Final Fantasy XIII
Justin , 2010/03/16 10:54
It has been somewhere around three and a half years, shockingly, since the last time we saw a numbered entry in the Final Fantasy series. Well, finally the next entry is upon us. The thirteenth game, in fact. Yes sir, just like a horror slasher this series just refuses to die, and sometimes even the most hardcore of fans of the series sort of wish it would. There are people who hate every single game in the series simply because it has the brand name of Final Fantasy. Likewise, there are others who love every single game in the series for the same exact reason. So I'm here to provide you with a completely unbiased opinion. I'm a fan of the series, and I'd be the first one to admit some of these games have some pretty significant flaws. De-leveling in a game that requires months to achieve anything? Really Square? REALLY?
Of course I intend on doing this review a little differently than what you might be used to. More often than not you see a little half a page blurb in a magazine, or a short write up of the basics on a gaming website. Often times you'll see some sort of star rating, or point scale. I, however, don't believe that gaming works in absolutes. I've played plenty of games that were fairly universally loved and thought it was absolute shit before. Likewise, I've played a couple games that got shit reviews that I actually enjoyed quite a bit. That isn't to say this always happens, mind you, but when you have a star or point rating I find people either vote too highly, or too lowly. It's kind of difficult to take every aspect of a game into account when you can only give it a number between one and five. Just ask Peter Molyneux. He'll be the first person to tell you that we don't really play enough of our games to be credible. Remember kids: Fuck that adventure, you've got clothes to try on for no discernible reason!
What I will be doing is talking about a few various parts of the game in detail. For the most part this will usually involve the mechanics of the game itself, and the storyline behind it. However, in the case of game series I'll also be discussing how well the make it feel like a game in the series, or if they have a complete lack of that. I believe in giving people the information they need to judge for themselves whether or not they want to give something a try. After all no matter how many points I give something, if somebody wants to try it they're going to. And if they don't? Well giving them reasons why they might want to is going to go a lot further than just saying "this gets a 8.5! Tee-hee-hee." So, lets get down to business, shall we?
I. "Heroes never run"
The most important part of a Final Fantasy game, aside from the storyline is the cast of characters who tell it. Specifically, the cast of characters that make up the group you'll be directly playing. So are these characters any good? Well lets go ahead and just call them hit and miss. And I don't mean that in the "a couple are great, and the rest are terrible" sense. I mean quite literally that every last one of them have pros and cons. Due to this I'm going to have to introduce them individually.
The first thing you might notice about Lightning is Square seemed to really go above the call of duty to find a name for her. I guess it happened to be raining at the time. They do provide some half assed reason to explain why she's called Lightning, but I think we can all agree it's a really stupid name. Just like Cloud was. I'd prefer my characters to have names a little more name-like, and a little less weather like. I can't wait to see the heartwarming young "Scattered Showers, But Then Clear Through The Weekend" in Final Fantasy 15. Lightning is basically the group's token bitch. She's the hard ass soldier that looks like she know so much better than everybody, but is secretly just as scared as everybody else. Her main cons is that her attitude can be a little grating, and repetitive. Her pros is that she often has scenes where she just hauls off and decks people, which is sort of amusing. If you're wondering about gameplay wise then don't worry. We'll be getting to that a little later.
Sahz is the wisdom filled father figure of the group ...cleverly disguised as a series of subtle African American sterotypes. At one point in the game he opts to separate from the group rather than fighting with them (see also: working) so he could travel with a scantly dressed white woman (see also: "dat ass"). Later in the game he gets a vehicle that would be perfect to deliver driveby's with, and worst of all his emblem looks curiously like a leg of fried chicken. They try to make this not so obvious by making him seem like the smartest member of the group, who has the greatest understanding of how the world really works. That said, they also seem to make sure he's readily available whenever the situation requires somebody to make goofy faces and spout off one liners. If you're not convinced yet, his unique skill effectively consists of him busting a cap in the enemy's ass. Oh, and he also has a thick afro where a baby chocobo lives. A bird he may, or may not be raising for the purpose of deep frying at a later date. Sahz would not be the last of this game's eerily racist characters.
Snow is the hero, apparently. You'll know this because he's going to mention that fact out loud in every fucking scene he's in. However, he's also one of the characters with the best overall personality. Unfortunately, this is also mixed with the fact that the voice actor decided to not build up to emotional changes. So in some scenes he'll go from being perfectly happy to yelling, and crying out of nowhere. It's the video game equivalent of running around with somebody bi-polar. Still, Snow is generally involved with some the coolest cut scenes in the game. Lightning punches him in the face.
Hope may very well be the biggest pussy in video game history. The first entire half of the game quite literally consists of him doing nothing buy crying over his mother, and threatening to kick the ass of the guy who got her killed, and then proceeding to do absolutely nothing in every scene in which they interact. You will spend the entire game hoping with every fiber of your being that this is going to be the character they kill off. Sadly, they do not. On the upside he does start to man up as the game's plot continues forward. Sadly he doesn't grow a beard as the game progresses to match his newfound manliness. Also the game is going to constantly mention that people need hope, to the point where Hope himself will say the same thing and explain that his name is only a name. This is not going to be the last cute play on words name you'll see in this game. Or in this family. In the movie he will be played by Shannon Moore.
Vanille is mentally retarded. No, I mean it. You might think I'm just being satirical right now. I'm just having a good time, and kidding around. No. This girl is completely fucking nuts. There is a random optional scene late in the game where she randomly decides to shave a sheep by RIPPING the wool right off of the thing's body, while reprimanding it to not be mad at her. She will spend the majority of the game giggling, and seeming so cheerful that it's like somebody put Shirley Temple on anti-depressants. If anybody could be considered the "main" character, this would be the one. Her past is very critical to the plot, and you find she isn't as cheerful as she appears. She often talks as if she's deaf.
Fang is Japan's way of reminding us that the Australian's are all spear chucking savages who are only out for themselves. For the first half of the game she's just random bitch, who sneaks her way into your party in order to hunt down her friend. Once she does join your party, however, she seems perfectly satisfied with murdering everybody as long as it solves her problems. Lightning punches her in the face.
II. This is some Star Wars shit right here.
Okay, so now that we know the characters you're probably wondering how the story is? Well, this is one of the game's strongest points. At the same time it can also be a little bit of a problem. This game is heavily focused on developing the characters to the point where character development often comes before game play to sometimes discouraging results. Often times you will see your party split randomly without warning. In some cases this split will happen right after you've unlocked a new ability for somebody, and before you even have a chance to use it. One case in point is you get a summon spell for somebody at the end of chapter three. This character does not become playable again until you've advanced to chapter seven. For people playing on X-Box 360 that means you'll have had to play through an entire disk before you even have the opportunity to see what the summon you got at the beginning of the game
The main storyline involves these mystical God-beings known as Fal'cie. They are the movers and the shakers of the world. Unfortunately for the rest of the world these Fal'cie don't really get along, and different factions are involved. There is the "good guys"
nWo Wolfpac Cocoon Fal'cie, and then there are the evil bloodthirsty Australian savages known as Pulse Fal'cie. These two sides are engaging in a totally not a rip off of Star Wars feud. According to the levels of the people the savage Pulse Fal'cie are attempting to destroy the friendly people of Cocoon, and the Fal'cie who keep it active. The two parts war thanks to Jedi randomly chosen humans which then receive special powers, and become known as L'Cie. Unfortunately this isn't all fun and rippling muscles. As a L'Cie you have two choices. You can complete your "Focus" or mission and get the loving reward of being completely encased in Carbonite crystal for the rest of eternity, or you can not finish your Focus in the alloted time limit given to you at which point you'll turn into a hideous freakish monster. So every human in on Cocoon is horribly afraid of L'Cie to the point where coming in contact with one is basically like getting AIDS where nobody wants to be anywhere near you because they're afraid just being in the same room as you is enough to get infected.
We good so far? No? Well tough shit. We're moving on anyway. Thirteen days before the game begins (Do you SEE what they did there? Oh Square, you cad!) a bunch of bullshit happened that I won't mention here to avoid spoiling the plot for you, which set into motion a chain of events that caused the characters mentioned above to get tapped and converted into L'Cie. What is your focus? You are to destroy Cocoon. Needless to say the majority of the group doesn't want to do that (see also: Everybody except Fang. She could give a shit.) Thus, the plot of Final Fantasy XIII centers around the relationships that these six people have with one another while struggling with a mission they have no choice but to complete, and would love to do anything BUT what they're supposed to.
The game does an excellent job of pushing the story along, and keeping things interesting. Unfortunately this can sometimes be at the expense of actual gameplay. Why? And how is the game play? Well why don't we go ahead and get to that right now.
III. You got your job system in my sphere grid.
Final Fantasy XIII is both very good, and very shitty at the exact same time. The battle system is very frantic, and fast paced and keeps your attention. However, at the same time it often feels the game is playing itself with you only pressing buttons so Square can make you think you're actually participating. Likewise, this game is more linear than any Final Fantasy game in history to the point where you'll have played for around 25 hours before you even have the option to go anywhere other than where the game tells you to go. This is due to the fact that each chapter, up until chapter 11, sets you on a set map that basically plays out like a long corridor. Sure, there might be little side roads every so often but it's rarely that long of a detour and at the most all you'll find are a couple of enemies and a treasure chest. So this basically plays out with you watching a cut scene, before taking all of six steps, and then you'll have another cut scene. All the while you'll have to engage in battle every five seconds in between scene A, and scene B. Not the best idea for a game to be certain, but Final Fantasy X had the same general setup for a lot of things and that ended up being fantastic, right? Well... It's a little different here.
In Final Fantasy X there were towns. There were little puzzles. There were completely optional areas you never had to actually go to. This game sort of feels like somebody is holding your hand throughout the game like an angry parent, telling you where you can and cannot go. Again, this is due to the fact they wanted to focus on character development so it isn't entirely bad ...but at the same time it can be a little difficult to forget you're playing a game and truly experience the game when all you're doing is running down narrow corridors for 50+ hours. When you reach chapter 11, roughly 25 hours into game play the world finally does open up to where you can run around and do optional side quests. Unfortunately, once you advance to chapter 12 you'll find it goes right back into the tunnel vision setup, and trend that also sticks around for the final area. Speaking of... The final boss in the game can instantly kill you, so fuck you Square. Why is this so bad? Well that is due to how the battle system works.
In this game you only control one person at a time, and can have up to two active computer controlled team mates. If either of your team mates die, then they can be revived. If you die at any time it is instantly a game over. The computer will never get the opportunity to revive you. So in being that the final boss can randomly kill you at any time (and the fact he has over 6 million hit points) it can basically come across as being a complete waste of twenty minutes due to something you really can't do anything about. I personally had fun with the battle system, and was one of the few people defending the game ...but even I have to admit something like that is very poor design. The object is to make the game enjoyable, not to frustrate people into wanting to never play it again. Especially in this day and age where it wouldn't be all that difficult to simply google the ending.
Anyway, the way the system works is that you have an ATB bar that goes up to five slots by the end of the game. Each attack you set up a combo with each skill costing a certain amount of bar segments. For example if I were to select "Attack" it would only take up one bar segment, so I could establish a combo of five attacks. Otherwise, if I were to use one of the character's special unique skills it would take all five segments and my combo would only be one attack. Of course these unique skills are often exceptionally overpowered when selectively used. You can opt to set your attacks up the way you want them individually, or you can use a feature called "Auto-Battle" which would have the game set your attacks up in a manner they feel appropriate to the enemy at hand based off of how much information you've unlocked via the Libra spell. Sometimes the Libra information doesn't tell you anything though. For example, that last boss I mentioned earlier is weak to "Poison," however if you were to check his Libra page you'd find that it doesn't mention anything about it. So the majority of players would never even know he was weak to Poison. So the game honestly could do a better job of displaying the information. Especially since it often takes multiple casts of Libra to successfully get all the information for enemies. There is even an achievement called "Loremaster" in which you have to successfully fully Libra one hundred different enemies (which sounds like it'd be a pain in the ass, but I unlocked it somewhere around chapter 10).
Elsewhere, around chapter 3 you'll have access to a leveling system known as the Crystarium. In effect this is the sphere grid system from Final Fantasy 10. The main difference being that you can only level is small groups, and often have to wait for the remaining sections to unlock as you progress through the story. In fact, the final upgrade to the grid doesn't even unlock until after you've successfully defeated the final boss as the game allows you to continue playing so you can finish up the side quests for the remaining achievements, or trophies depending on your version of the game. To me this was also something of a negative because I almost feel like they just made a bunch of extra things that were really grindy rather than entertaining. I suspect if somebody didn't absolutely love the game from start to finish they're likely to never even bother with the game after the ending. This stuff would have served a better purpose if it was available before the final battle. With Final Fantasy the final battle is meant to be just that. The ending of the quest. You beat it, and then you put the game away with a sense of accomplishment that you finished everything you personally needed to.
One complaint I had about the grid was that a lot of times things seem very poorly placed. For example every so often you'd see something like "Dispel", and then immediately behind it the more powerful "Dispelga" is found, and for roughly the same amount of "crystarium points" (Basically, experience points). So, it brings about the question of why you'd ever bother using the weaker version if you can have the stronger version roughly a split second later. The grid also seems to be determined to give roles that primarily use magic a lot of strength boosts despite the fact you'd never, for example, have Vanille attacking as a Medic. Sadly, the Final Fantasy 10 edition of the grid was much better done. However, this time around the grid is also mixed in with a Final Fantasy 5 staple: the job system.
In Final Fantasy 13 you have access to six jobs per person, with three of these jobs being meant to be each character's "main skills", and one of the six being their "ideal set." You'll always find the one unique skill for every character in their ideal set list. Anyway, you access these jobs due to a system called the "Paradigm" system. This allows you to set up six combos of class setups for each of the three active characters in your party, and you can switch between the six combos at any time during a battle. For example you could start the battle with Fang as a commando, Lightning as a ravager, and Hope as a Medic. Then during the fight you realize you're getting the crap kicked out of you and you need to heal desperately and Hope just isn't cutting it. You can go right into your Paradigm quick menu and change right to Fang being a sentinel, and both Hope, and Lightning taking the role of Medic. Switching between these job setups is what the battle system is all about. It's fast paced, and forces you to come up with a strategy.
Commando's are basically there to keep things steady. They prevent the combo chain bar from depleting too quickly so you can work the bar up to the point where an enemy is staggered, or stunned. At which point you can deal massive damage to them. Ravager's are meant to be your DPS (damage per second) class, and work exceptionally well when combined with the combo bar slowdown ability of a Commando. A Medic is basically your healing class, and does little else. A Sentinel is the tank class, and the point of that role is quite simply to take damage and draw the attacks away from the two other characters. A Saboteur is the debuffing class. That means they'll cast spells that lower the defensive capabilities of the enemy. Likewise, a Synergist is the buffing class which casts spells to increase the power of your active party.
In addition to everything else you'll also run across Eidolins at various places in the game. One for each character in the party. When you meet one you'll have to engage it in a timed battle to prove yourself. If you successfully do so (and you better, because failure to do so is a game over) then you have access to summoning that Eidolin to help you in battle if you're controlling the party member who has access to it. As you fight alongside the Eidolin (which replaces your two team members temporarily) you'll find that
you've got the touch. You've got the power! you can build up an additional power bar which will allow you to enter what they call "Gestalt" mode. In this mode your Eidolin turns into a fucking vehicle and you ride it for a set amount of time doing heavy damage to the enemy before performing an ultimate attack which has the capabilities of breaking the 99,999 damage barrier should their stagger combo meter be high enough. Marion seems to feel that by calling it Gestalt mode that Square is attempting to come forward and admit they're Nazi's. I'm not sure about that, but even I have to admit they designed Sahz's vehicle to look as it it would be perfectly set up if they needed to do a driveby shooting sequence. Hell, at one point he basically runs somebody over with his car. Man, the Japanese are racist.
IV.Weapon grinding and side quests
In addition to grinding experience you'll also have to go through the tedious process of grinding weapon experience. The way you do this is by collecting various body parts of monsters which you can then use as a component on your weapon to give it experience. Eventually you'll manage to secure a level up and increase how powerful the weapon actually is. In addition even if a part doesn't give you a lot of experience points it will still have a chance of giving your weapon an experience multiplier so that everything does more. Now normally this wouldn't seem so bad, but in order to successfully level up a weapon completely you have to basically raise around 200 levels of the weapon, going through two different form changes. And since there is an achievement to have had one of every weapon, and accessory type in the entire game you'll have to do this practically over a hundred times. That isn't something I call fun. I call that busy work. Especially considering that all of the actual decent parts can only be found through grinding. Either by grinding the item itself, or by grinding gil through items to sell. You see you don't get money for completing battles like in other games. No, you can only get gil through random treasure chests and via selling things. Except you can't sell anything. Because you have to make sure that you have one of everything, including additional forms of the item. I assume you can see why this is tedious and swear inducing.
Luckily, for the most part this isn't really necessary to do in order to complete the main story. However, if you're intending to do any of the other achievements and side quests then you better believe your ass is going to work. Side quests in this game come about during chapter 11 where there are 64 different missions to undertake. Each mission has you killing a specific monster. Since battles are ranked from zero stars, to five depending on your performance in the fight you may also have to do these 64 fights multiple times since one of the achievements is to successfully get a five star rating for each one. Additionally you can ride a Chocobo around and dig for buried treasure under the Earth, and there's a side mission where you can repair a robot. And that is all there is for side missions. So basically once you beat the story the rest of your time playing will just consist of grinding in some fashion. Grinding experience to get the achievement for maxing everybody's entire leveling grid. Grinding items, and gil to complete the achievement for collecting one of every weapon/accessory type. Grinding the mission fights until you manage to five star each one. Since this can take over one hundred hours to do I really don't foresee many people quite having it in them to complete all the way. If you do then you'll unlock a few extras for your console of choice. On the 360 you'll unlock a few gamer pictures. If you're on the PS3 then you'll get background images for your console's menu. I sort of feel like we 360 users got hosed there. However, I understand the PS3 version also has freezing issues, so I guess we win in the end.
V. So really ...What the fuck did you think?
Honestly? I enjoyed the game, despite it's fairly obvious flaws. The linear nature of the game I barely noticed because I was much more interested in the storyline. Though, at the same time I can easily see why people would be complaining. It does kind of take you out of a game when you realize you're set on a one way track and you have no ability to deviate from it. I also didn't mind the leveling system, although they really could have made it a little less retarded to work weapons up. I mean look. I'm all for having to work a little to get the ultimate weapon in the game. I'm fine with that. But to have to put almost the same amount of effort just to ensure everybody in the party is appropriately leveled during every segment of the game? That is just stupid. In fact, it is completely impossible without just grinding for days at a time for items to sell just so you can buy the better components. Also, the game doesn't even give you access to purchasing them all at once. Stores, much like everything else, gradually opens up as you progress through the game. So basically you're forced to be under-leveled up until chapter 11 where you'll have to spend the first few hours there grinding specifically just so you won't get your ass handed to you on a platter.
I've already explained how cheap, and stupid the instant death attack for the last boss was. If the attack only hit your team mates then I'd have no issues with it. But the fact it can just end your fight at random and you can't do shit about it? That is just the type of shit that makes you want to stop playing a game. Imagine if you were playing Super Mario Brothers for the NES and midway through level 8-1 you just suddenly died. Your timer didn't run out. Nobody hit you. You just died. To make matters worse? You start back at level 1-1 when your next guy loads. Would you really want to keep playing? Yeah, I didn't fucking think so. Truthfully though, it isn't just him. There are a ton of cheap enemies in the game. And even the enemies who aren't cheap often have thousands of hit points so even the most trivial fights can sometimes take forever to get through. Square really needed to structure their fights better, and make sure there wasn't things that the player absolutely can't do anything about. Had the final boss made a warning before he does the instant death spell, and going into Sentinel mode and guarding against it prevented the death? I would have no issues switching jobs temporarily and blocking the hit. That is strategy. Randomly dying for seemingly no reason and having to start all over again? That is just fucking stupid. Well... On the upside at least they don't de-level you this time.
The side quests aren't all that interesting, and would have really benefited from more connections to the rest of the series. Having to fight Gilgamesh, or Zeromus as a mission would have made long time fans happy. Meanwhile having to fight a Goblin Cheftian for four fucking different missions just screams lazy programming. Speaking of connections to the other games I also have to give a thumbs down to the soundtrack. Now don't get me wrong. The music sounds nice. However, one thing about Final Fantasy is how the music jumps out at you. You end up remembering at least a handful of songs forever. In this game? Half of the songs resemble elevator music and I could not name you any songs in the game off the top of my head. And I have the soundtrack on my computer. Final Fantasy XIII isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. The problem is that it also isn't a good game either. It is completely mediocre in every way. It's worth a playthrough to see the story, but after that? You'll never even look at it again. Meanwhile games like Final Fantasy 4, 6, and 10? You could replay those games multiple times and still enjoy the experience every time.
I can only provide a mild recommendation for the game. As an RPG it is a good game. As a Final Fantasy game? I'm afraid this barely qualifies as one. Still, I enjoyed the game personally, despite it's major flaws. Perhaps you will as well.