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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: Final Fantasy XIII
By: | March 15th, 2010 | Playstation 3
PS3 |Review

Final Fantasy, as a series and cultural phenomenon, has evolved far beyond its roots, growing and molding into something of an institution. The name alone invokes a thousand emotions, admirations, complaints and disturbing amounts of fan fiction and cosplay. Arguably, each and every game in the series has, in one way or another, altered the dimensions and scope of what a JRPG can accomplish and how bold, epic and apocalyptic stories can be told.

After 3 and a half long years, Final Fantasy XIII has finally arrived on the shores of the West, promising to bolster the increasingly irrelevant and dry genre that was itself birthed over 2 decades ago. Has the Yoshinori Kitase lead team succeeded in refreshing the stale stable of innovation that has been sorely lacking within this console generation, or is Final Fantasy destined to become its namesake?

Square Enix have never been afraid to defy the laws of a genre. Almost every single one of their titles features almost completely different methods of gameplay, from battle systems to character and plot progression, all of them becoming one-off experiments in the art of perfecting the “experience”. While some of these experiments work so well that they become standards, others find themselves pariahs within the development community.

Final Fantasy XIII finds itself in the precarious position of the Frankenstein of game development past. While it’s predecessor, XII, made drastic (some might say disastrous) attempts to completely overhaul the traditional battle and exploratory systems, XIII finds itself on an equally ambitious yet conciliatory path toward merging new and old players back into the series.

This is important, since XII had a notoriously difficult and complex battle system (Gambit), which tended to entrench hardcore players and prohibited new players from getting into the series. In XIII, many of the changes to the original ATB (Active Time Battle) system involve more active strategy, while at the same time encompassing elements of the Gambit system, which enables the player to direct the battle for their allies rather then directly controlling their actions.

This is done via the well known “job system” of previous titles. In XIII, characters are assigned a number of possible roles, such as a Commander (focusing on chaining together melee attacks), Ravager (damage focused magic user) or Medic (white magic healer). Encompassing a much improved version of the “license grid” from X, the “Crystarium”allows each character to be customised and focused to a particular job.

At the end of each battle, all characters, whether they were in your party or not, recieve Crystarium points. These points are used to acquire new skills, spells and stat improvements as you follow the path along your chosen job. It’s a great system; while job selection is limited initially, more variety is slowly available as the game unfolds itself, thus forcing you to get used to every combination and the appropriate synergy required, during battle, of the various roles.

Which leads us to the other game changing and strategically significant portion of the battle system, the Paradigm. Paradigms, essentially, are preset modes of 3 job types that can be changed within your current party at any time during battle. In most battles that occur after the first 8 hours or so, you’ll find yourself experimenting with different types depending on the weakness of your enemy. Moreover, as direct control over your party no longer exists, it’s imperative that a vigilant eye is kept on the health of weaker players, thus changing paradigms to suit the situation (one member takes damage while another heals the entire party).

The combat is what, ultimately, will decide where many will sit when it comes to enjoyment of the game. Personally, the hybrid construct removes the problems associated with random battles, (longevity, micromanagement and frequency) while allowing you to focus on the long-term objectives of the battle; as in, what “type of attack” works, rather than “what spell or spell category“. No longer are you stuck in a situation where you have to “healers” in your party; now everyone has an alternative.

Which is good, since you’ll be fighting, in true Final Fantasy style, a hell of a lot. Traversing the world of Cocoon and beyond is simple, making it almost impossible to get lost or distracted, and keeping you completely focused on the story at hand. That’s right folks, Square liked the feeling of directorial power that it held over the player in FFX, thus the never-ending corridor has made it’s second appearance, albeit with a bit of a twist.

You’re given a small minimap, along with a wider map available at the push of a button, which lays out your path along with any possible enemies, save points and cut-scene carryovers. Within this path, you fight, you save, you shop and yes, you get to play mini-games. The illusion has finally been pulled out from under us, dear players. The humble town, along with its inn, empty houses and weapon stores, has been put out to pasture.

Where towns were already nothing more then blips on the point-to-point system of old, they did provide somewhat of a break from the intense amount of lore that was sliced thick and served on a bed of cinema. That said, removing the humble tavern from the formula provides a welcome sense of continuity to the story and forces the designers to stay on message. Where it was almost impossible to remember where you had been and what you had done in FFVII after you came back from a break, there is definitely no such problem in XIII.

For those who are determined to get their fill of an open world, your patience will be rewarded. Once our heroes reach the world of Pulse, the linearity tends to be relaxed and players can indulge in side quests, experience grinding, and even a couple of minigames. I found this compromise to be somewhat trivial, since re-adding the illusion of an open world doesn’t help to convince players that the decision to change the status-quo was an unequivocal one.

For the sake of those who like their storylines untainted and pure, I’ll keep it brief. FFXIII takes a much more serious and darker tone then more recent episodes in the series, focusing on topics involving exclusion, fear, trust, loyalty and resistance. Square has heard the cries of the masses; thus, the adventure that revolves around the central character, bad-arse albeit slightly emo Lightening, is remarkably deep. It’s impossible to ignore the ties to series favourites  VI and VII, which both featured more mature themes.

But the problems begin when the characters begin to talk, and it’s almost instantly obvious that some lines just don’t translate well from Japanese. While many of the characters are able to communicate without the awkward one-liners and corny catch phrases that JRPG’s seem to find so enduring, there are still far too many examples of derivative and almost completely useless dialogue. Actions speak louder then words; thus, sometimes silence can be enduring rather than an opportunity for comic relief.

Dialogue aside, the plot expands from a relatively slow beginning and opens up (almost literally from a gameplay perspective). After the first ten hours or so, the narrative begins to firm and you understand what your mission ultimately is. The game peaks, and stays that way until the conclusion, which is satisfying in a way that only Final Fantasy can be. It’s not the revolutionary tale of sacrifice and loyalty that we had been eagerly awaiting, but it’s a great ride all the same.

What does, however, live up to almost every expectation are the graphics and sound. It’s no mean feat to make cutscenes and real-time effects look completely seamless, but it hasn’t been since FFVII blew us all away with it’s cutscenes that I’ve seen a game look this good. Everything, from the incredibly well animated and choreographed  action scenes, to the intense, constant 60fps battle scenes in glorious HD look crisp, sharp and beautiful.

There has been some discussion of the quality differences between the PS3 and the Xbox360 editions, and there are. A Digital Foundry review of both found that while the PS3 version is displayed in beautiful 720p, the Xbox 360 version, due to storage issues, is stuck at a very last-gen 576p. Both, in any case, are upscaled to 1080, but if you have both systems and are looking for a slight edge, this (along with disc swapping) would be it. FFXIII was designed for the PS3 and it shows.

Final Fantasy XIII has the ability, like every one of its predecessors, to polarise casual and hardcore fans alike. It makes drastic and sweeping changes to what many would consider essential genre staples, and its slow, tutorial heavy beginning threatens to scare away twitchy gamers that are used to quick and easy repatriation. There are no levels to gain, no towns to explore, no brick and mortar shops to peruse.

But the dilution and disillusionment that has plagued the genre as of late required drastic action, and the developers here showed they had the balls to do just that. Changes aside, there is no doubt that there is a gorgeous, thrilling, and well designed game here, one deserving of more kudos then many have been willing to provide. XIII has blown new life and energy into a dying genre, along with creating another world and cast that we can lose ourselves in, once again.

The reviewer played the Playstation 3 version for the purposes of this review, although has also briefly played the Xbox 360 version as well.

Rating Category
9.5 Presentation
This is the best looking Final Fantasy, or in fact, JRPG that has been developed. Square have done a phenomenal job with the new Crystal tools engine and it shows. Xbox 360 owners may feel a little disappointed in their port, but this game was designed from the ground up for the PS3.
How does our scoring system work?
9.0 Gameplay
Aside from a few changes, this is classic Final Fantasy at it's core. ATB, Random Battles, cheesy minigames and crazy summons. If you're a fan of the series, and don't mind a bit of a slow start, you won't be disappointed.
8.5 Sound
Square Enix still has a little while to go in perfecting the art of English voice acting, along with some translation problems, but the score lives up to others in the series, allowing for a rousing orchestral announcement to follow you on your adventure through Cocoon.
9.0 Longevity
If you watch everything, do everything and go everywhere, you could easy suck 35-40 hours out of this one. Whether you feel the need to play through again is down to your level of devotion.
9.0 Overall
Final Fantasy is back, and it's not afraid to take a few risks along the way. Square Enix have taken a giant leap towards genre reform and should be congratulated for it. This is the best JRPG of this console generation by far.

  1. I absolutely love the game. Before it came out, I heard numerous claims from 4Chan that the entire title was linear, and it had no open spots whatsoever.

    But after Dale North of Destructoid had a chat with me, he assured that after 15 hours, it does in fact open up, and actually becomes more open than Final Fantasy X (which I loved).

    After actually playing the game as well, I understand the linearity, and the shuffled character introduction. The reason why everyone is split up is because they have to first understand their purpose in the overall picture on their own. Rather than go through the same “quest – recruit – quest” method of previous Final Fantasy games, XIII introduces everyone in the first hour, and leaves it to us to speculate how they will end up on the same team.

    Additionally, everyone has to conquer their Eidolon challenge (along with their personal demons) and grow on their own terms before our eyes. I can safely say XIII is one of my favorites in the series, especially when you get full control of your party, and use the characters you really like. Great review.

  2. I REALLY enjoy this game’s battle system, and I wouldn’t mind its return in future Final Fantasy titles. However, the six characters they tell the story through – are terrible, and ultimately ruin the experience.

    It doesn’t make it acceptable if *this is how it always is.* The vast majority of Final Fantasy characters have gotten away with terrible dialogue and two-dimensional motivations with cool looks and big swords. I can’t believe they built such a robust and colorful story with monochromatic characters.

    Again, I love the battle system and the world they have built, but I think it’s time for a series that defines itself as a ROLE playing game to deliver a persona that is worth assuming.

    A PS3 tactics anyone? I’m game.

  3. I’m 5-6 hours in and really enjoying it so far.

  4. I have a Love/Hate relationship going with FF13 right now. When it first began I absolutely hated it. The combat system in the beginning plays itself, the story is completely convoluted, and the characters didn’t grab me at all.

    Then after about 3-5 hours it started to grow on me and I started to love it. I was enjoying how the combat system was giving me more and more control, and the story was making slightly more sense.

    Then it got to a portion of the game where people split up, and it didn’t feel like the story was going anywhere, and I once again just didn’t care. I had to drag myself through this portion.

    Then the story finally picked up and started going someplace and I started caring again. I finally fell back in love with the game.

    Then “The Grind” set in. I’m talking hours upon hours of fighting tons of enemies that aren’t hard to beat, but take a while to kill. This is where I am now and once again I’m starting to hate the game again.

    I feel like I’m on a roller coaster with FF13. The more and more I play it I’m starting to think I just don’t have the patience for JRPGs anymore. I put 45 hours into Mass Effect 2 and loved almost every second of it, but I’ve put 22 hours into FF13 and have hated about 40% of that time already.

    FF13 might end up being the last Final Fantasy, or for that matter the last JRPG, I ever play.

    • “Then ‘The Grind’ set in. I’m talking hours upon hours of fighting tons of enemies that aren’t hard to beat, but take a while to kill.”

      Looks, smells, and feels like a JRPG :D . For now, I still find grinding therapeutic, and if they’re still selling 5 million copies of the game in rapid succession, it doesn’t look like the formula is going to change soon. Which sucks for the majority of gamers who hate the [game padding] mechanic, admittedly.

      Also, I still have no idea how people play Mass Effect 2 for that long. I finished 100% of every mission, and 100%-ed the galaxy map in 26 hours. Since I’m going for every superboss, and every mission, according to friends, FFXIII should last me around 100 hours, just like FFXII.

    • I have no idea how you played Mass Effect 2 to 100% completion in only 26 hours. I spent so much time just looking around and taking everything in. I also spent a lot of time reading the galactic index, learning everything I could about the lore. I can’t imagine spending less than 40 hours in that game.

    • avatar Neo7741

      I completely agree

  5. avatar Steve

    This is one of the best JRPGs I have played in a long time.

  6. I got this the day after it came out, though it wasn’t on my watch list lol. I love it so far. I like how the tutorials are good enough where you can figure out how to use what you need to or completely skip them altogether. The same goes for the cutscenes, which we saw in X as well.

    One thing I really loved was the Battlelog (I think that’s what it’s called) you can read. When the game started up I was completely lost with the l’Cie, fal’Cie, Pulse and all that stuff for the first few hours of the game. The Battlelog definitely helped me figure out what the difference between everything was and it explains some things in the game that you may not get out of dialog if you read the events pages.

    At first, the battle system was just “okay” but as you get more into it and start learning everything about it, it’s probably the best battle system I’ve ever seen in an RPG since the old-school battle system from FF7. I think the pace they used for introducing features to the battle system was good, but could’ve been shorter.

    I also like the characters too, you see more than one side to them. Like Lightning, for example, comes across as a badass, but she’s hiding her emotions and she’s actually a kind-hearted person. Once again, this becomes more apparent in the battlelog.

  7. avatar Ferahtsu

    “This is the most good looking Final Fantasy”?

  8. avatar Neo7741

    Im sorry, but so far this game (if it can be called that) is just a pretty movie for me. Its so ridiculously easy. Most of the time its far more effective to just push A (auto battle and get five stars). developing your characters battle prowess is silly and is only allowed when the game thinks you’ve grinded through enough of the meticulous “stages”. (yes this game is more like an action game with stages) The thought involved is minimal at best and this I blame a generation of gamers who only want instant gratification. If they have to “think” its not worth playing.

    I equate the battles in FF 13 to repeatedly beating a toddler at connect four. The linear battles and stitched together maps make this one of the least enjoyable FF’s i have played. Hell just give me FF 13 the movie and it would be equivalent to the effort needed to complete this beautiful, yet dreadfully overrated game.

    They don’t games for thinkers anymore, only doers. Which is good when your playing Call of Duty a “FPS”, but not an “RPG” which this game claims to be.

    • If you want more of a challenge, don’t just select Auto-battle…?

      So, you advance your characters by grinding…Grinding in a Final Fantasy game? never!

      The biggest problem facing Final Fantasy 13 is the name “Final Fantasy.” It doesn’t stick with enough conventional FF trends to merit being called quality in relation to other games in the franchise. Meanwhile, it’s almost exactly like Final Fantasy 10 (sans someone as awesome as Auron). Cheesy dialogue, awkward pauses, way more casual (and linear) than other FF games before it.

      With X, people either thought it was the best FF ever made, or one of the worst. This is the case here. It’s not a new argument, and as with FFX, will fade with time.

    • avatar Idris

      I’m a bit shocked that you maagned to make it to your age without playing Final Fight. You’re not _that_ much younger than I am. This as an arcade favourite of mine, along with ‘Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja’ and ‘Shadow Warriors’. So many coins lost to this. Glad to see it mostly stands up to the test of time, although I’m baffled that they didn’t do 2 player co-op. Oh, and most unconvincing reenactment ever! Loved it.

  9. Having a lot of fun with this game, but now that I’ve reached the Gran Pulse section, I’m taking it relatively slow. I’m in no rush to reach the finish line, and there are so many other games coming out now that I may have to simply get back to it once the drought begins.

    Wait, is there even going to be a game drought this year? Doesn’t seem like it.

  10. @Robert
    Now until May, it seems, unless you want Monster Hunter Tri, or Nier.

  11. avatar Poopy

    I am 6 hours into this game and LOVE it!

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    • avatar Ranjit

      Great video and great idea for a new series. You guys are so cvretiae!I remember playing Final Fight back in 1991 and even back then the lack of a two player mode was a deal breaker. I think Streets of Rage went on to become the superior beat ‘em up series.Also, how is FFXIII so far? I’m torn between whether to go for that or GoW 3.

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  15. avatar Vita

    I definitely agree with you, Dr. D. We might do that very thing as a topic at some point. Tristansaurus sent us an e-mail asknig about storytelling in D D, basically, and I said kind of what you said- you can tell a story in any system, it’s really just whether or not the system helps you do it, hinders you from doing it, does both, or does neither. Systems are tools and they enable you to do different things. Not necessarily better or worse things, but definitely different things. I think APOWO is real good at enabling a certain kind of storytelling which is very emergent and very character/relationship driven, but if you want real strategic combat, for example, you’d be better off with something else. And so far the characters for Serenity are looking good. One guy is playing a 70 year old, which I think is going to be real interesting.

  16. avatar Gerlinde

    Thanks for the kudos, Joe! Tristansaurus- That’s exactly how I feel! Vincent Baker says, in the book, that his MCing aicdve is just about Apocalypse World, but I think it’s easily importable into other games. For example, I’m going to be running a Serenity game in January and February, and I’m importing a bunch of his GMing understanding of APOWO into that, such as the idea of fronts. Please let us know what you think of it after you get a chance to read it, especially the MC session.

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