I know, I know, I'm extremely late on this one, but I thought that I'd try and get a fair way through the game before I decided on my overall feelings towards this game.

The result?

I love it.

Final Fantasy XIII is a game which for some reason, has been poorly received by hardcore fans of the series. Not to say that the game doesn't have a flaw or two here and there, but I really don't understand why it gets so much hate.

I guess I'll address my biggest gripe with the game straight from the get go: Gil.
For some reason, the mighty Square Enix decided that Gil was not to be earned from fights in FFXIII, oh no. The tried and tested formula is forsaken in this installment in lieu of a new system of item selling. After battles, you often receive a component which can be used to upgrade your weapons. However, some of these items will inform you that they can be sold for a premium. If you see this message on the component description, you had better sell it INSTANTLY, or you might find yourself selling 50,000 Gils worth of components for 5 or 6 experience on a weapon.

This aside, the game does a great job of making you want to get these components, for more than just Gil farming. The weapon leveling system in FFXIII is, as far as I'm aware, a new edition to the series, at least in this format, and it's a real treat. Components can be used to upgrade your weapon's strength and magic stats, eventually leading to them being "starred". When this happens, you can use catalysts to upgrade the weapons to their next level. For example, when you star Fang's "Bladed Lance", using a Trapezohedron will turn it into the new weapon, "Glaive". What is interesting, and what compels you to continue to upgrade weapons after this, is that the upgraded weapon will tend to have slightly lower stats than its upgraded little brother. However, it can be upgraded further, leading it to be even more powerful. The same system is employed for items, but from what I've seen, the biggest use for this is upgrading an item to it's star level and them dismantling it for several, equally useful items.

The leveling system in FFXIII is fantastic, it's as simple as that. Do you remember the Sphere Grid from FFX? Take that, give it a 3D facelift, remove the points cost for going back on yourself to activate bypassed nodes and add the ability to use the points you have up to where you are to gauge how close you are to activating the next node. It's called the Crystarium and it's most certainly the best leveling system in a Final Fantasy game I've seen, outside of the standard lvl.1,2,3 etc. As the Crystarium advances, more choices and paths open up, so using your points carefully could lead to some boss fights becoming comparatively easy, if you've chosen a sensible path.

Combat, in standard Final Fantasy faire, is turn based, using the ATB (Active Time Battle) system over FFXII's Gambit system. The combat is fast paced, with the player stacking up to 5 actions, which will be unleashed when the ATB gauge fills. However, this can be bypassed by pressing Y or Triangle, using the attacks you have up to that point on the ATB bar. The "Stagger" meter is another new edition in combat and an ingenious one at that. As you attack an enemy, their "Stagger" bar fills and when it reaches its peak, a 100% damage increase in put into effect, which will keep going up as you continue to attack, all the way to 999.9%, if you have the chance. It gives you a great advantage in fights, and when bosses start to have over a million hit points, it's invaluable.

In combat, you only control one character, which many see as a bad point, but with only one character's actions for focus on in, it makes every action you take all the more important. Should you play the Commando class and brutalize the enemy, or play it safe with Sentinel, in case the enemy busts a killer attack? It's all a matter of preference. The A.I does a fantastic job of supporting you and 9 times out of 10, it will do whatever you're willing it to, it's superb.

Speaking of the class system, FFXIII, Square Enix have clearly put a lot of thought into how they are to be laid out. There are 6 classes in the game:

Commando: Powerhouse attackers who prevent the stagger bar from decreasing so rapidly.
Ravager: They build the stagger bar with magical attacks and are the classic "Black Mage".
Sentinel: Defenders, who use Provoke and Steelguard to lower their damage intake and prevent the other party members from being attacked
Synergist: The buffing class, casting Haste, Shell, Protect etc.
Saboteur: Debuffing class, casting Dehsell, Deprotect, Imperil etc.
Medic: Healers and revivers, shocker, I know.

Summons, or Eidolons, a Final Fantasy standard, are of course present here and they look as cool as ever. This time, you have to best them in a fight of sorts to obtain them and you can, unfortunately, only have one character (your party leader) use them ONCE in a fight, so they must be used wisely. The Eidolons have been given the new, vehicular based "Gestalt" mode, in which they transform into many forms, Odin into a horse, Bahamut into a plane, the Shiva twins into a motorcycle etc. The ultimate attacks of the Eidolons are amazing, with higher powered characters being able to break the 100,000 damage barrier as early as disk 3's opening map.

Linearity is perhaps the biggest complaint in FFXIII, but I don't really see how it's that different to one of the most popular games in the series: FFX. Think about it, in FFX, you were given the illusion of an open world, but really, you were just being forced down what was essentially a one way path with different ways of getting to the continuation point. In FFXIII, until you get to disk 3, you are limited to essentially this, but if you can forgive it, when you get to the open world, you will not be disappointed: it's HUGE.

Now for the big 2: Story and Characters. In a word: impressive. The story takes place over 2 worlds, Cocoon and Gran Pulse, the former is a technological haven and the latter having fallen to ruin, being overcome with monsters, just begging to be fought. I won't give too much away about the story, but it starts off extremely confusing, but over time, you learn the lingo, the past becomes clear, meaning that the present states to make sense and you really begin to wonder where the story is going and believe me, there are twists and turns aplenty.

The characters are very well developed, with the one character that I take it as read that everyone hates actually becoming less of a complete drip as the game progresses and everyone else being extremely badass, hilarious or stoic, without it feeling too generic. I can't help but love all three of the female characters are some of the best in the series, especially Fang, who just bloody loves fighting.

Final Fantasy XIII is an obviously beautiful game with its flaws being greatly outweighed by its amazing successes. I'm 40 hours in and I'm nowhere near bored or done with the game. I completely recommend it to anyone who's taken the time to read this wall of text review. In fact, even to anyone who hasn't. If you have though, thanks for taking the time. =)

9.5/10

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I'm not sure where I stand with Bayonetta, even now that I've technically "finished" it. Sure, I've completed the story mode on Normal difficulty, but there's still so much left to do.

The story may have come to an end, but I feel my time with this game has just begun. As soon as the last credit rolled, I felt a wave of relief run over me: I'd done it! I'd finished one of the most challenging games of recent years. However, the last two or three levels had been a relentless barrage of waves of enemies and previous bosses, culminating in three outrageous boss fights. I'd gone through all of that in one sitting, unable to leave my seat, through sheer will to see the story to its close. However, fate was not on my side. I may have finished the paltry Normal difficulty, but the game seemed to know my weakness: It tempted me with HARD.

The fact that you're not given Hard mode until you at least complete Normal is basically the game's way of saying, "You're worthy now... I guess.". It's at this point that I face a dilemma: Do I challenge this hallowed Hard Mode and see if I am indeed worthy? Or do I piss about on Very Easy Mode and make myself out to be some kind of God?

Mistake number 1.

Hard mode wants me dead and it's not afraid to let me know... over and over again.

I thought some of the boss fights in Normal Mode were a bit tricky, but I truly stand corrected. The simplest tasks are elevated to tests if mettle and sheer patience in Hard Mode, and so after a couple of attempts at the first few levels, finding myself irritated, I decided to pop back onto Normal and find the hidden "Alfheim" minigames within the game proper.

Mistake number 2.

These minigames are without a doubt some of the most infuriating moments I've ever put myself through in my almost twenty years of gaming. The feats you are demanded to perform are (to me at least) outrageous. Defeating thirty foot tall, giant axe wielding Angels with only six punches and seven kicks is something I cannot be asked to do successfully... and yet I can't stop myself from trying. It's maddening.

I've managed to finish a few of these "Alfheim" rooms and the pure elation that courses through me upon collecting the treasure for completion of the challenge outweighs the fury I burn with after failing twenty times. It's totally worth it and I both love and hate Sega for it. They've made a game that makes me so angry, I want to beat it, just for beating its sake.

That's not to say that I don't like the game anymore. Hell, I'm probably only mad because nothing has challenged me like this since Bloody Palace from Devil May Cry 4, a mode I stopped playing, because I thought I was going to suffer from a stroke. I'm going to keep playing until I beat every single one of those minigames and Hard Mode, then I'm going to finally but Bayonetta back in it's box... or I would, but today, I learned there's a difficulty higher than Hard. Sometimes I think game developers want me to die young.

SERIOUS PLOT SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT!

Massive rant aside, I'd like to put it out there that I think that the ending of Bayonetta is one of the more outrageously epic of recent years. The game plays a few clever tricks on you, making you think you've beaten the game TWICE before you actually have. However, the first time, it's slightly obvious, as Balder goes down almost without a fight, which, to be fair, had me thinking, "It's too easy... I don't like this, it's all going to go to shit any moment now." and I was right.

The last boss (I say this in case you have no intention on playing Bayonetta, but just want to know what happens) is none other than, essentially...God. You are forced into combat with Jubileus, "The Creator", who apparently is so powerful that she cannot be awoken, lest her sheer power DESTROY THE EARTH. Now, I'm not what you'd call a God fearing man, but if a game asks me to kill THE CREATOR OF THE WORLD as a gun toting Witch, I'm going to feel a little sinking in my stomach. However, having pushed through dozens on unimaginable horrors on the way to this point, there was no way I was going to stop. I went at Jubileus with everything I had and I was treated to a spectacular final boss fight, laden with massive swords, being reverted to my childhood form and clambering over thousand foot long dreadlocks. It took a monumental effort to beat God, but cooler than the fight itself were the events preceding and succeeding it.

Before getting to the battle, in which Bayonetta was put to the ultimate test, we have to get to where God resides... space. To do that, we have to find some form of transportation, obviously. Now, what could be better as a mode of space transportation than a MOTORCYCLE? That's right, in Bayonetta, you ride a motorcycle vertically up, into the infinity of space. This is followed by leaping from your bike, onto a massive pillar and running up that too, in the form of a jaguar if you so choose.

After riding into space and fighting Jubileus, you are tasked with guiding her recently punched out soul into the sun... after making sure it doesn't hit any planets in the solar system on the way. Take a moment to think about that: You punch God so hard, that her soul flies out of her body, across the solar system, into the sun itself. Can you you think of anything more epic? Didn't think so.

So, you've done it: You've killed God, you've saved the world, the credits will roll... for about twenty seconds, til they cut out and you have to destroy Jubileus' body before it crashes down to earth, destroying it. Then you get a few more cut scenes, then the real credits... which force you to relive various key fights from the story as they roll.

I may have finished Bayonetta, but I'm far from completing it.



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Right then, let's see if we can't get this going...

I started playing Bayonetta today and it's pretty much exactly what they said it'd be...

I'll start by saying this: Bayonetta is exactly what Devil May Cry 4 COULD have been. Don't get me wrong, DMC4 was a GOOD game, but it wasn't (for many of us) up to the same standard that we'd become accustomed to after DMC3.

I mean, DMC3 gave us all of these amazing weapons, bosses and styles... in DMC4, for the first 11 levels we have one sword, one gun and no styles. Then we have to go through every level backwards and fight almost every boss again as Dante... oh dear me, what happened?

In Bayonetta, we get a woman who uses guns for the HEELS OF HER STILETTOS... FROM THE FIRST LEVEL. I mean, in DMC4, we had Nero essentially moaning for 11 levels before getting our hands on Dante. Bayonetta instantly grabs you by the balls and flings you into outrageous, sexy combat. You get new weapons almost instantly and they're all completely fresh and useful.

The story is of course... ludicrous, but you can't blame it, it's cheesy, it's confusing, but you can't stop following it, just to find out what the Hell is going on. There's not much to tell you that you probably don't already know: Bayonetta is part of a clan of (now extinct) Witches, who awakes after centuries of sleep at the bottom of a lake... with no memory of who she is. We, as the player, pick up the story 20 years later, with Bayonetta still attempting to discover the secrets of her past... whilst being pursued by everything Heaven has at it's disposal. I'll leave it at that to avoid spoiling the plot.

The game is, for lack of a better word, hard. We're talking a good mix of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden hard. Not infuriating, like Ninja Gaiden 2 could be, but still challenging enough that when you complete a level, or particular boss fight (like at the end of level 4, in my case) you feel a true sense of reward. I'm currently playing through the game on Normal and I'm feeling the heat. As new enemies are introduced to the player, (which is done at a fairly decent rate, never allowing the player to get bored of the same old fodder) you adapt to their differences. Some enemies can be charged into, guns blazing, while others must be met in the air and some, particularly fiendish ones, can only be properly dealt with after the successful activation of "Witch Time", one of the games greatest innovations.

"Witch Time" is brought about by the player dodging an enemy attack at the very last possible moment. If done correctly, the screen will take on a purple hue for a few seconds, while everything around Bayonetta slows down. This allows the player to get in a few crucial hits on their enemies, especially the ones who tend to enjoy being on fire. The inclusion of this gameplay mechanic is inspired and truly gives the player more reason to play both offensive and defensively, removing the age old tactic of charing into your enemies and hoping for the best.

When it comes down to it, Bayonetta is the first game I have purchased of 2010, but I doubt many games in the coming months will top it in terms of quality, content or just plain fun.

10/10

I totally recommend buying Bayonetta and seeing as this is my first Blog post like, ever, if you read this, could you be so nice as to give me feedback? Cheers. =)

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Tom Windsailor

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