Guest entry: FFXIII Indepth Review

I'm honored to post an entry by a very good friend of mine of his take on the newest installment of Final Fantasy XIII. Here you go!

Firstly, what's under review here is the PS3 version of Final Fantasy XIII, simply because I could care less for the XBOX 360 release. I own both systems, but Sony has my love. Next, rest assured there are **NO SPOILERS** in this review. One of the greatest features of every game in the Final Fantasy franchise is the ability to intertwine a detail-rich storyline with a highly enjoyable playing experience. Without fail, Final Fantasy XIII delivers this in spades. There are however, many aspects of this new inductee that, well, don't exactly sit well with me. Perhaps you will relate to these "issues" as well. So, without further ado, let's get on with this review (ummm yeah, that rhymed :P):

Graphically Astonishing
Square Enix has absolutely obliterated past games with their latest release. I'm playing the game in HD 1080p using an HDMI cable and everything from the cutscenes to the actual gameplay is breathtaking. Sometimes it really is tough to tell the difference between the cutscenes and the in-game footage.

The one and only drawback I see is the rich vibrant colours. You may say "Yeah, that's a GOOD thing!"... well, I say that when the entire world is green, rich, vibrant, beautiful, it gets annoying :D More random weather disturbances, a little grime here-and-there, not-so-perfect clothing, etc. I see the detail in each strand of hair - so where's the other realism in the other aspects of the game?

Pleasant to the Ears
The music is great, the sound effects are on-point, and everything of this nature fits very well with the visual experience. The music is not as "catchy" as previous games have had, as in, I'm not running around the Internet trying to find a sample of a certain song I've heard in-game.

Now, I'm not sure if this is due to not having a home-theatre system setup, but the volume levels for this game seem completely outta whack! The music is 90% of the time the fore-front of what you hear, meaning that while dialogue is supposed to be unfolding a sumptuous slice of the storyline, all I hear is music. Gah! That's what I get for using the built-in TV Speakers?? I've adjusted the audio settings on the TV for speech only, turned on/off the auto-volume adjustment feature, etc. to no avail.

Gameplay for the Ages?
It took me a little while to get comfortable with the gameplay, and while it more than gets the job done, it leaves a little to be desired. Unlike the majority of previous games in the Final Fantasy series, you technically control one 'lead' character at a time.
Sure, you get to control/micro-manage each character at various times, but in battle - you control one. The rest is left to AI and the functional in-battle management of "paradigms".

These are basically predefined battle stances/styles that allow you to set up your team of 2 or 3 in any sort of fashion you like, and you can have multiple paradigms per team combination.

Soooo this means, when your team consists of, for example, the characters Lightning, Snow and Vanille, you can set up multiple paradigms that predefine their roles in battle.

Example 1 - Paradigm A:
Lightning is set up to be a "Commando"
Snow is set up to be a "Sentinel"
Vanille is set up to be a "Saboteur"

Example 2 - Paradigm B:
Lightning is set up to be a "Ravager"
Snow is set up to be a "Sentinel"
Vanille is set up to be a "Medic"

When you next enter a battle, your team will be set up under Paradigm "A" to start with, as you can have a default. As you incur damage and/or require the assistance of a magic user (the "Ravager"), you may switch instantly to Paradigm "B" - at any time. As soon as your team is healed up, you can instantly switch back to Paradigm "A" to maximize your damage potential. There's no limit to the number of times you can switch between paradigms, and you may only set up paradigms when not in-battle.

As you learn to maximize the benefits of your offense/defense paradigm "shifts" in-battle, the quicker you can end the fight - leading to a better scorecard. Scorecards determine the goodies received, technical points restored (used for summoning Eidolons, etc.) and a couple of other things I never look at anymore.

Outside of battles, the gameplay consists of juggling between lead characters, moving along linear paths, in parallel. This, I hate. I have not yet finished the game, I'm in the middle of chapter 8 of xx and there is still no sign of being able to put my own team together and freely explore the world as I see fit. Words can't express my angst when it comes to this.

I will not harp on this anymore than is required, but I need to say, thus far, there have been no side quests/missions, no clear 'lead' character to relate with, and 15+ hours of play until I touched my first "real" Chocobo... really Square? Really?!?

Intricate (aka Convoluted) Storyline
To start with, and sorry, maybe I missed this, but who is the enemy? Good vs Evil - all games pretty well come down to this, and don't give me the "everything is not black & white" line. Seriously, as much as the storyline is very involved, rich with detail, blah blah blah - it's hard to follow, and this is after reading every update in the datalog (the built-in journal - yes, this game requires it!). Fal'Cie's, L'Cie's Cie'ths, Pulse, Sanctuary, Cocoon, and every possible combination of these words used to describe the world of the 13th installment, creates a foul smelling air of "wth is going on?!".

I love the characters, I just wish they weren't stuck in a world that requires so little of them. In the middle of all this mass confusion, namely, the story, you could easily have picked random soliders and pets to play the lead roles, as no one character stands out to take the reigns and make the story "theirs".

It's challenging to keep players engaged when the end goal is still not defined 15 hours into the game. Chapter 8 people!! And I'm just doing what the game tells me to do. I know that something will happen every 10 minutes (aka the evolving storyline), so I will fight through nonsense to get to that point. At each of these points I've been hoping the story will take me to that happy place that will give me a reason to pull an all-nighter... do the math folks 15 hours, every 10 minutes is a storyline development -> been through 90 "points". I still play, because I can't believe Square would have done this; call me an optimist.

Conclusion... because I can't type anymore
Detail-rich storyline? Check!
Highly enjoyable playing experience? Check!
Successful fusion of the two points above? Check...ers... gah... I may have changed my vote here a tad.

I will reminisce because that's all I have left to do:
- I miss the ability to control all the characters
- I miss the evil dude, and then the "real" evil dude, and then the "actual" evil dude "routine"
- I miss the side stories, and the choice you had to follow them or not
- I miss the XP based system, although the CP system is not thaaaat bad
- I miss the freedom to randomly explore whatever the hell I want to
- I miss the legendary/epic weapons/armor that are somehow found while they lay dormant through the ages

Some cool things:
- no more healing between fights
- no MP (mana) regen based system
- fights require a bit more thought than just "hit 'em! again! again!!"
- the summons are wicked cool animations

This is Final Fantasy folks, just not the one I was waiting for, and neither is it the one I hope Square Enix will base their future releases on.

~Jag Brar


  1. Great stuff Jag! you're gonna make me trade in my games to get it now! :P

  2. Half-way through Chapter 9 now.
    Somehow this game is keeping my interest!

  3. ff13 ruleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzzz

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