Final Fantasy XIII: review

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  • Format: Xbox 360 (version reviewed), PS3
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Players: 1
  • Site: www.finalfantasy13game.com

If you’re not a patient person, you may as well write off Final Fantasy XIII right now. Square’s latest is an unfinished experiment, and the players are the unwitting guinea pigs. The game begins at a constipated pace, finally passing its first nugget of entertainment at about a dozen hours in. Those willing to subject themselves to such abuse will find pockets of brilliance in a product brimming with half-baked ideas.

Square’s design impetus with FFXIII was to streamline the JRPG. You’ll no longer run around a world map or dig through villagers’ closets for potions. In fact, you’ll spend the majority of the game running along a linear path. The creators have compared it to Call of Duty, with players always moving forward, bouncing between battles and cutscenes. It’s a clever idea, and one that, on paper, takes the strengths of the modern Final Fantasy games and puts them at the forefront.

Final Fantasy XIII does not deliver on this idea. What you actually get is one of the most mind-numbing dungeon crawls in RPG history. Missing from FFXIII’s linear design are the scripted moments that make games like Modern Warfare or Half-Life so magical. It’s just one static environment after another.

Most of the game is a vast network of bridges, hallways, and tunnels that serve no purpose other than to give you somewhere to go. The environments don’t help to tell the story, and in fact make the game’s strange and unique world feel empty and fake.

PhotobucketIt doesn’t help that the combat system, while eventually quite good, doesn’t completely open up for several hours. The game introduces the battle mechanics at a snail’s pace, each concept beaten into your skull by the time the next one is introduced.

The pacing of the story isn’t any better. Nothing really happens for the first 10 hours, and if not for some awkward in-universe terminology, it could be summed up in a single paragraph. The presentation doesn’t help either – sometimes a character’s motivations are only clear after reading the collection of glossary entries and chapter summaries tucked away in the pause menu.

From the empty environments, the odd story gaps, and awful pacing, it starts to become clear that Final Fantasy XIII was rushed to completion. In an attempt to get the game to the series’ standard length of 40-50 hours, each environment and enemy type is stretched to its breaking point. Each fresh concept is drip-fed so slowly that it feels like a desperate gulp of fresh air in a sea of boredom.

But what’s most disappointing is that Final Fantasy XIII was clearly made by a talented team. The game is incredibly polished, and often visually jaw-dropping. More than anything though, there are moments where the game shows its true potential.

PhotobucketOne scene late in the game shows how a linear, scripted Final Fantasy could have been amazing. In it, monsters lay waste to a city while soldiers fight to defend it – injured people line the streets, vehicles pass overhead, and most of the enemy placement is carefully scripted. Plus, since it takes place on city streets blocked by debris, the linear layout actually makes perfect sense. It’s one of the only instances where the game’s design actually informs the universe, making it richer and more believable.

The story even takes some exciting turns in the middle act. After wallowing in pretense for several hours, the protagonists begin to open up to each other. They go well beyond their one-dimensional introductions, revealing their flaws as they begin to grow and care for each other.

As two of the characters decide to run for the hills, they begin a sidestory of cowardice that stands as the one of the most unsettling and intriguing bits of storytelling seen in a game. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew split off, reuniting in heroic fashion for action scenes that will give you chills of excitement. Hope, a character who begins the game as a whiny wimp, eventually develops into a brave and likeable hero. Best of all, the game takes the time to show his growth and make it believable.

PhotobucketIf only the entire game was as good as these moments. The squandered potential is impossible to ignore, inflating the disappointment of the rest of the game. After that middle act, the game devolves into pointless meandering and endless one-liners, culminating in one of the most unfair and uninteresting final battles of the series. Sure, the ending might bring a tear to your eye, but only because you’ve been through as much anger, heartache, and suffering as the game’s heroes.

At the very least, Final Fantasy XIII does manage to simulate an epic journey, even if the places you journey through are lacking. You’ll traverse miles of land, battling enemies in a sort of “rock, paper, scissors” battle system. Your team can assume any of six different classes, each carrying key strengths and weaknesses. The AI handles most of the micromanagement, leaving you to swap between the classes and carefully pick the most vulnerable targets. Figuring out how to beat some enemies is like a puzzle. There are only a few solutions for each fight, making the experience strategic and demanding, if not a little exhausting at times. Thanks to the game’s endless dungeons, you’ll be forced to fight the same enemies over and over, well after you’ve discovered the trick to defeating them.

There is a lot of game here, including a ton of optional content that, if you enjoy the battle system, offers hours of simple entertainment. What’s ironic about this optional zone is that it’s a huge open-world area. That it’s the most enjoyable section to explore only exacerbates how much the game’s linear design fails.

What makes Final Fantasy XIII so unforgivable isn’t just that it’s heavily flawed. There’s a good idea underneath, and no studio with the budget and size of Square has any business selling its fans lost potential.

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Written by Joe D

Inspired by a love for obscure Sega Saturn games in the 90s, Joe is pretty much open to anything gaming has to offer. What he looks for in a game: creativity and strong design, or sometimes just an overwhelming sense of style.

3 comments

  1. As a fan of the series of games, and now as someone who has played around 50+ hours of this title, it really just seems as though you’ve read the review from Edge Magazine and paraphrased it…

    Yes, combat is introduced slowly. But this is pretty much a decent thing for old and new players alike. Tutorials are skippable and combat never *really* feels like an immense effort.

    Linearity? Which of the Final Fantasy titles haven’t been linear, up until a certain point, whereupon the a massive area become open to the player. Best example of this to refer to is Final Fantasy VII where, towards the end of the third disc, you gain the ability to access every nook and cranny the game has to offer. Essentially, your eventual arrival on Gran Pulse is the same and something this title has to offer over other FF titles is that the world continues to be playable after completion of the game.

    While this game is by no means the pinnacle of the Final Fantasy series, it’s better than you give it credit for. I’d be interested to know how much time you’ve put into it.

    • Joe D /

      I actually haven’t had a chance to see the Edge review, but comparing my review to such a prestigious magazine is okay by me.

      To address your other points, I think I went into great detail about why the game’s version of linearity was incredibly flawed.

      Gran Pulse is great in the context of the rest of the game, where you’ve been limited for so long, but it’s really just a glorified challenge mode. Either way, I did admit it was fun for players looking for replay value.

      As for the combat, the actual tutorial is skippable, but the part where the game eases you into everything continues for an excessively long time. I felt like Square was being condescending to their audience.

      As for your last point, feel free to check my Xbox Gamertag (DemonStration) and decide whether you think I played enough of the game. I can also say my save file read 51 hours when I finished so I by no means rushed through it.

      Anyway, thanks for reading and getting a conversation going 🙂

  2. Z00k /

    The truth is there is very little _game_ in FF13 they focused too much on the graphics. The story is not very good compared to even past games. It’s like one pre-rendered cutscene with battles interspersed along the linear path.

    “Streamlining” is code for removing the game from the game, and many so called “gamers” try to justify this because they are over-awed by their feelings for the graphics, character models and what little story their is.

    Truth is you cannot base a game around cinema it doesn’t work, God of war 3 is fully a game and has cinematic presentation but it doesn’t try to remove everything that makes 3D action games good.

    FF13 is a game that tries to remove everything that made former JRPG’s good. They really need to go back and reboot FF1, FF2 or FF6 and re-imagine either of them but copying their mechanics outright.

    I’ve been so annoyed by the lack of cool battle systems in JRPG’s for a while now.

    The RPG medium seems to have been hijacked by a bunch of failed bards who couldn’t cut it in other mediums and so thought a bunch of myopic geeks would be easy to muscle in on, and it shows that the real game developers have left and all you have is the equivalent of film school dropouts.

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