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Redefining Final Fantasy

  • Mar 17, 2010
As Final Fantasy ages, each new installment seems to become more and more polarizing as Final Fantasy incorprates new ideas.  Final Fantasy X got a fairly warm reception among audiences and is often labeled by fans as one of the best Final Fantasy outings out there.  Since then, however, the Final Fantasy titles released have often received mixed reactions from fans.  Final Fantasy XI went online and had fans scratching their heads.  Final Fantasy XII incorporated an entirely different battle system and, in the process, put story on the back burner.  Both games were either games you loved or games you loved to hate.  There was hardly any middle ground.  Final Fantasy XIII is no different.  For hardcore fans of the series watching how the series has changed can be hard.  And when it comes to Final Fantasy XIII there will be certain fans who will probably look at it and think that any remaining existance of Final Fantasy will probably die with the thriteenth installment.  If, however, you're waiting for a JRPG to come around to finally take the genre to the next level, you'll have definitely found it.  It's all a matter of this: What do you want more?  An RPG or a FInal Fantasy?

Final Fantasy XIII begins in the middle of things, introducing us to two characters named Lightning and Sazh.  These two are on a train going off with civilians from Cocoon--a floating paradise above land (sort of)--to be purged.  That's not really why Lightning is there.  She wants to save her sister who has become a L'Cie, a race that bears a curse and is feared by the fal'Cie.  Things go much deeper than that, and in a nutshell Final Fantasy XIII has a good story, it's just that there's a lot of it.  Especially in the opening moments of the game.  As the game begins there is so much backstory to swallow that it's easy to be a little confused at the beginning.  But it makes no bones about the fact that it's taking on some pretty tough social and political themes here.  The cast of characters, while not entirely likable, are at least well developed in their own way.  Although much of your disdain for the characters (if you have any) comes primarily from some of the games over-the-top voice acting and juvenile moments.  Some of the voice acting is a little hard to swallow.  As is some of the dialog.  This is pretty disappointing because Final Fantasy XIII has a pretty good story and has a lot to say.  You just wish that some of the moments would e presented better.  Yeah, as you might expect you're not only getting a couple of juvenile moments but you're also getting a lot of melodrama the genre is known for.  Final Fantasy XIII is a long way from being immature.  It presents itself better than most JRPGs in this day and age.  On the other hand, thanks to some of the overhanded voice acting from time to time there are moments where the game might've reached even bigger emotional heights but doesn't do so.  And that's truly a shame.  As I said, Final Fantasy XIII has a great story.

The story is also at the forefront of things.  From the moment the game begins this is pretty clear.  You're set on a pretty linear and determined path.  There's hardly any getting off the beaten path, and when you do, it's usually on the branch out for treasure only to have to backtrack to the main path.  There's no overworld map to explore or anything.  That's not to say Final Fantasy XIII isn't open to explore.  It is.  You're just going to have to have a lot of patience in order to get there.  The game is divided into thriteen chapters and things don't really open up until chapter 11.  It's when most of the sidequest become available and when you can truly explore.  Yes, some gamers might not like this, but then again... the Final Fantasy games have rarely been non-linear and as open as you might think.  The JRPG--Final Fantasy, especially--has always been good about giving players the illusion that they are able to explore an open world, but the truth is that many Final Fantasy titles have always taken a while to open up.  Even such staples as the Playstation classics.  There is always a predetermined path with very little chance of going off the beaten path or getting ahead of one's self.  In Final Fantasy VII, for example, you couldn't truly explore the world until you got Cid's Tiny Bronco... instead you had to just go to whatever the next town was on the world map.  In Final Fantasy VIII you aren't open to explore until the Garden is able to move in Disc 2 and Final Fantasy X didn't even allow for any sidequests until the very end of the game!  You've just been trained to think you could explore because you had a world map.   Final Fantasy XIII doesn't even give you the illusion that you can explore.  It has you traveling down corridors, mostly.  Looking on the bright side it also means that you'll never get lost or be unsure of where to go.  One thing that is a little daunting, however, is that there aren't really any towns.  Although you'll still be able to shop--you'll just have to do it at a save station.  Putting that aside, however, Final Fantasy XIII sure is fun to play--provided you're willing to have patience for the battle system to fully develop.

One of the biggest complaints with Final Fantasy XII was that while its battle system was well crafted... it sure didn't make Final Fantasy XII that much fun to play.  Final Fantasy XIII changes that.  It goes back to the being a turn based affair.  I use that term very loosely.  It's somewhat turn based but also Active Time.  It isn't exactly like the Pre-Final Fantasy X days, but it is a lively battle system that will keep you on your toes.  It is also by far the most complex battle system the series has EVER seen.  And I mean ever.

When you first begin the game there's not really much you can do.  In battle you can only control one character at a time, but you'll be glad it's only one.  The other two are controlled by AI and it's actually pretty competent AI.  You have an ATB gauge that fills and you're allowed to stack actions up.  Depending on how big the gauge is depends on how many actions you can stack.  Different actions take a different amount off of the gauge.  Standard attacks may take just 1 ATB point while special abilities might take two.  There's an Auto-Battle Feature in Final Fantasy XIII that will automatically choose commands for your character.  As I said, it's pretty competetent AI.  When I say it like this it almost seems like a rehash of Final Fantasy XII's battle system.  It's not.  In the first place, these are actually traditional battles.  In the sense that the game has to transition into battle mode.  Along those lines Final Fantasy XIII throws in a lot of things to keep you on your toes.  

The first is the game's Paradigm system.  At a certain point in the early game you'll start to unlock "Roles" that can be assigned to characters.  It's reminiscent of the job system.  Commando's are strong physical attackers.  Sentinels can absorb lots of damage and draw attention to them.  Medics can heal, Ravages can cast lots of cool black magic spells, Sabatours can cast several debuffs and Synergist can cast buffs for your allies.  There are only six, but depending on how you assign them to your characters can make a difference in the flow of combat.  Certain characters are also good for certain things.  Snow, for example, is great as a Sentinel and Hope is perhaps the best medic in the game.  Combining different roles in combat creates what's called a Paradigm shift.  For example, having someone in the role of a Commando and having his or her two sidekicks as Ravages will create the paradigm shift: Relentless Assault.  And these shifts do make a difference in several things. 

Every enemy has a chain gauge that fills up.  You'll notice in battle that when you target an enemy they have a yellow gauge that fills up.  When full, enemies will stagger and take more damage.  The more damage you do, the faster it increases.  Ravages fill the gauge up faster than anyone by chaining together several attacks (but Commandos can help as well).  Your Paradigm shifts play a major role in just how fast they fill up.  Not only that, but Paradigm shifts are also important to your well being and survival.  The game allows you to set up six different Paradigm Shifts and you can switch between them any time in combat.  They make a difference, but also keep you on your feet and keep combat flowing.  One moment you're on offense with a Relentless Assault and the next your playing defense making a combat clinic to heal wounds and buff up your characters.  And all of this will be executed in active time!

These "roles" as they're called in the game, would mean nothing without their abilities.  And learning abilities is surprisingly similar to Final Fantasy X's sphere grid system.  You don't gain experience as you battle.  Instead you gain CP (Crystogen Points) that can be used to move your characters across the Crystalarium to teach them more abilities and also increase their HP, MP and other stats.  Those who are familiar with Final Fantasy X's sphere grid system will catch on to this really quickly.  But don't think you can sit around and power level to learn all the abilities.  Final Fantasy XIII incorporates a level cap to prevent you from getting too powerful too quickly.  As the game progresses more abilities open up for you to learn on the Crystalarium. 

It seems incredibly complex.  And it is.  And we're not even done talking about Final Fantasy XIII's battle system.  There are also Eidelons that you'll come across in your adventure as well (Final Fantasy IX fans should recognize that word).  Your summons that each character can summon into battle.  They'll fight along side you and you can also go into what's called Gestalt mode and combine with your Eidelon for devastating attacks. 

There is a lot to swallow with Final Fantasy XIII's battle system.  You could write an encyclopedia on Final Fantasy XIII's battle system.  Unfortunately, it takes hours for all of these great things to be accissable to you.  Final Fantasy XIII takes a long time before it finally takes off the training wheels.  By the time you're eight or ten hours in the game STILL hasn't explained everything about the battle system.  In fact, it takes an hour or so before it even allows you to do anything other than attack and use items.  You've got to be patience.  Final Fantasy XIII is a very complex game. 

This isn't your beginner's RPG.  Which is more of a blessing than a curse.  With all there is, Final Fantasy XIII is going to make you learn the game.  Whether you want to or not.  This isn't your beginners JRPG.  Not by a long shot.  Pay close attention to those tutorials because Final Fantasy XIII is more than willing to punish you if you don't know what you're doing.  Many of the previous Final Fantasy titles you could run around without actually understanding it.  Not so with Final Fantasy XIII.  Boss battles in particular can be devastating if you don't understand the Pradigm Shift... and they can be punishing even if you DO.  There's a huge emphasis on strategy that will really require you to consider just what it is you're doing and why.  It might take some getting used to.  And some bosses you'll probably have to lose to before you can beat them. 

Luckily, if you happen to lose a battle (and newcomers will lose A LOT of battles) the game doesn't punish you.  If you select to retry you'll start off right next to the battle you lost in.  But what happens if a battle is going bad?  Can you run away?  Well, FInal Fantasy XIII doesn't have a feature that let's you "run away" but there is a "retry" feature which does exactly what happens if you get a game over.  If a battle is going bad, simply select retry and you'll be booted out of the battle where you can rearrange accordingly.  Or skip a battle all together.  Final Fantasy XIII doesn't have random battles.  They're all contact based.  So while Final Fantasy XIII is a challenge, there's a lot you can do to make your trip through the game less punishing and more fun.

And yet, we're still not done talking about gameplay.  You can also customize and upgrade your weapons.  As you fight enemies they'll drop components, which you can use to customize and level up your weapons.  You can also dismantle useless weapons and accessories and use their parts to create and customize other weapons.  If you like customization in your RPG... Final Fantasy XIII gives it to you in spades.  Sure, the characters are mostly made up for a specific "role" but there's so much you can do and so many different ways to play the game as a result.

This brings us to the biggest head scratching moment of Final Fantasy XIII.  Is it REALLY a Final Fantasy title?  Or is it just carrying a Final Fantasy title?  It certainly has much of the epic themes, but it hardly has much of the classic loire Final Fantasy is known for.  For long time fans it can feel like you're playing a totally different game from the ground up.  And yes, there are already troves of fans out there who have already dismissed Final Fantasy XIII as a bad game simply because it has little in common with the rest of the Final Fantasy titles--some who might not have even played it.  Even if it isn't a "real" Final Fantasy game, it's still a good and well constructed game.  Being far from the series roots hardly makes it a bad game.  It's mostly just fans whining at the thought that a game series which has always been redefining and changing the genre... is redefining and changing the genre.  It's not perfect (it certainly doesn't hit the high marks of previous titles in the series) but it's still great.  The problem with many Final Fantasy fans is that simply being "good" isn't good enough.  As a result Final Fantasy XIII has garnered unfair scrutiny from fans who insist that the series wasn't supposed to change in the first place.  As a fan of every game in the series, it should be expected that Final Fantasy would change a little more.  It always has.  And yes, when the battle system really comes together, you can actually see little sprinkles of the old school charm the battle system was known for.

The point is that many Final Fantasy fans have already judged XIII as an inferior child without actually stepping back to look at it as simply a game.  There's a lot of good quality here.  I'm sure this little statement will draw the wrath of many Final Fantasy fanboys claiming that because I actually like Final Fantasy XIII that I must've "never played the others."  Well, that's why you're still undergoing puberty dear fanboy. 

Square-Enix has a reputation for making absurdly beautiful games.  Final Fantasy XIII is no exception.  It's absolutely gorgeous looking.  It's got some incredibly good looking facial expressions and it has a lot of smooth movements.  And you better get used to looking at the game because it has A LOT of cutscenes.  The soundtrack is a mixed bag.  For the most part it isn't bad.  There are a lot of nice emotional moments, but some of its electronica music moments aren't among the most memorable tunes, unfortunately.  When it comes to soundtracks, nothing can beat what was already done by Nobuo Uematsu.  Final Fantasy XIII does have memorable tunes, though.  The battle themes in particular, really stand out.  Overall it's still a good soundtrack, just not nearly as special as any of the other soundtracks in the series.

In the end, Final Fantasy XIII is still a pretty good game.  There will be a lot of disappointed Final Fantasy fans when they discover many of the series main stays are altered or gone completely, but what you're getting is still a competent JRPG worth checking out.  And in a generation of gaming where there's a huge lack of GOOD JRPGs out there, Final Fantasy XIII is definiely a game that will keep you busy.  Once the shock has died down over the game "not being like the others" and Final Fantasy fans have time to let it sink in they might be able to understand that maybe Final Fantasy XIII isn't like the other Final Fantasy games, but it's certainly still a good game in its own right.

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April 01, 2010
another game I need to put in my Must-play list! Great review!
March 18, 2010
Great review, Sean! This title is on my list of ones to buy for my PS3. I'm an avid Final Fantasy fan, so I can't wait to try it out. It sounds like a well made game to me with an interesting story!
More Final Fantasy XIII reviews
review by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
What starts the story in this game?   You are in control of Lightning. She's on a personal mission to save her younger sister Serah from the grasp of the evil Fal'Cie. With your partner Sazh you make your way to where the Fal'Cie lie in wait. The story quickly shifts you to the story of Snow. This young man is Serahs fiancee. While working on a mission with NORA (his resistance group), tragedy strikes and an innocent mother is lost. This lose of an important figure quickly …
review by . December 23, 2010
posted in The Gaming Hub
The long awaited Final Fantasy XIII was finally released this year after many years in development, FF has been one of my favorite series ever since I first played it on the Super Nintendo, even though there are 13 games in the series, each game pretty much stand on its own and has pretty different mechanics, so even though I was pretty much burned out on Japanese RPGs, I was still looking forward to this game.      Well, the game is finally out, and after a great looking intro …
review by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
Alright I held off reviewing the game until I actually finished the main story completely.      Final Fantasy XIII ushers in a new age and way for newcomers to the Final Fantasy "brand" and for old fans to get their yearly Final Fantasy in. This game takes an alternative approach and virtually allows the player to experience the story in a streamlined and fast way. Unlike other RPG's, the player wont find themself straying off on the path to fulfill sidequest orders …
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
Ah yes Final Fantasy XIII, probably one of the most disappointing one for a lot of people, but for everyone who still want to play this game, don't be biased, give this a chance and you will see that it can get quite interesting.  The story and character development are not the best, that's true, but they are still likeable and interesting. The graphics are top quality and everything runs smooth, the soundtrack is really nice and the voice actors know their job, as far as it concerns me, …
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
For a game that's polarised popular opinion so much, there really isn't a great deal in FFXIII for people to pick on, as far as I'm concerned. Fun, intense, thrilling gameplay, combined with a sweeping, powerful, emotional soundtrack, vivid, detailed and unique art design, a well-presented (if formulaic) plot full of fairly likeable characters and a mixture of comedy and tragedy played up to eleven. Maybe I'm the only person out there who feels this way, but FFXIII was a diamond …
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
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One of the top Final Fantasies in my honest opinion. The game is just fantastic. Music is superb. Graphics are just amazing. and the characters are very impressive. The good far outshines the bad (like the brilliance of a thousand suns+1). I loved almost every aspect of this game. Don't let bad reviews make you turn a blind eye to this beautiful game.
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
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I know the beginning is very streamlined at the beginning, but the story is great, and it the game really opens up in chapter ten.
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
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A waste of time....and i cant believe it will have a Part 2
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
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What is there left to be said about this title that I or many others have already said repeatedly in the daily posts of Siliconera? A true disappointment, but it gets a point for presentation. Perhaps if I had went into it with a more open mind I would have enjoyed it better, but the accumulation of the long wait coupled with what was promised in the trailers had mislead me too far in the wrong direction already.      EDIT: Playing it on my friend's 360, I was unable to complete …
review by . September 08, 2010
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TIME TO BEAT: Over 70 hours    Sometimes, being a good girlfriend means sitting on the couch and watching him play a game or playing a game together. I'm a moderate gamer; the new controls are generally more complicated than I'm willing to commit to. He is a hard core gamer. Some games are easier to watch than others, and some are easier to play. This review is not for the hard core gamer. This review is for the girlfriend (or boyfriend, who am I to judge?) that sits on the couch …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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From the creative minds behind FINAL FANTASY VII and FINAL FANTASY X comes the latest installment in the critically acclaimed series. As FINAL FANTASY VII was for PlayStation, and FINAL FANTASY X for PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system, FINAL FANTASY XIII will be the first numbered FINAL FANTASY title for the PlayStation 3 computer entertainment system and Xbox 360, and will look to once again reestablish the series as the RPG brand. Players will follow Lightning, Snow, and the other heroes who are dealt a hand of fate by the god-like fal'Cie. Cursed and regarded as enemies of society, they have the world against them and nobody to rely on but each other. Will they find the strength within themselves to break free of their curse and determine their own fates, or will they succumb to this higher power? With a story that is sure to connect with players' hearts, diverse new characters from world-renowned creator and character designer Tetsuya Nomura, and exciting new gameplay features centered around an evolved Active Time Battle system,FINAL FANTASY XIII will be the pinnacle in gaming experiences.

Developed for the PlayStation 3 system and Xbox 360, FINAL FANTASY XIII features the series’ most impressive graphical presentation.
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Summons are stronger than ever before, now with the action-oriented Gestalt Mode.
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The evolved Active Time Battle system presents players with countless methods of putting enemies away.
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Number of Players: Single-player
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square (Enix), Inc.
Console: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG
Release Date: March 9, 2010
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