X-Box 360 / Playstation 3
Final Fantasy XIII
Developer: Square Enix
Reviewed by Darkphoenix
After years of waiting, Final Fantasy XIII is finally here…...and it’s on the 360 too! To the hardcore fan of heart, you're going to be either completely enthralled, or dismally disappointed as Square Enix attempts to take the franchise to another level and appeal to western audiences. A completely overhauled battle system, gorgeous graphics, and a sprawling story await you in this not-really-thirteenth installment of the franchise.
The mark of any Final Fantasy game is the story. Here, you’re thrown head first into the world of Cocoon, where fear of the vaguely explained l’Cie and Pulse fal’Cie has pushed its citizens to the breaking point. Greeting you is a breathtaking opening sequence, where two of the game’s main characters overtake a train, causing a rather impressive amount of chaos and destruction along the way. The next fifteen to twenty hours are very CGI heavy, and explain the task ahead of the six main characters, and why they find themselves persecuted and on the run. Very often, you’ll do nothing more than walk down a hallway before another cut scene begins. It isn’t until later in the game, when the plot has been more or less explained with plenty of melodramatic flourish that the game lets up on the dialogue, and allows you to focus on achieving the task at hand.
Be forewarned, though, “letting up” involves little exploration. Final Fantasy XIII has an extremely linear plot, with the only sort freedom being something akin to the Mark system in Final Fantasy XII, which involves hunting down various monsters in Gran Pulse. These range from a few effortless fights, to some of crushing difficulty that make the end battle look like a Chocobo’s walk in the park. This was a cool inclusion……that I didn’t bother with until the end of the game, due to both the roller coaster of difficulty, as well as the tedium in actually finding the monsters on the game map. I found the strict structure of the game to suit the intense focus of the plot, however, this is going to stifle many a gamer used to airships and open worlds. You’ll get none of that here.
What XIII might lack in exploration, I find it makes up for with its unique and interesting take on the ATB (Active Time Battle). Party members will have access to specific abilities depending on what role they take on, like the strength-based Commando, or the chain-attack focused Ravager. The various and combined roles of the party are Paradigms, and can be changed via Paradigm Shift at any point in battle to different effect. One Paradigm might be focused on recovering an injured party, or another to move in for the swift kill after weakening defenses with yet another. What results is a very robust and immensely satisfying combat that is absolutely one of the best innovations in the franchise. Ever. Another highlight of the combat system is the ability to restart any boss battle from the beginning, without having to worry about replaying sections of the game if you fail. The game does a nice job of easing you into the various complexities of the combat system, though it does have an auto-battle feature that will select abilities (though it won’t shift paradigms) that it thinks will best suit the situation. This works reasonably well, but I advise that you shut this off immediately if you want to really enjoy the game.
One of the long standing threads through the Final Fantasy series are the summons. Here, they are called “Eidolons”, and exist mostly to serve the plot and provide the characters with something interesting to ride on when something dramatic happens. This is one of the few things that really disappointed me with the game, as it often felt like I was being punished whenever I tried to make use of these awesome-in-legacy beings. Acquiring them is mandatory, and will more often than not, leaving your hurling expletives (though hopefully no controllers) at your TV screen.
Speaking of the TV screen, this game is gorgeous. CGI scenes are rendered beautifully, and often I found myself not realizing that a cut scene was over and I had control of my character. The PS3 has the graphical edge over the Xbox version, because it was designed specifically for Sony and it’s hardware advantage. However, unless you have both versions of the game running next to each other, the difference isn’t that noticeable. The only thing that really sets the Xbox 360 version apart is that four discs were needed to fit the game, rather than a single Blu-ray.
Overall, I found the storyline and the game play to be a great step forward for the franchise, and fully enjoyed the 60+ hours I spent in the world. However, if deviance from the Square standard formula makes your stomach churn with fury, this is probably not an RPG for you.
Rating on a scale of 1-10
Overall Gameplay: 9