|Review By: Bradley Beeck
A group of strangers find themselves propelled forward by a common fate. Unsure of their destination, while the outside world hates them, they struggle to maintain their hope. Their journey will see them travel the worlds of Cacoon and Pulse and confront that which controls their fate.
Iíve put more effort into finishing Final Fantasy XIII than any other game Iíve played. Sure itís a long game, but Iíve played longer games like Persona 4 so thatís not the problem. The problem is itís really boring and thatís an unforgivable sin for something thatís entire reason for being is entertainment. If it wasnít for a half dozen podcasts I would have never reached the final boss.
FF XIII is not so much a Japanese RPG as what I term an LPG, a Linear Playing Game. Thereís almost no freedom in the way the game is played, the player has no influence on how the game unfolds. To that end FF XIII can be summoned up as follows: move through corridor, fight monster, repeat for 40 minutes, cutscene, repeat it all again. Thereís no towns, no exploration, just move from point A to point B fighting monsters along the way. The only point of player interactivity is whether or not you open the odd container located in, perhaps, a crevice. Itís incredibly boring, because itís so monotonously repetitive and thereís nothing to learn, and no skill involved.
Something that does involve some skill is the combat system. This is the heart of the traditional jRPG and FF XIIIís system is a mixture of real time and turn based combat. Battles flow in real time but characters can only attack when their ATB gauge is recharged to a certain point, you canít do anything until then making it turn based. This is fine for most of the game, however after a while I was annoyed by its lack of fine control. In tough battles timing matters and you canít control that effectively, nor can you control the position of your party on the battlefield. So itís all chance whether an enemyís attack will hit more than one character.
A key part of the combat system is Paradigms, which control the role each party member plays. The roles available are: Ravager (elemental spells), Commander (melee), Medic, Sentinel (defense), Saboteur (debuff), and Synergist (buff). Paradigms are organized before battle and used during battle to switch from say Commander/Ravager/Ravager to Commander/Ravager/Medic. Your battle party has 3 members, from a team of 6, so each role corresponds to a party member. The point of these Paradigms is to respond to the changing battle situation while also trying to Stagger your opponent. Staggering happens when you increase the chain gauge (hit gauge) to a certain point, the opponent then takes massive damage from your attacks. This is the only effective way of defeating enemies as they have many thousands of hit points. Thereís also a Summon Mode, which allows you summon an Eidolon at the cost of Technical Points. This creature then fights along side the party leader, which also has a Gestalt Mode where the character mounts the Eidolon. The game doesnít do a great job of explaining all this but after a while you get the hang of it and it becomes automatic. Mindless in other words, because thereís not enough depth, and certainly not enough for 49 hours.
Each of the 6 team members Ė Lightning, Snow, Hope, Fang, Vanille, and Sazh Ė can be leveled up through the Crystarium. Instead of receiving XP after killing an opponent you get CP, Crystal Points. These points are then spent on increasing the levels of the roles available to each character. Within the levels attribute bonuses and abilities are positioned around a circular ring. Points are consumed as a line is moved around the ring to each ability or bonus. Some stat increases are located on branches off the ring but thereís no reason why you wouldnít want them. The levels available for each role are tied to the story, so new levels only become accessible after boss fights. The roles available to each team member are also tied to the story because after a certain chapter all roles become available. The role system leads to loss of party member identity because someone can be both a commander and a medic.
One of the defining features of role playing games is the presence of a complex story. FF XIII has one involving FalíCie and LíCie, things which youíll have no idea about at the start of the game. The plot begins with things already in motion and spares no time in explaining anything. Snow and Lightning, the gameís central characters, are assaulting Cacoon and itís there they meet up with the rest of the cast. Speaking of the characters, theyíre almost all unengaging. Vanille isnít believable as a character and is insanely cheerful and Hope is the passive aggressive angsty type. Saz is the saving grace being the only appealing character. Not that any of this really matters because the gameís cutscenes have next to nothing to do with the plot. In fact if you want to know about anything thatís happening in FF XIII youíll need to read the load screens and Datalog. Itís almost a rival for Dark Void in incompetence in storytelling.
Unequivalently the best parts about FF XIII are the graphics and music. The prerendered cutscenes look amazing and the area designs are bright and colourful. The music is really nice; at times itís soothing and at other times sorrowful. The voice acting by the English cast is okay, although Vanille sounds terrible. Itís like sheís confused between doing a British or Australian accent. Strangely Fang also has an Australian accent.
Final Fantasy XIII is a case of jam spread across too much bread, thereís not enough enjoyment for the hours you put in. Itís boring because itís incredibly linear, repetitive and mindless. The combat system is decent but it canít stand up to 49 hours because it doesnít have the depth. The story is incompetently told and the characters unengaging. Final Fantasy XIII is a disappointing failure and is a huge step backwards in terms of game design.