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Final Fantasy 13

Final Fantasy XII was viewed as one of the worst Final Fantasy's to hit the market.  With Final Fantasy XIII Square Enix aims to righ the ship.  Does it stand up with the great Final Fantasies or get run over by a stampede of Chocobo?

Gameplay

there are multiple parts to FFXIII's gameplay so let's start with the easiest.  The game is broken into chapters, eleven in all, with no extra chapters after the ending.  You can free roam Gran Pulse after the credits roll and of course fight the end boss as many times as your heart desires.

Eleven chapters may seem small but it isn't.  I put around 55 hours into the game after doing some extras during and after the main story.  If you complete all the extras and max out all the classes for each character as well as weapons and accessories the game can easily be over 100 hours.

However the game has two huge flaws...the firtst being it is extremely linear until chapter nine when you get to go to Gran Pulse the first time.  Those first chunk of chapters of chapters took me 15 hours...the last three took me 30 simply because I could explore.  However this did not save the game from the second error...you have nothing to do outside if the story until you reach Grand Pulse.  No Chocobo Races, card games, blitzball...no nothing and the game needs it.  Not oly that but you don't even have your entire party together uyntil you get to Gran Pulse and your characters can't use all the jobs until they reach Gran Pulse.

The extras aren't enough to make you jump for joy either.  There are 64(I think) hunting missions which you find scattered throughtoout Fran Pulse that get progressively harder the higher number you do.  Sadly that is the ONLY side-questing to be done.  Sure you can grind for CP(crystarium points...for leveling up) or even for parts to level up your equips.  However finding enough parts to upgrade any piece of equipment takes forever and buying them from the save-shop(no towns so your save points are also shops) doesn't work because you get no gil for battles.  The idea of the item level up system is cool don't get me wrong...I used it a fair amount...but I never switched from my starting weapons and i crushed the end boss on my first go and breezed through the game.

Now to the meat of the game...and the most talked about...the battle system.  The battle system in FFXIII has tons of promise.  I'll explain it before I get into it.

Each character has the ability to use six classes, Commando(fight/melee), Ravanger(magic), Synergist(buffer), Medic(healer), Sentinel(damage taker/tank), Saboteur(debuffer/damage-over-time).  Each character starts with one but when you get more per-character you can build paradigms which you can switch mid battle...example Lightning is a Commando but you want her to be a Medic just switch the paradigm.  However everyone else switches jobs too so make sure you set up jobs that work well together,

The battle system works basically like an ATB system with a slight twist tossed in.  Instead of only being able to cast one move per turn you can cast up to five (maybe six...didn't max any jobs) once your bar is full.  Also you can select your attacks before the bar fills so you cast them as soon as possible.  You can also speed up the attack by pressing triangle on the PS3(I assume Y on the 360) which will make the bar stop and the attacks up to that point.  Stronger attacks take more of the bar (Fire takes one, Fira takes two, Firaga takes three) but more powerful attacks have the chance to launch opponents in the air which megates anything they were going to do.

One of the coolest parts is that the classes progress dofferently per character.  Lightning and Snow earn different amounts of HP, Magic, Strength and get abilities at different times in each class meaning Snow might learn counter-attack on the first level of the Sentinel crystarium and Lightning might not learn it until the third level.  This keeps you switching characters if you want and leveling up each job for each character because some abilities not all characters learn.

This all seems awesome...six characters with six jobs each that have different level paths is great.  However the battle system has its problems.  The main one is the menus.  they only have two list fot eh moves.  Instead of putting them in pwer order...Fire,Fira,Firaga...they put the same level of moves next to each other...Water,Fire,Aero,Blizzard.  This makes it a pain to find the attacks you want including when you or your enemy has haste.

The next is Auto-Battle.  I found this a blessing and a curse for FFXIII.  Basically this option will play out the turn for you be selecting the best attack or abilities for the situation if you click it.  The is wonderful for grinding because you don't have to waste more time than needed.  However against bosses it makes the game far to easy and boring.  You never have to use it but the fact it was put in was a poor choice and to me shows that SE made the battle system either too fast or added in too many things or the hybird ATB system just didn't work how they wanted it to.

Boss battles edge on being either extremely easy or they take so long you want to turn the system off.  One boss named Proudclad sticks out in my mind as taking far too long because he pulls the typical cheap moves that bosses always do.  However his power move is unreal if you aren't ready...and you won't be because you have no idea it's coming until it kills you the first time.  He took me 20 or 30 minutes no counting the times i died.  The reaosn being is the biggest new wrinkle in the battle system...stagger.

Stagger should have never left the drawing board.  Every enemy has a percent that you can reach to make them stager...basically they take tons of damage, lose resistances, drop immunities and the like.  Against normal creeps you might not even reach the stagger later in the game and most of the time it isn't needed to kill an enemy anyway.  However against high tier creeps, mini bosses and major bosses stagger is REQUIRED and is complete ***.  Stagger seems to have been added simply to give enemies more health so rediculous numbers could spew across the screen.  Bosses having upward of 4 million health while you're doing between 2,000-5,000 on non-staggered hits is plain stupid.  The battle system surrounds the stagger system which is good because if it didn't no one would have beaten this game.

Lastly is character control.  You can be any character you want and you control that character in battle.  However you only control that one character in battle and if they die you lose.  You can retry battles if you die with all your items back if you used them which is nice but if I have three characters let me use them.  You hardly have any control over them, in fact the only control you do have is what job they are not even what abilities they use at certain times.

Overall the gameplay is ok with shining moments of great.  The battle system is a cool idea but is muddled with menu problems.  The job and weapon upgrade systems are sweet too but the weapons are unneeded and way to time consuming to use and level up new weapons for the average player.  The first nine chapters are basically a 25 hour tutorial with the best part of the game being the last few chapters.

Gameplay 6.0/10

 Story

RPGs require a good story to be noteworthy in any means and FFXIII falls short.  Nothing about the story felt epic or sweeping and it certainly tried to be new with the fal'Cie and I'Cie but you end up hearing both those words so much that you want to rip your ears off.

The story boils down to not giving up hope and doing the right thing regardless of the cost to you and your being.  It plays out alright but the characters growth just never happens.  A few of them, Hope for example, do change at a good pace but some, like Fang, grow in strange chunks and by games end have hardly changed at all.  the characters also never connect to you as the player and it feels like you are dropped in the middle of the story and they don't try to explain the begining...ever.

The voicing is fantastic at moments and awful at others.  it makes you wish they had left the Japanese voicing with English subs most of the time.  Lightning, Hope and Snow seem to be decent most the time but Fang is drawl and boring, Sazh is way to stereotypical black person and Vanille is plain terrible thw whole time....her accent doesn't even line up with Fang and they are from the SAME place,  The writing doesn't help them either as it is pretty poor most of the time though it also has its moments of glory.

Now I think all RPGs shouldhave a love story becuase most gamers can relate...either because they are dating, considering dating, married or have been in love at one point.  FFXIII has one but it is between a party member and a character that you hardly know, Serah who is Lightning's younger sister.  Not only does she look 14 but you just don't care about her at all because you don't play as her and you hardly know her.  the love story is piss poor...period.

Overall the story is ver average.  It has a lot of poor moments that make you want to scream or skip a cut-scene but it has some extremely well done moments that make you say, "Yeah that's what I'm talking about."

Story: 6.5/10

Sound/Music

Music is a strong point of FFXIII.  While not on the level of FFVII, FFIX or FFX...but who can be when Uematsu did those works?...it is still pretty good.  The battle music is catchy and easy to listen to and the over world music feels right in each area.  the only problem I had is the Chocobo theme was ruined with lyrics...or something like them,  However you get Chocobos so late and use them so rarely that it isn't that big a deal.

The sound is ok.  The battle sounds are alright but they don't stick out as good or bad just fair;y average.  Nothing sounds wrong, which is good, just nothing sounds awesome.

Leona Lewis with "My Hands" is incredible.

Sound/Music: 8.0/10

Graphics

FFXIII looks simply stunning during the cut-scenes.  There is no other way to put it.  Yes other games look better, God of War 3 for example, but something about FFXIII's scenes feels epic.  they are bright and colorful, full of fluid movement and great detail.  They fit the fantasy picture while making the world seem a live and real.

The over world on the other hand is strange.  It has nice drtail and is colorful but sometimes it just doesn't look that great.  Look at the NPCS and you'll know what I mean.  The areas you go are rather balnd also.  However little things like no clipping or major texture problems are great, no pop in graphics and Lightning's scarf never clips through her legs, cut-scene or in game, which is something to be proud of because no one seems to get scarves quite right.

Simply because of the cut scenes this game gets a high score.  in game looks decent most of the time too.

Graphics: 8.5/10

Replay

I doubt you will replay the whole game again, it just doesn't make sense to play again when you can keep playing after you beat it.  However there are a lot of things to upgrade and level up and 64 hunting missions to five star.  After the credits roll you could easily go over 100 hours of gameplay.  If not it will still take 40-60 hours for most players, even if they skip all but the required hunting missions, to finalize this fantasy.

Replay: 7.5/10

Other

This is a weak addition to the Final Fantasy name.  Squre Enix yet again missed key elements of the RPG which brought this game way down in some areas.  It has a ton of shotty moments and a forgettable cast of characters.  However the music is strong, the graphics are great and there is just enough subsistence to keep you hooked for at least the 40-60 hours required, just don't expect a life changing RPG when you boot this one up.

(My review is not an average of my numbers but what I feel the game should get.  The numbers under each category are based on what i think those categories are in general when compared to most games on the market today.)

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