Monday, March 29, 2010

Game Review - Final Fantasy XIII

Today I review the latest in the long standing, long lasting Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy XIII (FFXIII) is an interesting game that was released on both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, as usual, I will be reviewing the PS3 version, so read on to see my detailed review of the game. Warning: Spoilers are ahead.

Story: 4/5

The story is interesting, and for the most part, rather well done. The main characters of the game are marked by a god-like being known as a fal'Cie, being marked by their brand, they are given a destiny they must fulfill known as a Focus, or they risk turning into monsters known as Ce'ith. Completion of their Focus isn't any better, as they would turn to crystal for an endless sleep instead, so they struggle to find a way to defy their fate as L'Cie (the name of those who are branded with a Focus). Their Focus: to Destroy the world and bring about the end of days. So their whole mission is to find a way to defy that fate and save the world from the evil machinations of the main villain.

Along the way there are twists and turns, some expected, some a little more subtle. Two of the characters turn out to be natives of the world below, Gran Pulse, and were originally tasked with destroying the floating world of Cocoon, but failed. As such, the main characters of the game are drawn into the events centuries later to try and complete this task. As the game goes along, you encounter the main villain of the game, an elderly man named Dysley, who is in fact one of the god-like fal'Cie known as Barthandelus and is a total jerkface. The fal'Cie, unable to harm the world they were created to protect and enrich, use the L'Cie as their tools to destroy the world in order to bring back the Gods of the world so they can rejoin them once more. Barthandelus however is more nihilistic and wants to destroy everything and himself.

 To the end of the game, the final boss is the fal'Cie that manages the entire world of Cocoon, Orphan, thus you destroy all the fal'Cie in rejection of their imposed Focus, and save the world. The people of Cocoon must leave their paradise for the deserted world of Gran Pulse below and start new lives on the untamed lands which run wild with massive wildlife and other assortments of powerful enemies you encounter during the course of the game.

The details aside, the story is told well, with many many story spots and character driven moments. In fact, one major complaint I often read about in XII was the fact it was too open (I didn't mind it, I liked it), but Square took it to the other end here, this game is very linear until the last couple of chapters of the game, the story is the main focus of the game until then. But from start to finish, the story is well told, it's nothing new or original, but they tell the story well.

The most disorienting thing of the story is the fact that you start about 13 days after the events begin, and alot of backstory and detail is given in flashbacks. This actually works out really well, and helps to unfolds events without spoiling anything to the player. They also easily use in game terms, which is also confusing until you learn the terms and slang.

Characters: 3/5

This is a new section I added, which will mainly be for RPGs since characters are important. I ranked it middle of the road mainly because, while I do like the characters, they're nothing new, really they fill certain roles that have become staples of RPGs and Final Fantasy games in particular. I'll review each of the main playable characters themselves in the following:

Lightning: Lightning is more or less the main character of the game, and she is more or less, a female version of Cloud. The main similarities are the backgrounds in the military, they are personality-wise a bit different. Lightning is withdrawn almost to the point of being cold. She is sure of herself in battle scenes, but in more emotional moments she can be a bit off guard, or over react by punching someone (usually Snow) until he drops to the ground. Her character is actually rather muted for most of the game, save for the battle scenes, as she seems to be there to help the others along, often looking out for the younger characters of the game in a almost mother-like way, especially her younger sister Serah, and Hope.

Snow Villiers: The upbeat guy of the group. He refers to himself as 'Mister Hero' and leads a small resistance group against the government in their harsh tactics in dealing with possible l'Cie. He stole his outfit from Seifer in FFVIII, however, he is no where near as annoying as Seifer. Snow is actually a likable character, always trying to help out and save people. He's engaged and soon to be wed to Serah (Lightning's sister)...which is odd, Snow looks like he's 30 and Serah is looks like she's 15. Creepy. Other than that, he tries to look out for the rest, always ready to jump in head first and take a swing at anything to save Serah and Cocoon.

Oerba Dia Vanille: The required happy peppy upbeat girl of the game. She is all upbeat and cute and sweet and always wanting to move forward and laughing and cheerful, while this is no where near as annoying as some (Yuffie and Selphie come to mind), and her cheerful attitude hides the darker nature of her history. This mirrors Aerith in VII in some ways. She is from the same tribe as Fang, and is the reason the rest of the characters are drawn into the story, because she refused to complete Ragnarok centuries ago and was put into a crystal sleep until she wakes up shortly before the game's story begins. Vanille is a fun character, while being perky, she also has alot of scenes where she is sad and down, full of guilt. But the game wraps up on a high note with Vanille finally overcoming her guilt and helping to save the world. Vanille also serves as the game's narrator and helps to give more insight into her character as events unfold.

Sazh Katzroy: The old man of the group, and probably my favorite character. His whole motivation is to save his son, who was also made into a l'Cie and taken by the government forces. He has a baby Chocobo living in his afro, which I like to call a Frocobo. Sazh is the mentor, always giving advice and moral support. He and Vanille are often together in the story parts until the whole team gets together, and she keeps him going when he is in despair, and vice versa. But Sazh is also a black character (which is still rare in RPGs alot of times) and he's the exact opposite of Barret from VII, though both are gunners, which is a neat similarity, but while Barret is all tough and mean and swearing, Sazh is all supporting, vulnerable, and comes off more human. He's awesome. I want a Frocobo.

Hope Estheim: The whiny brat of the game. However, he's not as bad as some, and actually moves beyond his whiny state from early in the game. His motivation is revenge on Snow because his mother joined Snow's resistance and dies as a result in the start of the game. This whiny nature continues on as the game continues until around the two thirds mark, where he must face his summon, Alexander, and he finally starts to become more than just the whiny brat (something I wish Squall would have overcome). By the end of the game, Hope is there to help remind the others of their goal, to push on through and win. Lightning is often paired up with him, and watches over him like a motherly figure and helps him develop beyond his starting whiny moment.

Oerba Yun Fang: She fits the silent tough character of the group. She is the last character to join the group and is the more mysterious one of the group. She is protective of Vanille, as they are of the same tribe, and she acts like a big sister to Vanille. Fang lost her memories of her actions as Ragnarok, and Vanille hides the truth from her and as such, Fang adds little to the story until the final moments, where her history is revealed and she learns of it. While she's the more sultry and sexy gal of the gang, she has little story presence beyond being the rough talker when needed.

Graphics: 5/5

This game is beautiful, plain and simple. Square Enix really put work into the graphics to let the systems show off the power of their graphics. The enemies are detailed, the backgrounds are beautiful, and the magic spells are impressive. Everything has a high degree of polish. The crystalized lake (making a ice level) is beautiful. This is one of the best looking games out there.

Music: 4/5

The music in this game is really well done. While the absence of Nobuo Uematsu is still missed, the music is still great. Like XII, some of the level tracks are very nice to listen to, very relaxing and just good to drift off to sleep to. The combat music is also good, fitting the different bosses and monsters you fight. The fal'Cie battles are very epic, the tracks that play have latin lyrics, orchestration, and fit the tone of the battles. So the music is varied, and works really well. Also, there are two Chocobo themes, and they both rock! :D

Gameplay: 4/5

The gameplay is fast and furious. The battle system is well done, adding a different flair on the RPG battle system and allowing you something new and fresh. They bring back the job class system, while using new names, they follow mostly the styles of the old job classes. You only control the lead character, while the other two are AI controlled (similar to XII) and they play according to the role they have taken. There is also an auto-battle feature, which will select moves from your available options and battle enemies. This might sound like it makes things too easy, however, it does not. The bosses are incredibly difficult and long, even tougher enemies can be brutal and last long.

Done away are points like Mana Points (MP) and instead you have a stamina bar. The characters draw their power from the fal'Cie, thus they have no need for for MP. The stronger a spell you use, the longer it takes to fill the stamina bar to cast it, thus creating a balance, and not letting you be a murder machine on everything. You MUST level grind like always, thus you can't easily breeze through the game to get through the story, some of the story bosses will murder you if you go in under leveled or without the proper equipment or with the wrong roles set up. So it all evens out, having the old ATB style of battle, but it is in a new and different way, and makes for great gameplay.

The leveling system has once more been redone. There are not traditional levels but instead a role progression system called the Crystarium. You earn points to expand stats and abilities to master each role for a character. Thus there is level grinding, but not in the usual level grind, but for stats.

Replayability: 4/5

Like alot of RPGs of the day, there are side quests and other side interests to allow you to keep playing. Like XII, you have marks you can fight and kill to earn more items of value to increase your abilities and weapons. You also have superbosses in the game you can battle, most of them are at the end of the line of the hunts. There isn't really any sort of minigame, thankfully, you just got good side quests.

Overall: 4/5 (Not an average)

This game is another fine addition to the series. While it drifts further away from the fantasy aspect to a more science fiction/fantasy setting. I miss the fantasy setting (XII had a revival of that, and IX basked in the glory of that) but they still gave a fantastical feeling to the world that unveils before you as you play the game. The story is solid, if a little chatty at times, and the gameplay is well done.

The fact that the game is very linear until chapter 11 (out of 13 chapters) may turn people off, but the game is still really well done. The graphics really shine, and the music is well done too. The characters are likable and well developed, even if they may fill a cliched role, but they're still good.  I highly recommend the game, especially for fans of the Final Fantasy series overall. However, if you are more adjusted to the old school, you might veer away due to the futuristic setting, but if you can look beyond that and give it a fair shake, I think you'll find a great game that you can spend alot of time on and have a blast to play.

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