19th March 2010 - Reviewing Final Fantasy is a challenge in its own way. The series is one of the most successful in gaming’s history and has one of the biggest worldwide fan bases of anything in the entertainment industry. The only way to truly show the latest instalments beauty or its bareness is to put aside all past feelings and speak the truth. And with this review, that’s just what I’ve done. Its been quite a few years since Square Enix last delivered a truly outstanding title in the series, so this, the 13th main game in the series had a lot of pressure to live up to the reputation we all now know. But to adapt to the changing industry and make a few new fans along the way, Square Enix had to change quite a bit with the age-old formula they usually go by. Certain purists hate it, while other love it. Certain newcomers and prominent haters have been converted by it, while others grow their hatred even stronger. All with good reasons too - it’s a game that’s spit right down the middle, and if you want to find out just what I mean, then read on…
In Final Fantasy XIII (that’s 13 to those of you who didn’t pay attention when they taught Roman Numerals in school), you play the role of, well, many different people who band together to save the very planet from which they were banished. As with any Final Fantasy game, the reasons behind the stories main plot are very, very complicated and best to experienced while playing rather than in a review or a video. But know this; the story is a great one and once you get past the overly straight forward few hour tutorial, you’ll be hooked and as the game goes on, only get deeper and deeper into the grand tale. You’ll grow to know and love the characters and simply ache to know what happens next.
The game has very unique gameplay in terms of what to expect from a Final Fantasy game and an RPG in general. Everyone knows the Final Fantasy games are known to have a very basic-yet-advanced turn based battle system, yet this instalment pushes those boundaries and while still not having outright real-time action, has picked up the pace and will have you pushing buttons and scrolling menus insanely while both parties attack each other mercilessly. You now can only control the party leader (whom differs depending on what part of the story you’re up to), and although the action is fast and furious, you cannot move… You must stand there and take the hits of the enemy less you character manages to dodge said hits. Sure, you move when you attack, but other than that you’re stiffer than a stunned mullet. The fighting may look very real and fluent, but you really feel like you have little control of how it turns out less you have some big moves and a few dozen potions up your sleeve due to its limited movement and player control.
RPG fans love the genre, why? The answer to this is usually a mix of story, exploration, freedom and character building which has them really feel like part of the bigger equation. Final Fantasy XIII hits the nails of the first and last on that list on the head but stats and character building don’t make a game an RPG. It needs something more, and Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t deliver on it. For the first 30 or so hours of the game, you have no choice of where to go and what to do. Its extremely linear and straight-forward, but once you get past that first half of the game, you will find yourself side-quest blinded like you wouldn’t believe. But even those are more linear than they should be, and are pretty much all dungeon crawls after dungeon crawls. While still keeping you playing due to the hope of perfecting your characters and revealing the secrets their pasts hide, each missions structure and gameplay is the same as the last and quickly becomes a bore.
“Gasp…”. That’s pretty much all you’ll be able to think or say while watching the cutscenes of this beautiful game. Downright believable and utterly gorgeous, Final Fantasy XIII’s graphics are second to none. Distilled and perfect, the scenery is jaw-dropping and will have you lost in it beauty from time to time, especially when you first enter a new backdrop. The areas you find yourself differ greatly, and range form the dark and somewhat disturbing to the peaceful serenity of open fields and lush, green hills. The game doesn’t let down in this aspect, and even by the end of it, you will still be finding yourself amazed by what Square Enix managed to do.
The same can be said about the characters. All of them. Background characters and practically every NPC is just as rich in detail as the main characters and all look believable in the way they fluently move, act and talk. Their hair, while still living up to the old JRPG rule of looking like they invest a grand in hair products every morning, looks real and flows almost magically in the changing wind. Their expressions are realistic and increase the games great story with real emotions and proverbial feelings unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a game.
It’s a little hard to describe Final Fantasy XIII’s graphics without sounding like I am exaggerating or sounding plain corny with all the ‘beautiful‘s, ‘amazing’s and ‘realistic’s I‘m throwing out there. But its all in truth, the game is beautiful, the characters are amazing and the whole thing, while a bit too colourful at parts, looks as realistic as a game set in a fantasy world of mythical monsters and demi-gods can be.
Since the first game in the series, sound has always been a major part of Final Fantasy. With the older series games till having some of the best scores we’ve ever heard in an RPG, lucky number 13 had a lot to live up to. And to put it simply, it delivered. There are so many great moments in this game that are made better with sounds of power and feeling mixed with some catchy orchestration hooks and epic scale pieces that really pump you up for the battles ahead. The games soundtrack captures every emotion in its powerful melodies and you will know it as the game progresses that it wouldn’t be the same without it.
There was a lot of concern over the last few months about the quality of the English voice acting in the game, but now that its been released, everyone can see just how wrong they were to think it was going to turn out badly. Even if it were a non-dubbed effort, the voice acting would be top-notch. Everyone sounds as crisp and clear as a real motion picture actor and have put their heart and soul into making this feel and sound like the epic tale it is.
The sound department of Final Fantasy XIII goes hand in hand with the story and settings, again increasing all that’s good about the game to new lengths. With the voice acting and musical scores as good as they are, the games tale of heroism is taken to new heights and competes with the best of the best from the series.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Final Fantasy XIII isn’t for everyone. Lovers hate, haters love, and so on. So is this game for you? Well let me help you decide that. Do you love RPGs? If yes, well that doesn’t make much difference here, as the game is hardly an RPG. But why do you love them? If its due to the freedom and choices you get given, then Final Fantasy XIII will not be your cup of tea at all. The game lacks all the characteristics RPG fans desire, and unless you are a hardcore Japanese RPG lover, you won’t find much of desire in this game. It clocks in at around 50-60 hours depending on how many of the dungeon crawling side missions you do, and the majority of that is extremely linear running and fighting. You haven’t hardly any chances to avoid combat where you would actually want to, and only rarely get a few different paths to choose from, which all lead to the same place anyway. Just ask yourself if the good story and epic adventuring make it worth fishing out your hard-earned for.
Some people like things more than others, and some people just love to hate things. That’s just the way the world is. But whether you hate JRPG’s or the entire Final Fantasy series doesn’t change the fact that this, the 13th installation is a massive title full of great production value and all-round a tale of great proportions. This game is unmatched by all (well, apart from Heavy Rain for those of you yet to play it) in pure story telling ability and character study, which some players will love and be able to overlook the game flaws for.
The flaws I speak of are the games very linear play style and uncontrollable battle system, which make up for pretty much the games whole gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII has done what no one would ever have thought the game would do; its taken the series out of the RPG genre and simply made it a very, very long action/adventure game -albeit a revolutionary one - with some character progression systems. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the games gameplay (by that I mean the games battle system) doesn’t suit it and brings down the whole experience. No matter what you were expecting of the game, Final Fantasy XIII delivers something completely different.
AAG SCORE: 7/10
+ Amazing detail in every piece of scenery and every character for the duration
+ Story executed perfectly with mix of graphics, musical score and voice acting perfection
+ Ditching the turn-based fighting system for a fast-paced real-time one was a smart move…
- Too bad that that was broken by limiting player control and movement -what real-time is all about
- Extremely linear in terms of exploration and freedom for the majority of the game
- Less of an RPG and more of an action/adventure - not a smart move for the series’ fans
Reviewed and Written By John Elliott