Final Fantasy. Two words that tend to jolt many a gamer into veritable fits of Déjà vu and verbal battles over which of the games that was the best or the worst. It has been almost impossible to if not to have played one of the games in the series but then at least having heard of them. For those few of you that might not have though, know that Final Fantasy is a series of RPG games by Hironobu Sakaguchi and published by Square Enix. The games are loosely tied together by the concept of magic, a world in danger and a group of people battling The Great Evil while brooding over their own personal issues. The game series have unarguably been a critical success with over 97 million sold games over the years.
Yeah, 97 millions – and Final Fantasy XIII is the fastest selling of them all so far.
It is with that information in the mental backpack and being a great lover of most of the games in the series that I am going to stick my head out and start off this review by saying that Final Fantasy 13 is an appallingly poor title. There, I said it! With that in mind, let’s take a few steps back and look at what Final Fantasy 13 is:
Just as its predecessors Final Fantasy XIII is a role-playing game. This one takes place in the world of Pulse and you start out on Cocoon, a hollowed out artificial moon where you fight the Sanctum, a government ruled by the fal’Cie, which are mechanical god-like beings. The fal’Cie are responsible for sustaining pretty much everything on Coccon; keeping the water flowing, the moon floating, light, power – you name it.
This would be all and well if not the fal’Cie were having a thing for picking out and branding some humans with a growing, tattoo-like brand and giving them a Focus to complete lest they be transformed into a mindless beast called Cie’th if they do not complete this within a certain time. These chosen ones, called the l’Cie are never told straight out what their focus really is, but must instead interpret visions they are given. If they figure out their focus and complete it, they turn into crystal and supposedly gain eternal life.
If all this is starting to sound like the host of a Japanese game show is standing behind the curtains and laughing while everyone jump through the hoops, don’t worry – I’m with you.
The game plays out as you run around with up to three team members at a time. Sometimes you are forced to play as a specific character with a limited choice of your team members or even alone. There are some interesting new things added to the battle system over previous games: Here you only control one of your characters at a time, the others go on auto-pilot but you can switch to them to make them perform specific actions.
Essentially the battles play out with you increasing the enemies’ stagger meters which once filled up, makes the enemies behave differently and become especially vulnerable to attacks. Also new is the Paradigm function where every character can instantly switch to another class of fighter, Either a Saboteur, a Medic, Commando, Synergist, Sentinel or a Ravager; all these have their own purpose and skill tree to expand upon to further their abilities.
The battle system is based around something called the ATB – Active Time Battle, and is a real-time based system where your ATB meter charges up over time. Spending bars of this meter allows you to perform different attacks. The fights are visually pleasing and fluid as you switch between both characters and paradigms. Gone however, are the days of the intensive pleasing music of past games and instead we have have some generic techno beating in the background.
The Eidolons, the great summon beasts featured in almost all Final Fantasy games are still present here, and are warped versions of ones featured before. They can now transform, Shiva for instance are now two sisters that turn into a motorcycle. Yeah let us just let that one sink in for a bit. Shiva, The Great Goddess of vroom-vroom!
These Eidolons are first summoned into battle and use different magical abilities. Each of them have a summon point meter that depletes over time and when you take damage. Once these are spent or your Eidolon is beaten they vanish. You can also put your Eidolon into Gestalt mode, transforming them and letting you perform various special attacks, often damaging every enemy on screen.
As you progress and gain experience you can fill up the Crystarium which is your skill-tree, and when you reach certain points in it, you gain higher stats or new abilities. The Crystarium is an elaborate design of crystal discs which you have to not only fill up but spend points on reaching.
Progressing through the world does not have the random pop-up encounters featured in most of the earlier titles, which I do think is a great change. Enemies are clearly seen and battle starts once you attack or are attacked, you can even sneak up on them and automatically get the initiative if they have their back turned on you.
Enemies drop items and sometimes weapons that you can use, and depending on how well you did in the battle you can get better and/or more items.
If one thing is to be said to be unquestionably positive about the game then it is that the graphics in the game is nothing short of stunning, the characters are beautiful in detail, hairs flow in the wind and attacks are beautifully animated, the textures are well detailed and battles although busy have no slow-downs of any kind.
If you have read this far and think this might be a must-get game I implore you to read on, for I cannot go on further without unleashing The Beast of Unpleased Gamer. This is where we must re-visit the different aspects of the game and I pick them all apart:
The battle system:
The battles are beautiful, but you soon realise that you will spend most of the 50 first hours of the game just pumping the X button to select the auto battle option which fills up your ATB meter with what attacks the computer sees fitting. Once you have identified mobs his function will function even better, choosing attacks that will be most effective against their respective vulnerabilities. In earlier games you had to figure out for yourself what their vulnerabilities were, when to attack, when to block, protect, recuperate, buff yourself or debuff the enemies. You have pretty much nothing of that here and I claim that you can spend the first fifty hours of the game mashing the X button through every fight while you read a book. Note to Square Enix: STUPID AND EASY IS NOT THE SAME THING AS FUN – OKAY? I’m sorry for letting out the caps-lock dragon, it had to be done!
I love looting, gleeing over new weapons, armor and shields and being able to craft new items out of others. This system though is deplorable. You actually spend some items to upgrade your weapons which quickly leave you with your first weapon being the best. As you get new weapons you realise that yes they COULD be better, but it would take hours of grinding to even get it up to par with your current one and so it all falls apart until the post end-game where you actually have to grind grind grind and read stats carefully to get what you need to beat certain monsters. Did I mention the grind? If I were to channel the Angry Video Game Nerd I’d call this game Final Grind 13.
The music for the game was written by Masashi Hamazu, known for his work on Final Fantasy X, Saga Frontier 2 and several other games; and I have to say that although his piano works for FF X was decent, the music in this game leaves me less than impressed. While I still to this day enjoy and even go around humming the scores Nobuo Uematsu wrote for Final Fantasy 7, I honestly can not as I write this; even remember any of the scores from 13. Why? Simply because they’re mostly very plain generic techno and doesn’t do much at all for the world, game, mood or settings. The music would probably have done well for a slow-paced shoot’em-up, but here is just deplorable. Final Fantasy has set the level high for its scores and this time Masashi doesn’t even come close.
As beautiful as it is, I still wonder why Hope literally pulls out a boomerang out his butt when a battle starts, and most of the worlds although very beautiful look dead, simply because there are no people around. Square Enix decided to do away with the non-player characters and what people you see in crowds fade around you as ghosts when you pass them by. There’s no people to stop and talk to anymore and I think this was a horribly poor decision. Although beautiful many of the environments end up looking very repetitive, especially the indoors hallways which is quite frustrating when you spend so many hours grinding down them. Cut-scenes are vivid and rendered in 1080p but hey, really – resolution isn’t everything.
The Upgrade System:
As much as I love upgrading, I prefer to have some degree of freedom over them. You only have a few Crystarium discs available to you until you reach certain keypoints and trust me, by the time you reach a key point you will have completed any disc you already had available and there is hardly even the illusion of choice here which makes it awfully dull. The Crystarium is beautiful and easy to use I will give it that – but that is also all there is to it.
With the fal’Cie, the l’Cie and Cie’th being thrown your way early on in a confusing jumble, my initial reaction was that the game should have been named F’inal F’antasy 13. The names of things and characters feel strained and forced most of the time. Although the story isn’t all bad it feels as if someone forgot to give it that final polish that made things feel more knitted together and giving it that flow, this however might really be the fault of what I am to bring up next:
Oh yes, the characters. Let me start off by saying, that if there was a PSN game dedicated to spending endless hours of using a Playstation Move controller to beat the shit out of them all, I would pick it up in an instant. It is not as much that they’re crying and doubting themselves every step of the way or even that they are so unsympathetic and plain, as it is that that they never once veer off from their stereotypes. The one exception being Vanille who behaves so irate you just want to punch her in the face every time she says something. How about patting a guy who just lost his mother on the shoulder, saying ”that must be tough on you” smiling as if on drugs and only being semi-aware of her surroundings; only to turn her back, start humming happily to herself and bounce away? WHO DOES THAT? At the end I had no sympathy left for any of the characters and couldn’t have cared less if they had all died a slow and painful death. The voice acting is not too bad, but Vanille and Thunder vary great in quality as the actors seem to flip between British and Australian accents.
Final Fantasy 13 really does a good job of showing you a beautiful big and wild world. Especially when you leave Cocoon and enter the wilds of Pulse, where the game finally opens up a bit. Do note though, there are no side stories, no major hidden bonuses to be found through the game until that point. As a matter of fact you will spend the first 50+ hours on-rail. At most you spot a short side-track leading to a chest containing some generic item that brings no joy. The monsters and especially the clothing in this game demand a mention though. The clothes especially are nothing but stunning, varying yet keeping a theme without anything feeling forced. Whomever made these should start their own brand of clothing.
The trophies for the game are mostly generic ones. Finish different chapters of the story, fully expanding your Crystarium skill trees, but some of them require a fair amount of grinding to be done. Nothing creative or really awful to be found here.
As much as I have raged on this game, I did play through the whole main story, complaining all the way. As it stands now I am very disappointed and will not pick up Final Fantasy 13 vs per automatic, I’m more than a little sceptic and disheartened. Where Blizzard has always gone the road of Do Not Fix What Is Not Broken, Square Enix has made a point of changing something that worked in pretty much every iteration of the games, not always for the better. VG Cats summed it up really well.
If you haven’t played a Final Fantasy game before and want some very easy entertainment without any depth, this might still be a game for you. Although the game has a much higher polish than say Enchanted Arms, at the end of the day it still has that fragrance of Eau De Fail.
This is Maximilian and the caps-lock dragon,
raging signing off.