Final Fantasy XIII was one of my most anticipated games in a long time.  Heck, I more or less bought an Xbox 360 so I could play it (well, and Left 4 Dead 2, of course!).

For those who know me, it is well understood that I am a big fan of the Final Fantasy franchise.  With the exception of a few spin-offs for the various hand-held devices (and XI, which doesn’t count), I’ve played every Final Fantasy to date.  I’ve reveled in the unparalleled awesomeness of VII and VIII, vigorously defended IX as a GOOD game, and even suffered through others like X-2 (remember that one?).  I’ve watched both movies, and have trudged through spin-offs of the franchise like Dirge of Cerberus.  My love of Final Fantasy, of course, guided me infallibly to Kingdom Hearts which, although probably consistently better than FF games, rings in at a close second.

Given my history, then, I feel I am an adequate judge of the games.  So without further introduction, here’s my breakdown of Final Fantasy XIII.

Story

FFXIII is the story of six otherwise unlikely comrades bound together by a common curse which has transformed them into L’cie, the hated and feared subordinates of the Fal’cie who wield god-like control over the world of Cocoon.  The L’cie’s “focus” is to incarnate Ragnarok and destroy the world that the Fal’cie might invoke the return of the Maker and be reborn out of the fires of the destruction of the world.  If they succeed, the L’cie will be transformed into crystal, gaining eternal life.  If they fail, they will become the damnable C’eith, and wander the world in despair and misery for eternity.

On the whole, the story line for FFXIII is okay.  Few of the FF titles have outstanding plots, so FFXIII feels like a lot more of the same.  Because character development has to happen so quickly, the protagonists are prone to irrational choices that can only be attributed to a need to move the story along. The dialog is the typical FF blend of platitudes, sound bytes, and uber-cheese, although this one is probably the best in terms of mouth-to-voice sync 🙂

There is a bit of political intrigue which is intended to give depth to the story.  However, it is so thinly established that it really only serves to provide fodder for several annoying and not-terribly-difficult boss battles.

My Rating: 3

Aesthetics

While the story leaves much to be desired, the graphics for this game were quite lovely.  The character movements were smooth and fluid, and the environments–while annoyingly linear–were beautifully fleshed out

Many of the cut-scenes were spectacular, and given their frequency, much of the game was more like watching a mildly interesting movie than playing a game.  Makes me wish I had the HD version for PS3…

My Rating: 4.5

Battle System

The battle system is significantly different than in previous titles.  While still turn based, all battle actions in FFXIII are coordinated by a single character through the use of “Paradigms.”  In these paradigms, each character assumes a role (like Commando, or Medic) and performs actions pertaining to the role.  For each battle formation, you can equip 6 or 7 paradigms, and switch them dynamically during battle.  So you can start with Synergists and Saboteurs to strengthen your party and de-buff the enemy, and the switch to all Commandos to lay the hurt on your nemesis.

This approach took me a long time to get used to.  I’m used to previous titles that allowed for more granular control over each character’s actions.  In FFXIII, you are very much at the mercy of picking proper formations and hoping that your other characters do their jobs right.  The upside, of course, is that if your paradigm is bullet-proof, you can concentrate a lot more attention on dealing out massive amounts of damage, trusting that your comrades will be there to back you up.  Especially in relation to healing, this can be quite a nice thing to not have to worry about.

Toward the end of the game, I really started getting the hang of how to extract the maximum benefit from my paradigms, and the battle system really grew on me.  I do hope that XIV returns to a more character-based battle system, but I think FFXIII was an interesting and ultimately successful venture.

My Rating: 4

Leveling System and Upgrades

There’s nothing spectacular to say here.  Because characters assume “roles” within particular paradigms, the leveling system is based on roles, and is nearly indistinguishable from X’s approach.

The weapon/item leveling was equally unimpressive: run around, gather materials, and synthesize upgrades to your stuff.  Yawn.

And don’t get me started on the “shops.”  A bunch of unnecessary, overly-expensive stuff purchase-able from the save thingy.  I’m pretty sure I went the entire game without buying anything…yes, in fact, I did just that.

My Rating: 2

Final Fantasy-ish-ness

This final category is a bit amorphous.  There’s no real standard here, just a gut feeling as to how well this game stacks up to what makes a Final Fantasy game a Final Fantasy game.

First, a couple of detractors:

  1. Far too linear.  For 90% of the game, you are locked into a forward path.  No vehicles, no wandering, and superfluous leveling only if you feel like wandering backwards.
  2. Very few mini-games/sidequests (at least none that I found).  To be honest, I was never one for the mini-games and side quests.  But to me, they are still something that makes Final Fantasy what it is.  I think XIII really struck out on this…or maybe most people don’t do them…?
  3. No vehicles.  As #1 clearly reveals, there’s really not a whole lot of wandering/adventuring in FFXIII (with one big exception, but doesn’t count).  And no airship to fly around?  C’mon, you can’t have a Final Fantasy game without an airship to take wherever you want. Boo.

Now, a couple of positives:

  1. No random, superfluous leveling.  In this game, if you want to level, you can go looking for fights.  If you’d rather just keep trudging along, you can avoid a good percentage of the fights.  It’s kind of nice when you’re trying to clear something you’ve been working on for a couple hours…
  2. Skippable sequences.  Yes!!  You can skip over nearly every sequence, including repetitive ones (like boarding a stupid elevator…).
  3. Lots of save points.  I know, there’s something to be said for the challenge of sparsely-spaced save crystals; but I like being able to save every 10 minutes…helps when I’m getting yelled at to put down the controller and spend time with the family 🙂

My Rating: 3.5

Overall Rating: 17

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