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Final Fantasy XIII Review


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On 03/28/2010 at 09:23 AM by Nick DiMola

Massive changes to the formula have been made, most of which will alienate the die-hard fans of the series.
RECOMMENDATION:

Those looking for a brand new RPG experience that pushes the boundaries of the genre should definitely grab Final Fantasy XIII. Die-hards of the series should try to go into the game with an open-mind, but it's likely they still won't enjoy it.

Final Fantasy XIII is an absolutely intriguing game. I say this because it has made some of the most radical changes I have ever seen in an RPG, especially for the by-the-book Final Fantasy series. In my opinion, these changes are absolutely phenomenal; boiling RPGs down to their essence and refining the remaining bits into a single coherent experience. JRPG and Final Fantasy fans are likely to be outraged at the massive overall seen here.

What's most interesting is the approach Square Enix took to modify the core gameplay of an RPG. Most developers opt for the action route, or combining the game with some other activities to make the turn-based battling less tedious. With Final Fantasy XIII, the developers seemed to have taken a look at what players typically do while experiencing an RPG, and merely excised all of the tedium that was found in the formula and streamlined the overall gameplay. It's these changes that make this game so appealing to me.

In order to understand the new systems in the game, some deeper explanation is needed. Most importantly, players no longer have countless gauges to concern themselves with. As a matter of fact, most things generally considered minutiae in an RPG have been completely replaced with more streamlined components. Most importantly, players no longer have a magic meter, and health is recharged after each battle. This in turn gave Square Enix the opportunity to challenge players with each and every battle they fight. Of course, there are some freebies, but many of the battles force players to analyze their toolkit - just as Final Fantasy games have done in the past - just this time in a different way.

In lieu of a magic meter, players have an attack meter that is of varying length per character, which can be increased in size over time. This attack meter is more like a turn-based mechanism, dictating when players can make their move. All powers the players have will use up a certain number of slots on the meter, allowing players to build their own attack strategy each time in order to best attack the enemy. This singular change makes the battles a far more active and engaging experience. Players will find themselves rushing to pick their next moveset in order to maximize their number of turns.

The typical Final Fantasy formula is really turned on its head with the new Paradigm Shifting capabilities. The Final Fantasy series is known for its clearly defined classes (jobs) of characters. Mages of various colors, Knights, Thieves, Archers, etc. all have a very specific purpose and must be used tactfully by the player in order to make it through the game. In XIII each character can have up to six classes, some of which they are better at than others. Before battle, players organize paradigms which can be put into effect during the battle. Each paradigm defines each character's class for when they are in battle. For instance, a healing paradigm might see one player set to medic, while the other continues to attack as a ravager or commando.

While battling, players can shift to a new paradigm at will, giving them the ability to vary attacks and heal simultaneously. Different paradigms will be required in order to defeat different foes. Rather than this new system creating more annoying work for the player, it provides for some very fresh new strategy, all while streamlining the typical experience.

Classically in RPGs, players would find themselves on a turn where they needed to "assign" someone as a medic and heal the rest of the team over a sequence of turns. Rather than that action being subtle and slow-paced, players can now explicitly request what the supporting characters are to do, and focus on their strategy to defeat the enemies at hand. Other times, players must assume the medic role in order to assist their more effective team of AI controlled comrades.

The paradigm configurations are extremely important as they are the key to success in battle. Players now have the ability to "stagger" an enemy by raising a certain bar. Staggering an enemy will essentially stun him, causing him to attack less and be damaged more by landed attacks. Because staggering enemies requires a variety of moves, players will often need to switch paradigms in order to do so.

Paradigm shifting is easily one of the two best new ideas in the game. The second is the Crystarium system. As many players may have learned, on top of removing many other JRPG staples, Final Fantasy XIII has removed leveling. Its replacement is the Crystarium system, which is far more engaging and intelligent.

Players can now upgrade each of their available roles, as well as their general overall stats. As players delve deeper into the game, they will have lots of choices on how to distribute the crystogen points they earn at the end of a battle. These points might be best served adding a new accessory slot, or perhaps a new ability, or maybe on a stat like strength, magic, or HP. Each time players enter the Crystarium system from the menu, they will have to analyze the different choices available to them and the eventual path they are headed down in order to make the best upgrades for their characters at that point in time.

The system becomes almost a game within a game, giving players something else to look forward to in between battles. Furthermore, players will have to craft themselves new or upgraded weapons through use of spoils collected after each battle. Through this system, players will be able to grow stronger, and more competitive for the better foes that await. These two subsystems working in accordance together are an extremely interesting by-product of removing the concept of XP and leveling up.

One change that I can't say I've totally loved is the game's linearity. Players are basically on a non-stop express train that makes no stops at any towns. Players are typically running down corridors, and fighting non-random foes. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Tartarus in Persona 3, but even more linear. Overall, the game's linearity is one of its weaker points, but a necessary evil to make effective the changes set into place elsewhere throughout the game. Had players been given free exploration, it's unlikely they would get away without grinding excessively - something players will rarely, if ever, have to do in Final Fantasy XIII.

Given how gorgeous the game is, it's hard not to mention its visuals. Though many HD games have come out this generation, I'm not sure a single one stands up to the visuals in this one. They're absolutely mind-blowing, and a pleasure to look at as you progress. By no means are they the defining factor of the game, but they will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

Being an RPG, the story is also of great importance. Things start off very cryptic at first, but as players push forward they are treated to more and more flashbacks, which fill in the blanks that the first hour of the game sets up. Though often confusing, players will grow to appreciate the game's story and characters, as well as their interactions on the battle field. It's unquestionable that the world they have created for the game is intriguing and players will likely always want to learn more.

Truly, Final Fantasy XIII's greatest shortcoming is its linearity. It will take players upwards of 20 hours before they are given some freedom from the rail-like experience. This can be taxing, but during this time, players have plenty of time to level up their classes, develop strategies, and enjoy the unbelievably unique battling system.

In the end, Final Fantasy XIII is a welcome departure from the typical, grinding RPG. It's a game bold enough to change convention and turn everything we know about RPGs upside-down. I appreciate what was done with the game, though my experience leads me to believe that most fans of Final Fantasy, and JRPG zealots will likely despise the game for changing the norm.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Lukasz Balicki Staff Alumnus

03/28/2010 at 10:29 AM

I might check out the PS3 version much later since I have an incredible RPG backlog. To me the FF series started losing it's magic after FF:VI. I sort of enjoyed 7 and 8, never played 9. I disliked 10,10-2 and 12 didn't seem very appealing.

Sam Wakefield Staff Alumnus

03/29/2010 at 04:30 AM

I think that the last few years, Square Enix has gradually been trying to find new ways to remain fresh and relevant in its Final Fantasy series. From what you wrote Nick, it seems there's a good possibility that this is the new standard for what Final Fantasys will be in the future. I'll be interested in picking this up sometime in the future, if anything to experience how they've shaken things up a bit.

Jason Ross Senior Editor

03/29/2010 at 04:08 PM

I disagree with Nick's impressions, so far mostly because the first two hours of the game consist of hitting the X-button, and because there's only a few classes that seem entirely too specific, where I'm used to either many diverse, yet specific classes, or just a few classes, but with broader applications for each class.

I'll hold off on strong impressions until I play a lot more, but so far, the experience has left a bad taste in my mouth.

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