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Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360) artwork

Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360) review


"At least the fighting was fun — after the game had decided I'd done well enough with the remedial classes and gave me access to everything. Each character can take on a number of roles. Ravagers blitz foes with attack magic, while Commandos deliver powerful melee attacks. Other roles are more specialized, doing things like buffing party members, debuffing foes, casting healing spells and serving as tanks to protect the more frail from powerful assaults. As the game progresses, each character learns new roles, making them more versatile. With a click of a button, you can switch from a set-up with two Ravagers and a Commando to one designed to quickly heal the wounded."



When I play a modern Final Fantasy game, I know I'll see production values that are leaps and bounds ahead of just about any other J-RPG. Awesome cinematics and vividly detailed monsters dominate these games. While playing Final Fantasy XIII, I decided it wouldn't be a stretch to say that the visuals are enough to carry a person through it. I know I always wanted to see what grand sights would be around the next corner. From futuristic cities to crystal forests to underground mining caves, there is no shortage of eye candy. This is good. Very good.

On the other hand, Final Fantasy XIII also could be considered a primary example of the sad reality of the J-RPG in today's world. While Western-style games are offering massive, interactive worlds with hundreds (or thousands) of things to see and do, this three-disc monolith offers…well, a different battle system. There's a plot with potential that's not completely reached because everything is based around the personal drama of six characters recycled from Square's generic templates of heroes. You know: the big, goofy guy who's really emphatic when he speaks; the icy, antisocial leader; the tagalong teenager and the guy, who because he's in his 30s, is presented as an "old man" struggling to keep up with all the youngsters. Yawn. Cue up dozens of cinema scenes with angst-ridden heroes complaining about their lot in life, but still battling on to win against all odds until they discover the awesome message of teamwork and love, causing them to magically become a force so powerful that evildoers stand no chance. Much like the dialogue in this game, this description could be written in my sleep.

You remember how I said that Western RPGs give you a huge world to explore? Final Fantasy XIII is the opposite. The thing I liked best about the preceding XII was that it attempted to meld Eastern and Western influences. While you had the same sort of paint-by-numbers storytelling, things took place in a vast world loaded with all sorts of secret bosses and hidden goodies. If you wanted, you could spend days blissfully ignoring that whole "stop the one guy from summoning godlike beings to take over the world" deal in order to explore massive dungeons to fight hordes of rare monsters, mark hunts and espers.

Not here. That freedom was apparently too scary for us mere mortals to comprehend. This game is divided into 13 chapters, 12 of which are barely more than linear walks in straight lines occasionally interrupted by cinema. Bizarrely, a large portion of the game plays like a massive, extended tutorial. Final Fantasy XIII might baby players more than any RPG I've ever played. Everything is painstakingly explained and you'll be most of the way through the game before everything has been explained to you. While I admit that it's humorous to get a tutorial on triggering preemptive attacks THREE FIGHTS AFTER I'd gotten my first because, you know, I skimmed the instruction book and know how to play this sort of game, all this stuff just seems unnecessary. You're constantly dealing with minor disruptions to tell you how to do basic stuff. RPG-ing For Dummies is what this game should have been called.

At least the fighting was fun -- after the game had decided I'd done well enough with the remedial classes and gave me access to everything. Each character can take on a number of roles. Ravagers blitz foes with attack magic, while Commandos deliver powerful melee attacks. Other roles are more specialized, doing things like buffing party members, debuffing foes, casting healing spells and serving as tanks to protect the more frail from powerful assaults. As the game progresses, each character learns new roles, making them more versatile. With a click of a button, you can switch from a set-up with two Ravagers and a Commando to one designed to quickly heal the wounded. And then to one that will load a tough foe with all sorts of nasty status ailments, so you can quickly exterminate it. Whenever I encountered a new monster, the first order of business was to cast Libra on it in order to reveal its strengths and weaknesses. This is a necessity, as while you can control the actions of your party leader, his or her sidekick(s) are computer-controlled. If you've Libra'd something and your guys know how to fight it, the A.I. is really good. Each battle is almost like a mini-competition, as you're graded on how quickly and efficiently you get through fights. Even when I was finishing the game, I still found myself smiling after getting five stars for a great fight…and wondering what went wrong when I missed the target time by a couple minutes and finished battle with no stars.

Killing monsters gives you CP, which is used to advance characters along this crystal tree of stat bonuses, making them stronger, better with magic and with much more health. Until the very end of the game (and the post-game), level-grinding really can't play much of a factor, as you gain new crystal levels at certain points in the plot. I do give Square-Enix credit -- they did create a pretty tight system. It's just marred by the generic characters and overly-linear action.

I'd have to say that the thing that made Final Fantasy XIII most entertaining for me was simply taking an extended break shortly after reaching Chapter 11. That is the one that's not purely a linear jaunt down one corridor after another. In fact, you're in a fairly large and open world that reminds me of a couple parts of XII. Adding to the similarity, you have a pretty extensive monster hunt sidequest waiting for you. A total of 66 battles await, with many of them high-powered enough to keep players coming back long after the main quest has been completed.

This was the moment I'd been waiting for! An open world with optional things to do. I could actually explore places and fight optional bosses and all the fun stuff I love doing in these games. But after 10 chapters of repetitive actions, I needed a break. Even the fighting was getting stale. For MOST fights, it was easy to breeze through with just a tiny handful of tactics. Use two Ravagers and a Commando to quickly stagger a foe. Once in this position, enemies generally take more damage, so I'd switch to two Commandos and a Ravager to finish the fight. If necessary, I'd switch to a multi-medic formation to restore health. Over and over and over and over again. Every once in a while, I'd fight something tough enough to necessitate advanced tactics like using a Saboteur to debuff a particularly tough foe, but those sorts of encounters didn't happen particularly often. And even if they did, the game doesn't penalize you for failing. If you lose a fight, you restart your game right next to the offending monster, allowing you to fight it again if you want.

So, after putting this game down for a couple months, I found myself recharged. The battle system seemed fresh and interesting, instead of stale. I was able to appreciate the battles against Final Fantasy staples such as Behemoths, Tonberrys, Ochus and Cactuars. I spent hour upon hour wandering through this vast part of the game and taking out marks and then trudged through the final two chapters (where most fights could be considered mini-bosses!). As soon as the credits rolled, I took advantage of gaining the final crystal level to grind and grind and grind some more in order to fight the tougher marks. My experience was pleasant.

But is that what I want? To say, "Yeah! This game is pretty good…uh, if you take a couple months off midway through it to break up the monotony…"? That's not what I want and hope for from a series of games I've been playing for at least 20 years! It just feels like Square-Enix wanted to make something for everyone. Tons of tutorials and a combat system which expands s-l-o-w-l-y for the novices, a bunch of linear, cinema-driven chapters for the instant-gratification crowd who wants to imagine they're playing a movie and one large open-world area for the people who liked XII's freedom. The problem with the "something for everyone" thought process is that very few will wind up completely happy. At times, I loved this game. It is quite beautiful and many boss fights (both mandatory and optional) are fun and challenging. Figuring out the proper tactics to turn a brutal foe into a pushover was invigorating. On the other hand, there were times when I was bored out of my mind playing it. Walk 100 yards, watch overwrought melodramatic cinema, repeat until chapter is finished. Do again in next chapter. I guess I had an overall positive opinion of Final Fantasy XIII (or at least not a negative one) just because the stuff done well was DONE WELL, but it's hard for me to give this one a glowing recommendation or anything like that.

Rating: 6/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 24, 2012)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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zippdementia posted February 24, 2012:

Great review, Rob. I never seem to get tired of reading FFXIII reviews from people who also saw how painful a linear experience can be when it's just pushing you from one bad dialogue to the next. I've played through the game twice now, only to stop both times at Chapter 11. I wont' make that mistake again; next time I'll just finish up my damn game. Because you're right: the first 10 chapters are a tutorial.

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