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Published on March 15th, 2011 | by Matt Haberfeld

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Final Fantasy XIII

Developer: Square Enix
ESRB Rating: Teen
Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 3/9/2010

What is Final Fantasy 13?

Final Fantasy 13 is the lastest installment in one of the longest running franchises in gaming history. The legacy is continued on a world called Pulse and its artificial moon of Cocoon. It is here that a disparate group of exiles are tied to a single fate; to save the planet. Sound familiar? It may be a new setting, but Final Fantasy uses the same ever present and winning formula. A single playthrough runs at about 40 hours if you’re taking your time, and 110 if you decide to complete all of the optional content.

What does this game do well?

Final Fantasy 13 is the first game on the new crystal tools engine, and you had better believe that it looks absolutely gorgeous. The silly outfits are immaculately detailed, and you can see each individual strand of hair as invisible fans gently blow it to and fro. Implausible, unrealistic architecture dominates the picturesque landscape while imposing monsters wander lazily below. Even the menu screens are of the highest quality. Let there be no doubt that this the prettiest RPG out there, even on the lower resolution Xbox 360. The music is also quite good. Maybe not the best the series has ever seen, but it certainly grows on you. Which is good, because there is a high degree of repetition. Many of the tracks are just remixed versions of each other, or old series standbys.

As you would expect, combat is a flashy and exciting affair. Although the game is still technically a hybrid of turn based menus and real time battling, it is extremely interactive and will keep you engaged from the first strike to the loot screen at the end. Each character begins with access to 3 different character classes and can unlock all 6 later in the game. Combat involves hitting an enemy until they “stagger” at which point they become impaired and are much more vulnerable to damage. As the player you can change your character’s classes in the middle of combat to take advantage of elemental vulnerabilities, heal yourself, or simply stagger the enemy more quickly. You can also let the AI automatically select your abilities, although as you accumulate more skills it will be less and less accurate in doing what you want.

The story in Final Fantasy is always a self made cliche, however FF13 is slightly different in that it focuses more heavily on the individual tales of the main characters rather than the overarching story. It’s a mixed blessing; you certainly get more attached to the characters that aren’t a blistering annoyance, but the game’s actual story is pretty lackluster. However, I wouldn’t say it’s that different from any of the Final Fantasy games that have come before it; if this is the kind of thing you like then you’ll be happy with it.

I like that you can level up your equipment in this game. In fact you can take the very first sword and use it all the way to the end if you want. Basically you feed your equipment either organic or synthetic parts that you get in treasure chests or by killing enemies. Organic components offer less experience but increase the value of future components that you use, while synthetic components are worth substantially more experience but decrease the value of future components. When you max out your equipment you can apply a catalyst which changes it into an upgraded version and then continue to level it up further. It is a neat system even if it makes no sense whatsoever how 36 sturdy bones make a boomerang do more damage.

What could this game have done better?

Despite its strong points, Final Fantasy 13 has taken a lot of criticism and some of it is well deserved. The worst part of the game is its massive linearity in all aspects of the design. Navigating through the areas is like crawling through an air duct with a treasure chest in the corner and a boss monster at the end. Many games provide one or more choices even though the outcome is the same regardless of what you do. I frequently complain about the illusion of choice in games, but FF13 is so shockingly linear that I could stand to be deluded a few times.

Another tragically linear aspect of the game is the crystarium, where you spend points in to level up your characters. The presentation is lavish and complicated and flashy, and totally devoid of any significant choices. You just buy all the nodes on the level and then move up to the next level. Technically you could skip a few nodes, but everything on the next level costs exponentially more so you’d end up skipping a skill to take a minor stat upgrade, or skip a stat upgrade to buy the same upgrade for more.

Linearity in some ways aids the story and keeps it from getting bogged down but this is way over the limit, especially considering the story isn’t that great to begin with. For a brief moment towards the end of the game you are allowed a bit of well deserved freedom, which underscores just how oppressive the rest of the game can be.

While the combat is engaging, it certainly could be better. First of all, you only directly control the party leader; your companions are controlled by the AI. Second, if the party leader dies the game immediately ends even though your companions can easily revive you with a spell or item. It’s also a slight annoyance that you cannot control where your characters move during battle. Personally I think that FF13’s combat is too much flash and not enough substance, much like the rest of the game. Especially compared to the gambit system of Final Fantasy 12, there is a significant lack of strategy and control.

Should I buy this game?

Final Fantasy 13 is a mixed bag of triumph and disappointment. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and yet astonishingly simple and linear. The story is easy to follow along with but it isn’t terribly captivating, and it’s fun to play in a shallow kind of way. Ultimately I don’t regret the time that I spent with the game, but I would probably never play it again.

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