Legal stuff before I begin
Any TL;DR post will result in a report.
Thanks to Google for providing the images.
Thanks to Youtube and the users who posted the videos that will be used for this.
This review will contain minor spoilers. Maybe.
Some parts, like the Hunt Missions and Weapon Customization, will be left out as otherwise, this would be too long. While I do like to go into a lot of detail, if I included everything, this would be just a behemoth of a thing to read. In addition, I want to keep the reader entertained and/or interested, not wondering when it will end.
Final Fantasy XIII (FF XIII from here on) is a J-RPG developed and published by Square Enix. It follows a group of people from different backgrounds as they try to save their own lives while being chased across the world of Pulse and Cocoon and their subsequent locations.
Now, to begin, we shall start with what makes a FF game a FF game. The story.
The story of FF XIII takes place in the two worlds of Pulse and Cocoon and focuses on the rift between Pulse and Cocoon. Now, bear with me for a while, as the basic story requires a lot of information to understand. 1,300 years before the events of FF XIII, Cocoon was created by the fal'Cie as a paradise for humanity. Humanity on Cocoon soon flourished thanks to the fal'Cie being able to create life and machines to help them along in their daily lives. However, a war between the fal'Cie of Pulse and the fal'Cie of Cocoon, which we are never told the reason for, leads to the citizens of Cocoon fearing Pulse, even though Cocoon won the war, which soon became known as the War of Transgressions and left Cocoon fearful of another invasion from Pulse. In the 1,300 years between that and the games events, having been kept secluded in Cocoon, its residents have become nervous of the true nature of Pulse, leading to The Sanctum, the government and its leader, The Primarch, to issue an edict: Any individuals suspected to be in contact with the world of Pulse or any of its artefacts or items are to be banished from the continent unconditionally and cast into the harsh environment of the planet below.
When a Pulse fal'Cie is located in Bodhum, a small beach town on Cocoon, this leads to the Cocoon citizens screaming that the entire village be banished, as the edict suggests. PSICOM, the military branch of The Sanctum, has no choice to act out the edict and banish the town's population to the world below, an act that becomes known as The Purge and are lead to The Hanging Gardens, along with the Pulse fal'Cie, Anima, contained within a building known as the Pulse Vestige. This marks the beginning of the game, sets up the introduction to the main characters, and launches into the story where you meet the characters of Lightning, Sazh, Hope, Vanille and Snow who each have their own different reasons as to why they are all heading to the Pulse Vestige. It is here where they all are turned into Pulse l'Cie by the fal'Cie Anima, leading to the events that propel the game and propelling you to your goal, which is finding out what their Focus is, and to try and figure out how to fulfil it.
Everybody! It's the end of the world as we know it~
Now, the story is kept deliberately unclear until later on, where the plot comes together into one juicy bag of Haribo. This is about five to ten hours in and will not come quick enough for some players. For those who are willing to wait for the game to pick up, it's nicely paced and as it slowly picks up speed, revealing more about the story, it grows on you, dragging you in by the scruff of the neck, slowly telling you back-story through flash-backs, showing you how the events of the story came to be and keeping you interested in the game. A problem for me though is, while you learn a great deal of the main parties back stories and history through the cut-scenes and narrative in game, you learn very little to the bad guys back-stories. Moreover, there are quite a few bad guys thrown into the story, mainly to introduce massive plot twists. While needed, the sudden slew of bad guys confuses you, making you wonder who that was and why you should care about them. Add to this no real fleshing out of their backgrounds and motives, except for the main bad guy, and how they fit in to the story and the bad guys seem like they were made with the intent of just being used to link the story together, which is a little disappointing. While not story breaking, it just feels sort of slap dash and left me wondering who that just was trying to murderize my party and why I should care. A little more connection with them would have been nice to make me feel like I knew them.
Now, let us talk about the thing that helps you experience a story. Game-play.
Many people complain about the game-play of FF games of being linear and boring. If you come into this expected a big change in that, you will be sorely disappointed. This game is as linear as a linear person in a town made of linear things on a linear national holiday; lots of running from A to B with little or no exploration until the later stages of the game on the plains of Gran Pulse. Where FF XIII really shines though is not in the exploration of its world, which it does give you ample chance later on even if it is only to a giant field and various areas, but the battle system which you will be seeing a lot of as you progress. The battle system has had a few changes made to it, some more important then others. I won't go into all of them unless you want to read a ten page review but I shall cover the most used ones, the Paradigm Deck, the return of the Active Time Battle system albeit with a few tweaks, the new addition of pre-emptive attacks and the 'Stagger' bar and the levelling up system or 'Crystarium' as it is known in game.
The battle system in action. And yes, enemies really do get to that size.
To initiate a battle with one of the numerous beasties that populate FF XIII'sworld, you must first either run into them or have them run into you. If you manage to run into them without them noticing you, you will get a pre-emptive strike. Your reward for doing so? A nearly full 'Stagger' bar. Now, this 'Stagger' bar is a handy addition to making fights turn in your favour. Fill the bar up completely through attacking an enemy with magic and psychical attacks and reach their 'Stagger Point'. When they reach that point, you can deal more damage and take the fight sky-wards if you have obtained the 'Launch' ability from the Crystarium. Now, how fast that 'Stagger' bar fills is dependant on what sort of attacks you use. Psychical damage only fills the bar up a tiny bit but keeps the chain alive. If you use magical attacks like FIRE or BLIZZARD the bar fills quicker but also depletes quicker. Now, this is where the Paradigm System comes into play.
Now, the Paradigm System is a system in which each member of your party assumes a certain role. These roles are Commando, or warrior; Ravager, or black mage; Healer, or White Mage; Saboteur, which performs magic attacks that weaken enemies; Synergist, which casts magical spells that strengthens allies; and Sentinel, a role which has increased defence and protective abilities. Only a mixture of three roles is available to everyone at the start, with them all becoming available after a certain point in the story line. To keep it far, you can create up to six different Paradigms, which is a mixture of the Roles described above. The different roles also effect how fast the Stagger Bar fills and depletes. Ravagers fill it quickly but it also depletes quicker. Commando's fill it slowly but makes it decrease slowly as well and Saboteur is a mix between the two. You have to find the right balance between all of the roles to get the best balance of offence and defence, while being able to keep your party alive long enough with the Medic class. It adds an element of strategy to the combat and before the combat as you work out the ideal Paradigms to use with your party and to get the most out of the party.
O, Mighty Chocobo, you are my God. May you be blessed with insane levels of sweetness.
Now, to help your party beat the more powerful enemies in the game, you need to level up. During battle, you will notice that instead of waiting for enemies to attack, they will attack at any time. Thankfully, you can attack when you want as well, if the ATB gauge has charged. Now, while this is charging, you can stack up commands, which take segments from the gauge. For example, a basic Attack command will take one segment, while Blitz, an area of effect attack, will take up two segments out of a possible six. Another new positive is, with a press of a button, you can stop the ATB gauge charging, execute your current attacks, and cancel your current chain in case you need to readjust your tactics or divert your attention elsewhere in case enemies swamp a character and that can happen. A small change as well, you can only control the party leader in battle, while the A.I takes control of the other members. Now, while this works fairly well 90% of the time, a few times you will find your party mates becoming more and more annoying and notice they will not do what you want them to. If you had control of them, it may help a little bit but would not be practical in the long run. Monitoring three characters while maintaining the pace of the battles would eventually over-whelm the player.
This is where the Crystarium comes into play. After every battle, your party receives CP, similar to EXP from the previous FF games to use in the Crystarium to level up. However, it is not the greatest levelling up system if you want flexibility. Numerous articles, including my own preview, promised players another 'Sphere Grid' taken from FF X and we did get it. In basic design and basic design alone. There is no customization in the Crystarium or the ability to choose where you go, only the choice to level up the classes and even then, they all have linear paths with only a few off shoots that add more health, strength, magic power or a new ability that isn't that great. Therefore, it was a major let down to what I expected when I heard the rumours it would be like the Sphere Grid. Another small niggle that may annoy you later on, related to the Crystarium is the grinding. There was quite a bit in my play-through and while I personally found it fun, looking from the middle of the road, it may grate after a while, having to fight for 20 minutes in the later stages to gain enough CP to get an extra 100HP and a few extra abilities.
Well, mate, indeed I do. Now step aside before I kill you and force the scriptwriters to come up with a clever but possible way to bring you back.
Now, music and voice work plays a vital role in Final Fantasy games and this one is no different. The soundtrack for FF XIII is definitely no exception, combining amazingly upbeat songs then switching to mournful tunes that set the mood perfectly for the scene that is happening. As this reviewers internet is amazingly poor for watching videos but not posting, I have only been able to find one example of each song, which will be put in the spoilers below so you can sample the upbeat and moving songs.
A full play list of FF XIII's soundtrack can be found here, if you so wish to pursue a few more songs. There is no songs that whilst playing, I felt did not set the mood perfectly or seem out of place. Everyone's biggest worry was that 'My Hands' by Leona Lewis was going to ruin the game and I was a bit sceptical about it myself. I am happy to report that it does not and fits the scene it appears in perfectly.
Moving into the love/hate territory of a Final Fantasy games VA work now, we find that the voices for all the characters are nicely voiced. All of them, with the exception of Vanilles voice for the first chapter. While not terrible, her accent does switch surprisingly a lot during those 5 hours. It zooms around and she makes a hell of a lot of squeaks and random little noises, which will irritate all but the dead players. It irritated me a bit but I persisted, hoping that it would get better. And it did so, thankfully. However, a plus side is that all the voice actors do their jobs really nicely, setting the tone and getting into their roles. In addition, as a small note, the overall background ambient sounds are all very good, helping to add to the atmosphere. However, whoever decided to have the sound of footsteps in the game so bloody loud should be shot. The constant 'Click click click', 'Shs, shs, shs' or indeed, 'Whumph whumph whumph' can get annoying when there is no other sounds playing or things are quiet. It is not that bad as it will make you snap the disc or discs in two, but it is annoying enough to make you go into the menu and turn down the sound effects a bit.
What is the shiny blue thing, you ask? Well, that would be an anti-gravity device. Useful for fighting flying monsters.
A small mention about the graphics now for those who need it. Graphically, FF XIII is an astounding game, pushing the limits of my old and somewhat nearly dead 360 to breaking point. Not once did I witness screen tear, any stuttering or any drop in textures. A few small gripes where had with the loading of other areas on Gran Pulse but that is expected as the plains are massive and if they had managed to make it seamlessly flowing, the game would probably have been on even more discs for the 360. Thankfully, the loading is fairly short, about 8 seconds or so, so you do not have to wait too long.
Now, is Final Fantasy XII a great game, a good game, average, bad or the next worst thing to gaming since that Aussie bloke who wanted to ban video games in Austria?
While it had the potential to be the best Final Fantasy I've played, sadly it is not.
While a very fun and entertaining romp, the various niggles I found within it makes it a good game at best, worthy of purchase now when it is a bit cheaper. That said though, anyone who needs to get into J-RPG's could do a lot worse, it is very user friendly for those who are new to J-RPG's and will keep those who like a good story happy for the 60 hour play-time.
Thanks for reading, comments and the like will be appreciated, even hateful ones directed at the game as it keeps this visible.