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GRIM

Final Fantasy XIII Review

Posted on July 23, 2010 by GRIM


Available at Amazon.com

    ***CAUTION SPOILERS!***

    Introduction
    Unlucky for some, Final Fantasy XIII is the first proper third-gen installment in the Final Fantasy series and it’s a divisive one that’s been the cause of some controvery. It’s a big departure from the previous games in the series and from many of the gameplay conventions of JRPGs and RPGs in general. It’s also virtually incomprehensible and requires a big investment of time to get to the full ‘whack’ of the game.

    Story
    I have no idea. Seriously.

    I like to think I’m a fairly canny and intelligent guy with an IQ in the 140s, a more-than-passing familiarity with Japanese popular culture, JRPG tropes and have successfully negotiated my way through some very confusing games, books and films but even having completed the game I am little the wiser about what FFXIII was actually about. Something about ancient magic/machine beings infecting people with special powers and using them to try and kill themselves to summon back the creator of the universe… it makes little sense, isn’t well explained and contradicts itself a half-dozen times along the way. It seems to come from a similar half-crazed, strange interpretation of Christian philosophy that Bayonetta does and makes almost as little sense.

    I’m little the wiser as to what it was all about at the end of game compared to how I felt at the start. Frustration at this problem is only compounded by the fact that you were thrown in at the start with little to no background information and yet hours and hours and hours were spent (wasted) on a prolonged tutorial and the gradual introduction of game elements that took hours. If as much attention had been paid to explaining the world, the L’cie, Fal’Cie, Coccoon, Pulse and everything else involved that would, frankly, have been time better spent.

    Given that the game is so, so, so, so, so very, very linear and you’re essentially being lead by the nose through the game writer’s story and plot with little or no sidelines or hidden areas and almost zero exploration, you’d think they’d do a better job of getting the story, plotline and worlds across.

    Gameplay
    Gameplay takes a big departure from normal Final Fantasy play, you give up control over all but one character, the leader, who is the only one that you directly control. Otherwise you issue orders by choosing ‘paradigms’ which determine the skill set and actions of all the characters, including the one that you directly play. This makes for some fast and furious live combat, which greatly speeds up the encounters and makes the fights more frenetic, but it greatly removes your input as a player, removing you from the action and since you can use ‘automatic’ to fill in even the lead character’s actions combat can devolve into simply pressing the ‘A’ button, over and over again. I prefer a more tactical and turn-based mode of play to this, though I did enjoy FFXII which had a similar system, albeit one you had greater control over (being able to essentially program your companions and being able to step in and give them specific orders as needed.

    Characters are advanced through a system called the ‘Crystarium’, you earn points from killing monsters which you spend to upgrade your skills and stat bonuses in the various roles (Ravager, Sentinel, Commando, Medic, Synergist and Saboteur). The customisation isn’t as open as you might think however as each character is only truly effective in up to three of these roles and even when the rest open up you’ll likely only boost them for the sake of it with leftover points. Unless you grind like a mad bastard and run back and forth killing monsters you’ll only max your main roles.

    Weapons are customised with more grinding, this time for animal and mechanical parts which you use to imbue your weapons with boosts, increasing their combat and magic bonuses and unlocking higher levels which require special items to boost them even higher. Again, you’re unlikely to do this as it would take a massive amount of grinding beyond the seventy or so hours we spent on the game.

    Rather than finding out the weaknesses of the enemies and structuring your attacks accordingly as you would in the old games, you’re now much more reliant on the enemy-scanning Libra ability. Once the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses are known then your secondary characters will adjust their attacks accordingly, but until you get that information they’re as liable to heal the baddies with ill-chosen magic spells as to hurt them.

    The speed is welcome but too many compromises have been made on playability and the tactical side of the game. More thought and tweaking is certainly needed.

    Atmosphere
    As mentioned before, FFXIII is extremely linear and can be split into two halves. The first half you’re effectively fleeing from pursuit, trying to escape Cocoon, your home and get away to Pulse, the twin planet. Cocoon is extremely high tech and certainly feels that way, through many cut scenes you do get a feel that you’re pursued and that living on Cocoon isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be but the linearity is so constricting you’re frustrated as much as you’re drawn in. It’s essentially nothing more than one long string of fights, punctuated by cutscenes.

    Once you get to pulse the atmospherics become much better and this coincides with a little more freedom in exploration, moving around and side-quests (though these are essentially pointless and you can’t do some of them until after you’ve completed the game at which point… what’s the point of going back again other than being OCD?

    While Cocoon is the logical extension of the magitech seen in so many of the other Final Fantasy games (since VI), Pulse – or Gran Pulse, is a ruined, wild planet of Archaeotechnology, vicious beasts, chocobos and a near endless number of hunting quests that, while they’re writen into the story are really just make-work, rather than having any truly free-roaming element to the game.

    The graphics are brilliant and do draw you in but without a comprehensible story to hang the pretty images onto there’s nothing to draw you in. Couple this with largely unsympathetic lead characters and there’s not to engage you with the story and without a clear story to comprehend it’s very difficult to figure out whether the game has true atmosphere or not.

    Graphics
    The graphics are brilliant and the visuals are, apparently, part of a new ‘Crystal Tools’ game engine which is keyed for transitions between cutscenes and play as well as physics and special effects. This is some of the smoothest rendering I’ve seen on the PS3 and where a lot of games seem to gain pixelation at higher resolutions, FFXIII remained smooth and anti-aliased without getting degraded.

    Character animation is good, though the jumps are a little unconvincing. Combat is fairly smooth and the smoke effects, explosions and spells are visually very impressive and exciting. Transitions between cut scenes and live play are smooth and while there’s – perhaps – too many of them this lessens the disruption to play. The lighting in particular is well done and, unlike many games, it never gets too dark or too washed out with bloom effects to see what’s going on.

    Conclusion
    FFXIII is a deeply flawed game that is, nonetheless, pretty. It’s more comprehensible than Bayonetta… but only vaguely. It’s very pretty, but that’s really all the game has going for it and for hardcore RPG fanatics the lack of free customization and lack of a true free-exploration section severely devalues the game. While a lot of RPG development – admittedly western – has been bringing choice into CRPGs this game runs on particularly narrow rails. While it’s pretty, there’s a lot to be ironed out and expanded to make it a truly satisfying game. FFXII overcame its system changes with a comprehensible story and some engaging characters, both of which are missing in FFXIII.

    Still, there’s the seeds of a good, even a really great game in there which, hopefully, will get shaken down in Versus XIII and FFXIV and allow the pure brilliance to shine through.

    Score
    Style: 5
    Substance: 2
    Overall: 3

    Side-Note
    Another major disappointment this time around was the Piggyback game guide. Usually these are really complete, give great advice and give you enough information about the background of the game and the game rules that you could run a tabletop RPG based on the material given there. This time around the book felt virtually useless, didn’t contain a huge amount of useful information and the combat advice wasn’t exactly all that. Not really worth the money, especially in a world that contains Gamefaqs.com

    Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough

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