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Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3) artwork

Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3) review


"Is it good? That's what everyone has been asking in tremulous voices when the subject of Square Enix's most expensive addition to the Final Fantasy line up comes up. "



Is it good? That's what everyone has been asking in tremulous voices when the subject of Square Enix's most expensive addition to the Final Fantasy line up comes up.

Well... no. It's not. For the most part, anyway.

The combat in Final Fantasy XIII is amazing. Without abandoning the Active Time Battle system that has been the mainstay of the series, Final Fantasy XIII manages to add a need for precise tactical timing to each fight. Combining a simplified gambit system from Final Fantasy XII with the in-battle job changes of Final Fantasy X-2, the game places a keen emphasis on mixing the right skill sets at the right moments. It hearkens back to the old job system while bringing in the action genre's emphasis on timing attacks and defense maneuvers just right. Paired with some of the smoothest next generation graphics available, Final Fantasy XIII's battle system provides the pleasurable distraction of free-flowing, customizable, combat.

And with that, I could very well be done with my review and you might suspect that Final Fantasy XIII would get a nice high score. What you wouldn’t understand is that, outside of combat, Final Fantasy XIII has little to offer.

Exploration, for instance, has been completely cut from the game. Many are going to miss the ability to stray from the beaten path and explore fantastic environments filled with legendary monsters, hidden treasures, and mysterious dungeons. Not only are there none of these offerings, there are also no towns, cities, or really even any NPCs. Indeed, gone are the very markers that used to keep adventurers focused in their quests! The characters in Final Fantasy XIII rarely know what they are doing and instead just wander aimlessly until something happens to them. This lack of identifiable character goals mixed with the “point A to point B” environments can easily make a player feel like they are along for a ride that they don’t understand. With little understanding of where they are headed and no ability to affect that course or even explore other paths along the way, it’s easy to become apathetic.

Apathy is a feeling that pervades other areas of the game, too. The writing in Final Fantasy XIII is thoroughly lazy. Rather than take the time to build a theme or a relationship with a character oftentimes the script will try to build emotion for an NPC that players know nothing about. It accomplishes this through the expedient method of “spoon-feeding.” For instance, early in the game, Square Enix introduces a character, has her say two or three times that she’s a mother, and then kills her off barely five minutes later in a scene that's obviously supposed to be emotional and surprising (but isn't). “B-r-r-r-r-rum! Open up, gamers! Here comes the airplane!”

This dedication to treating the audience like children is an issue that continues throughout the story. There are a lot of twists to the plot, but many involve characters that you only know the barest of information about. Being betrayed by an NPC you’ve met maybe twice in the game doesn’t carry much weight to it, despite the full string orchestra playing in the background. Even this in itself wouldn’t be more than a slight annoyance if the game didn’t make the story such a focus, continually interrupting the action to wrest control away from the gamer and show them a cutscene. With a Final Fantasy game this might not seem like such a bad thing, but nothing new is happening here. Yes, the graphics are pretty, but how many times since Advent Children have we seen Square Enix do hand-to-hand aerial combats? When there’s talk of one of the party members becoming a big monster that will destroy the world, then even casual Final Fantasy fans may start to think “been here, done that.” Those who have played Final Fantasy X, on the other hand, may need to check their disc to remind themselves that this is a new game.

Final Fantasy XIII excels in one aspect, in that it adds a nice tactical element to the battles. Even this isn’t free of complaint, though. With the higher level of graphics comes a lesser level of enemy diversity. Especially when compared to past titles, this Final Fantasy seems lacking in the monster line up. Perhaps the biggest indicator of this is that you fight the same flying boss three or four times throughout the game. It looks the same, it shows up in the same manner, and for the most part it even fights the same. That would be fine if it was something interesting, like a wise-cracking Octopus who held a long-standing grudge against the party, but in this case it just happens to be a mechanized creation that the enemy manufactures en masse. Original Boss Fights (TM) have long been a mainstay of Final Fantasy games. It didn't get that reputation by copying sprites, at least not without providing a solid In-Game Reason (TM) for it. On a similar note, while the need to pick and choose job combinations in response to real-time combative situations provides a nice puzzle element to the game, it is a puzzle that usually has the same solution. After fighting a string of battles, gamers will most likely catch themselves shifting jobs at exactly the same point in each fight to take advantage of exactly the same situation. Fight enough enemies and the innovative combat can suddenly seem as mechanical as the old “tell everyone to attack while Rydia casts Fire 3” system.

The presentation of Final Fantasy XIII is such that more seems to be constantly promised. The levels are designed with obvious imagination, but no options for exploration. The sweeping orchestral movements and over-emotional voice acting only serves to showcase the shallowness of the script. Depending on how much you like the battle system, your attention may be held for the length of the game, but you’ll always feel like something was missing.

The insult is compounded by the final stages of the game, where suddenly the claustrophobic canyons and empty cities littered with invisible walls give way to wide expanses filled with a variety of new monsters. The Archylte Steppe quickly became my favorite environment of the game, where I could run along the edge of a wide lake while in the distance massive elephantine beasts shook the countryside with the heaviness of their steps. Taking my party to the hills, I would watch as the shadows of Wyverns in flight created moving patterns on the grasses below. Here, too, I could finally accept side quests at my leisure, finally giving me some feeling of investment in the character’s actions. Indeed, in these moments I saw the kind of game that Final Fantasy XIII could have been.

But I was already past caring.

Rating: 4/10

zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (March 19, 2010)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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randxian posted March 20, 2010:

B-r-r-r-r-rum! Open up, gamers! Here comes the airplane!”

LOL!

This looks like one of your better works. Really enjoyed all the clever and subtle jabs at the game's story (or lack thereof).

It really sucks not having RPG staples since as towns, NPCs, and the like. I don't think I would enjoy this game at all.
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zippdementia posted March 20, 2010:

Thanks for the feedback, Randxian!
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aschultz posted March 23, 2010:

Hi Zipp. Given that I fisked this review of yours, you may be able to assume your other one "made it." I found your and Genj's reviews interesting, but I had suggestions for both. Lots of times I write these critiques more for myself, to get myself going on my own writing, so let me know if you don't really need/want it.

====

Fisking your FF13 review here. It's what I like to do when I'm bored at work.

"Is pretty amazing" <- maybe it's what sequels SHOULD do, or mentions that right away. I'm not a big fan of a big bold sentence capped off by "pretty amazing" which can be subjective. I say, it's amazing or it isn't. No waffling!

In my opinion, the abbreviated XIII for Final Fantasy XIII saves that much more text. I think it's a good idea. I don't know what others think. It might even be worth a mini thread.

2nd paragraph I don't like the 4th wall stuff. I've soured increasingly on dialogue that doesn't need to be there--well, not after the first draft, anyway--and I think that there has to be another way to say it. "Too bad they forgot to innovate with other aspects. The story bits are unfortunately less clever combinations of previous installments." Or "They cut other aspects to get this in, and that wasn't cool."

I like the contrast of nobody knowing what they're doing with the A-to-B-to-C game-line. Maybe use some of your irony/sarcasm which is really good at its best to knock that down? It seems you left a chance begging. To me that's the time to use irony or go in for humor, when something's at such cross purposes, but instead you end with apathetic...apathy...lazy -- and while "saying yawn makes people yawn" is an urban legend, seeing these inactive words had me dozing a bit. Also, I feel you may be spoon-feeding readers the spoon-feeding example.

Also "gone are" etc gets a tad pretentious after a while (see what I did there?)

When I think of dialogue for my own writing I picture someone I hate saying it. If I grudgingly picture "Damn, he's got a point there" then I realize it's pretty good. Maybe this exercise will work for you, or others. Or maybe our ears are completely different.

I also found your comment about the story being a focus interesting--I mean, on the one hand, combat's better, but on the other hand, story's what they seem to have put most of their technological magic into. It seems like they polished a turd here and that's useful to get to. Perhaps they've come to the end of the line of what they can do with it?

Also "There are..." could be cut down to "So many plot twists, like an NPC who betrays you after you meet him twice, aren't more believeable with the full string orchestra in the background." It seems like you're trying a bit too hard to show you are trying to be open minded about how FF13 will be implausible and repetitive even for non FF fans.

Maybe you could have a point counter point pair of paragraphs where you compare Stuff Glommed Together In Combat vs Stuff Glommed Together In Plot--one that works and the other that doesn't.

"in that it adds" is also a bit wordy, though I think this paragraph is good. You may be hedging on your original assumption that it's a really good game if it's just the combat, so perhaps it's better to go along the lines of "Improved combat mechanics sacrifice enemy diversity" or something. The Octopus example is good, but again, I think "even when to shift jobs gets old" may serve a purpose at least as well at the end. I think the reference to Rydia is good too, though again the paragraph suffers from bulkiness at least to a non FF fan. "We've been there before. Tell everyone to attack and have Rydia cast Fire 3." Or maybe you can discuss if leveling up too easily allows a rut.

This means that the complaints about XIII promising more than it gives seem like an afterthought--I'd be interested in hearing more examples, if there really are any. What would you have liked to see? If the end bit is creative, then why not make a better transition to the final paragraph? I like the comment about invisible walls. I think we can assume they'd be there. However, it may be dangling the final interesting bit from the reader until the end--too far below the complaints--which is much the same as what the game does.
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zippdementia posted March 23, 2010:

Wow, now this is what I call feedback! Thanks for all of this, ascuhltz! I'm gonna take some time to look this over. Chances are I won't make changes to the current review, but I always take your advice to heart for future projects.

Thanks again!
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fleinn posted March 25, 2010:

"Being betrayed by an NPC you’ve met maybe twice in the game doesn’t carry much weight to it, despite the full string orchestra playing in the background."

Hahahaha. :D Brilliant.

I'm missing a... fake intro-line of some sort, I think. Something that makes the review seem as if it opens normally.
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zippdementia posted March 25, 2010:

I just kinda leapt right in, yeah.

Glad to hear you laughed. The story really is bad and I'm glad I'm not the only one here who thinks that. It means sanity and taste still reigns on the site.
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honestgamer posted March 25, 2010:

Nah, the story kicks ass and is difficult to reasonably fault except perhaps in the form of a complaint of its lack of linearity. The characters are what's bad. There's a massive difference.
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Suskie posted March 25, 2010:

That's a strange thing to say about a game in which 90% of the exposition is comprised of the six characters you loathe so much stopping in their tracks and talking about themselves, amongst themselves.
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honestgamer posted March 25, 2010:

If you tuned out what the characters were talking about to the point where you honestly believe that their discussions had no value except to explore their characters, then you obviously missed out on most of the plot. A small percentage of the dialog was about personal fears and dreams and such. The bulk of the conversations were spent establishing the paramaters of a thoroughly fascinating world and culture, in between the more blatant bits of exposition that moved things along toward an intriguing conclusion.

As with so many other portions of the game, the story was freaking awesome but it didn't slap you in the face and demand that you pay attention to it. It's definitely a new way for a Final Fantasy game to tell a story and that's really what most of the complaints that I see leveled against it appear to boil down to. One could reasonably make the argument that Square-Enix should have dumbed down the plot and set it on a more linear path to make its contents more obvious to the masses. I wouldn't argue that. Suggesting that the plot is bad because it requires some involvement from the player--emotional and otherwise--though, that's just crazy. This isn't a movie, after all. It's a video game.
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Suskie posted March 25, 2010:

I vaguely remember you mentioning something about how you look for an intriguing setting in a good story, and to that end I can understand where you're coming from. FFXIII has a fascinating setting. But come on: This is an extremely character-driven plot. The bulk of our knowledge is learned either through conversations between the six main characters or through flashbacks of the six main characters. Even when they were casting their feelings aside and developing the narrative, they were doing so through their own experiences. So while you obviously found a way to enjoy this story without liking the characters, I don't know how you did it.

Reading over the plot summary in my roommate's guide made the story sound very cool, but that's only half of it. The story needs to be presented well, and FFXIII doesn't do that. Fracturing the narrative and gambling so much on the players' emotional connection to the lousy cast of characters didn't work out.

But hey! That's just me.
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zippdementia posted March 26, 2010:

I have to agree with Suskie here. I also think that it's hard to claim that the story doesn't demand your attention when a game is as linear as FFXIII is. The only thing you can do in the game is beat some battles and then move in a straight line down the environment. At the end of that environment you are shown a cutscene. Sometimes you will have segments of this that actually don't have battles, but are just walks between two different sets of scenes. That, to me, is the sign of a story driven game.

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