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Final Fantasy XIII review

AT A GLANCE
  • Focused, streamlined action; no BS filler
  • Prettiest console graphics OF ALL TIME
  • Lots to explore on Pulse
  • Summons are kind of weak
  • Lightning is a boring character
  • First half may be too linear for some

It's hard to talk about Final Fantasy XIII without getting into a debate about what an RPG should or shouldn't be. With a series as beloved and long-running as Final Fantasy, combined with its history of reinventing itself (or at the very least, changing things up) with every major entry, it's understandable that a lot of nervous hopes ride on the first FF of the current gen. We all have our favorite game in the series (which we'd practically go to the death defending), so it makes sense that fan expectations for FFXIII vary widely too.

So it follows then, that since the Japanese release, fan reaction to certain aspects of FFXIII has been mixed. If you're reading this, you've probably already skimmed through many a kneejerk reaction forum post of rage that made you anxious to see the reality of the final product for yourself. So let's get right to it.


Yes, the first 25 hours of the game are totally linear


This is the main point that causing some otherwise sane people to lose their freaking gourds.

At the very beginning (the first few hours), we're talking 2D side-scroller levels of linearity. Walk forward, fight some dudes. Walk forward a few more steps and fight some more dudes. The path might curve a bit from time to time and have little offshoots that contain treasure chests, but that's the extent of it.

But listen, it's awesome – really! There's no need to fall into a pit of despair and fanboy rage just yet (unless you're an utterly unreasonable person, then by all means go ahead).

The Final Fantasy series has never truly given the player freedom in a role-playing sense, and every major plot point in each Final Fantasy story (FFXI excepted, obviously) has been 100% fixed. FFXIII simply takes it a step further, streamlining the formula into a more controlled, more focused experience (and in the end it's not wildly different than the structure of Final Fantasy X).

The upside to this structure is that the pacing is fantastic – from the first moments of the opening sequence, you really feel swept up in the story and action in a way that's completely unprecedented in a JRPG. There's no lengthy, tedious, expository opening cutscene where you watch the characters from afar and wait for the actual game to start. Instead, you're right there with Lightning and Sazh in the thick of the action as they throw themselves desperately into an us-against-world fight to survive.

The downside is that any pretense of freedom (i.e. the ability to diddle around exchanging pleasantries with NPCs and walking into strangers' houses) is completely gone. But considering that our protagonists are outlaws fighting for their lives against an all-powerful corrupt government, it makes perfect sense that they'd make a beeline for safety rather than leisurely exploring.

And other thing – FFXIII's controlled structure makes it such that no suspension of disbelief is needed for the sake of the gameplay. As in, absolutely everything you do makes sense in the context of the story. It makes sense that the first half of the game would be fairly linear – after all, you're inside a relatively tiny, hollowed-out moon-like satellite called Cocoon, which like its name suggests, fairly cozily houses its inhabitants. Wide-open spaces simply wouldn't fit.


Above: Cocoon hangs low in the sky, almost always visible on Pulse (also check out that huge Adamantoise)

Furthermore, Cocoon's cramped interior makes it all the more impactful when you do venture down to Gran Pulse, the lush green planet below. Where Cocoon was claustrophobic and linear, Pulse's Archylte Steppe is wide open, with more than enough area to explore.


Above: Don't worry, Chocobos are plentiful


So where are the towns?!

It's not so much that FFXIII doesn't have towns, but rather it doesn't have the usual JRPG structure of town-dungeon-town-dungeon-boss repeat. Oh, there are towns in FFXIII, the beautiful beach town of Bodhum and the abandoned, overgrown Oerba for example, but they're not RPG towns as such.

Not entirely dissimilar to real life, RPG towns have a threefold purpose: to provide respite from the dangerous outer world, to hide the NPC that will help progress your quest, and to provide various retail establishments for your shopping needs. The first two functions are made obsolete by the structure of the game.


Above: There are no random encounters, so you can avoid enemies whenever you'd like to avoid battle fatigue

FFXIII takes care of the last necessity by providing a wide selection of virtual shops available at every save point (which are mercifully plentiful, by the way). Virtual shops were a welcome change in Crisis Core, and again in FFXIII provide a streamlined, functional, time-saving solution.

And it's not like the shops are bland despite being reduced to menus – far from it. The shop menus (like all of FFXIII's menus) are lovely. Each shop has its own sounds, logos, and even punchy, consumerism-celebratory flavor text to describe each retailer ("At Unicorn Mart, your health is our business. Our expert pharmacists are standing by, day and night, to send you whatever you need, wherever you need it…")

Still miss those towns?


The battle system


A mix of old and new, FFXIII takes the Active Time Battle system the series has been known for since FFIV, and adds a totally new twist – the Paradigm system.

The Paradigm system is a great middle ground solution, because it allows you to command every member of your party (albeit not directly) while still keeping the battles fast-paced. Each party member can specialize in several of six roles: Commandos and Ravagers attack, Medics heal, Synergists buff the party with status boosts, Saboteurs buff the enemy with status afflictions, and Sentinels defend.

A Paradigm is a set of roles for the three active party members that determines how each character functions in battle. Each role is extremely specific in what it can do – Medics can only provide healing and Commandos can only attack, nothing else.

During battle you always have an active Paradigm in place, which you can change whenever you'd like by hitting L1/LB to bring up your Paradigm deck. Building a Paradigm deck with a variety of offensive and defensive Paradigms allows you to respond strategically to dynamic battle conditions.


Above: Characters automatically perform actions once their ATB gauge fills, and each action has a specific ATB cost (Fira, for example, costs two ATB segments)

For weaker enemies, it's often smartest just to go in guns blazing with Commandos and Ravagers. Tougher enemies and bosses require careful strategy though, like beginning with a Synergist and Saboteur to buff buff buff and then quickly switching back and forth among offense, defense, and balanced party formations. Bosses get incredibly tough toward the end of the game (and on the higher ranking side missions), so it's often necessary to try out a few different approaches (and inevitably die a few times) before you find a successful approach.

Each role has a secondary attribute to consider as well that affects the whole team. For example, having a Commando in your active Paradigm boosts everyone's attack stat, while a Medic lowers the team's attack but boosts healing. In this way, the system nudges you to take calculated risks as much as possible rather than always playing it safe. Fighting aggressively can earn decisive victories, but if you're not careful could also lead to needless KOs. And if you're too conservative, you'll end up drawing out a battle for long minutes that could have been won in mere seconds.  


Above: When an enemy's stagger gauge fills, it will take massive damage for a brief period. Ravagers fill the stagger gauge faster, but Commandos deal more damage

You only directly control the team leader, who also has access to items (which can be used anytime for no ATB cost), as well as techniques and summons, which both use Technical Points (acquired by earning high rankings at the end of each battle).


Summons


The summon system falters a bit despite having some cool ideas and two brand-new summons (called Eidolons in FFXIII). The main detraction is that each party member can only summon his or her own Eidolon, and only the leader can summon, so if you want to see all six Eidolons you'll have to be vigilant about switching up your party leader often (which also means rearranging your Paradigm deck for each party formation). This can be problematic, because there's no practical purpose for messing with your team that much other than to see all the Eidolons. After awhile you'll probably decide not to bother with summons at all, especially since they're not powerful enough to really be essential in battle.


Above: Fang is the lucky wielder of the fearsome Bahamut 


Above: Shiva appears as two sisters, Styria and Nix. They join together to form a motorcycle in Gestalt mode

On the plus side, each Eidolon is kind of like a two-for-one deal, since they all have two forms: a standalone form, where they attack autonomously alongside the summoner, and a Gestalt form, where the summoner literally rides the Eidolon and they attack together.  


Above: Sazh's Eidolon, Brynhildr, is new to the series. She uses fire attacks and has lovely heels 


Above: Byrnhildr in racecar Gestalt form

Oh yeah, the story

In typical Final Fantasy fashion, the story oscillates between complete clarity and total convolution at various points, but aside from some potentially confusing terminology to sort out – l'Cie, fal'Cie, Cie'th, Sanctum, PSICOM – FFXIII's story is surprisingly straightforward.

Without spoiling too much, the basic gist is this: The small, floating society of Cocoon lives in fear of Pulse, the mysterious planet below. This fear is perpetuated by the all-powerful government, which is actually controlled by ultra-powerful higher beings called the fal'Cie. Fal'Cie exist on both Cocoon and Pulse, and they exert their power by branding humans as l'Cie, servants to carry out their bidding. L'Cie are bound to carry out the mission given to them by the fal'Cie (called a focus), and if they don't complete it within a certain amount of time they'll turn into undead monsters called Cie'th. If they do complete it, their fate isn't much better – they're turned into lifeless crystals indefinitely. Lightning and company have all been turned to l'Cie, and unclear on which side they should be fighting for, they struggle with the dilemma of whether to complete their focuses or attempt to fight against their fate.  


Above: Sazh is easily the most likable character, and his story is the most heart-tugging. Vanille grew on us too

Since FFXIII has eschewed a more traditional format in favor of a more controlled experience for the sake of the narrative and pacing, we have to point out that the opportunity to tell a truly compelling story feels like it's been squandered in some respects. To be sure, Lightning's story isn't uninteresting by any stretch, but it certainly isn't above and beyond what we'd typically expect.

In a way, a JRPG plot with no melodramatic scenes, no navel gazing exposition, and no overly sappy romances is a refreshing concept. Lightning's team is on a mission, and they don't stop much to share and learn and grow with each other. Because of that though, some of the characters come off as one-dimensional and boring, especially Lightning herself.


PS: It's BEAUTIFUL



Ever since FFVII, the series has been known for gorgeous CG cutscenes, and finally playing a Final Fantasy game where the in-game graphics aren't distractingly uglier compared to the CG cutscenes is pure joy. The in-game graphics are so good that it's not always obvious whether a cutscene is CG or in-game. You can still tell of course, but we often found ourselves checking for indicators like hair movement to figure it out.

The graphics are the most instantly apparent aspect of FFXIII's polish, but there are so many other indicators that point to an absolutely meticulous attention to detail. For one, the menus are the most gorgeous menus of all time for any game ever. We dawdled around switching back and forth between character status screens admiring their beauty, and it never got old. Beyond that, it's amazing that in a game of this scope, we found absolutely nothing even remotely buggy or glitchy, something that's fairly rare to be able to say about a current-gen game. 


Is it better than…?


Star Ocean: The Last Hope? Yes. We love Star Ocean's cool science fiction story and aesthetic, and its real-time battle system was engaging and still surprisingly strategic despite being so fast-paced. But after awhile its ridiculously few and far between save points and overly huge, tedious dungeons and grinding were enough to weary even the most diehard JRPG fan. 

White Knight Chronicles? Oh hell yes. WKC had an ambitious vision, but the final product feels completely unfinished, bland, boring, and even buggy at times. It might be going too far to say that the short, cliched story campaign was a piece of crap, and that the online multiplayer took that piece of crap and barfed on it, but it was certainly a disappointment. The custom avatar you create at the start of the game feels awkwardly wedged in during the story mode (the other characters don't even acknowledge him/her), and the multiplayer mode (the whole reason the avatar creation was necessary) doesn't even allow you to use knight powers, taking away the only remotely distinguishing feature of the game.

Final Fantasy X? No, but it isn't worse. Ack, don't make us choose! Both have excellent battle systems that each improve on the ATB base. FFX has some better characterization in the relationship between Tidus and Yuna, but then again there's no one as annoying as Wakka in FFXIII. People who loved the romance aspect of FFX will be disappointed that FFXIII lacks a strong romantic element.


Just for you, Metacritic!


The streamlined, focused structure eliminates potential tedium without dumbing anything down, and the battle system strikes an elegant balance between strategy and fast-paced action. Stunningly beautiful graphics and a pervasively meticulous level of polish throughout only add to the experience.

Mar 4, 2010 

More Info

Release date: Mar 09 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Mar 09 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3 (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Franchise: Final Fantasy
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Suggestive Themes, Violence, Mild Language
PEGI Rating:
16+

23 comments

  • evelien-van-raaij - October 27, 2013 11:55 a.m.

    I'm currently playing FF13, but honestly, it's tough to get through... The story is so big, I don't even have time to read all the story stuff in the menu. I'd rather see all of that back in the game.. The characters at this moment are quiet boring, and because the characters themselves do not know which side to choose, it's boring to follow them. Everything looks nice, i agree, but I really miss it to play with all my characters as a normal RPG (like FF8 or 7 or even 10), now it's only the leader of the pack that you're able to act with. Currently i'm also really missing towns and other people to talk to. But hey, I'm going to continue the game and finish it ;) who knows, maybe i'll start to like it in the end.
  • kuntzee - May 19, 2013 2:28 p.m.

    i personally LOVE THIS GAME! amazing graphics. great storyline. great review. and seriously people need to start looking at it in general.people see literally 2 things wrong with a game and they just go ahead and say it sucks. if you are not one of these people god bless you :)
  • Xell1987 - May 19, 2013 4:41 a.m.

    pathetic liar. There is no Pulse. 5 stars for this game? Are you f****ing serious? This dude got paid by SE or he wouldnt see i good RPG if it hits him in the face. I feel malicious joy that FF13-2 did not sold as good as FF13 because many FF fans realised that a piece of shit FF13 was
  • Izzy_Fin - July 24, 2013 2:24 p.m.

    dumbass!! Pulse is the world underneath Cocoon!! the one with the huge map and the stone quests!! Ur F***in` stupid and dont call the reviewer a lier cause you don`t know the game cause U can`t get past chaepter fuckin` 7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Uve got fuckin` no grammar fatass! U probably live with Ur fat mother all alone cause Ur pathetic!!
  • furankenshutain - February 2, 2011 11:53 p.m.

    2 b honest i like the review but i disagree bout lightning cuz i like her personality. i c myself in her so. other than that great review for a great game
  • kuntzee - May 19, 2013 2:23 p.m.

    i like people like you. other people bullshit around and look at little things that dont even matter.
  • itachithe7th - December 2, 2010 11:40 p.m.

    Its awesome i have completed it if your considering it GET IT
  • SCRubS77 - May 4, 2010 12:33 a.m.

    Just rented it, played the first 10 or so hours, and I love it! I need to buy it.
  • 1Bit - March 25, 2010 3:24 p.m.

    This game is fun. I love farming, maxing all my stats and then ripping a boss a new hole. The hunts are very challenging. I would have thrown this game out of the window if I was unable to start at the point of failure. Died so so many times. The battle system is as smooth as silk and very challenging. After 23 years of gaming this is my baby. Just a pity that the Chocobos did better voice acting than the Female voice behind Vanille.
  • ajknaack - March 16, 2010 10:29 p.m.

    what an incredibly biased review. seriously? a perfect score? squenix must have paid this guy or he got a different version than me. as i play it i feel like squenix's ego has taken on godlike proportions. Nice enough of them to let me ALMOST play their game though. If you'll excuse me now i have to go watch some cutscenes and push a single button repeatedly while this "perfect GAME" does everything for me.
  • linkganon - March 15, 2010 10:39 p.m.

    xbox 360 owners, ouch, 3 disks. ps3 owners only need one. well, you have to get off that couch twice to switch the disk while the ps3 owners sit back and play through the whole game on the same disk. i'd rather get the ps3 version because of that. multi disks are not what i like in my games, unless the extras are on another disk and the actual story mode is on a separate disk.
  • Fata1Stryke - March 9, 2010 3:36 a.m.

    I'm with powerpc, turn-based battles bother me. But the game looks so cool...I'll probably end up having to try it eventually...
  • Thanatos0013 - March 5, 2010 8:42 p.m.

    anyone wanna try doing a no crystarium use playthrough when this comes out? From what i've seen on the jp version it might be possible with some grinding. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UNwZG66FcE this guy did a pretty good job without grinding though.
  • Espir - March 5, 2010 8:28 p.m.

    i reserved this game and im dying for it to come out x_x
  • Spybreak8 - March 5, 2010 10:18 a.m.

    I was excited when they announced that FF would be coming to the 360, finally I can play the damn series. Eh I'm not a huge JRPG fan from the start though and all the design choices they've chosen here just make me glad I spent my hard earned money on Mass Effect 2. Great read though.
  • lewis42025 - March 5, 2010 9:18 a.m.

    wow! I definitely didn't expect a 10 outta gamesradar, but it sure is nice to be surprised. Argh, I still don't know if i should pick it up though! I mean I've always wanted to get into final fantasy, but...ah hell, I've got no reason to not get it, I'm just being skeptical despite this glowing review. I'll probably pick it up reCaptcha: chimeras development. That's a little creepy
  • ihopethisisnotantistasblood - March 5, 2010 4:06 a.m.

    so much text
  • GoldenMe - March 5, 2010 12:26 a.m.

    Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute. You think the characters in FFX were good? Tidus and Yuna was the biggist cliche I've ever seen in a FF game. But a great review, truly.
  • garnsr - March 4, 2010 10:04 p.m.

    Why are there so many more comments on the PS3 version than here? I don't remember ever seeing that happen on multi-platform games.
  • drako691 - March 4, 2010 10:03 p.m.

    @ powerpc127 i think FFXII had real time battle systems (it may have been XI though, not sure) XIII looks like a pretty great game, but i think im gonna pick up dissidia and crisis core first

Showing 1-20 of 23 comments

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