FF13 Review (#1)

Final Fantasy XIII Review

In the world of RPGs, Final Fantasy is the undisputed king. Spanning dozens of games and selling millions of copies over the years, each new release has a tough mission: to build upon its predecessors and maintain a delicate balance of tradition, innovation and creativity that has made the series into a juggernaut for developer Square Enix. For each new console release, this is doubly true. So does Final Fantasy XIII make the cut?

Final Fantasy XIII Screenshot

The first and most obvious facet of this game is its graphics. It is a beautiful game, with a wide variety of environments ranging from lush natural landscapes filled with monsters to airships filled with soldiers to strange relics of gods and past civilizations. Monster designs are new twists on old classics, with new and often deadly additions. The characters are also well designed, though not straying far from their stereotypical roots.

The music, while not quite as catchy or memorable as Nobuo Uematsu's legendary compositions, is still full of sweeping orchestras and brooding atmospheric pieces. Blinded by Light is one of the best battle themes to date and Leona Lewis' My Hands is the perfect ending theme. Some of the overall themes can be a bit too similar, but overall Masashi Hamauzu does an excellent job as a composer.

The world itself continues the science fantasy blending of the last few games, with major elements of both magic and technology. Like recent games, gods and summoned monsters continue to play expanded roles and even become major plot points. At times it seems to be about the conflict between these disparate elements as much as it is about the main characters and their fight for survival.

Speaking of, the characters are a lively bunch themselves with interesting group dynamics, at least in the beginning half of the game. Characterization is hit and miss but the story carries on at a fairly fast pace even when the characters don't. It's a common flaw in the series that even main party characters fade into the background after their personal stories are finished, but fortunately it's not quite as prevalent here. However, you will find yourself annoyed by either Vanille, Hope or both, which really detracts from the experience since you almost always need at least one of them in your active battle party.

Final Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XIII

The story, like the game itself is big and bold, spanning both worlds and ages, with the epic battles and gorgeous CG scenes to prove it. It starts with spectacular action as main heroine Lightning takes on enemy soldiers aboard a train and only accelerates from there, sometimes moving perhaps a bit too fast and making parts of the story incoherent. This along with the typical sharp left into weirdness ¾ of the way in, as tends to happen in Final Fantasy games, can make the overarching plot a bit hard to follow.

The gameplay itself is more active than ever, with characters finally able to jump while on the world map. The battle system is totally new, using the base ATB (active time battle) of previous games to create a fast paced, surprisingly complex system that makes boss battles in particular brutal for the unprepared gamer. Even the massively powerful summons, called eidolons in this installment, don't guarantee a victory as they so often did before. You only control the actions of a single character, your party leader, but using the Paradigm system to switch the roles of all party members gives you the ability to rapidly adjust your entire party's strategies on the fly. It keeps battle fresh and interesting and yet still keeps many traditional gameplay elements, an impressive feat.

Despite all these shiny new improvements, the biggest detraction of the game is in its linearity. In the era of open worlds and sandbox style games, having such a huge, wonderful world and not being able to explore it openly for more than half the game is a huge disappointment. Coupled with the near non-existence of sidequests, this can make the game feel like a slog at times, a never-ending slugfest of boss battles and dungeon crawls. It may make sense in the context of the story but it is also a massive gameplay flaw and the Achilles heel of the game. In a sprawling storyline that can take dozens of hours to complete, not being able to take a break for such a long period of time makes it unnecessarily tedious.

Overall, Final Fantasy XIII as the dawn of the next generation of Final Fantasy games is both heartening and maddening, sometimes at the same time. With sleek new gen graphics and a near-flawless battle system, it's definitely fun to play and jaw-droppingly beautiful to look at. It's far from perfect however, sacrificing gameplay for story and neglecting sidequests, resulting in uneven and even tedious pacing. Even so, with a good mix of characters and an epic, emotional story it's easy to get caught up in the journey to survive and, ultimately, to save the world.

Be sure to check out our complete list of other Final Fantasy Reviews.

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