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Final Fantasy XIII Review

May 28, 2010

For over twenty years the Final Fantasy series has been a force to be reckoned with in the RPG genre.  Now the thirteenth entry in the main series (Really the twelfth since XI was an MMO) has been released for the Playstation 3 & Xbox 360.  How does the first HD Final Fantasy hold up?  More Importantly, is it worth playing?

While Final Fantasy XIII isn’t the best in the series, it’s certainly not something that should be passed up by RPG fans.  There have been quite a few criticism thrown out at the game but they have been largely exaggerations of a few design problems (which range from annoying to, well more annoying).

The game starts off on a train scene (sound familiar?) with the main character, Lightning, on board with a few other people, shackled and in robes before she starts causing trouble.  She quickly picks up a sidekick, Sazh, who joins her in fighting after they break free from the train, or rather after their train is forced to stop by Sanctum forces.  Now about here you’re probably wondering, Sanctum who? Well the game doesn’t like to make things explicit, at least most things anyway and if you want a clear understanding on what is going on, the datalog, introduced once the player is given control, will contain all the story, enemy, and gameplay information needed.  It’s pretty much a must read story wise as you’ll be lost for quite a while without it.

Sanctum is the organization in charge of Cocoon, a floating mini planet that hovers over the planet of Pulse.  The people on the train were on their way to being “Purged”, the reason for the purged is gradually explained, with a general explanation relatively soon, and smaller more important details being trickled out throughout the game.  The story is good, not great but definitely good.  Some of the characters can be annoying due to dialog/characterization or lack thereof but overall it’s the standard Final Fantasy cast of characters that we all know and love.

While the need for the datalog can be annoying to some, what I found annoying at the start of the game is two things.  First of, the game likes to hold your hand, it really really does, it’ll hold your hand for a good 15 hours or so before it decides to give you full control.  That is coupled with the first few hours of the game (depending on how long you take) not giving the player experience points, or in XIII terms, Crystarium points.  These, along with roles aren’t given to the player until a big story event, so any battles before than only yields items and potions.  While this is a drag, I will give it to the game that not having to heal your party after a battle is really, REALLY nice.

While the slow beginning and hand holding can rub some players the bad way, the combat, especially once fully opened up, makes up for it in stride.  The characters in the game will gain usage of a maximum of six roles, The Commando (Melee Fighter), Ravager (Back Mage), Sentinel (Tank), Saboteur (Weakens Enemy), Synergist (Strengthens Allys) and Medic (Healer).

At the start of the game these roles are not accessible until the story important event mentioned before. (It’s pretty a obvious event but I’m staying away from spoilers as much as possible.)  After this only a couple of roles are available, the roles range depending on the specific character and you’ll want to specialize into a 1 role, only delving into the others when it’s maxed at that point in time.  This is where the crystarium comes in, after defeating enemies crystarium points are given which can be used to unlock nodes in the crystarium.  These nodes range from increasing that character’s health, magic, strength, to adding new skills, accessory slots (new nodes are available after most boss battles).

While specializing is important, it’s impossible to ignore the other roles.  The paradigm system, a system which allows players to create pre set role combinations in order to switch it on the fly in battle, is very important, neigh very critical to the game.  Certain paradigms work well for some enemies but not others, bosses in particular can be very frustrating if the right paradigms, and later in the game, characters aren’t selected.  Even certain groups of normal enemies can be extremely frustrating or slow without the right combination.  For example is an enemy is resistant to physical attacks and all you have is paradigms with commandos in it, these enemies will take a very long time to kill, on the flip side if an enemy is normal to attacks but weak against elemental ones, the commandos can do the job, but a Ravager can do it better.

This brings me to another important point, each role has a passive ability, such as stronger attacks with commandos for all party members, or the Ravager’s improved chaining.  ”Chaining” refers to a system where if a stagger gauge is filled, an enemy will enter a staggered state (duh) where it will vastly increase the damage it takes.  Ravagers are very good at raising this gauge fast, but cannot maintain it, meaning it drops off quickly.  A Commando has the ability to maintain the gauge, making it decrease much more slowly allowing for ravagers to actually stagger the enemy.  Understanding how different roles interact with each other is crucial for difficult enemies.

There are summons in the game, known as Eidolons which I won’t go into as they aren’t too useful, but require smart usage of paradigms in order to obtain (Which can be very annoying sometimes).

Aside from gameplay and story, the game is stunning, the pre rendered cut scenes are truly beautiful to look at and the in-game graphics are up there as well.  The music is well done, no real complaints, and the voice acting is well done, if marred by some pretty meh dialog from time to time, but well delivered given the circumstances nonetheless.

All in all Final Fantasy XIII is a great, fun, and entertaining game to play.  It’s a little frustrating that the game doesn’t give you full control for a while but the battle system makes going through that little drag easier.  The battles are fun, world gorgeous and if you’re a completionist you’ll be playing this game for quite some time.


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