Final Fantasy XIII review
A mediocre entry in the series with oh so much potential
Let's face it - Final Fantasy is a series that is well in limbo. X2 sucked, XII sucked, and most of the spin off titles weren't anything special. I'd actually go as far as to say that Square, themselves, are in limbo. Not since the Square Enix merger has anything they made matched the quality of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6 and 9, and even Brave Fencer Musachi. With the exception of Dragon Quest VIII, anything made by Square Enix is usually sub par or just complete and utter shit. Final Fantasy XIII, unfortunately, falls under one of the two categories. Thankfully, the sub par category. It didn't cradle the balls or anything. It just took *bleep*ing forever to get somewhere. It leaves a bland first impression, and even 20 hours later, it's nothing to write home about. It's not terrible, but I feel that, with some work, it'll be the best Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy IX.
Story: The world of Cocoon seems peaceful enough... that is, until we cut to a shot of two groups shooting at each others, and then to a shot of a ship about to crash, with two people fighting off another group of soldiers. Basically, war is going on. Eventually, you get to know the cast a bit, and you learn why three of the five (which will turn to six later on) are headed for a giant monster-looking fortress. After they all meet up with each other and kill off the monster within the fortress, they all get cursed by the mark of the Pulse L'Cie. What happens is that they have a mission or "focus" to complete. If they accomplish this, they'll live eternally encased in crystals. If they don't, they become monsters. Either way, they're *bleep*ed, but hell, I'd rather be a crystal than a monster. Maybe there's a chance of living...
Anyway, they're now branded enemies of Cocoon, because the government, The Sanctum, have convinced the citizens that beings from Pulse are evil and must be destroyed. Our heroes are fugitives on the run on a mission. This seems like a great and epic premise - overthrow the government while trying to figure out just what's going on. The problem - it takes a goddamn long time to actually get from getting the curse to truly figuring out what their focus really is! You get cursed at hour 3, and the twist (because they think it's something else that has to do with an entity they see in their heads) at hour 18... Basically, it's 15 hours of filler and overly dull character development and exposition. Listen, I like character development and exposition as much as the next guy, but when progression is denied because you're stuck too far into the past, the story becomes pretty boring, and makes the player think "gee, am I ever going to get to the final boss, or do I just experience some expository bs for the rest of the game".
Furthermore, once the twist occurs, the story takes a giant backseat. Basically, it devolves back into expository stuff, except they decide to take a couple of pages out of Final Fantasy X, and give us some pretty *bleep*ing boring villains. You thought Seymour was boring? At least his name is easy to remember, and not just because he's got the same name as the principal in the Simpsons. With the villains here, they just come, go, and not leave much of an impression. Same with most of our heroes. They aren't all that memorable since they're a lot like other characters from other JRPGs. Lightning and Sazh stand out because they're not boring JRPG stereotypes... they're actually more like people you'd meet in real life (okay, Hope as well, but whiny, annoying little bitches like him piss me off, so he doesn't count). Overall, there's a lot of build up, but the actual build up is about as enthralling as a trip to the dentist.
Gameplay: This is about where I start to distinguish myself from the other people who found this game unremarkable. I honestly don't care that this game is linear. It could be that I know the older games just gave you the illusion of freedom, and assraped you whenever you went off the beaten path, and as much as I didn't care for the story, this is the sort of game where you want to keep the story going. Well, technically, you'd do that for all games, but JRPGs, in particular, you would just want to progress. Linearity is not an issue. What is an issue is the battle system.
Simply put, the battle system is Chrono Trigger for noobs, but they add the Paradigm system just so that you don't have to press A a million times to win which would've given it less depth than Kingdom Hearts 2 (in that game, you at least had to move the left stick every now and again). But goddamn, the addition of the Auto-Battle command pretty much killed the game for me. It selects the commands for you, and you just need to wait for the bar to fill. This becomes extremely boring after a while, and that's why the game included the Paradigm system - so that you feel as if you're actually doing something.
The Paradigm system is a combination of battle roles. From your attackers to magic attackers to support mages, each character has a variety of roles under their belts. There are only a few combinations that actually work with each team of characters when fighting... in general. This is the only time where the feeling of urgency ATB battle systems usually bring to the table come in - you have to know when to switch to different Paradigms. Should you opt for a status-imposing strategy, or should you ram them down? It all depends on how the character you're controlling is going. Should they die, it's game over, though if the allies die, just revive them with a revival spell or item.
Another feature is the stagger meter. Hit the enemy a lot and their stagger meter will fill. Once that happens, you can do more damage to them than normal, and it'll keep racking up until the meter empties. I suppose that's why they included the Auto-Battle command. If that's the case, that's just stupid. The stagger meter is a nice little feature, making you want to hit harder and harder to soften them up, and I wish more games had something like this, but I'm sure we can do this through good old manual selection.
In a sense, this game feels very limiting, and not just in the fact that it's linear either. It's that the battle system is very simplistic, though the Paradigm system is a nice touch... and that's where the problems come full circle. It always feels like the battle system could be more than it is. It's like they could've opted for something like Kingdom Hearts or *shudder* Infinite Undiscovery, but decided to go for this instead. Disappointing, to say the least.
This wouldn't destroy the game, but when you consider that this is all you do throughout that doesn't feel like a pointless add-on, it's kind of lame. The level up system feels pointless, like they couldn't think of another way to level up all of the available classes, but instead, just have you hold A to get a bright dot to the next bit, usually in a straight line, which feels pointless. The summons seem cool the first time, and they make for decent equalizers, but they aren't quite as powerful as they should be. It just feels like they're there to increase the stagger meter to the fullest extent
Controls: You're spending a good amount of the game pressing A. Sometimes, you press LB. Granted that in JRPGs, you're pressing A quite a lot, but when you rarely ever have to use the d-pad, it feels like you're not doing anything but just press A. It's like you can go through the entire game just pressing it while doing something else... of course, that's why the Paradign system is there. In general, they're good, but like the battle system, it feels like more could've been done.
Graphics: Without a doubt, the awe-inspiring visuals are the best this game has to offer. Beautiful landscapes, lush or harsh colors (dependent on location), and some excellent texture work. The works, essentially. There isn't much else to it, since we all know how top notch graphics work.
Audio:The soundtrack is your usual Final Fantasy affair - bombastic battle theme, ambient dungeon tunes, and.. yeah, the works. It sounds good and all, but nothing that can top anything from the rest of the series (barring 12). Voice acting is hit and miss. Some are good and give the scenes some flair, and some just plain suck and bring the house down.
Overall: Final Fantasy XIII feels like an unfinished prototype, possibly the prototype of Final Fantasy Versus XIII or Kingdom Hearts 3 (by the way, the spin off games suck!!!). The battle system leaves an empty kind of feeling, and the story just takes forever to actually get going. On top of that, the antagonists were so shitty, that I was relieved when I killed them, and not in that whole "yay I saved the world" feeling; I'm talking about the "oh thank god I was sick of them" feeling - that, my friends, was the final nail in the coffin. I gave it many chances. I even went beyond the usual 8 hour limit, just to appease the fanboys, but alas, the game didn't impress me even when it "got good". It's better than Final Fantasy X2 and XII, but then again, dog turds are better than those games. More work is needed, Square.
Replay Value: 2/10
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