Probably one of my most anticipated games of all time, Final Fantasy XIII has finally arrived. Final Fantasy XIII is Square Enix’s first attempt in bringing the critically-acclaimed role-playing franchise to high-definition consoles. And though it took them four years (after the game’s 2006 announcement, that is) to bring it out, it certainly does impress.
Plagued with an ill fate, the characters of Final Fantasy XIII are no less than colorful. Becoming enemies of the floating city Cocoon, due to the controlling fal’Cie forces, Lightning and friends are on a mission to take out a corrupt government. As l’Cie, they’re granted the power of improved strength, magic abilities, and a Focus to fulfill. All l’Cie are given a Focus, and no l’Cie chooses whether or not they want to become one; if they do not complete that Focus, they’ll become an abomination – or “Cie’th City” as Fang, one of your party members, likes to call it. The problem with that whole scenario is that the gang doesn’t know their Focus. Their only hint is a small glimpse shown to them whilst becoming l’Cie. Though, they come to realize that their Focus is much greater than they initially believed.
Final Fantasy titles have always had an interesting bunch of characters, and this title is no different. Not only do we see a diverse group, but we see a group of characters with conflicting ideas and interests.
Lightning is the queen of the group, taking her rightful place on the box art and as main character of the game. She’s an ex-soldier (sound familiar?) and follows her belief that a “target’s a target” and no more. She’s a fighter, to put it simply. Then there’s the self-proclaimed “hero,” Snow. Snow Villiers is the king of badassery. He and Lightning’s sister Serah are sort of a thing (kiss kiss) – and it’s actually her who brings all these characters together in the first place. Finally, there’s Sazh Katzroy – Lightning’s accomplice in the beginning of the game. He’s probably one of the most logical fellas you’ll meet, questioning all of the ignorant things that Lightning seems to do – like jumping off a two hundred foot tall ledge. You may wonder what he’s doing hanging around Lightning in the first place, but all is revealed within time.
Of course, there’s plenty more characters that come into play, but revealing who they are and what they do may conflict with a little thing known we like to keep on the hush-hush called “spoilers.”
Contrary to popular belief, Final Fantasy XIII isn’t your traditional Final Fantasy (/sarcasm). While the game offers a beautiful world from beginning to end, the game’s first twenty hours or so are incredibly – and I mean incredibly – linear. That means no towns, no inns, no physical shops (you shop through save points), and no NPCs to talk to. We’ve heard before that this was done for story purposes, and until you play it, you probably won’t understand what that means. Looking back, if those first twenty hours weren’t so linear and controlled, I wouldn’t have been able to get the same story that the developers were trying to tell. You’re not even able to organize your own party until after those first twenty hours. Prior to that, the game will forcibly switch you between groups of characters, all of whom are disbanded from the entire team. It’s controlled, yes, but it feels necessary for the story.
It’s not all constant linearity, though. Once you get to a certain point in the game, you’re given the freedom to traverse the land of Gran Pulse: a huge green world where players can take on various missions, take down mammoth beasts and gaze upon the floating city of Cocoon in the sky. It takes the game out of its previous set story path and gives players their own will and the ability to grind properly. It’s huge, vast and full of opportunity.
Although, while Gran Pulse does revoke Final Fantasy‘s aspect of freedom, I couldn’t help but miss the luxuries of the world maps and towns from previous titles. It almost makes it feel as if it weren’t even Final Fantasy, but an all-new role-playing game. On top of that, the missions players may choose to take on – which are given by the l’Cie who’ve failed their Focus and turned Cie’th – all task you with completing a battle that the failed l’Cie could not. So even the missions themselves are pretty linear. Although, maybe the ability to ride Chocobos around will help tide those feelings aside. Then again, maybe not.
Probably one of the first things I noticed while playing was the lack of experience points rewarded after battles. There aren’t any; Square Enix have nixed the experience and levels concept for this high-definition Final Fantasy. Instead, players are rewarded Crystarium Points, which they’re able to use to upgrade abilities and attributes for each paradigm available to that character. Upgrades include things like “HP +50,” “Magic +4,” “Strength +10,” “Watera,” you get the idea. Luckily for players, attributes involving the player’s health, strength, and magic stay with the character no matter what paradigm they’re in. It’s the abilities that are paradigm-specific.
The battle system is unlike any other Final Fantasy. Okay… not entirely. Everything’s still turn-based, but with the special effects of Hollywood tossed in. It’s called the Active-Time Battle system, which means you can take all the time in the world to make an attack selection, but your enemy could still strike you while you’re deciding, so it’s best to be quick.
Players have an ATB bar, divided into slots, where attacks are placed in queue. A standard attack can cost one slot while an attack like Fira can cost two. If you have four slots, you can cast two Firas in one turn or four standard attacks. After your attacks are complete, your ATB bar begins to refill again, and while it’s doing that, you can prepare your attack queue. For those wondering, there are no Magic Points (MP). You’ll have unlimited usage of magic in battle as long as it fits your ATB bar every turn, in which it usually does. As for Health Points (HP), it restores to its max after every battle – even for those who die in battle.
Then there are paradigms. At first, you may push them aside, but they’ll become a big influence on your battle behavior. Each character starts off with three paradigms, which include jobs like Medic, Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, etc. These are all specific to things like healing, physical attacks, magical attacks, protection, etc. Players can set up their paradigms through the game menu and switch them in battle. You could start every fight with a Ravager, Commando, and Medic, but then, fifteen seconds later, find yourself switching to a different paradigm with a Medic, Medic, and Ravager due to the high amount of damage your characters are taking. It’s a nice addition and adds a much greater strategy element to battles that you might not have gotten without it. It sometimes makes battles more difficult, for those who like a challenge.
Getting into battles isn’t done how it was past Final Fantasy titles. Every enemy can be seen on-screen before you get into a fight, meaning that they’re not random. While some fans may think that costs them their opportunity to grind, remember Gran Pulse. You’ll welcome this change, though, considering that during certain normal fights, you’ll find the enemy considerably difficult – even more so than a boss at times. That was one of the things that I didn’t enjoy – taking up six or seven minutes to take out an enemy I’m going to fight again in a few more steps – where I’ll have to repeat the same process.
Remember, there isn’t any ‘leveling up.’ There’s the Crystarium System, we’ve told you that, but there’s also weapon and accessory upgrading. This could be a pain, mainly because until you get to Gran Pulse, you won’t be able to harness enough material to significantly upgrade your equipment. Every time you find a new weapon, you’ll probably be discouraged to equip it because you already have an upgraded weapon equipped stronger than the one you just found. It’s happened to me every time I found something new. I was so focused on upgrading Lightning’s blade the entire time, too, that I forgot all about the other characters’ weapons. By the time I got to Gran Pulse, Lightning had a max level blade while everyone else was around level 3 to 5 with their equipped weapons. None of that is to say it’s a bad system. It’s a nice feature – upgrading your weapons – but my experience with it didn’t go so well.
Moving into the visuals department. Final Fantasy XIII is probably one of the most vivid and, dare I say, prettiest games you’ll play this generation. The character models are superb and the world is even greater. There are more than many areas of the game where you’re going to stop and rotate the camera just to glare at the wondrous work Square Enix’s development team has crafted. On top of that, here’s a Japanese role-playing game where when the characters speak, their lips actually move to the words their saying. It’s crazy! Who would’ve thought!
I have a lot of good things to say about Final Fantasy XIII. It’s an excellent RPG: great battle system, engaging story, beautiful world, and an excellent leveling system. But for a Final Fantasy title, it’s has its disappointments: no towns, no inns or shops, some enemies more difficult than bosses, no world map, and the majority of the game is too linear. I guess I just expected more of a Final Fantasy title. Although, I’ll cut Square Enix a break; the game is of massive scale and it’s their first true high-definition role-playing game. They did more than an “all right” job making it – they did a wonderful job. Final Fantasy XIII is an experience that no RPG fan should miss.
Final Fantasy XIII was reviewed on a PlayStation 3. The game was played for thirty-six hours. Final Fantasy XIII launched for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in North America and Europe on March 9, 2010 for an MSRP of $59.99.