Final Fantasy XIII Review

With Fable 3 completed I’ve set my sights on another game that never really got a chance, Final Fantasy XIII on the xBox 360.

There’s a history with this game for me. When it first came out I saw the price-tag and thought “Nah! A bit costly for me” plus I was playing other things so I figured I’d leave it. Months passed and eventually I saw it second-hand for about a tenner so I grabbed it.

I got to play it for a few hours, and then my xBox 360 developed the RROD, so I had to wait even longer to play it until I’d bought a new xBox 360.

Dragon Age II’s release knocked playing this completely out of the park, so much so that I just haven’t been able to get back into it until now. Well yesterday I spent a good solid six hours playing it to really give it a shot and now, after all this time I think I’m finally in a good enough place to be able to review it.

Apologies for the rather dull pre-ample but, anyway…

have at it you crazy kids.

Right, let’s just get this out of the way… the graphics are gorgeous. Final Fantasy XIII  is the best looking Final Fantasy game to date. I’m not going to dwell on it though, because these days there’s way more to a game than graphics. The trailer’s below though, if you’re curious.

The storyline is complex, and I have tried to paraphrase it for a while now. Having failed miserably several times, I’m just going to copy one paragraph out of the FFXIII Wikipedia page. I know it’s kind of cheating but it briefly describes it better than I can.

“The game takes place in the fictional floating world of Cocoon, whose government, the Sanctum, is ordering a purge of civilians who have supposedly come into contact with Pulse, the much-feared world below. The former soldier Lightning begins her fight against the government in order to save her sister who has been branded as an unwilling servant to a god-like being from Pulse, making her an enemy of Cocoon. Lightning is soon joined by a band of allies, and together the group also become marked by the same Pulse creature. They rally against the Sanctum while trying to discover their assigned task and whether they can avoid being turned into monsters or crystals at the completion.”

As storylines go, it’s good. I didn’t find it riveting exactly but for a game plot, it’s not bad. Though complex storylines in Final Fantasy games aren’t really uncommon.

So what is different?

For starters you only physically control one character in combat. This is usually pre-determined by the scene you are in but once fighting you cannot change this. The only sense of control you have over the other characters is by way of paradigms.

Paradigms? Yeah, and things get a little tricky to explain here. Think of a paradigm as a class in an MMO, with each paradigm having access to a number of skills. In the case of Final Fantasy XIII there are 6. ‘Sentinel’ focuses on absorbing damage, ‘Medic’ focuses on healing, ‘Commando’ deals with melee combat, ‘Ravager’ is your caster role, ‘Saboteur’ casts debuffs on your enemies, and ‘Synergist’ casts buffs on your party. During combat you can select a set of paradigms for your party to use. All characters will then use the skills they have unlocked in those roles. As the playable character you can manually choose spells or have them done automatically, the other non-playable team members will use skills based on AI.

I know what you’re thinking at this point “Where’s the strategy? By the sounds of it, everything is done automatically, Can’t I just set up a tank, heal, damage strategy and kill everything easily?”

That’s certainly what I thought. Although I’ll explain now why the tank, heal, damage strategy doesn’t work.

Each enemy has a stagger bar, which rises when they are damaged. However this bar also gradually lowers. Now remember the two damage Paradigms I mentioned, Commando and Ravager? Well, Commando damage doesn’t raise the stagger bar much but it does make the bar lower much more slowly. The Ravager on the other hand increases the bar quickly but the stagger-bar also drops quickly. In short, to successfully stagger an enemy you need a Commando and a Ravager. But those classes may take too much damage, and you may need to buff or debuff, or even a tanking role.

So, to go back to the first question “Where’s the strategy?” The strategy is not is using the right skills, but setting up and using the right paradigm sets. The more effectively you defeat an encounter the more experience you receive and the quicker you level.

Ah leveling, of course. Leveling is another thing that changes for each Final Fantasy game, so what have they done in XIII? Let me introduce you to the Crystarium. The Crystarium works in the same principle as the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. As you defeat encounters and gain experience you also gain a number of CP’s (Crystarium Points) It is these points that spent in the Crystarium.

As each character unlocks a role, it appears as an option to level. As you put more points into a role, you unlock more skills and stat points. Bear in mind though that statistic increases are effective no matter what Paradigm the character is using while skills are Paradigm specific. The more points you throw into a Paradigm the more impressive the skills become but flexibility is the key so it’s worth putting points into more than one Paradigm if you can.

The plot is just too darn linear for me. I am only on disk 2 out of 3 admittedly, but so far there hasn’t been any option for me to go and explore or for me to change the direction of the story. As the story progressed I am told which characters I have to use, who is in charge and the direction I need to run in. There are slight deviations in the path to get hidden items but so far there has been no options to choose a path, which means from a multiple-playthrough perspective it doesn’t have me longing to play through it all again.

Getting right down to the bottom-line, Final Fantasy has half of everything you’d expect in a Final Fantasy game; larger-than-life characters, summons (called eidolons) an oppressive and corrupt regime, magic, an original combat-system, a complex storyline and of course Chocobo’s.

…but in the same breath they seem to have forgotten what can make Final Fantasy games incredible. So many games these days are becoming more and more sandbox-like and considering Final Fantasy VII was one of the earliest games I can remember where there was so much to do outside the game, it comes as surprise that there doesn’t seem to be in Final Fantasy XIII. Of course it may all open up in Disk 3 and become a varied and multi-faceted game but that’s assuming you can make it through to Disk 3.

I also don’t like the fact that you can see the enemies on the screen. There was something about that hidden encounter approach used in all the games up until Final Fantasy XII. You were just walking around then suddenly, “Schwoooosh!” the battle music would play and the screen would morph into the combat screen. I liked the fact that you could just keep running round to get new encounters and level up.

It’s Not the thirteenth and it’s not that fantastic

I probably would have given up playing Final Fantasy XIII by now, but with Final Fantasy XIII-2 on the horizon I should at least give this game the benefit of the doubt, so I can play through that too.

I’ll update you if I completely change my mind on this, but after playing for so long I wonder just how much a game can change.

Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin is a freelance writer, living in Derby UK with his wife. When time allows he likes nothing more than losing himself in a multi-hour gaming session. He likes most games and will play anything but prefers MMO's, and sandbox RPG's.

So what do you think?

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