Welcome back to Games in Review! Today we’ll be reviewing Final Fantasy XIII for the Xbox360. It is also available on the PlayStation 3.
The game starts out in a world called Cocoon, a pinnacle of civilization when compared to the lawless, monster-infested boogeyman world of Pulse. The citizenry of Cocoon wet their pants at the mere mention of a Pulse invasion. Apparently there was a huge war way back. Whatever.
The story begins with a mass deportation being enforced on anyone from Cocoon who came anywhere near a Pulse Fal’Cie (really powerful magical bastards). The heroes of the game are suitably pissed, as most are on that list, so they eventually join up in a resistance against the Sanctum (Cocoon’s government).
The game is extremely linear, and progression is typically possible without going far out of your way to level your characters. There are a ton of things you can do outside the realm of the main quest, though, so checking it out can be fun and net some decent rewards.
Final Fantasy XIII has a really cool battle system. You go into battle with a team of up to three characters, but only control the one you designate as the party leader. The rest of your party follows a priority based set of actions according to their classes. You set up a list of ‘paradigms,’ a set-list of classes for your entire party. You can switch between paradigms mid-combat according to your current needs. If you’re suddenly getting beaten down by some angry bit of magic, consider shifting to a paradigm with a Synergist and Medic for some protection spells and healing. If you manage to stun your enemy, switch to a combat heavy grouping and drop some damage. The paradigm system can seem a bit confusing at first, and then a bit limiting since your characters only perform within their classes (example: a medic cannot attack, a ravager has no physical attacks and cannot heal, etc.), but the system is truly fantastic. It leads to some engaging and fast-paced combat that keeps you immersed.
Another piece of the combat system is called the ‘chain gauge’. This is extremely important to the effectiveness of your party in combat. Each enemy has a chain gauge and it builds up as you attack them, slowly draining if they are left alone for a while. When it fills, many enemies will become much more vulnerable to attack. Different attacks have differing effects on the chain gauge, filling it faster, or making it empty slower. A large part of success in battle focuses around manipulating the chain gauge properly.
Moving around the world is fairly straightforward, it’s pretty much third-person free movement along the various paths and fields through the game. Gone from this FF game is the invisible random encounters occurring every three steps. Encounters are initiated by running into enemies out in the world, so you have an actual chance to run away or avoid encounters if you wish. This makes side quests and any backtracking you decide to do much more accessible with less slogging through weak enemies for little gain.
This game is beautiful. The environments are fantastic, and the characters and enemies are well rendered and clear. You don’t get any of the goddamn slowdown that you get with some other graphics-heavy games, everything is smooth and fast, perfectly fitting with pace of the game. Pretty polished.
Here’s where FFXIII is going to lose some points in my opinion, if only for the voice acting. Several characters were flat-out piss-poorly voice acted. Very disappointing. Music was pretty great though, not brilliant, but well done all the same. Battle sounds were above standard as well, and that’s good because there are a lot of them.
This is a new section of Games in Review that I just created on the fly because I felt that my problems with this game really don’t fit into any of the above categories. So here goes:
Character Design. Come the hell on. These were all in all a pretty poorly written set of characters, with some borderline dialogue and some crappy voice acting. And what the hell accent does Vanille have? They just made it up! They even got lazy with the names: Snow, Lightning, Hope, Vanille, Fang… Seriously? And they’re all such fucking whiners.
And the biggest problem with this game is how long it takes you to really get going. As I said above, the game plays ridiculously well, and is a ton of fun. But the token tutorial section lasts for about 10 hours. During this time you are kept running around frantically while the game teaches you the basics, while telling you as little about the story as possible. You have very limited ability to customize your characters, no ability to deviate from the story to check things out, and are subjected to countless events of mostly meaningless character development. Thankfully, by the end of these sections, you fucking really know how to play, and your characters are mostly over their issues with each other and you can start to get your shit together.
A must-play for any fan of the franchise. Fast action, extremely customizable tactics, great graphics, and a compelling storyline that develops really well. Despite its faults, FFXIII has a lot of gameplay value, and was an unregretted use of my time. This game was a blast.