Final Fantasy XIII is the first effort from Square-Enix on current generation consoles (Xbox 360 and ps3) and it is magnificent. The story is intricately spun and is set on a very diverse group of characters. From the cold hearted efficiency of Lightning Farron, to the superbly heroic Snow Villiers (he will grow on you if you can overlook his massive ego!) the cast is brilliantly crafted. The story starts with Lightning trying to escape from the dreaded ‘Purge’ along with Sazh Katzroy. This is the opening scene and it really works to showcase just how good the graphics are.
Shortly after the cut scene you will enter what many coin as ‘the long and winding corridor’. FFXIII received a massive amount of criticism due to its lack of an open world feel. This is true to some extent but previous final fantasy titles had little to no freedom either, and before you jump down my throat or click off this review, think about it. Really think about it. Final fantasy VIII, yes you had a world map, and yes you could walk around it fighting various monsters to train your party but there are few places you can go to unless the story requires it. Final Fantasy IX is even more linear in my opinion, again it has a world map giving the player the sense of freedom but most places are either blocked off by obstacles you can later traverse (with the airship) or just outright inaccessible until a certain amount of the story is complete. Final Fantasy XIII is most like FFX in my eyes (which I label as the greatest one), you follow the story through various locations, fighting battles and destroying bosses on the way, until around 20-25 hours in. This is when you arrive at Gran Pulse (very similar to the calm lands from FFX) and this is when the game gets brilliant! The scenery is a beautifully vibrant landscape filled with Sandstorms, Chocobos (you will need to unlock these) and the formidable Adamantoises. It’s not just the scenery that makes Gran Pulse so great though. You have the introduction of C’ieth Marks, which are various missions in which you are tasked to go and complete a fallen l’cie’s focus. These all involve defeating a monster of some sort, and these ‘marks’ increase with difficulty ultimately ending in mark 64. Aptly named ‘The Doomherald’, Vercingetorix will have you pulling out your hair, the difficulty of this battle is akin to that of the dark aeon fights on Final Fantasy X and just like in X it will involve a massive amount of time spent training to even think about defeatingthis monstrosity.
Until you hit the gameplay boom in Gran Pulse you are only able to control the character involved in the chapter you are currently playing. This can be very frustrating as you will undoubtedly have different feelings towards different characters. For example I really liked Snow, and wasn’t that keen on Vanille or Hope, and a large section of the game involves both of these. Although this does allow them to grow on you it can be annoying and tedious.
The way in which battles begin is most like that of Final Fantasy XII. The monsters are visible and battles are not random, they are initiated by walking into the enemies. This makes a lot of fighting avoidable which isn’t really that detrimental to your progress through the game as leveling is capped, but I will get to that later in the review.
The battle system is that you control the one character, and you can choose from; auto battle, abilities, techniques and items. Auto battle is a heavily criticized aspect, as it leads to the misconception ‘you can finish the game by hammering A/X’. If you think this is true then you have obviously only played several hours of gameplay and jumped to this hideously inaccurate conclusion. Abilities’ contains all of the abilities that you have learned through leveling your characters up and techniques likewise. Techniques can be very useful in the more difficult battles as they contain area attacks like quake and renew which revives and heals your party. Also found in ‘techniques’ are summons. This allows you to summon an Eidolon (GF/Aeon) to your side in battle once you have unlocked it through story progression. Each character has their own unique Eidolon, which manifests in battle when your character is overwhelmed with emotion. The battles are different to any others in the game as the eidolons are impossible to defeat, you just have to fulfill certain criteria to recruit them to your side. For example Snow’s Eidolon Shiva will only join you if you survive the massive amounts of damage it deals upon you, which is in relation to snow being primarily a Sentinel.
All enemies have a stagger gauge, once you stagger the enemy you can start to deal massive amounts of damage. The game has 6 different roles;
- Commando – This maintains the stagger gauge and deals the most damage.
- Ravager – Builds the stagger gauge using magic
- Medic – Heals the party from damage and debuffs
- Saboteur – Heaps negative status effects on enemies
- Synergist – Buffs your party with positive status effects
- Sentinel – Absorbs most of the damage to the party
Each of the six characters have different proficiencies in each role (i.e. Sazh is the best synergist, Lightning the best Ravager etc.). Prior to battle you will have to set up your paradigms, which are set formations for your party. For example ‘Relentless Assault’ consists of one commando and two ravagers and this is likely the most common paradigm as it deals damage whilst also building the stagger up! This is the aspect that renders the ‘just mash A/X and you’ll win’ theory obsolete, as battles require frequent paradigm shifts to ensure survival. The player you control is also burdened with the responsibility that if he/she is killed in battle then you get game over. This can be insanely frustrating but you are gifted with an option to retry which will just reload the battle in which you were just defeated.
The leveling system on FFXIII is different as you would expect from a title in this series, but it is one of the games many slight flaws. You earn CP (Crystogen Points) from battles and then you apply these to the Crystarium. The crystarium is effectively a fully linear version of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid (arguably the best leveling system). Each role has its own branch on the crystarium and only half of these roles are unlocked for each character before chapter 10. In basics this means that, yes you can level up 3 different roles at once, but there is only one path you can take on each role’s branch and this is one of the game’s biggest flaws. Just to make things even more annoying, the crystarium is capped several times, only to be unlocked further upon completion of chapter/boss. This completely destroys the final fantasy mentality. Previous games had always been about hanging back in certain areas and training up to make your party stronger for the challenges ahead, but this is an absolute waste of time until you have actually finished the game, as you are not able to freely advance in the crystarium and there would be no point anyway as the monsters you face post-story are a much more viable source of CP.
Amongst the many nodes that require activation within the crystarium are Accessory slots. Spending CP on these will allow your character to equip up to a maximum of 4 accessories. These accessories do a range of things that I will detail now:
- Basic stat enhancements like, strength, hp and magic
- Status Immunities
- Double CP
- Break Damage Limit (an exciting thing for any final fantasy fan)
- And many more!
Accessories aren’t the only things that decide your characters abilities though, weapons play a massive part in your strength and magic stat. Weapons have their standard form and then 2 upgraded versions which bestow better stat improvements and other beneficial abilities. For example, Vanille’s Marlboro wand when upgraded goes to Nirvana. This has an ability which makes her a better saboteur, and also grants huge magic bonus. The horrible thing about the weapon upgrade system is that to upgrade any weapon to its third tier version you need a component known as a Trapezohedron. This item is only dropped by Adamantoises, and Long-Guis, and these are amongst the hardest enemies in the game. They require a greatly-leveled party and a lot of patience as the drop rate of this item is 5% even with Collectors Catalogs (Drop Rate Boosting items) equipped. Add to that the fact that you would need at least 6 of these to obtain every weapon in the game and things can get a little bit tedious.
The storyline is a massive selling point for FFXIII; it is very well written and kept me interested throughout. It provides the player with primers, detailing everything that has happened so far, so anyone who has trouble following the story or simply skipped a cut scene by accident can get a concise overview by accessing the menu. I won’t go into any detail about the storyline other than telling you its brilliant and you’ll have to take my word for it as I don’t want to risk spoilers!
To summarise I think that Final Fantasy XIII is a brilliant game, but like every game it does have its flaws. It is very linear at the start, only allows control of one character throughout, and post-story bosses can be very challenging. They are just the negative points though. On the plus side, it looks beautiful, has a good cast of characters, boasts at least 60 hours of gameplay (I played it for 130 hours) and has a brilliantly compelling storyline. If the first half of the game was exactly like the second half of the game then I would be scoring this very very highly, as it is though my score for final fantasy xiii is:
Score – 8.5/10
This review is based upon a release copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game. A copy of the title was acquired by winreview for review purposes.