I consider side quests and mini-games to be very important in an RPG. FF games usually go all out in this area, which is commendable, but unfortunately FFXIII is an exception. During the first 60% of the game you are forced to follow a defined path and there are absolutely no side quests to be found. However, at a certain point the game does open up and you are presented with an environment much like the Calm Lands (times 10). Here, you can take on a series of missions that require you to defeat enemies. There are 64 of them and they will take some time to do, as well as giving you the challenge that FF super-bosses typically do. This is it. There are no other side quests given to you by NPCs nor are there any mini-games at all. This is one of the biggest downfalls of the game, as these missions require a lot of backtracking and become very repetitive after a while.
I’ll end this review on a good note; that being the sound. The music is sensational and arguable the best in the FF series (move over Nobuo!). All of the tracks suit the environment and atmosphere, and this definitely enhances the entire FFXIII experience. Secondly, there’s the voice acting which is easily in the top tier of video game vocals. Each character delivers their lines so well and along with the amazing graphics, creates a cinema like experience. Bravo SquareEnix!
I’ll end it here. As you can see, while this game has a lot of strong points, it falls short in certain areas that previous FF games have excelled in. For this reason, I can’t help but feel there’s a lot of wasted potential here. If only the developers could use their brains and incorporate the strong points from past games, into succeeding games. It is not brain surgery, it is common sense. I’m always very critical when it comes to my RPGs and I feel I may have emphasised the negatives too much, so I'll finish by saying that this is an exceptionally enjoyable game that should be played by any RPG fan. I loved it and there’s no doubt that I’ll play it again in the near future.
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