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15 Mar, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII Review

PS3 Review | Lucky thirteen?
One of the hallmarks of the Final Fantasy series has been how each game has changed to the next. While retaining the same basic template, we were introduced with each successive title to new characters, new worlds, and new gameplay mechanics. That again is the case with Final Fantasy XIII. What’s different this time is that the changes are bigger and more drastic than ever before. Final Fantasy XIII is a Final Fantasy game stripped back to its core, its augmentations minimal. Just like Final Fantasy VII ushered in a new era - a new format, a new platform and a new mindset – Final Fantasy XIII too seems like the first step in a new direction for the series.

As you might have heard, Final Fantasy XIII is a very linear game for the first 20 or so hours. You’ll be heading forward and forward only, no exploration, no backtracking. Not very RPG-like, right? The lack of sidequests and exploration, until one significant opportunity for both late in the game, will be a sticking point for fans of the series who have come to expect such things of a Final Fantasy title. But Final Fantasy XIII isn’t really trying to be an RPG, or at least, not trying to be the kind of RPG we’re used to. Square Enix’s aim here is a focused, cinematic, story-driven experience, not entirely unlike the campaigns of Uncharted or Modern Warfare. The gameplay may be different, but the intent is the same. Final Fantasy XIII’s linearity is a consequence of serving the game’s story.


Prettiness abounds.

Prettiness abounds.
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So what is the story, exactly? Basically, the world of Final Fantasy XIII is split into the moon-like Cocoon, and the accompanying planet, Pulse. Cocoon is extremely fearful of Pulse and anything to do with it. An expulsion of those potentially tainted by Pulse, the Purge, unites five of the six main characters. In a confrontation with an ambiguous deity called a Fal’Cie, they end up branded as L’Cie, its servants. Perks include magical powers and a neat tattoo. As L’Cie they have a mission to carry out called a Focus. Tricky part is, they have no clue what their Focus might be, save for a fleeting vision. Making things even trickier is that the Fal’Cie which branded them was from Pulse, making them public enemy number one as far as Cocoon is concerned. Chaos ensues.

Final Fantasy XIII does a poor job at implementing exposition into the start of the game. You’ll be bombarded with terminology from the outset, words that are meaningless to you until the game explains them. Unfortunately it never really does this in the context of the game itself. Instead, you’re forced to consult the game’s Datalog, which is an ever-growing source of information on people, places and concepts. While the Datalog itself is well done, it shouldn’t be necessary to consult such a source for clarification on basic plot points that should have been fleshed out in the game itself. However, this is really only a problem early on. Once the player is familiar with the concepts the story flows on nicely. Cutscenes are taut and to the point, and the dialogue will make you cringe only occasionally. The quality of the voice acting varies, but as far as JRPG’s go, it’s pretty damn good. You’ll be drip-fed with flashbacks that gradually piece together to form a coherent backstory. As a whole, Final Fantasy XIII’s story is more straightforward than previous games, but it’s also more propulsive. The steady flow of exposition makes you want to press on in order to learn more about what’s happening.


...and that's why Lightning stopped using online dating services.

...and that's why Lightning stopped using online dating services.
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This is an incredible looking game. From the menus to the in-game graphics to the CGI sequences, you’ll be getting more than your fill of eye candy. The presentation oozes class out of every orifice. The environments you’ll traverse are quite static but many are nonetheless breathtaking. The stylised yet realistic character models are meticulously detailed and beautifully animated. Even smaller battles can look quite spectacular with spell effects splashing all around the place and characters leaping and striking enemies. The art direction as a whole is excellent. Many traditional Final Fantasy creatures like the Behemoth make appearances, but there are some fantastic original designs too. We played the Playstation 3 version of the game, and therefore can’t comment on how the multiple-disc 360 version compares visually, but we can’t imagine the difference being so significant as to discourage those with a 360 only. The soundtrack is generally strong, with great battle music and some memorable pieces to accompany the various environments you’ll wander through. The cheesy wailing guitars in some tracks bring the classiness down a notch, though.

Some of your time in Final Fantasy XIII will be spent traversing the environment, usually a simple trek from point A to point B. The majority of it however will be fighting, preparing for fighting, and reaping the rewards from fighting. Fortunately Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is excellent, and perhaps the most engaging yet in the series. Though you only directly control the leader of your party, you exert your influence over the party as a whole through what is called a Paradigm Shift. A Paradigm is a set of roles that can be equipped to your party. There are six roles that boil down to melee (Commando), magic (Ravager), defence (Sentinel), healing (Medic), buffing (Synergist) and debuffing (Saboteur). A party can have up to six Paradigms, and therefore six role combinations. You can switch Paradigms at any time in battle to shape what you want your party to do. Though at first you’ll get by on basic offensive Paradigms, you’ll need to learn how to get the best out of every role as the game progresses. Final Fantasy XIII includes an ‘Auto-Battle’ as the default option in battle. Hitting this will cue up what the game considers are the best moves for your current situation. Though some may feel this reduces battles down to mashing a single button, it’s an essential and intelligent streamlining to help the player cope with not only the vastly increased speed of battles, but also the new Active Time Battle system. Instead of one bar filling up that allows you to execute one move, multiple smaller bars fill allowing you to execute multiple weak moves or a couple of stronger moves. Auto-Battle means you won’t be constantly selecting to attack or cast a particular spell three or four times, though by all means you can still do this if you want.


The joys of interpretive dance.

The joys of interpretive dance.
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Tying cleverly into Paradigms is the Stagger mechanic. Each enemy has a bar that fills when they are attacked. Fill it completely and the enemy is staggered, entering a period of greatly increased vulnerability. Staggering enemies is the most effective way to defeat them and this will always be your aim. Where it ties to Paradigms is that you’ll need both a Commando and Ravager active to increase the bar with any efficiency. Spells from a Ravager make the bar shoot up fast, but it will decrease just as fast without the attacks of a Commando to slow the bar’s reduction. Of course, you won’t be able to have a Commando and Ravager active at all times, and from this basic platform of prioritising springs a surprising level of strategic complexity. Battles later in the game will see you switching paradigms every few seconds. You’ll also have to master timing your attacks with other party members in order to juggle enemies effectively.

So the battle system is fast, strategic and great to watch. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIII fails to take full advantage of it. Whether it was simply a matter of bending gameplay to story, or a deliberate decision to more gently ease players into the system, your party will consist of only two characters at a time for a large part of the game, switching between groups in different locations. This really hinders the battle system, like playing chess minus a third of the pieces. It’s deeply unfortunate that what is one of the game’s biggest strengths is held back to this extent. The payoff comes eventually in the later points of the game, where you’ll finally have all six characters together with the ability to choose any party of three that you wish. Unfortunately for some players, this will be too little, too late. For those who stick it out though, you’ll be given a rather excellent playground for battling in which to make up for lost time.


Each Paradigm combination comes with its own nifty nickname.

Each Paradigm combination comes with its own nifty nickname.
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We should also touch briefly on the Crystarium levelling system. Like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X or the Licence Board from Final Fantasy XII, battling earns you points which can be used to buy your way through a levelling tree for each character. Unfortunately, unlike those systems, there’s very limited capacity for choice. Though you can select which role to focus on for each character (which is limited by the fact that characters initially have only two or three roles available to them) the Crystarium path itself is as linear as the game itself. There is still something satisfying about gaining strength and abilities as you progress through the Crystarium, and different characters will have different paths through the same role, but ultimately it won’t be satisfying to those who like to really engineer and individualise their party.

There’s no doubt that Final Fantasy XIII is the most drastic departure yet from the series’ template. Square Enix have stripped this game down to plot, visuals and the battle system, excising exploration, sidequests and, to a degree, complexity. Though this change will appeal to some and repel others, Final Fantasy XIII is a first class game. The production values are simply stunning and the battle system is one of the series’ best. It’s certainly not without flaws; pacing, the party limitations and the levelling system taint the experience. There’s also the reduced capacity for exploration and sidequests. But in the end, Square Enix set out to deliver a focused, cinematic, story-driven video game, and Final Fantasy XIII will give you just that.
The Score
A brave step in a new direction for the series. It won’t please everyone, but Final Fantasy XIII succeeds where it counts.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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46 Comments
3 years ago
GAME has it for $38.. if they have any when I go to get my copy of Assassin's Creed II, I'll be grabbing a copy of this. I've always loved the movie elements of all SE titles, Kingdom Hearts included, and to some extent the RPG of it.. will just have to wait and see if I find the lack of sides noticeable or not.
3 years ago
light487 wrote
GAME has it for $38.. if they have any when I go to get my copy of Assassin's Creed II, I'll be grabbing a copy of this. I've always loved the movie elements of all SE titles, Kingdom Hearts included, and to some extent the RPG of it.. will just have to wait and see if I find the lack of sides noticeable or not.
Thanks for the tip. I just purchased. Now for my memories of FF to be shattered by this game...
3 years ago
I hope you're not disappointed RXWAG, I actually quite enjoyed it!
3 years ago
Cyph wrote
I hope you're not disappointed RXWAG, I actually quite enjoyed it!
I'll come for you if I am in anyway disappointed with my experience icon_wink.gif
3 years ago
i didnt hate it after the first section.....first part went a bit too long, but when it opens up it's quite alright...first section will probably leave you going, wtf is this, but trundle along and see how you go
3 years ago
And Fetidchimp icon_smile.gif

And on that note, wtf is with that rainbow pony on his signature!
3 years ago
Its why sam neil is horrified
3 years ago
I haven't unboxed the game yet, got it last night.

I want to give a good bash on saturday morning without distractions.. just like any good movie. icon_smile.gif
3 years ago
So I am at "Mission 7", whatever that means in terms of the whole game.. I'd guess around 10 to 15 hours in.. It's starting to get better but definitely feeling the railroading a lot. I'm started to avoid monsters to get past them just so I can get to the next storyline point.. I know I shouldn't.. and should spend the time leveling up more but the game actually tells you to avoid hard fights.. hehe..
3 years ago
You shouldn't avoid the fights, they will help you. Just wait till later in the game, it opens up. I didn't mind the railroading though.
3 years ago
Opening scene = wow. Anyone have a copy of the guide they wish to part with?
3 years ago
guide smuide, be a man!
3 years ago
Fetidchimp wrote
guide smuide, be a man!
No. You tryin to say I'm a woman?

Guides are good for me as my patience wears thin when I don't know what the fuck to do!
3 years ago
i am proud to say, i have never used a guide teh ever, woot....put hairs on ya chest it will.
3 years ago
Don't really need a guide with this game though.... there's not a lot that can't be worked out after the first few goes at it. One thing that they might have done earlier on is introduce the weapon upgrade system, I was selling all those loot items that I coulda used for leveling my items... *sigh*
3 years ago
Fetidchimp wrote
i am proud to say, i have never used a guide teh ever, woot....put hairs on ya chest it will.
I don't need nor want any more hairs on my chest. I just don't want the one's on my head being ripped or falling out. Geez some people. Come on man shit!
3 years ago
it aint a rip of the hair type game
3 years ago
^I'll let you know...
3 years ago
after you see ashley and martins game division.....tired of games that make you pull your hair out....
3 years ago
Fetidchimp wrote
after you see ashley and martins game division.....tired of games that make you pull your hair out....
Me no understandy icon_redface.gif icon_cry.gif
3 years ago
RXWAG wrote
Fetidchimp wrote
after you see ashley and martins game division.....tired of games that make you pull your hair out....
Me no understandy icon_redface.gif icon_cry.gif
It's a hair-loss treatment place.. yeh! yeh!
3 years ago
Me understandy now
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  9/03/2010 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  UBI Soft
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  1

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