Final Fantasy XIII review
A "how-to" on poorly westernising a franchise
When you've set up an established series and you want to branch out, it typically helps if you keep your longtime fans' interests in mind, because if you lose them and don't gain any new fans, then who will you have left in the end?
Final Fantasy is a series that started off as Square's original swansong, into an innovator in the RPG genre, and now into Square's cash cow with at least twenty two million spin off games for the DS, PSP and Wii. Of course, nothing in the series has managed to top the success of Final Fantasy VII, nor have any been as good as Final Fantasy VI (in my opinion, at least). It's quite unfortunate that Final Fantasy XIII doesn't do the series justice, either. In fact, it was pretty weak. It wasn't interesting, nor is it even that good.
There are two worlds - the floating Cocoon, and the underground Pulse. Both worlds have waged war against each other, and Cocoon have managed to push the beings of Pulse back to their side, but it's raised some tensions between the two worlds, pretty much to the point where Cocoon's government, the Sanctum, have encouraged its citizens to hate anything that is remotely related to Pulse, like the L'Cie and Fal'Cie, which becomes a problem when our heroes become L'Cie after destroying a Fal'Cie named Anima (which may spark a familiar feeling, to those who played Final Fantasy X) and have to... well, I won't say for two reasons - one, it's a pivotal plot point that ultimately shapes the game into what it becomes... and it comes by 13-18 hours after our heroes become L'Cie, and two, because it didn't hit at a right enough place to really impact the story enough. It was not only predictable, but also pretty lame, mostly because the plot was just impossible to care about...
How so? Mostly because the story is pretty convoluted, to say the least. There's a lot of talk about L'Cie, Fal'Cie, Pulse, and a bunch of other terms that, if you don't pay attention, will confuse the hell out of you. The problem is that it's impossible to pay attention because the characters are about as interesting as a sack of potatos. Snow is that cheesy "I WANT TO BE THE HERO" guy that delivers the most corny lines, Hope is that whiny little kid who does nothing but whine and annoy everybody around him, Vanille is too peppy (which is a nice contrast to the broody cast, which is something I at least admire), and Fang (who you get later in the game) is too non-descript to care about. So four out of six are in the wrong, though Lightning and Sazh are easy to care about, since both of them not only have personalities that you can relate with (the tough girl and the black guy with a lot of emotional depth at times), but they also actually have something to say. Unfortunately, that's not enough to develop an interest in the story, since nothing really ropes you in enough!
The way that the game plays has raised quite a lot of controversy. Having linear maps with no towns and no interraction in generation has managed to annoy fans, and to be honest, I don't approve of this myself. In the end, it got BORING. I understand that it has to do with the fact that our heroes are enemies of the world, but I think that's Square just looking for an excuse to not have towns. After a couple of hours, I no longer had any interest in progressing through the linear world. Final Fantasy X had some bells and whistles to keep me coming back, and it was practically made for Western gamers... Square really confuses me. It feels like it was done to try and appease western gamers, which confuses me, because to have world map progression even more shallow than that of Final Fantasy X, which have some towns but is still linear, is just lazy. It's as if all Square had on the mind was "how can we make the world's laziest battle system" and "how can we piss our fans off even more".
Oh, but the leveling up and equipment systems must be awesome, right? Wrong! The leveling up system is another example of laziness, since all characters invariably learn the same techniques. Each character starts with two or three classes out of six, which would make you think that they're actually different, but as you progress and unlock more of the Crystarium, you really notice that they're all the same. The only difference is that some classes are better for others at first, but if you level up heaps, it won't matter. Top this off with a lack of customizable equipment, and there is absolutely no customization available! Geez, maybe Level 5 should pay Square a visit, because White Knight Chronicles, which was released before this game, had a lot of customization. But wait, this is meant for Western gamers, isn't it!? Can't overload them with anything remotely complicated, can't we!?
Hold on, the battle system must be interesting, right? Wrong again! The game brings back the ATB system from Final Fantasy IV-IX and X2, but it's been scaled down to let us control only one character, and not have to worry about much except for how long each action takes - basically, the stronger actions and higher level spells take up more time than their weaker counterparts. They stripped away MP and give you an auto-fight option so that the battles can be nothing but non stop action. That's fine, but all the game regresses into is "MASH X". This is uninteresting! There is almost no skill needed to beat most of the game, unless you're not at a high-ish level!
I think the only idea that could actually work very well is the Paradigm system. The ability to switch an entire strategy around to suit the situation at hand is a pretty good one. Typically speaking, teammate AI isn't something that can adjust to different situations easily, so having a system where, with the press of a button, you can switch their way of battling completely. From magic attacks, to healing, to strengthening your team, to weakening the enemies, to defending, and to just all out attacking with their weapons, there are many combinations to utilize, though once you establish a party, you tend to only really need 5, but happy experimenting. Sad to say that this is the only gameplay element that actually works.
I may be sounding like a purist, but I'm not really like that. I just really, really don't like this game. Then again, it may be because the story let me down. Seriously, if the story was less convoluted, I'd probably like the rest of the game more... You have to put up with all of this for 60 hours, so I hope you like the idea of the story, because it's what you're putting up with, and there's no ands, ifs or buts about it!
There's one thing that cannot be denied - the graphics are excellent. Gorgeous environments that can manage to take your breath away with pretty colors and excellent texture rendering. The characters look photo realistic and the explosions throughout are just the icing on the cake. The only games that top this in the looks department are Heavy Rain, Crysis, Killzone 2 and Dragon Age: Origins on the highest PC graphics settings. Excellent.
The audio is good, but not great. As many have pointed out, Vanille's voice acting gets really annoying. It suits her overly perky personality, but it still gets on your nerves. On top of that, the soundtrack doesn't have as many memorable hits as past Final Fantasy games. However, the voice acting for the other characters, even the ever so annoying Hope, ranges from passable to good, especially Snow's, which suits his corny dialogue and "I'm going to be the one who saves the princess" attitude. The soundtrack's memorable hits, like all of the battle themes and half of the cutscene tracks, are ones that I would love to listen to without the game backing them up. In fact, I'm listening to the soundtrack as I write the review... and it still doesn't stop me from hating this game!
If you can't tell by now, Square consider Western gamers to be complete and utter morons who can only play a game if it has pretty colors. Instead of repackaging Final Fantasy VII/X, they make something that is so devoid of anything, that the game has practically no audience, except people who can at least get into the storyline and characters. Nothing wrong with that, but Square weren't going for those people - they were going for Western gamers, and they screwed up. Boring story, hardly any gameplay, almost no immersion, devoid of customization, and overall, just a bad game! Never again, Square... never again...
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