Now, I'm not trying to brag, but I've finished Final Fantasy XIII. As a longtime fan of the series, I can tell you that it is an excellent game...but that's about all I can say right now. If you want to read my full review, you'll have to pick up the March issue of Game Informer (I can't post it online until the game is closer to release). Thankfully, there are plenty of things in Final Fantasy XIII to talk about that don't involve giving it a score. But I'll warn you right now: This is going to get very, very nerdy.

One of the most interesting things about Final Fantasy XIII is how it draws on and adapts the series' traditions, borrowing from the successes of previous Final Fantasy titles. Like all games in the series, FF XIII makes its own unique contributions, but any hardcore Final Fantasy fan will easily be able to trace the lineage of several key mechanics back to to earlier games in the series. Some of them are about incorporating ideas that worked well, and others are clearly designed to avoid the pitfalls of prior titles. So, here's a Final Fantasy dork's spoiler-free rundown of some of the main systems in Final Fantasy XIII, how they work, and how prior games in the series influenced them.

Job System

I know that the job system in Final Fantasy V is the best-loved way to customize and manage character roles, but I can't lie to you. The jobs in FF XIII (called paradigms) are actually much closer to the...sigh...dress sphere system in Final Fantasy X-2. A large part of your combat strategy will involve switching paradigms on the fly to adapt to changes on the battlefield, cycling between roles like Ravager (black mage), Medic (white mage), and Commando (fighter). Like the...sigh...dress sphere system, characters only have access to the class-specific powers when using the appropriate paradigm (though passive stat bonuses like hit points and strength apply no matter what paradigm is assigned). Don't don't need to sit through a creepy fashion show each time you switch paradigms.

This is the area where Final Fantasy XIII makes the largest contribution to the Final Fantasy legacy. Battles take place in real-time, are fast-paced, and are more about conducting the flow of combat than micro-managing each individual action of your team. Beyond that, you'll just have to play it and judge for yourself.


In the original Final Fantasy, when your characters leveled up, they would receive slightly randomized boosts to their stats, ensuring a slow but steady ascent to godhood. In Final Fantasy XIII, you have more control, but your progression still follows a pretty linear path...unlike the wide open nature of Final Fantasy XII's license board. Leveling is handled via the Crystarium, which is reminscent of FF X's sphere grid, but without the need to collect and place orbs. You gain CP (crystarium points) after every fight, and those points can be applied toward new abilities and stat bonuses in any of the paradigms that a character can use. If you want to level up as a Ravager, you don't necessarily even need to use the paradigm; you could win fights as a Commando, but just apply the CP you win toward Ravager abilities. It's a very flexible system, but once the points are spent, they're spent -- there's no respec option. As a side note on leveling, I should say that the enemies generally feel like an appropriate challenge when you encounter them. The game doesn't auto-adjust them or anything, and I didn't need to worry about grinding until fairly late in the game.

Everyone gets the same amount of experience, whether they participate in battle or not. To the best of my recollection, this is a first for the series. It eliminates the need to rotate members in and out of active duty to keep your party levels in the same ballpark. This is a livesaver when you find yourself facing a boss that is best taken down by paradigms involving sub-par teammates, because you don't need to spend hours grinding to make up for the time that you left them out of your party. [PageBreak]

Stats and Statuses
While I'm certainly a fan of FF XII, it is undoubtedly the most complex (and complicated) of the Final Fantasies. You've got the sprawling license board, the gambits to manage, and a variety of status effects that eventually become the key to victory in later fights. FF XIII, on the other hand, swings in the opposite direction, favoring simplicity and accessibility. That may sound like a euphemism for "dumbed down," but it isn't. Your characters have three stats: HP, Strength, and Magic. They also have percentages representing their resistances to specific status effects (like Deprotect and Pain). While you should definitely try to maximize your stats and make use of buffs and debuffs, it feels like one of the team's key goals in FF XIII was to minimize the time players need to spend dinking around in menus, hassling with equipment, and comparing numbers.

Final Fantasy VIII is a title that causes heated debates among Final Fantasy devotees. Whether you love it or hate it, you'll see a shadow of its upgrade system in Final Fantasy XIII. Instead of constantly buying new weapons, you'll mainly be upgrading the gear you already have. Each weapon has a level, which you can raise by applying various components that you find or buy. When you max out a weapon's level, you'll essentially be able to make it evolve into a form that is initially weaker, but that has the potential to grow much stronger. All your work upgrading weapons (as well as shopping for items and accessories) is carried out at save points instead of towns.

They're not here. Well, not really. You will run through a few population centers, but the traditional Final Fantasy structure of entering a town, talking to people, buying stuff, and then setting out on a quest just isn't present. This could be disappointing for some...especially fans of Final Fantasy VII, which is the entry I think did the best job giving each city a unique flavor that adds to the overall sense of the world.


Imagine going through the dungeons in Final Fantasy X. That's pretty much what Final Fantasy XIII is like all the time, except without the random encounters. There's a map in the corner that shows you where you are and where you should be going. Like Final Fantasy XII, enemies are visible in the world so you can see exactly what you're getting into...but unlike that entry, there is a transition to the battle instead of just fighting in open overworld environment. Most areas are pretty linear, with a few offshoots for hidden treasure. Generally, you're moving ever-forward, with no reason (or opportunity) to visit the places you've been.

The days of summoning a beast for a simple one-off attack are gone. Following in the footsteps of Final Fantasy X and XII, FF XIII has you fighting right alongside the legendary monsters. Each character eventually gains access to one (and only one) summon. However, only the party leader can use a summon, because the monster replaces the other two party members for the duration of its time on the field. So, if you want to use a certain character's summon, make sure that character is currently your party leader. Summons also turn into vehicles for their master to ride.

Chocobos and Cid
Yep, they're in there.