PS3 Review: Final Fantasy 13

Without a doubt Final Fantasy XIII is a very beautiful game. In fact it can easily be one of the most beautiful games on current generation consoles. However, is the game’s sugarcoating enough to provide a rich and engaging gaming experience? That is a question to be answered.

First Impression

The first thing you can feel is that Final Fantasy XIII is trying very hard to deliver something different from its predecessors – at least up till X. A lot of the familiar stuff from previous Final Fantasy games are gone – flans look very different now, behemoths became general monsters, job systems are renamed, new magics were introduced, random battles are gone, open worlds are but a part of history, the classic fanfare battle music is no where to be heard etc. Final Fantasy veterans may not feel at home anymore. The move seems to be aiming at getting new followers for the franchise, but is it good enough to keep everyone happy?

Game Play

XIII kicks off with your protagonist running down a corridor to get to the next check point. On the way you fight a few battles as they introduce the battle system. Fair and sweet and they did do a good job with the tutorial. However, expect the same for the next 20 odd hours or so at least. As mentioned earlier, open world is near non-existent in XIII until very late in the game.

Another big difference from previous games is you can’t choose your party until two-thirds into the game. Previous Final Fantasy titles (except for IV) allowed you to build your preferred party quite early in the game. This is not so in XIII. The good thing is then you have a chance to try out all characters to decide who you like, however when you are forced to use budget characters that you utterly hate, that is a test of patience.

Shazzam!

XIII has modified the way in which you approach buying and selling equipment and items. That is, online shopping instead of having shops in towns. This is because unlike previous games, you won’t be hanging around in towns for long as the game keeps pushing you forward. So naturally you don’t have time to shop, except when you’re taking a breather at save points. Whether this is good is yet to be seen, but then it certainly gives you more opportunities to shop as there are a lot more save points in XIII than previous titles. New items opens up as the story progresses, so that’s another reason to just soldier on without stopping.

In XIII, Square Enix introduced the data log system to help you understand the story better.  That is something beyond my comprehension. It struck me as a surprise that while in previous titles Square Enix could tell the story wholesomely in their cut scenes, they feel compelled to change that formula in XIII. While these files cover the game system to information about people, monsters and locations in the game, they didn’t really enrich the story or add  much to your experience.

When you finally reach the open world missions are offered, however unlike in XII you can only take one mission at a time. So you only open up a new mission if you finish a related or previous one. Certain missions open up teleport points to help you travel easier in the future. However they are not as interesting as XII and some require quite a bit of back tracking. Missions vary in ranks and of course the higher the rank the more deadly the enemies. Rewards from missions also vary, so it is kind of hit and miss if you are hoping to get really good rewards from them.

Character Development

Final Fantasy XIII characters develop through their Crysteriums. The principles are similar – you open up adjacent nodes one by one on the Crysterium. Each node improves different properties ranging from HP increase to new abilities and skills. However, compared to the Sphere Grid system, the Crysterium is very restrictive. Your path in each class is more or less decided during the process and unlike the Sphere Grids in X where you can choose your own directions, you can only go one way on the Crysterium. Also you will need crystal points (CP) to open up nodes and the costs differ. This is when the ridiculous part of the system kicks in. Sometimes certain nodes on the Crysterium, that yield lower benefits to characters, cost a lot more than the ones that give you a better stat boost. For example, you can have a HP+10 node costing you 3000 CP while a HP+100 node only cost you 1200 CP to open up. You certainly don’t feel as rewarded for your hard work.

Sure is purdy

Classes that are opened up later in the game, for your characters, usually require a lot more CP to develop as compared to the ones you already have at the beginning of the game. So you will naturally tend to stay with what you have instead of exploring different combinations for each character. When it comes to combination, there are only six classes to choose from, so there are not too many choices to play around with either.

You can further develop your characters through leveling up your weapons and accessories. To do so you require the appropriate components. You can either get them from battle spoils or just buy them from shops.  Certain spoils/components occasionally give you extra factor points for the following components you use. However, the system seems to be quite random as the same component may not perform the same way for the same gadget after the it is leveled up. New gadgets are not always necessarily more useful than the old ones. So unless it is a significant improvement over the last item, you will tend to just continue to max out your current ones.

Battle System

XIII marks the return of the ATB (active time battle) bar that series followers are familiar with. This time though you can activate commands without waiting for the bar to fill up completely, which is a fresh take on the system. Actions can be carried out as long as you have the required “Segments” on the bar to perform that action. Higher-level commands naturally require more “Segments” to perform. However the use of items like potions is not affected by the ATB bar and is performed immediately. You can also use auto battle to let the game decide what command you want to carry out. However, as tempting as it is, sometimes the game does make interesting decisions that leave you thinking that perhaps you would have been better off choosing your own commands and possibly not being so lazy.

The game also introduces the “Paradigm Shift” mechanism that allows your party to change classes on the fly. The AI sets up automatic “Paradigms” for you when you change your battle party in the field. It also allows you to customize them further in any way you like. However, since “Paradigms” are party based, you will have to think thoroughly before you enter a battle, as a change of group structure is not allowed inside battles. How your AI’s behave depends on what job class they are in and also whether you know your enemies well enough. If you have scanned your enemies using the “Libra” technique or a Librascope before, your AI and your auto-commands will use elemental magic to exploit their weaknesses instead of randomly shooting things out.

Oh yes, claws baby, freshly painted!

The summoning system is back as Eidolons in XIII. However in order to acquire them you have to fight them first. Fighting Eidolons are similar to a normal battle except that you have a separate bar to fill and your leader is inflicted with the Doom countdown in the battle. If you manage to fill the special bar before your countdown finishes, congratulations, you got your Eidolons. Once you acquired your Eidolons the “Summon” technique will show up on your command screen. Summoning requires technical points (TP). When you summon, your Eidolon will fight along side you as they did in XII, but in addition to that you can ride your Eidolons to perform combined attacks – these are usually deadlier with prettier special effects. The Eidolons disappear automatically if they are killed or their summoning time expires, similar to XII.

In terms of battle flow, as you hit your enemies, a stagger bar will build up and once it fills up you will “Stagger” your enemies and your attacks will deal a lot more damage. This provides another strategic touch, as the quick way to stagger you enemies is to chain your character attacks together to boost your damage and thus fill the stagger bar quickly. So you will be constantly making decisions on when to attack and what “Paradigms” you should use to give you the full advantage.

Story

RPGs are about the story and Final Fantasy XIII is of no exception. Without giving out too many spoilers, I can only say that it is a decent story but not as engaging as XII or X. It surely keeps you going with twists here and there, but then they are not enough to keep you highly interested. You will without a doubt want to know what happens next but the story doesn’t have enough memorable moments to shake you at the core.  If you are craving for an absorbing story like VII or X, don’t hold your breath.

Overall Remarks

Final Fantasy XIII is a beautifully packaged game that no doubt will appeal to a lot of people, especially new comers. However, with all the conscious changes they make to depart from the older games in the franchise, veterans of the series may not find it as compelling and enjoyable as it should be. Square Enix put in a good effort to make the game friendlier to new comers but somehow sacrificed the usual deep and comprehensive experience that previous Final Fantasy titles offered. The extreme linearity of the game will be the real patience tester to gamers who were used to, and enjoyed, the open world environments of the previous games. Story-wise it is not as engaging a story one would expect with the Final Fantasy franchise and the characters seem to be a lot shallower even when compared with XII. It is still a very playable game but not a game that you will go back to again and again after you have finished it once.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

About the Author

Level up freak. Level 99 is a norm not a goal. Love my JRPGs and RPGs in general. Also love my platformers and puzzle games. Was addicted to Zoo Keeper, Magnetica, Animal Crossing, Disgaea DS, Dragon Quest IX and White Knight Chronicles. Prefer to spend my time away from gaming as an actor although do have a full time job that keeps my mortgage going. But generally love anything creative. And if anyone tells you gaming is a waste of time, tell them you have great eye, hand and brain coordinations that they will never have!