Review: Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII

Initial Thoughts

Let me just get it out of the way: I loathed this game when it first came out, for reasons I’ll explain in the review below. Part of me was apprehensive going into replaying it, and another part kept an open mind, hoping I’d warm up to it (like I did when replaying Final Fantasy V), as opposed to walk away with, “Nope, still hate it!” (like I did with Final Fantasy VIII).

Here’s how it went…

Review

One of the biggest complaints I had heard about this game originally was just how linear it was. To get an example of what I mean, check out this article from Kotaku which includes maps of the game’s first several hours of play. That’s no joke, and the majority of the entire game is like that. I’d heard people say, “Yeah but about 20 or so hours in, you get to a spot where the map really expands and free roaming becomes possible!” The problem with that is that, 1) it takes 20+ hours to get to that point and, 2) while you can do a whole lot of stuff in this area, most of it is optional content (sidequests). Once you continue on with the main plot of the story, you are back into corridor after corridor.

I took some suggested precautions to try to ignore and get past this element of the game on my replay, which was to turn off the mini-map that displays in the top corner of the screen. I’ve gotta say – it really made a big difference. The idea is that the mini-map, when on, is always throwing in your face the fact that you are really just walking down a corridor that sometimes curves. It’s a bit of a way to hide the fact that the maps are so lacking in this title.

Speaking of visuals, they are quite literally the best they have ever been in the franchise here. This makes sense, considering the first appearance of the series on the PlayStation 3 (and Xbox 360) consoles, but it’s still stunning. Gone are the days of “cutscenes look one way, but actual gameplay looks another.” Here, they are one and the same. Having hid the mini-map as suggested, I was able to look around and admire the visuals of your surroundings and feel like you are exploring the environments. The battles were also really flashy, but in a good way. For the first time, you can actually control and pan the camera around  the battlefield. It’s not something you’ll need to do at all, really, but it was interesting when I noticed it.

As for the battle system itself, the game takes the “see your enemies” motif from its two predecessors over the random encounters from the first ten games in the series. However, there is still the screen that switches over to a battle arena, similar to the aforementioned first ten games in the series. Lastly, just like Final Fantasy XII, you can only control one of the party members at a time, with the other being controlled by the AI. Thankfully, Gambits are gone, but how battles carry out is a new feature in of itself.

Called “Paradigms,” there are six roles available to your characters: Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Medic, Saboteur, and Synergist. You can set up six different combinations of these for your characters for when battles take place. You can then use what’s called a Paradigm Shift in mid-battle to change your character’s roles. So let’s say you start battle with a Commando/Ravager/Ravager. However, you take some damage and change to a Commando/Ravager/Medic for some healing. You can even start a battle out as Commando/Saboteur/Synergist, with the latter two roles putting debuffs on the enemy and buffs on your players, respectively. You can customize these loadouts as you see fit, even going with Medic/Medic/Medic for those hard-hitting boss fights, and swap between any of your 6 Paradigm loadouts at any time during battle.

Another new element of battle is the Chain Gauge, which each enemy has. When you attack that enemy, you build up this chain gauge by a certain percentage. It can also decrease over time as well. When the gauge fills up, the enemy will enter a new temporary state called Staggered. When it is in this state, it takes greater damage, and Commandos can even launch it into midair to deliver combos and juggle attacks, during which time the enemy cannot attack you. This is crucial to damaging most bosses, and it certainly helps regular fights go by quicker as well.

This all may sound really exciting, but here’s how battles usually play out: You’ll learn to start battles with a Commando/Ravager/Ravager Paradigm. The Ravagers use magic-based attacks to build up the chain gauge quickly, but the gauge also decreases quicker from just their attacks alone. Commandos use physical attacks to build up the gauge slower, but also ensure a slow decrease. These two together help get you to a Staggered state quickly. From there, you can pound on the Staggered enemy in this Paradigm, or switch to a Commando/Commando/Commando Paradigm for quicker kills (depending on your character’s learned skills). But, much like how Gambits in Final Fantasy XII removed a strategic element from battles, this game finds another way to do it: Auto-attack.

When you enter battle, your character’s default action is “Auto.” Selecting this will make your character automatically choose which actions and abilities he or she has learned for the fight. As you learn more about your enemy, these will end up exploiting their weaknesses. For example, your first time facing a particular enemy, your Ravagers might throw one of each type of magic attack at it. He or she will then learn which your enemy is weak to, if any, and focus on that means of attack. While I could certainly manually do all of this, much like with Gambits in Final Fantasy XII, this just isn’t how the game was intended. If that were the case, Auto wouldn’t be the default selection, nor would it even really be a function. It may be a small gripe, since it’s totally avoidable if you so choose (you can tell the Settings to remember your cursor’s last position, and then just use Abilities instead of Auto upon your next battle), it still points to a dumbed-down means of play which, when coupled with the extreme linearity of this game ends up as a negative. Your battles will typically result in two button presses (select Auto, select enemy, repeat upon next turn) while waiting for the enemy to Stagger, and then you may switch a Paradigm and do the same two button presses. Finally, you get a victory screen that rates your battle performance, awards you Crystarium Points (this game’s exp), and awards you items based on your performance (a higher battle rank means better chance of rare rewards). So much to work with here, in this battle system, but such a disappointing delivery.

Level progression is done using Crystarium Points earned from battle in a system similar to Final Fantasy X‘s sphere grid, with each role getting its own progression path. It’s another fairly linear element to the game, but it’s not a negative by itself. I enjoyed progressing along and unlocking new abilities. I didn’t much care that they were pre-determined or that I wasn’t customizing my character. With the ability for each character to learn everything, as well as the Paradigm Shift system, that was fine by me. Of course, that also can mean you end up with every character being able to do anything, but some will always excel at particular roles over others, if only for their stats and weapons of choice.

Of course, this game also has its versions of Summons (called Eidolons here), and they’re just as bad as its predecessor. First of all, each character has an Eidolon specifically tied to them, and you fight them first to acquire the ability to summon them later. Upon completion of said battle, your Eidolon will transform into a vehicle for your character to ride, Transformers-style. No, really. It’s ridiculous and really serves no overall purpose to the story itself. Furthermore, summoning your Eidolons results in a complex and confusing new battle interface that mostly just renders the whole idea of summoning them pointless compared to normal battles instead (again, much like Final Fanasy XII).

The story is actually a bit complex initially, but one of the great additions to this game is the Datalog. Here, you will find all sorts ofinformation, including the plot, which updates as you progress. There are also encyclopedic entries of people, locations, and other aspects of the game, as well as a bestiary. You’ll see an icon in the main menu when the Datalog gets updated with new information, so you can easily revisit story elements and learn more about various parts of the game. There really is a great sense of lore and backstory to this world, and it’s worth reading up on it all to maximize enjoyment as you play.

Getting back to the story, however, it’s a good tale being told, but there are times where what’s happening is infuriating. I won’t spoil anything by getting specific, but there was many a time where I felt a sense of, “Why is that character doing that?!” Perhaps I just couldn’t relate, but I feel like I should’ve been able to do so. Also, much like Final Fantasy XII, it dips into the ludicrous towards the final act, where what’s happening and where you are just doesn’t make much sense even in a fantasy element. However, at its core, Final Fantasy XIII tells an compelling story that you want to see play out. It’s just frustrating how it does at times.

The final element of note to this game is its music. While there were a few standout tracks (particularly the battle theme, “Blinded by Light“), more often that not the music was just horrible and felt so out of place at times. A lot of the background music also has vocals thrown into it, be it subtle or outright, and neither works in any presented case. In fact, the Chocobo theme here not only had vocals, but it literally offended me by just how bad it was. Hearing it the first time was akin to Roseanne Barr’s rendition of the national anthem: “That just ain’t right.” The music, far and beyond anything else, was the most negative element of this game.

The characters are fully voiced throughout the game, however, with text being completely optional. It’s mostly good work in this regard, although Vanille’s accent seems to change at times throughout the game to me. I also was not a fan of the over-acting in emotive sounds, such as loud gasps for shock or grunts for climbing or getting hurt; they were overdone and detracted from their intended effect.

 

Final Thoughts

Replaying this game gave me a new perspective on it. Whereas I hated it with a passion my first time through, I didn’t feel the same this time around. I certainly place it in a bottom three for me, but trying to figure out its spot was tough.

The best features were definitely its graphics. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the battle system more than Final Fantasy VIII or Final Fantasy XII, but I also hated the music more than both. The map design also was so linear, but that became not as noticeable with the mini-map hidden. By comparison, both other bottom-of-the-barrel titles were very free-roaming. However, Final Fantasy X, my favorite in the series, was very linear as well. The difference is that I honestly didn’t even notice it as I played it; I only even saw this fact stated as a rebuttal/defense of Final Fantasy XIII online. Perhaps it did a better job of hiding it. The story here was well-intentioned, it muddled at times by the main players; it was certainly better than FFVIII but I’m not sure it was as good as FFXII — that one’s a tough call.

In the end, when I think about the three bottom games, depending on what element I think of, they each place differently. But, on the whole, I’ve decided that my final list of favorites in the single-player offline main titles of the Final Fantasy franchise ordered as follows:

1) Final Fantasy X
2) Final Fantasy IX
3) Final Fantasy VII
4) Final Fantasy VI
5) Final Fantasy V
6) Final Fantasy IV
7) Final Fantasy II
8) Final Fantasy III
9) Final Fantasy
10) Final Fantasy XII
11)  Final Fantasy XIII
12 ) Final Fantasy VIII

 

That does it for me and the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary! Time to play something else after a full year of this series!


Initial Thoughts

Let me just get it out of the way: I loathed this game when it first came out, for reasons I’ll explain in the review below. Part of me was apprehensive going into replaying it, and another part kept an open mind, hoping I’d warm up to it (like I did when replaying Final Fantasy V), as opposed to walk away with, “Nope, still hate it!” (like I did with Final Fantasy VIII).

Here’s how it went…

Review

One of the biggest complaints I had heard about this game originally was just how linear it was. To get an example of what I mean, check out this article from Kotaku which includes maps of the game’s first several hours of play. That’s no joke, and the majority of the entire game is like that. I’d heard people say, “Yeah but about 20 or so hours in, you get to a spot where the map really expands and free roaming becomes possible!” The problem with that is that, 1) it takes 20+ hours to get to that point and, 2) while you can do a whole lot of stuff in this area, most of it is optional content (sidequests). Once you continue on with the main plot of the story, you are back into corridor after corridor.

I took some suggested precautions to try to ignore and get past this element of the game on my replay, which was to turn off the mini-map that displays in the top corner of the screen. I’ve gotta say – it really made a big difference. The idea is that the mini-map, when on, is always throwing in your face the fact that you are really just walking down a corridor that sometimes curves. It’s a bit of a way to hide the fact that the maps are so lacking in this title.

Speaking of visuals, they are quite literally the best they have ever been in the franchise here. This makes sense, considering the first appearance of the series on the PlayStation 3 (and Xbox 360) consoles, but it’s still stunning. Gone are the days of “cutscenes look one way, but actual gameplay looks another.” Here, they are one and the same. Having hid the mini-map as suggested, I was able to look around and admire the visuals of your surroundings and feel like you are exploring the environments. The battles were also really flashy, but in a good way. For the first time, you can actually control and pan the camera around  the battlefield. It’s not something you’ll need to do at all, really, but it was interesting when I noticed it.

As for the battle system itself, the game takes the “see your enemies” motif from its two predecessors over the random encounters from the first ten games in the series. However, there is still the screen that switches over to a battle arena, similar to the aforementioned first ten games in the series. Lastly, just like Final Fantasy XII, you can only control one of the party members at a time, with the other being controlled by the AI. Thankfully, Gambits are gone, but how battles carry out is a new feature in of itself.

Called “Paradigms,” there are six roles available to your characters: Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Medic, Saboteur, and Synergist. You can set up six different combinations of these for your characters for when battles take place. You can then use what’s called a Paradigm Shift in mid-battle to change your character’s roles. So let’s say you start battle with a Commando/Ravager/Ravager. However, you take some damage and change to a Commando/Ravager/Medic for some healing. You can even start a battle out as Commando/Saboteur/Synergist, with the latter two roles putting debuffs on the enemy and buffs on your players, respectively. You can customize these loadouts as you see fit, even going with Medic/Medic/Medic for those hard-hitting boss fights, and swap between any of your 6 Paradigm loadouts at any time during battle.

Another new element of battle is the Chain Gauge, which each enemy has. When you attack that enemy, you build up this chain gauge by a certain percentage. It can also decrease over time as well. When the gauge fills up, the enemy will enter a new temporary state called Staggered. When it is in this state, it takes greater damage, and Commandos can even launch it into midair to deliver combos and juggle attacks, during which time the enemy cannot attack you. This is crucial to damaging most bosses, and it certainly helps regular fights go by quicker as well.

This all may sound really exciting, but here’s how battles usually play out: You’ll learn to start battles with a Commando/Ravager/Ravager Paradigm. The Ravagers use magic-based attacks to build up the chain gauge quickly, but the gauge also decreases quicker from just their attacks alone. Commandos use physical attacks to build up the gauge slower, but also ensure a slow decrease. These two together help get you to a Staggered state quickly. From there, you can pound on the Staggered enemy in this Paradigm, or switch to a Commando/Commando/Commando Paradigm for quicker kills (depending on your character’s learned skills). But, much like how Gambits in Final Fantasy XII removed a strategic element from battles, this game finds another way to do it: Auto-attack.

When you enter battle, your character’s default action is “Auto.” Selecting this will make your character automatically choose which actions and abilities he or she has learned for the fight. As you learn more about your enemy, these will end up exploiting their weaknesses. For example, your first time facing a particular enemy, your Ravagers might throw one of each type of magic attack at it. He or she will then learn which your enemy is weak to, if any, and focus on that means of attack. While I could certainly manually do all of this, much like with Gambits in Final Fantasy XII, this just isn’t how the game was intended. If that were the case, Auto wouldn’t be the default selection, nor would it even really be a function. It may be a small gripe, since it’s totally avoidable if you so choose (you can tell the Settings to remember your cursor’s last position, and then just use Abilities instead of Auto upon your next battle), it still points to a dumbed-down means of play which, when coupled with the extreme linearity of this game ends up as a negative. Your battles will typically result in two button presses (select Auto, select enemy, repeat upon next turn) while waiting for the enemy to Stagger, and then you may switch a Paradigm and do the same two button presses. Finally, you get a victory screen that rates your battle performance, awards you Crystarium Points (this game’s exp), and awards you items based on your performance (a higher battle rank means better chance of rare rewards). So much to work with here, in this battle system, but such a disappointing delivery.

Level progression is done using Crystarium Points earned from battle in a system similar to Final Fantasy X‘s sphere grid, with each role getting its own progression path. It’s another fairly linear element to the game, but it’s not a negative by itself. I enjoyed progressing along and unlocking new abilities. I didn’t much care that they were pre-determined or that I wasn’t customizing my character. With the ability for each character to learn everything, as well as the Paradigm Shift system, that was fine by me. Of course, that also can mean you end up with every character being able to do anything, but some will always excel at particular roles over others, if only for their stats and weapons of choice.

Of course, this game also has its versions of Summons (called Eidolons here), and they’re just as bad as its predecessor. First of all, each character has an Eidolon specifically tied to them, and you fight them first to acquire the ability to summon them later. Upon completion of said battle, your Eidolon will transform into a vehicle for your character to ride, Transformers-style. No, really. It’s ridiculous and really serves no overall purpose to the story itself. Furthermore, summoning your Eidolons results in a complex and confusing new battle interface that mostly just renders the whole idea of summoning them pointless compared to normal battles instead (again, much like Final Fanasy XII).

The story is actually a bit complex initially, but one of the great additions to this game is the Datalog. Here, you will find all sorts ofinformation, including the plot, which updates as you progress. There are also encyclopedic entries of people, locations, and other aspects of the game, as well as a bestiary. You’ll see an icon in the main menu when the Datalog gets updated with new information, so you can easily revisit story elements and learn more about various parts of the game. There really is a great sense of lore and backstory to this world, and it’s worth reading up on it all to maximize enjoyment as you play.

Getting back to the story, however, it’s a good tale being told, but there are times where what’s happening is infuriating. I won’t spoil anything by getting specific, but there was many a time where I felt a sense of, “Why is that character doing that?!” Perhaps I just couldn’t relate, but I feel like I should’ve been able to do so. Also, much like Final Fantasy XII, it dips into the ludicrous towards the final act, where what’s happening and where you are just doesn’t make much sense even in a fantasy element. However, at its core, Final Fantasy XIII tells an compelling story that you want to see play out. It’s just frustrating how it does at times.

The final element of note to this game is its music. While there were a few standout tracks (particularly the battle theme, “Blinded by Light“), more often that not the music was just horrible and felt so out of place at times. A lot of the background music also has vocals thrown into it, be it subtle or outright, and neither works in any presented case. In fact, the Chocobo theme here not only had vocals, but it literally offended me by just how bad it was. Hearing it the first time was akin to Roseanne Barr’s rendition of the national anthem: “That just ain’t right.” The music, far and beyond anything else, was the most negative element of this game.

The characters are fully voiced throughout the game, however, with text being completely optional. It’s mostly good work in this regard, although Vanille’s accent seems to change at times throughout the game to me. I also was not a fan of the over-acting in emotive sounds, such as loud gasps for shock or grunts for climbing or getting hurt; they were overdone and detracted from their intended effect.

 

Final Thoughts

Replaying this game gave me a new perspective on it. Whereas I hated it with a passion my first time through, I didn’t feel the same this time around. I certainly place it in a bottom three for me, but trying to figure out its spot was tough.

The best features were definitely its graphics. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the battle system more than Final Fantasy VIII or Final Fantasy XII, but I also hated the music more than both. The map design also was so linear, but that became not as noticeable with the mini-map hidden. By comparison, both other bottom-of-the-barrel titles were very free-roaming. However, Final Fantasy X, my favorite in the series, was very linear as well. The difference is that I honestly didn’t even notice it as I played it; I only even saw this fact stated as a rebuttal/defense of Final Fantasy XIII online. Perhaps it did a better job of hiding it. The story here was well-intentioned, it muddled at times by the main players; it was certainly better than FFVIII but I’m not sure it was as good as FFXII — that one’s a tough call.

In the end, when I think about the three bottom games, depending on what element I think of, they each place differently. But, on the whole, I’ve decided that my final list of favorites in the single-player offline main titles of the Final Fantasy franchise ordered as follows:

1) Final Fantasy X
2) Final Fantasy IX
3) Final Fantasy VII
4) Final Fantasy VI
5) Final Fantasy V
6) Final Fantasy IV
7) Final Fantasy II
8) Final Fantasy III
9) Final Fantasy
10) Final Fantasy XII
11)  Final Fantasy XIII
12 ) Final Fantasy VIII

 

That does it for me and the Final Fantasy 25th Anniversary! Time to play something else after a full year of this series!


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Jason L. Hubsch

Jason L. Hubsch

I love music, video games, comic books, pro wrestling, politics, and God -- and not necessarily in that order! If you like any of these, chances are we'll get along.

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