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Final Fantasy XIII Review

by William Schwartz

You know sometimes it’s just better that you hadn’t played the last game in a series to make a level headed judgement of a title.  Which is the case with Final Fantasy XIII for myself.  I hadn’t played the last game, I hadn’t played the one before that, in fact the last Final Fantasy game I played was on the Playstation One before the turn of the millenium.  You know the one, it was the game that revolutionized Final Fantasy games, taking it from 8 and 16 bit to the old next generation.  Filled with at the time, brilliant never before seen cinematic displays, and although I wasn’t as much into both writing and reading reviews back then, I’m sure they were pretty similar.  Mixed.  Even after all my time away from the series, something very strange and familiar happened as I launched Final Fantasy XIII for the first time, I might have fell in love with the genre all over again.

These things don’t happen by chance.  They happen by design.  The improvements made to the series over the years, modernizing it for the Now Generation, yet still being able to keep the series grounded to it’s roots is a feat worth celebrating for Square Enix.  Like many entrenched in gaming culture, I read the reviews of the game.  Some were good, others not so good, and as I began to play, I came to a conclusion.  Some people must just not like Final Fantasy games.  It felt as if it were the same brand of story telling, core game mechanics (aside from the greatly improved combat), and overall tone and feel to the game as the last Final Fantasy game I played 15 years ago.  Some of the complaints that were made towards the game were pretty valid.  Especially it’s linearity and the fact that some core RPG elements are missing from the game.  So that’s not to say it was exactly the same, as the old one,  but it felt like it.

Sure was the introduction and tutorial a little long? Yeah it lasted like 7 hours before everything was finally out of the way.  Was it worth it though? That was the question I kept asking myself.  Was this purposeful?  Or was it ignorance in the design?  To me it was purposeful, but not only purposeful, it was so key to both pulling the player into the world and story, and familiarizing the gamer with every nook and cranny of the new combat system, that when the tutorials were no longer showing themselves, I had a firm grasp on the controls neccesary to enjoy the new system.  Which was a blast.  The customizable Paradigms let your party switch between Offensive and Defensive Formations and were customizable to specific parties and members. So basically you can set default battle preferences and then switch to one of the four custom loadouts you have saved for the specific party.  Within the Paradigms existed Roles each role did something different, for example, the commando role would give Bonuses for Attacking and you could set your partner to be a Medic, Ravenger (Mage), Synergist (Mage) ect.  As you level up you can choose the path in Crystarium which will allow you to specify which Role you will spend your newly aquired CP for each character.  Along the way their are plenty of powerups, items, and weapons to keep the combat both fresh and fun. This is just a brief explanation of the new battle system as it goes much deeper than that, but learning it was half of the fun.

Final Fantasy XIII is a cinematic presentation as much as it is a video game.  The semi turn based combat system is an equal partner to the stunning cutscenes that occur frequently.  Less  a part than you would expect from an RPG,  Final Fantasy XIII did not have the exploration and NPC dialogue that you find in many games.  Final Fantasy XIII can be classified as linear for much of the game.  Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is really a matter of gaming preference.  Personally, I didn’t expect it to be more than that, and wasn’t disaapointed in hiking through the games beautiful landscapes in a manner that needed no thought.  Yet, you couldn’t help but think what could have been when half of the game is played on a rail.  It certainly holds the game back from being extraordinary, though it is still far from ordinary.

The main focus here is the story.  The character development, and the way that the story of Final Fantasy unfolds is the real hook to the gamer, at least for myself.  And I am definitely the type that will blow through a cutscene to get to the meat and potatoes of a game, but Final Fantasy tamed this in me.  At least for the hours that I put into the title. When I had to compare this title to other RPG’s that I had played recently, I had to put Final Fantasy in the top three RPG’s I have played in the last few years, and here’s why.  First, the game immerses you in the world.  Even without all of the secondary pieces that are traditionally included and expected in an RPG, like speaking with NPC’s, massive amounts of sidequests, non-linearity, and open worlds to explore, Final Fantasy XIII, lobbies heavily on the emotional faculties of the gamer, rather than the stimuli mentioned which are included in most games as filler.   Second, you can’t have character development if the characters in fact are boring, or cookie cutter.  Which was not the case in the game.  The magic and charm of the series is still very much alive in Final Fantasy XIII, the weaving of both the story and the fact that the game forces you to play as specific party members and many different parts of the game, gives you a chance to get to know all of the cast members.  Unlike a game where you pick and choose your favorites accordingly.

The Verdict

Prior to this review Final Fantasy XIII was a historical gaming afterthought.  A game from my youth that was legendary at the time and all but forgotten and considered relevant in my gaming world today.   It was pleasant re-connection with the series, as it offerred much more than I had either hoped or expected.  The brilliant visuals, and excellent new combat system were both done exceptionally well.  Stand alone these great features are enough to hook many gamers long enough to trek through the 10’s of hours of gameplay. But the real star here is the story of Final Fantasy XIII, and Square Enix gets this right, in a big way.

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Final Fantasy XIII

  • Available On: Xbox 360, PS3
  • Published By: Square Enix
  • Developed By: Square Enix
  • Genre: RPG
  • US Release Date: March 9th, 2010
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "The brilliant visuals, and excellent new combat system were both done exceptionally well. Stand alone these great features are enough to hook many gamers long enough to trek through the 10's of hours of gameplay. But the real star here is the story of Final Fantasy XIII, and Square Enix gets this right, in a big way."
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