The lights are on
For years now, Final Fantasy has been one of the big players in the Japanese game market. Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior for you yanks across the pond) and Phantasy Star were the early contenders in the home-console RPG market, with more competition coming out once things moved into the 16 bit era.Now Square-Enix (Formally Squaresoft and Enix respectively) are have contributed alot of titles and franchises to the annals of the Japanese RPG genre, but Final Fantasy is certainly their flagship series, gaining the most attention even moving into the current generation, whilst Dragon Quest was mostly pushed aside to the handheld market.
Now although this review is being written in 2013, I was an early adopter of the game when it was released in Australia. I am a Final Fantasy fan through and through, but I will be the first to point out faults that the games have had and talk about why they might not have been as good as everyone says, whilst still enjoying them and having reasons to keep playing. From 1 through to 12, I had played them all (even the god-awful Crystal Chronicles entries, but that is for another time), and I must say that something about XIII made me go through a mix of emotions before I was done with it. Opinions are certainly divided with this entry, but there is also alot of division amongst fans when it comes to the older entries in the series too, so don't take different opinions as a reason to hate on the game.
I owned this game initially on the Xbox 360 but then got the Playstation 3 version after my 360 suffered yet another RROD. So I experienced what little framerate differences the 2 versions offered.
Now one of the first things we are greeted with upon starting up the game is a spectacular FMV which shows our first 2 characters (Lightning and Sazh) on a train, getting into some fights with soldiers. Immediately after this, we are thrown into our first battle. And might I say, the battle system was not what I had expected. Long gone are the days of controlling an entire parties actions to take down a group of foes, and instead we control 1 member of the party, whilst the other member/s will do their own thing based on their role. We are introduced to 5 of the 6 playable characters before the end of the first big dungeon area.
We have commandos which are a physical/non-elemental magic users who are tasked with the responsibility of keeping up the enemies 'Stagger' bar. Ravagers are our main DPS who will be doing the bulk of the damage, and help to boost up the opponents stagger bar. Sentinels are our protective tanks, Medic is our healer, Saboteurs will inflict opponents with status ailments while the Synergist will cast protective buffs on party members. The AI is pretty smart, and in fact it is easier to let the computer select what moves you use in battle as it is frantic enough without the added stress of figuring out what spells to use and when. Once unlocked, you can assign characters a job slot in a paradigm, which is basically your pre-set class assignments that you can change in battle. Making the right paradigms is a requirement to get through some of the tougher battles, as one slip up can cost you the entire fight.
Now the battle system is very interesting, and probably one of the most challenging systems in a Final Fantasy game. For the most part it is all about switching paradigms at the right times in a fight and then telling your party leader to just cast what s/he wants. Boss fights play out like alot of fights you would see in an MMO, with multiple phases which can start at any time, and require precision timing to make sure that you don't lose your party. The battle system is basic at first with no control over which party members or roles you can use, but as the story advances more features are unlocked until you have access to every class, every character and can make what you want out of the party. It takes approximately 20 hours from memory to get to that point, but you will be thankful for it as it is alot to take in, and would be very overwhelming if it was all available from the start.
Outside of battle, you basically get thrown into very linear dungeons which involve getting from point A to point B, with a few cutscenes and fights along the way. After a certain point in the game you are introduced to a more open part of the world which gives a bit more free-exploration, but you won't be able to revisit areas you saw before this.The areas you travel through are beautiful, and some of my favorite environments in a Final Fantasy game yet. Towns as they are known in the previous games are gone, and are replaced with little computer-type systems that are in certain spots in the dungeon, and are used to access the various stores the game offers. There are 3 locations you visit in-game which as modeled as large cities with lots of people, but you won't find any of the traditional short conversation pieces, inns or stores like in the past.
The leveling system starts out just as linear as the dungeons, and expands over time until after you beat the final boss. Each character has a Crystariam, which is basically a class tree. You spend points earned after battle to advance in the tree. The progress is capped through story events, so you can't advance beyond a specific point until you advance in the game. As weird as this is, I found it worked as it game the game a relative challenge that remained consistent throughout the game.
Now story-wise I find the game to be a little confusing to explain without offering too many spoilers, especially as you are thrown into the fray right at the start. Flashbacks are used to explain events leading up to the start of the game and how the characters all came together. We won't find the series staples such as saving the Crystals or anything like that, but we are greeted with the 'subtle' cues of the party going up against an established ruling leader (government) for the good of the entire world.
So at the end of the day, we get a linear final fantasy that takes around 20 hours for everything to unlock, but it felt like an accomplishment to finally see the end credits. The boss fights were some of the best the series has had to offer so far, and the maps were beautiful. The only things that kept me from giving the game a higher score were the character voices (As an Australian, I couldn't stand hearing the Australian voices 2 characters in the game had), the fact that you couldn't revisit old areas and the linearity of dungeons. I know the series has always had linear dungeons, but that has been a complaint of mine for a while.
Seeing as the game can be bought for less than $15 at Gamestop, there is no reason to at least not give this a try. We also were greeted with a sequel in Final Fantasy XIII-2 and have 1 more entry to the saga coming out soon, in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
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