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So I thought I'd give you guys the lowdown on what this game is like. Honestly, it's a mixed bag.
The first few chapters remind you of what made Final Fantasy good. The presentation is top-notch and really makes the experience magical; everything from the lush graphics, epic music, story telling... The game certainly presents itself well, and I think this is why it sold well. I guess in theory if you liked X then it'd make sense for you to like this, unfortunately my tolerance for over-linearity has gone down.
What really pulls this game down is surprisingly, the gameplay. Whilst it's enjoyable for the first five chapters (ten hours) whilst you're hyped up, beyond that, you start to yearn for less claustrophobic environments. The game quite literally is a string of very nice looking corridor environments padded out with the battles. This battle system will litterally drive you mad.
It would have been nice if Square had enabled one of the shoulder buttons to act as a switch between party members. Instead you just control one character, tapping X constantly and switching Paradigms. It may seem fun and flashy looking at first, but when you've been in so many battles, it gets tiring. I actually had a lot more fun the one time my characters were maxed out - which left me with more time to enjoy exploring for once.
Removing half the battles would have gone a long way to sort out this game. In a lot of places the story had be written to give reason for battles. By chapter 10 it was literally "here are training grounds" - if it hadn't already been chronic enough. It felt like the developers were trying to waste my time.
What didn't help was the omission of towns. I think this negatively impacted how the game played. Yeah, with XIII's save points there might be no purpose to them, but towns were effectively a stopping point - somewhere that gave the player a feeling of rest. They were also nice to look at. Without them, things really dragged up until chapter 11. I don't care for Square's 'it doesn't make sense'/'towns are hard in HD' - I wonder if a combination of Crystal Tools and the fancy graphics are to blame for the linear environments and lack of towns - sometimes FPS dips can be seen in the few large detailed areas.
Nautilus was a major disappointment. Most fans were expecting this to be like VII's gold saucer with an array of mini-games. This also deteriorated into a string a battles which left me thinking "fail, Square Enix, utter fail".
Was this game all-bad though? The story wasn't bad, it could have been better. There are some fantastic cut-scenes, and for the most-part, you can empathize with the characters. The ending will also likely leave you satisfied.
Beyond chapter 11 the game certainly does improve, but not for long. Gran Pulse is certainly the highpoint of the game - a large MMO-like landscape with missions to do. When you continue the story there are some really nice areas - Taijin's tower, which for once is an area a little less linear - a tower you work you way up doing little missions to activate lifts. Again, Oerba, descending from an alpine-like area into the only 'town' in the game is by-far the most breath-taking point in the game. This area gives you a little item-collecting mission as you explore the place. Though it's all over by chapter 12.
On a final note it would have been nice if Square had included the usual summon roster and made them a little less-taxing to summon. Again, areas should have been more 'open' and interactive, like with X's summoner temples. A few revisitable places other than a wilderness would have been nice. I think it's worth Square going back to basics with the Final Fantasy series - if this is an attempt to be more mainstream, then I think most people will get fed up quickly.
Though I have to wonder whether it's worth going back to basics. If fan loyalty wasn't already lost with the crap that came out after the Enix merge, this could be the final blow. I'm certainly apprehensive about buying another Square-produced game to say the least. 4/5 stars considering presentation and story, -3 stars for gameplay.
Ps. Whilst it's a relatively bug-free game the vibration functionality doesn't work outside battles (yup, no vibrations in FMVs, environments, anywhere, except for the odd light bzzzt in battle).
Being a massive Final Fantasy fan and having waited three years for this game to be made and released I was hoping that the massive anticipation would not lead me to disappointment. While others seem to have felt this effect, I can easily say that I am pleased with the game and can see myself playing it for many years to come.
The game begins on Cocoon, a utopian society contained in a sphere like structure which floats above the feared and despised lower-world known as Pulse. Cocoon is maintained by god like creatures known as Fal'Cie, which have ordered the deportation of many citizens due to the possibility of them being corrupted by a Pulse Fal'Cie found in one of the cities.
This is where the main characters are introduced. Each character, driven by different motives, some known some unknown, come into contact with each other in the presence of the Pulse Fal'Cie and are transformed into L'Cie, servants of the Fal'Cie forced to carry out a specific task or face a punishment worse than death. The problem being that none of the characters know exactly what their task is, some think it is to save Cocoon, others to destroy it. This is not their only problem as the army are determined to find and execute the "traitors". Can they find out their task in time? Will they save or destroy Cocoon? There's only one way to find out.
In battle the player controls one character and is given a list of various actions which can be performed. Each action has an associated ATB cost, basically you have to wait until the time gauge fills up to a certain level before actions are performed.
Being that the battles are quite fast an auto battle option has been included. The computer basically selects what it thinks are the best actions which can be taken. Much of the first part of the game see's you mashing this button however in later chapters this method becomes dangerous to maintain.
One of the best features of the battle system is that when you get a game over, which can happen quite regularly, you are given the chance to go back to just before the battle begun to prepare more or even avoid the battle altogether.
Final Fantasy XII also sees the return of the job system but slightly different than seen before. Each character has various jobs which can be used to obtain different results during battle, from inflicting status effects on enemies to healing party members. These jobs can be actively changed during battle, however since you only control one character you have to create combinations of jobs in the main menu. These cannot be changed during battle adding a bit more strategy to the battle system.
Character progression is achieved mainly through the Crystarium, which is similar to the sphere grid used in Final Fantasy 10. Basically when you are successful in battle you are rewarded CP which can be used to improve your characters stats and learn new abilities for different jobs. At first the Crystarium may seem small but after major events in the game it is expanded to higher levels. This has the effect of reducing the bonus obtained by those players who like to power level early on in the game.
Your weapons and accessories can also be upgraded. This is achieved by collecting materials from enemies and then using them to boost the experience of the item and increase its level. With hundreds of different materials each with different bonuses and experience there are many ways to successfully upgrade your equipment.
As well as the main story the game contains a number of minigames and side quests, most notably the hunt missions. These involve fighting monsters, many of which are stronger than those found in the main storyline, for rewards. This side quest adds a lot of time onto the games length however the quests are not available till well after the halfway point and many of the monsters cannot be defeated until the game has been completed.
Graphics Music and Voice Acting
I can honestly say that I have never seen graphics sharper and more detailed in any game on any console I have ever played. I found myself at many points during the game stopping and moving the camera around to enjoy the beautiful landscapes. It is quality like this that makes you realise why the game took as long to be made.
The music is of high standard as would be expected from Square Enix. Many fans complained when they heard that the theme would be sung by Leona Lewis for the English release of the game. I must admit that I too was disappointed at this news however I have now changed my mind. I feel that Leona made a good job of the song at that it fits in well with the game. The battle music is also well done and for me, never gets tiring.
The voice acting is also very well done. At first I thought there was a few dodgy accents however after getting to know the characters a bit better I can honestly say that I wouldn't change any of the voice actors.
Many people have complained that the game is very linear however this is not entirely true. While in most other Final Fantasy games the side quests are spread out during the game they are saved for near the end. I, unlike many, think this is a good thing as it forces you to get more involved in the story before you go wandering off for a few hours and end up forgetting what you were originally meant to be doing.
One of the only problems I have with the game is that right from the start the characters are using words and describing events which you have no idea about. Although this is solved with an in-game encyclopaedia I still feel like the introduction to some characters and terms would have benefited from an on -screen introduction or explanation.
Overall I am very pleased with the game and would recommend it to any RPG fan. The story is immersive and the characters very memorable. The new battle system is very enjoyable and challenging as is the character progression. The graphics and music boost the quality of the game to a level which I personally think will not be surpassed for some time.
If you are not an RPG fan, I would still recommend the game, however you should either rent it first or wait till the price drops as it may not be your cup of tea.
Hopefully we won't have to wait for another three years for a game as impressive as this to appear on the shelves.
Being a huge Final Fantasy fan, I've been waiting for this game with baited breath. However, as the release date creeps ever closer, more and more negative reviews are starting to appear. I remember the same thing happening with Final Fantasy 12, and I have to admit I was sorely disappointed with that game when I finally played it. As a result, my excitement about Final Fantasy 13 gradually diminished, replaced instead by a sense of unease and dread.
For those who have yet to come across the vitriolic ranting of disappointed fans on the internet, the negativity surrounding the game is essentially based on two things - there's no towns and the game is horribly linear.
Having played an imported copy of the game three weeks before the official release date, I can confirm that there certainly are some very negative factors about the game. However, approached with the right frame of mind, the game can still be a lot of fun.
The game takes place in a giant sphere in the sky known as Cocoon, with a planet underneath called Pulse. Cocoon is a paradise world created by a god-like entity known as a fal'Cie, to protect its people from the dangers of Pulse. The fal'Cie often charge people to perform tasks for them. If successful, the people are granted eternal life. If they fail, they are turned into monsters. Pulse also has a fal'Cie, which one day suddenly shows up in Cocoon. Anyone who happened to be near this fal'Cie is immediately quarantined or exiled by the Cocoon military. This initiates a civil war between the military and the local resistance. Caught up in this conflict are the main characters of the game, who are unwittingly enslaved by the pulse fal'Cie and forced to carry out its will or end up being turned into monsters. While original, the story does have problems. The player is flung right in the middle of the story, meaning that for the first few hours you have no idea what the hell is going on. Character development and background information is relegated to flashbacks and exposition-heavy dialogue between characters.
Taking the issue of there being no towns, technically that's not true. There are towns. You just can't do anything in them. With Final Fantasy 13, the days of being able to barge your way into someone's home, engage in trite dialogue with it's occupants and ransack every room for useful items are long gone. No homes are enterable. Stranger still, there are no shops in these towns. Instead, items are bought from a menu that pops up when you touch a save sphere. How you feel about these changes will depend on how much you liked being able to explore towns in the previous games. I'll be honest, when I first started playing these games I would search everywhere and talk to everyone. However, in recent games, as towns became larger, and useful items/conversations became few and far between, I tended to rush through the towns as quickly as possible in an effort to continue on with the main story. As a result, the lack of towns, in the traditional sense of the word, doesn't bother me.
What is infinitely more disappointing is the linearity of the entire game. Now, in all honesty, all Final Fantasy games are linear to a certain extent. All tend to push you towards a required location, however, for me it wasn't the destination that interested me, it was the journey. In previous games you could branch off at certain points and explore hidden locations or take part in fun little mini-games. In Final Fantasy 13 there is none of that. For nearly all of the game you follow a single straight path. Nothing is hidden, nothing is discoverable. It feels like the game is holding your hand the whole time. You can't even backtrack and visit previous locations. Add to that the distinct lack of mini-games/side missions, other than a series of Final Fantasy 12 style monster hunts, and you get a very shallow gaming experience.
And yet, the game is still fun to play. This is almost entirely because of the super-cool new battle system. As with Final Fantasy 12, you can now see enemies walking around on the field. If you touch one, you initiate combat. In battle you only control your party leader, which is actually a good thing because battles move at such a super fast speed. The bad side of this is that if your character dies, even if the two AI-controlled player are still alive, it's game over. All your actions cost a certain amount of time and can only be unleashed once the ATB bar has filled to the required amount. Similar to Final Fantasy X-2, all characters takes on a specific role in battle. These are:
Attacker: Focuses exclusively on physical attacks
Blaster: Can cast offensive magic spells and also augment physical attacks by adding a magical element to the attack
Defender: Can't damage the enemy, instead focuses on defending the party
Enhancer: Casts supportive magic such as haste
Jammer: Casts status magic such as bio, curse, etc
Healer: No offensive abilities, instead focuses on healing party members.
Each of these styles has a board similar to Final Fantasy X's sphere grid, where you can develop skills. You spend CP that's won in battles to activate to activate nodes on the grid and gain new spells/abilities. I always liked X's sphere grid and so am pleased that it has returned, albeit in a slightly altered form. The use of this grid does have its drawbacks though. At first characters are limited to a set number of roles, be it defender, healer, jammer, etc. However, later on all these roles become available to each character. The problem being of course is that if you want a character to become proficient at a newly unlocked role, you need to spend a huge amount of CP to work your way around the board. This inevitably means that you will have to take part in "grinding" - constantly re-fighting the same group of monsters to build up your CP.
Another familiar element of battle is the use of summons. As with previous instalments, you need to defeat the summons in battle before you can use them. An interesting addition to battles is the ability to "drive" your summons. You basically mount your summon and then expend attack points to perform various attacks and damage the enemy. One thing that annoyed me in Final Fantasy 12 was that summons/espers were pretty much useless, in fact I didn't use them for the entire game. Unfortunately, Final fantasy 13's summons suffer from the same problem. Normal enemies are just too weak to warrant using a summon and Boss characters are so strong that summons hardly make a dent. In the end, the only time I tended to use them was when an enemy was about to perform a devastating attack. I'd let my summon take the brunt of the damage rather than my characters.
An area where the game does succeed is the graphics. This game was initially developed for the Playstation 2, however when it became clear that the game would instead be released for the PS3, instead of simply porting the code over to the PS3, the developers instead re-built the game from scratch to take advantage of the PS3's increased processor power. As such, the graphics are absolutely stunning. Special mention must go to the characters themselves. They look incredibly life-like. Hair is a particular highlight, every single strand seems to have been lovingly crafted and on an HD-TV the attention to detail is jaw-dropping. Also, unlike previous instalments, the lip synching in this game is superb.
So, overall, is Final Fantasy 13 any good? I'd say it is, but it could have been so much better. Larger maps, with more areas to explore and more varied mini-games would have really improved the game. As it is, with so many things missing that are a staple of the series - explorable towns, hidden areas, secret monsters etc, the game feels incomplete. I'd still recommend the game to fans of the franchise, however I'd suggest that casual gamers first rent the game before forking out around £38 of their hard-earned cash.