Final Fantasy XIII Review
A technical masterpiece; an actual disappointment.
Square-Enix, the once juggernaut of the RPG world, have a lot to live up to each time a Final Fantasy is released. I don’t envy their position one bit, but the first next-gen entry in the Final Fantasy series leaves a lot to be desired. The freedom to explore is replaced by a confined and linear path, your choice of squad members is most often made for you, the character advancement system only makes you think you’re in control and the story is one of the least personal and engaging in any Final Fantasy. What Square-Enix has delivered is the best looking game on the Xbox 360 with one of the hallmarks of a great Final Fantasy, a new and fun battle system, but not much else.
In typical Final Fantasy style, the story starts out in the middle of some tense events. The ruling class of the world Cocoon are forcing a mass exile of anyone whom they consider to be ‘contaminated’ by the rival world Pulse. The opening part of the story focuses on the escape of several groups including, in grand Final Fantasy tradition, a group of resistance fighters. From here the story focus is around the Fal’Cie (god like beings), the L’Cie (those branded and given quests by the Fal’Cie) and the Cie’th (the monsters you will turn into if you fail to complete your quest). If you can keep all these “Cie” words straight before the twenty, or so, hour mark than you have one up on me.
As I’ve said, this is, without a doubt, the best looking game on the Xbox 360. Square-Enix still hold the title for not only the best visuals but making them run smoothly. This game runs like a dream which is promising as it is the first released on the new Crystal Tools engine. Not only during cut scenes but during the general gameplay, character and enemy models look great and move fluidly and realistically. The environments are varied and wonderfully detailed.
Now, if you have any friends that own a PS3 it’s likely they’ve been bragging to you that the PS3 version looks better. The short answer is, yes this is true. Final Fantasy VIII was ported from PS3 to Xbox 360 rather than being developed in tandem for both platforms. Square-Enix has detailed that the video files lost sharpness in the conversion. I have only been able to see a difference in still shots and only when side by side. This isn’t something you will notice during the cut scene videos and it’s simply not present outside of the full motion videos. The game does not run at a lower resolution as some PS3 fans are saying, this is still glorious 1080p and ultimately very hard to detect. It makes you wonder what they’re compensating for…In any case, tandem developed versions would have been nice but considering the track record of Square-Enix and Sony, I guess we’re lucky that 360 owners can play this game at all.
Like always, we strive to give away as little as possible about the story of the game in our reviews. In keeping with that I’ll say that during the first three quarters of the game you will be back and forth between various groups of characters who are playing out their part of the story. The people and events in the game are related but the story seems to be on a mission to never allow you to pick your party. In truth, for the first 30 hours, you will feel like you are watching a movie rather than dictating the story by your gameplay.
The battle system is the true gem in Final Fantasy XIII, this is where you will have all of your fun. Each character starts with a couple of Roles, more can be learned later, before entering battle you setup a Paradigm. Paradigms are basically a loadout for all characters in your party, they are set lists of roles for each character and can be switched in battle, but not edited. The Roles are Commando (a medium damage dealer and frontman), Ravager (a quick ranged magic user) Sentinel (low damage but high threat generation, the Tank if you’re familiar with MMOs), Medic (the healer), Saboteur (uses debuff spells on the enemy), and Synergist (uses buff spells on the party).
You will want to set up several Paradigms before heading into battle so you can switch to cover any scenario. During battle, each enemy has a Combo meter, you can raise the combo meter by landing damaging attacks. The part that makes this interesting is Ravagers will raise the combo meter quickly but it will fall very quickly unless the Commando damages the enemy in which case the combo meter will slow in falling dramatically. To successfully max the combo meter you need Ravagers to raise the meter and Commandos to hold it. Throw a Sentinel in there who will taunt the enemy and hold his attention so your damage dealers can go to work. Once the combo meter is full, the enemy enters a staggered state where they take more damage and move more slowly, this is critical in some of the harder battles. Battles are fast, chaotic and fun and the faster you dispatch an enemy the more Battle Points you earn. The Paradigm system works great as you can damage the enemy, then when you get in trouble, switch to a Paradigm with a couple of healers to quickly get everyone back to full health, switch back and finish them off. Since you only control the party leader it takes much of the micro management out of battle and moves it along quickly so by the end of 60 hours, battles are about the only thing you’re not tired of.
Finally, to round out the battle system, you enter the Crystarium to spend your hard earned battle points on new skills and upgrades. As you spend points you will move along the path to new skills or stat upgrades. Where Square-Enix gives you the illusion that you are in control is the side branches. You can move up a side branch to get one or two extra upgrades or skip them to get a new skill. In truth, you will not want to skip the side paths as you will end up with a character who has all the skills in a given role but is not very strong, has low hit points and low attack power. You can skip things, but there are so many reasons not to. Also, eventually every character can learn every Role, but it’s very obvious that some are just not suited for some roles. Trust me, you will never use Hope as a Sentinel or waste Lighting as a Saboteur.
Finally, after 30-40 hours the game will take you off the rails and get to the part they are saying the game “opens up”. By “opens up” they mean you can run around a large field while taking seek and destroy missions from glowing stones. These missions have nothing to do with the story and just serve as a grind for people who want to max out their characters.
There is no multiplayer or co-op in Final Fantasy XIII, this isn’t really a surprise.
The Final Fantasy XIII achievements were somewhat frustrating. After 60 hours of play, I had roughly half unlocked. Most you will get for progressing through the story, a good portion are only obtained from grinding through the repetitive missions of the open portion of the game.
Square-Enix have dressed up a middle-of-the-road effort in an amazingly beautiful package. This will be the best looking console game you have ever seen and you will find some enjoyment in the battle system. In the end you won’t be invested in the characters (other than Sazh) and you will be tired of being led around by the nose. This really feels like the people designing the levels and the people writing the story didn’t talk until long after it was too late. Dedicated RPG fans and Final Fantasy fans will enjoy a lot about this game but, I would be willing to bet, ultimately will feel unsatisfied.