The thirteenth installment in the Final Fantasy series was actually my first experience playing the games for myself. I’ve mentioned this before, but while I’ve always been interesting in gaming & followed the different stories, I didn’t get to start playing videogames until the XBox, when I had my own money. And I hate to admit it, but I was very disappointed with my first Final Fantasy experience. For a long time now, I said I wasn’t going to review Final Fantasy 13 because I never completed it. But then I thought, if I couldn’t stand the game enough to finish it, that counts as a valid opinion. And I do know the rest of the plot, so I finally decided to give this review a go.
Just be aware during this review that I could only stand to make it to the beginning of Chapter 10.
Like most Final Fantasy games, FF13 is a completely separate storyline from the previous games. The game primarily revolves around the tension & hatred between the floating world of Cocoon & the larger, hostile planet of Pulse. Due to a war centuries ago, the citizens of Cocoon live in fear of anything remotely related to Pulse. This leads into the beginning of the story proper, when a Pulse fal’Cie, the same type of being that created & sustains Cocoon, is discovered in a small town. Out of blind panic, the citizens urge the government to purge the entire population down to Pulse. These events are what initially tie our band of heroes together. Either deliberately or by being dragged into it, the protagonists find themselves being branded by the Pulse fal’Cie, becoming l’Cie. This not only imbues them with magical powers, but also gives them a mysterious purpose that they must complete on the fal’Cie’s behalf or become a Cie’th, soulless beasts forced to wander eternity in pain. But between the ticking clocks on their brands, the paranoid military & their own personal hangups, can they achieve this goal? Even if it may mean destroying their home?
Probably the biggest change in this game from earlier Final Fantasy games is the combat system. While still technically turn-based, the combat system uses “Paradigms” or roles that the characters can shift between on the fly. Shifting between roles not only affects the abilities a character can use, but can change the dynamics of the battle itself. There are six Paradigms, each distinct from the others. Commandos focus on dealing maximum damage & typically use physical attacks, Ravagers use magic to build up chains, Sentinels draw the enemies’ attention & can defend other party members from harm, Saboteurs hamper enemies, Synergists buff their allies & Medics heal. Although each character starts with one primary role, they eventually learn them all. This allows for a variety of combinations that can be switched at any time during battle. I should also clarify what I meant by “technically turn-based.” Rather than battles involving each character having a single move per turn, in FF13 you can only directly control your party leader. You have an Active Timer Bar (ATB) Gauge that builds over time. Each move costs a certain number of bars & can be activated any time you have a high enough ATB Gauge. For example, if you have a 3 bar ATB Gauge, you can use the regular Attack (1 bar) three times or a regular Attack plus Fira (2 bars). Similarly hard to explain but easy to understand once you use it, the level up system (called the Crystarium system) exists on a grid-like structure. There’s one main path for general character improvement (HP up and whatnot) but there are also branches that can grant specific abilities. Characters have a different crystal grid for each Paradigm.
Story: I think “convoluted” is the best term. Really, I didn’t have a problem with the actual story so much as the manner is which is was told. Giving me a book’s worth of text to read to explain the five-minute cutscene I just saw is not good storytelling. It’s perfectly possible to explain everything, even the backstory, through cutscenes. You don’t have to make me keep switching back to the menu to understand what just happened. I also don’t think it speaks well of how you’ve developed the characters if you have to explain what they’re thinking to me. I should be able to at least infer from their previous characterizations what’s going on with them. And speaking of characters… I honestly don’t think I’ve ever hated a character as much as I hated some the protagonists in this game. At least not without it being the developers’ intent for me to hate them. Most of the characters I was actually okay with. But Snow and Hope… I’m not a violent person, but I’m sure if I knew someone like these two twats I’d punch them. Both of them are just so annoying! Snow is an arrogant jerk with a hero complex & Hope is a stereotypical, whiny brat. I’m all about having flawed characters who develop over the course of the story, but I have to like them to begin with. People harp on Vanille a lot for being the bubbly personality, but I actually liked Vanille. I don’t know if it’s because I recognized her as the narrator, but I assumed from the beginning there was more to her than she let on, & I liked that. And the story properly develops that. Even Lightning, who starts as your typically stoic ice queen, evolves through the game as she gains various insights about herself. But even when they attempt to develop Snow & Hope, they still end up acting the exact same way as before. So overall a decent story told is a spectacular bad fashion with hateful characters. Score: 3
Gameplay: Another mixed bag. I like the Paradigm system. The different combinations of styles leads to a variety of tactics. I especially liked that you can switch them whenever you want. It lends itself towards strategy, especially during boss fights. For instance, I can start with a Commando & two Ravagers, but if someone’s taking too much damage, quickly switch over to a Sentinel and two Medics. Another feature I liked is the ability to restart any battle with no penalty. This encourages experimentation. I do wish you had more control over other party members, but I’m not sure how it could work properly with a faster system like this. I also liked that you can see enemies on the world, so you can avoid them if you want… sometimes. You can even get a preemptive strike if you catch them off guard. Both the combat & leveling system sound complicated, but they’re very easy to grasp once you get going. But for all these things I like, there are an equal number I don’t. I don’t like using components to upgrade weapons & items. Unless you have an FAQ open, there’s no way to remember which components give the best bonuses to each piece. It’s also annoying to pour components into a weapon only to have something better come along. I’m also not crazy about the Eidolons. Not the summons themselves, because I do think they’re all pretty cool & I like how you can either control them directly or have them as party members, but the battles to gain them. The arbitrary time limit that kills you if you fail is annoying. Even when you know how to win, you won’t always have time to do so. And of course I have to mention my biggest problem with the gameplay — the linearity. Perhaps it was my own fault for having expectations going in, but I thought FF games were about exploring a large world & doing sidequests to gain experience & all that fun stuff. But instead I got a game leading me by the nose everywhere. I kept playing, thinking the game would open up & give me some freedom. But sadly, it never came. Score: 3
Visuals & Audio: I could make a joke about all Final Fantasy characters looking like metrosexuals, but in truth I didn’t mind the character designs. Even Sazh’s afro. The graphics are nice, especially during cutscenes. The levels are all varied (I especially like Whitewoods) & do try to distract me from the fact that I’m essentially running down a fancy corridor. I did find some of the creature designs a bit too outlandish. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell what the original idea was supposed to be. But it wasn’t really a problem, just odd. Some of the music is nice as well. I’ve even downloaded a few that I really liked. The songs lean more towards the J-Pop spectrum, but for the most part fit the setting. Just one question… Why are the footsteps so loud? Score: 4
Replayability: Very low. While technically it isn’t impossible to finish the game (there’s nothing mechanically wrong with it), I don’t see the appeal of playing more than once. It seems like true fans of the franchise will be disappointed, & newcomers like myself will lose interest. Score: 1
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: I slogged through this game far longer than I normally would have because people kept telling me it got better after 20 hours. But 20 hours later I was still running loudly through linear corridors with no freedom in sight. It’s one thing to start slow, it’s another to have me halfway through the story & still bored. This was not what I expected from Final Fantasy. If you have a burning desire to try this game, rent it. But don’t be surprised if you get bored with it.
Title: Final Fantasy XIII
Console: 360 & PS3
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: March 9, 2010