Final Fantasy XIII Review
Disclosure: This review is based off of the PlayStation 3 version of Final Fantasy XIII, which may differ from the Xbox 360 version.
Square Enix has finally hit the next generation of consoles with the release of Final Fantasy XIII for the PlayStation 3, and now even for the Xbox 360. Without playing either of them, the only main difference that can be said between each version is the fact that the Xbox 360 version is spread across multiple discs, due to the size of the game. Other than that, it cannot objectively be said which version is the “better” one without extensively playing through them both. None the less, FFXIII brings to the table an absolutely gorgeous game with another new type of battle system, and another new type of upgrade system, both of which are simple to understand, but look to be complex in their own ways. However, even though the game may look wonderful, it falls short in many aspects that previous Final Fantasy games have shined on.
The controls are simple and easy to understand, as they always have been. Moving is controlled with the left analog stick, and the camera is controlled with the right analog stick. The camera, however, can be a pain to control sometimes, especially when you’re moving your character and trying to change the direction of the camera at the same time. The camera tends to want to move in the direction that you are running, no matter where you would rather it be, which can sometimes make you sick as it jerks back and forth. Another thing that you’ll note very quickly is how linear the game really is. From the beginning, you are forced down skinny corridors that move you in a single direction, not allowing for any types of exploration. Later in the game you are given a little more freedom as you are given sidequests, but for the first 20 odd hours of the game, you’ll be traveling in a straight line. Treasures are practically not hidden at all, as if they are down a side route, it will be simple to tell exactly where that route is by your mini-map.
To add to how linear this game really is, there are no cities, towns or shops to visit. To buy or sell items, you will access the “Shop” from save points, which electronically connects you to any types of shops that are available at the time. Save Stations, as they are called, are gratuitously scattered throughout the game, so you’ll never have a hard time finding a place to save. Upgrades to your weapons can also be made at these Save Stations, and while it helps, it can be very unnecessary to do, which adds another level of disappointment on to the game.
The battle system is the biggest change, and will leave you wanting something more. The ATB, or Active Time Battle gauge has returned, but in a different fashion. Each ability that you want to use costs a certain amount of segments in your ATB gauge, removing the idea of magic points or any limit on the amount of spells you can use. When the ATB gauge is full, your character will use the commands that you’ve chosen on the enemy that you selected, creating a chain. Attack chains are extremely important in this game. The more attacks you do in succession, the more percentage of damage you do to your enemy, until at a certain point they become “Staggered”. Once an enemy is Staggered, they become much more susceptible to massive amounts of damage, which can easily turn the tide of the battle in your favor. Ala Final Fantasy XII, you continue to only control the Leader character, while your other two party members are controlled by the AI. This brings to light the final most important battle strategy, the Paradigm Shift system. At any time during battle you can press L1, which brings up a menu which allows you to choose which role each party member plays. These roles include Commando and Ravager, which are attack based classes; Sentinel and Medic, which are defensive based classes; and Synergist and Saboteur, which are support based classes. There are many times where you will be changing your Paradigm every other action, so it’s imperative to be watching the battle to see what the status of your party members and your enemies are. While all of these features are nice, battles are hindered by the fact that they move so fast. While this may appeal to some players, choosing the commands that you want your party to use manually is slow, and can end in your failure, which is why there is an Auto-Battle button, which automatically selects the best commands that you should use. Unfortunately, this makes battles boring and monotonous, as you can sit and just press the X button repeatedly, and be finished with a battle within eight seconds of it’s start.
In addition to all of these features, summons have also returned, under the new name of “Eidolons”. Each character is assigned one Eidolon, and can only summon that one. To acquire these Eidolons, however, you must battle them while under a Doom counter, which counts down the time until you are killed, and the battle is over. Once you have them and summon them, they fight beside you with an SP gauge. Once their SP runs out, they leave the battle. At any time though, by pressing Square, the Eidolon enters Gestalt mode, which turns them into a vehicle which your character rides. This system is odd, and doesn’t really add much to the game other than being flashy.
Ala Final Fantasy X, levels for your characters don’t exist, and instead you upgrade your character through the Crystarium. After each battle your party earns CP, or Crystogen Points, which can be used to traverse through the Crystarium of each character, unlocking addition stats for your characters, including HP and Magic, or unlocking new abilities for each role that your character possesses. Sadly, CP is earned very quickly, allowing for a rapid traversal of the Crystarium. The challenge of unlocking everything comes slowly, until you unlock more roles for your characters to be able to play as. In addition to this, each character may or may not unlock each ability, so certain characters seems to be obviously better suited for certain roles over others, making it hard to be able to use a certain group and make them well rounded in each role.
As anyone can tell after seeing any screenshot of the game, it’s gorgeous beyond many games seen today. While you can still tell when the game enters a cutscene, the non-cutscene moments when you are learning more about the story look wonderful, with character mouth movement animations syncing perfectly to the voice acting. For the most part, the voice acting is spot on, but the voice actor for Vanille stands out like a sore thumb as something that just doesn’t belong. Given enough time, her voice will wear on you as it moves in and out of what seems to be an Australian accent, and her giggles and squeaks are odd and obnoxious. The music in the game is also somewhat sub-par compared to previous Final Fantasy games. It seems shines with the elegant orchestral beauty that they are famous for, but seems to miss the feeling of some of the scenes as happy, chipper music plays during a scene that just doesn’t fit the mood.
While Final Fantasy XIII is an okay game, it seems to just fall short in many of the areas where the previous games have excelled in. The first two hours of the game are extremely slow and boring and throw you into a story which, at the time, you have absolutely no knowledge about. And you are unable to choose your party until the 20-25 hour mark of the game as well, when the game finally opens up a little more. The battle system, while much faster paced and seemingly more exciting because of it, fails to excite as well when the player just has to continuously use the Auto-Battle function instead of actually selecting their commands. It’s not to say that Final Fantasy XIII isn’t a good game, and it isn’t bad either, but there’s not enough in it to consider it that outstanding RPG that we’ve been looking for in it.