Final Fantasy XIII User Review
At the core of the story of Final Fantasy XIII is six people, thrown together by the crisis unfolding around them. Lightning is the first of these, a brooding former member of the Guardian Corps (Cocoon general police) who is apparently trying to distance herself from everyone else. She is an intriguing main character to say the least, particularly as she begins to open up as the story progresses. Next, there is Sazh. He is a civilian airship pilot caught up in The Purge, who happens to board the same train as Lightning in the beginning of the game. Quickly deciding that she is his safest bet, he follows her. Then there is Snow, the leader of a small vigilante taskforce known as Team NORA. He is the fiancé of Lightnings younger sister Serah. Hope is a young boy whose mother goes with Snow to fight the PSICOM troops when the true nature of The Purge is revealed. His reasons for joining the team are predictable, but I am not going to state them specifically. Vanille, like Hope, is caught up with Team NORA in the beginning and decides to help the young boy in the quest he sets for himself. Finally, there is Fang. She is a mysterious woman who is introduced far later than any of the others as a member of the Cavalry.
The first hours of the story focus on the events of The Purge, and how these characters are affected by them. The discovery of a Pulse Fal’Cie within the vestige that is part of the seaside city of Bodhum sends the world of Cocoon into a frenzy. The reason for this is simple: Pulse is the enemy. Anything related to Pulse is feared and abhorred by the inhabitants of Cocoon, and so upon the discovery of this creature, mass chaos ensues. In order to allay the fears of the populace, the Cocoon government, The Sanctum, sets into motion The Purge. Using the transport of potentially infected people as a cover, they move in their troops (PSICOM) to wipe out everyone, ensuring that the world is safe. All is not well however, as Lightnings sister has already been transformed into a L’Cie by the Fal’Cie. Lightning, angered by this charges in, determined to take her vengeance and free her sister by destroying the Fal’Cie. Snow echoes this sentiment and so the five characters come together for the first time.
What is written above may seem overwhelming to those who have not played the game for themselves, yet all of that takes less than four hours to see. Moreover, answers are given slowly, so you will likely still be wondering at some of the events of the beginning by the time you are thirty hours into the game. From these beginnings, the characters will traverse the two worlds, discovering more about themselves, and the worlds, as well as the creatures that inhabit them, eventually leading to the point of changing history through their actions. It is a story that is at least equal in scope to the Lord of the Rings series, although probably not in execution. The story does have some flaws, key among them being the relatively slow start, the slow rate at which you accumulate answers, and the fact that the chapters seem to end with little resolution. That in and of itself is probably the biggest drawback to the game, but now I’ll move onto the technical details.
The graphics in the game are stunning. Anyone who says otherwise is deluding himself or herself. Each of the main characters is beautifully detailed. It is almost as if they are real people. The enemies are also amazingly crafted, although among the classes, most are simply skin changes. This isn’t a bad thing, but it was a very slight disappointment for me. The backgrounds are simply amazing; as they should be for the length of time you are forced to traverse corridors. There is a problem though, and that is that they are static. There is nothing happening in them, so it really does become boring, regardless of how jaw dropping they are. In addition to this flaw, I felt that the camera was far too tight. It never really let you swing it about to survey the surroundings at your own leisure, which frustrated me.
The FMV cut scenes of the game are simply gorgeous. From shots that pan out over the landscape, to the occasional intense close-up, the directing is superb. Everything about them seems to flow perfectly, and it really does serve to show how much effort has gone into ensuring that the game looks like the best gaming has to offer. The CGI cut scenes are difficult. They are far more beautiful than the FMV scenes, going as far as detailing the mottling on the skin of the characters, however they are usually reserved for extremely intense action wherein lies their flaw. The action and consequent camera cuts feel far too fast. It is almost schizophrenic in its direction. Simply by slowing down the action or perhaps maintaining a single cut for longer would have made it feel much more coherent.
My final criticism of the graphical presentation of the game was in the occasional frame rate issues while in battle. It was only minor, but very noticeable in contrast to the amazing amount of work that has gone into making the game a masterpiece.
The sound is similarly great. The voice of each of the six main characters definitely captures their look and character archetype, particularly Lightnings brooding nature, although Vanilles light, cheery voice really becomes annoying. In these six voices, there was one thing that confused me, and that was Vanille and Fang’s Australian accent. It makes sense in the context of the story, but it is a bit of a spin out. Not to mention that alongside the standard American accent of the other characters it made me realise just how strong my own is. Very peculiar. I also thought the voices of the antagonist characters were strong, from the baritone of Dysley, to Nabaat’s brisk tones and Rosch’s rough speech. Like the other Japanese games that I have played, I fail to see how the voice work is sub-par in comparison to productions from other regions.
The ambience of the game is astounding. More often than not environmental effects are muted, or non-existent, which genuinely lets the soundtrack draw you into the world. Of course, much has been made of the inclusion of Leona Lewis’ song ‘My Hands’ as one of the theme songs of the game, but considering it only plays once, I hardly felt it was a detriment. Besides, I actually quite like the song (Yes, I will hand over one of my man cards for admitting that). The rest of the soundtrack is made up primarily of soaring orchestral tracks and light rock tunes. I quite enjoyed it.
The sound effects are also very good, although quite limited. There is the whoosh as the battle screen inserts itself, and the gentle murmur of the treasure spheres, helping to alert you to their presence. In battle, your enemies will occasionally call out to you, or roar, or whatever fits their design, which again aids in engrossing you into the experience. Add to that the jeers of the members of your team and it becomes quite interesting. There are also the various sound effects of the different attacks, such as the burbling of a water-based strike or the flaring crackle of a flame-based assault.
My complaint with the sound is that, although it is way above par, it really has nothing to push it into being truly special. All in all though, in combination with the graphics, it gives the game a rare presentation in that it is almost perfect.
When it comes to actually playing the game, there are essentially two parts to it: the exploration system and the battle system. Neither of them are particularly complex, and they serve to complement each other extremely well. First, the exploration. You control the lead character of your current party from the third person view through use of the left analog stick. The right stick controls the camera. I felt that both the control of the character and the camera was overly stiff and a bit twitchy. It is a small thing, but annoying. You press the Triangle button to enter the main menu, where you can tweak your party through changing their individual equipment, or upgrading them through the Crystarium system (more on that in a moment); view your inventory; check out any information you hold in the Datalog; or looking at a map of the surrounding area, among other things. While playing, pressing the L1 button brings up the Shrouds menu, which allows you to equip one or more of several different items that will give you an advantage when you go into battle, providing you have some of them in your inventory. Scattered throughout the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse are treasure spheres, which may contain weapons, items, components or Gil (the currency of the game). They endow you with the goodies they hold when you approach them and press the X button. I would like to say that they are craftily hidden, but they are not. Most of them are all but impossible to miss.
The battle system is turn-based, but at the same time, it isn’t, and as a result, I have taken to saying that it is suffering from an identity crisis. To be honest, I think that what has been implemented in this game is a natural progression of the turn-based system, even if it could be refined. Now, in the strictest sense, a battle starts before you engage the enemy (done simply by walking into them. If you manage to initiate the battle without the enemy realising you are there (an admittedly rather difficult task), then you will launch a pre-emptive strike that will almost fill their stagger gauge (Once it is filled, the enemy takes a great deal more damage than it otherwise would). Now this is where things start to get complicated, because while the battle system may seem simple on the surface, it is in fact quite complex. Before digging into it, I must mention that you only control one of the characters. The AI takes care of any others. It is quite difficult to be sure whether this is a good thing, or a bad thing as it takes away some strategy, but at the same time, the AI is quite good, seeming to know what attacks and abilities to use.
The ATB gauge, which dictates when you are able to launch your attacks, forms the backbone of the battle system. Each attack uses a set number of points out of the ATB system, the more powerful the attack, the more points it uses, simple. It is as simple as selecting the attacks you want to use, and pressing X at each one (or one multiple times), selecting the enemy you wish to attack and pressing X again and waiting for the gauge to fill. Once it fills, or you elect to forego allowing it to fill in order to launch your attack by pressing the Triangle button, your character will leap into action. Alternatively, you have the option to use the auto-battle option, which selects your attacks for you. In my personal opinion, any gamer that elects to use this latter option should be stripped of their right to play games. It is a travesty that causes an oversimplification of the game, and I find it difficult to believe that anyone would think its inclusion is a good idea.
After some story progression, you will gain access to the Eidolons. These are the summons returning from the earlier games. You can summon them at any time from the Techniques menu, provided you have at least three Technical Points. Upon their appearance, your character is fully healed, while the others vanish from the field. They run on a timer, but I never let it run out, always ensuring to press Square first, thus enabling Gestalt Mode. This transforms your Eidolon into a rideable vehicle, and gives you direct control over the actions they perform. These summons look powerful, but in reality, they aren’t. When they finally do disappear, all of your characters are revived (if they had been knocked out) and fully healed.
The complexity of the battles is ramped up by the addition of the Paradigm system. This is the interface through which you select the roles of the characters engaged in battle. There are six roles, although for most of the game each character only has access to three of them. The roles are: Commando, used for high damage offence, although it’s chaining ability is low; Ravager, another offensive Paradigm, less powerful than the Commando, but with far greater chaining ability; Sentinel, which is used to attract the attacks of enemies and reduce the damage done by them; Saboteur, which casts status ailments upon enemies, weakening their resistance; Synergist, who improves the power of your own characters through status enhancements; and Medic, which can be used to heal and revive your characters as well as removing status ailments from them. The implementation of the Paradigm system brings a great element of strategy to the game, as it allows you to change roles on the fly depending on the needs of the battlefield. I think it has a flaw in that you can only stack six Paradigms to use. It really does become difficult to get the right combination, particularly if you choose to upgrade only the Paradigms your characters start with.
The final part of the game that deserves mentioning here is the Crystarium. You access this through the main menu, and it is where you upgrade your characters, as I mentioned above. You do this by spending Crystogen Points (CP), which you receive by defeating enemies. Each enemy supplies you with a different number of points depending on the difficulty of them. It similarly follows that the further you progress in the game, and the more CP you amass from enemies, the more it costs to advance your characters. It is a simple interface, consisting of a path. You hold the X button to progress along this path, spending CP in the process. Occasionally you will come to a branch, and you must dictate which direction to take by holding the right stick in that direction. More often than not, it is easier to fill out everything than focussing on the main path. One final thing, the CP you earn in battle is granted to each character, so there is no need to decide which character to develop.
I have not given the gameplay factor a near perfect score because it is flawless, but rather because it excels at everything that it sets out to do, which is more than I can say for most games. It is arguably the greatest strength of this game in that it aims firmly for simplicity, and succeeds. It is not burdened down by dozens of mechanics that are scarcely used, preferring to focus on the core experience. The control scheme is easy to acclimatise to and simple to use in the fast-paced battles, but the tightness of the characters and camera when exploring are a major detriment to me. In addition, I cannot help but think that the ATB system would have worked better as a purely turn-based experience.
Upon completion of the story mode of the game, I felt no inclination to go back and play through it any further. In terms of the game in progress, there were still characters to upgrade and trophies to receive for doing so, as well as some massive beasts to slay, and whole bunch of Cie’th stone missions to complete, but I never felt the desire to do those things. It all seems to be filler to extend the lifespan of the game for next to no benefit. In regards to starting a new game, again there is little point. There is no way to restart the game with all of your stats intact and there are no branching story paths to give you the option of doing things differently. However, the story is incredibly engaging and well paced, especially for a game that will easily last more than sixty hours. As a result, it is definitely worth revisiting once the intricacies of it start to fade away in your mind.
Yes, Final Fantasy XIII is a fantastic game. I say that without being biased towards the earlier Final Fantasy games, and so my opinion may not count for much among fans of the series. It offers what is arguably the best technical production on the market and backs it up with a brilliantly told story, interesting characters and one of the most demanding battle systems out there. The flaws of the game are minimal and do little to detract from the overall experience. Whether you choose to like it or not, Square-Enix has created a gem of a game that really does set the bar for the future. With FFXIV, an MMO, just around the corner, I wonder what direction that will take in forming the fifteenth entry in the numbered series. More pressing though is the issue of the remainder of the Fabula Nova Crystallis compilation. Final Fantasy Versus XIII seems promising to anyone that has been following its development, although apparently it will not make use of any version of the ATB system. Almost nothing is known of the PSP iteration, Final Fantasy Agito XIII, except that it, like this game, will set the bar for future games on the system. After playing FFXIII, I am most definitely looking forward to both of them, as they are sure to be as great as this one, and probably better.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.