Ads are gone. We're using Patreon to raise funds so we can grow. Please pledge support today!
Google+   Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | DS | PS3 | PS4 | PSP | VITA | WII | WIIU | X360 | XB1 | All
Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3) artwork

Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3) review


"Final Fantasy XIII director Motomu Toriyama once defended the game’s much-publicized (and much-criticized) linearity by stating that his team was going for an FPS vibe, an action-centric experience in which the entirety of the design, barring a few exceptions, moves players from one encounter to the next and little else. This excuses nothing but explains a lot: FFXIII has caught a lot of flak for ditching a number of valued JRPG conventions, and this was done to make the game’s bat..."



Final Fantasy XIII director Motomu Toriyama once defended the game’s much-publicized (and much-criticized) linearity by stating that his team was going for an FPS vibe, an action-centric experience in which the entirety of the design, barring a few exceptions, moves players from one encounter to the next and little else. This excuses nothing but explains a lot: FFXIII has caught a lot of flak for ditching a number of valued JRPG conventions, and this was done to make the game’s battle system the center of attention. If you’re not fighting, you’re walking to the next fight. No towns, no legitimate overworld, very few NPCs to interact with, no side quests until the endgame bits… FFXIII abandons so many genre precepts that it’s amazing to think this was once the series that other JRPGs strove to mimic.

With so much resting on the battle system, it’s a relief that the one they’ve come up with is so delightful. It deftly reinvents the familiar “job” system that’s shown up in this series from time to time by reducing the number of jobs to a mere six, and then by allowing characters to quickly and seamlessly juggle their roles in the midst of combat. There are your basic attacker, magic-caster and healer roles, and then there are the more creative support classes: Synergists buff their fellow party members, Saboteurs debuff enemies, and Sentinels provoke the opposition and protect themselves, thereby giving their partners the opportunity to strike. Ultimately, each of the six characters can take on any role, and between battles, players can organize a deck of “paradigms,” sets of roles designed for various situations and circumstances that the player must flip through accordingly.

You don’t so much control combat as you simply influence it; you lean it in the appropriate direction based on your own judgments. You can only input a set of commands for your party leader, and even then, you’ll find it faster to simply opt for the auto-attack option, which does an astonishingly accurate job of selecting the actions you would choose – good thing, too, since it also dictates the actions of your two party members. Characters respond to situations based on the role they’re assigned and the abilities they’ve learned via an upgrade system that bears a striking resemblance to FFX’s sphere grid. So while much of the game runs on auto-pilot, the idea behind FFXIII’s combat is to prepare a deck of paradigms that will presumably lead you out of any battle scenario the game throws at you.

It’s far more engaging than it probably sounds. So much of the game’s introductory bits are spent teaching players the basics of combat that they’ll likely be comfortable spamming physical attacks and magical spells by the time the game’s increasingly more taxing encounters arrive, at which point FFXIII challenges you to make creative use of every role available to you. There’s nothing wrong with going all-attack when your party is in good condition, but in a rut, you may be called to pull a quick and miraculous heal. Do you keep two characters on offense while the third person steps back and casts healing magic? Do you draw all enemy attacks to your Sentinel while your other party members keep at it? Do you go all-defense and risk losing the attack chain you’ve been building up?

The system is surprisingly involving for how, well, uninvolving it initially seems, because while you have little direct control over what your party does, there’s still an infinite amount of strategizing involved, often on the spot. Some enemies need to be debuffed via Saboteur; some enemies inflict status ailments that require the aid of a Synergist to reverse; some enemies will hammer away so violently at your party that you won’t have a chance to attack consistently unless a Sentinel is drawing the fire. Attack chains add another layer: When an enemy’s meter is full, bonus damage can be issued for a period of time, but getting it full is the tricky part. Both attack types – Ravager and Commando – fill the meter, but the former fills it faster while the latter prevents it from draining as quickly. You can see how the intricacies of this system really invoke critical thinking; it’s a wonderfully versatile and endlessly entertaining setup.

Good thing, too, because FFXIII doesn’t have much to offer beyond that. As I said, there are no towns to tour and few (if any) NPCs to interact with; of the thirteen chapters, you won’t see what vaguely passes as the game’s overworld until the eleventh, and you won’t have a shot at most of the side quests until you’re finished with the main adventure. Exploration is virtually non-existent; the game defines linear at every turn, and most of the chapters progress in incredibly straightforward fashion, leading the player from one battle to the next with no questions asked. None of this is inherently bad, and it doesn’t seem fair to criticize FFXIII for elements that it makes no effort to include in the first place. That leaves me free to criticize the story, then, which FFXIII offers in spades.

To be fair, the production values are phenomenal as always. It comfortably rests among the prettiest games ever released, and its abundant CG sequences put even the stunning Advent Children to shame. Localization is terrific as well, and most of the voice actors they’ve chosen perform admirably.

Presentation isn’t the issue; the plot itself is. The bulk of FFXIII’s narrative unfolds from the perspective of six characters who have been cursed by an all-powerful supernatural being and are ultimately caught between two conflicting worlds: a futuristic human paradise, and the primitive world it perpetually hangs over. That’s the simplified version, without the barrage of proper nouns and newly-fabricated terminology the writers assault you with. The game begins in medias res and then fills us in on the details via flashbacks, yet there are hours of gameplay in between each flashback, thus convoluting the story and making it difficult to keep track of what’s going on. Yes, FFXIII includes a logbook, but that sort of thing is only worth commending when it expands the fictional universe rather than simply being used as a storytelling crutch.

Most of the cast is disappointingly one-note as well, and you could probably surmise much about each of them based on their appearances and physical mannerisms alone: Vanille is a perky, overly effeminate pile of squeals, Snow has a popped collar, Hope (or Destiny or Inspiration or whatever his name is) singularly defines “angsty” in a genre where that word crops up too frequently already, and Lightning (ugh) is the sort of stoic and valiant protagonist – with caged emotions! – that doesn’t work nearly as well now that Lost Odyssey has so brilliantly deconstructed that archetype. Only Szszzhzh resonates as someone genuinely relatable, which is odd, considering he’s a black guy with a chocobo living in his fro (a frocobo if you will). With the game having a safe 40 hours for character development, I was hoping the cast would surprise me and rise above their generic outward appearances, but that didn’t happen. Oh, what’s that, Lightning? You call yourself that because you don’t want people to know your real name? Piss off.

The story’s narrow perspective – rarely do we see something that isn’t being witnessed by one of the six main characters – is already damaging because we’re forced to spend more time with these people, yet I’m mainly disappointed because FFXIII’s setting is genuinely intriguing, and I wanted to see more of it. Which makes me wonder: What does the game accomplish by limiting itself so much? I wanted to explore these fabulous-looking futuristic cities, yet they’re merely backdrops for hours and hours of linear dungeon-crawling. FFXIII’s bare-bones design principles clash with the foundations they’ve set, which beg for elaboration; the one chapter that falls more in line with traditional JRPG standards is too little, too late to have a worthwhile effect on the overall adventure.

But yeah, the combat is loads of fun, and FFXIII develops a sort of chicken-and-egg cycle: The focus on combat means everything else is underwhelming, yet the combat being so enjoyable makes up for anything else. On its own terms, FFXIII works. But imagine if there were more to it than that. Imagine if this excellent battle system was accompanied by towns to explore, people to talk to, side quests in which to engage during the main adventure, and a legitimate overworld. Now imagine an expertly crafted story and a likeable cast of characters to go along with it. FFXIII is pretty good; it could have been so much more than that.

Rating: 7/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (May 01, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

More Reviews by Suskie
The Last of Us Remastered (PlayStation 4) artwork
The Last of Us Remastered (PlayStation 4)

It has no pretentions to being 'cool.'
The Wolf Among Us (PC) artwork
The Wolf Among Us (PC)

A cracking good murder mystery that holds many of the qualities I now associate with Telltale's work.
The Banner Saga (PC) artwork
The Banner Saga (PC)

War doesn't have checkpoints.

Feedback

If you enjoyed this Final Fantasy XIII review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

board icon
espiga posted May 02, 2010:

Slight typo here:

. . .and Lighting (ugh) is the sort of stoic and valiant protagonist. . .

Also, if this doesn't win ROTW for frocobo, then I'll have lost all hope in humanity.
board icon
Suskie posted May 02, 2010:

Thanks for the catch. Frocobo4ever.
board icon
zippdementia posted May 02, 2010:

I didn't have time to fully engage myself in the review, due to what we call a "salty" schedule in the film world, but this paragraph caught my eye because it's awesome:

"Most of the cast is disappointingly one-note as well, and you could probably surmise much about each of them based on their appearances and physical mannerisms alone: Vanille is a perky, overly effeminate pile of squeals, Snow has a popped collar, Hope (or Destiny or Inspiration or whatever his name is) singularly defines “angsty” in a genre where that word crops up too frequently already, and Lightning (ugh) is the sort of stoic and valiant protagonist – with caged emotions! – that doesn’t work nearly as well now that Lost Odyssey has so brilliantly deconstructed that archetype. Only Szszzhzh resonates as someone genuinely relatable, which is odd, considering he’s a black guy with a chocobo living in his fro (a frocobo if you will). With the game having a safe 40 hours for character development, I was hoping the cast would surprise me and rise above their generic outward appearances, but that didn’t happen. Oh, what’s that, Lightning? You call yourself that because you don’t want people to know your real name? Piss off."

Lightning totally needs to piss off.
board icon
honestgamer posted May 02, 2010:

I liked Lightning.
board icon
radicaldreamer posted May 03, 2010:

I was really intrigued by the line about Lost Odyssey deconstructing that character archetype. I haven't played it, can you elaborate a bit on that?
board icon
Suskie posted May 03, 2010:

Sure. The main character of Lost Odyssey is immortal and has lived for around a thousand years. He inhabits the typical role of the quiet, stoic, non-talkative protagonist, which initially turned me off, but as you play, various vital memories are triggered in his mind. They don't relate to the central story, and they're presented as text on a painted background, with no visuals, no voice acting, and only the slightest hint of a score. I really can't do justice to how beautifully these scenes are executed or how well they're written, but they're touching, surprising and often devastating. It's the calming, almost sobering plainness of their presentation that makes them work so well.

Kaim (as he's called) isn't really bitter, angsty or antisocial; he's just a man who's lived a thousand years and has endured far too much for anything to greatly affect or move him anymore, which isn't to say he's an emotionless brick, but that he's already carrying quite a lot of weight. I've seen plenty of JRPGs use this archetype, but few, if any, that really explore that mindset. It usually seems like a lazy shortcut, i.e. using a stock character and then throwing in some contrived explanation for it late in the game. Kaim, on the other hand, is perfectly characterized. I sympathized with him more than I have for 99% of the RPG characters I've seen.
board icon
radicaldreamer posted May 03, 2010:

I'll have to pick that one up some time - and a 360 to go with it.
board icon
zippdementia posted May 04, 2010:

I, too, was sad to miss that one.

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

Info | Help | Privacy Policy | Contact | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998-2014 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Final Fantasy XIII is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Final Fantasy XIII, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors.