Graphics:
9.4
Gameplay:
8.1
Sound:
9.2
Control:
8.3
Replay Value:
8.5
Overall Rating:
8.7
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
Square-Enix
Developer:
Square-Enix
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
RPG


I’m going to make this abundantly clear right off the bat: Final Fantasy is not only my favorite role-playing franchise, it’s also my favorite video game franchise ever. Most all of the entries in this series have provided me with some of my most memorable gaming experiences of all time, which is why whenever a new FF arrives, it’s a special moment for me. However, as I sit and attempt to write a review for Final Fantasy XIII , I’m struck with a serious conundrum to which there appears to be no easy solution: as a gamer who appreciates great games simply for the sake of being great, I’m thrilled with FFXIII. On the other hand, for a long-time fan of RPGs and the franchise in question…not so much. I say this with a large amount of sadness and I try to be firm with myself; to admit that it’s due in large part to nostalgia; that I should learn to embrace the future and simply reward the game based purely on its merits. But hard as I might, I just can’t do it. There’s no doubt that FFXIII is a fantastic achievement and I love the game (I can’t stress that enough). But…well, you’ll see.

With every new Final Fantasy , we can usually expect anther “bar-setter” in terms of visuals, especially in regards to cut-scenes. Well, I will say this- once again, you will be blown away by the cut-scenes, which are some of the most exquisitely choreographed, beautifully artistic non-interactive pieces of media ever to hit your TV screen. That’s a given. But we’ve seen so many huge advances over the past year and it would be inaccurate to say that FFXIII’s in-game graphics are the best yet; past titles like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves , Killzone 2 and the recently released Heavy Rain set a new standard for gameplay visuals. This isn’t to say FFXIII isn’t gorgeous while playing, though. The environments, despite featuring linear paths, are large and wonderfully constructed, the character detail is excellent, and the overall effects and design are a pleasure to view. But you will notice a bit of blurriness here and there, a few minor hiccups, and a lack of shiny polish we saw with something like Uncharted 2 . All that being said, I doubt people will complain.

The sound is just as good, as we receive the great benefit of a fantastic original score – another common highlight of these titles – and tremendous special effects at every turn. Everything is spot-on and at no point do you experience a balancing issue where the music or effects compete with one another for the spotlight. The voice acting is interesting… We don’t have the single best cast for a game but we do have a competent one, even if some characters can begin to chafe after a while. You might grow tired of Lightning’s gruffness and Vanille’s bounciness in the early goings but they begin to show new emotions as you progress. The dialogue still needs work, though; it reminds me of George Lucas to some extent, in that the stories are great but he can’t write dialogue for beans. But really, just about everything will sound nigh-on heavenly, especially if you’ve got a decent sound setup. This may actually be one of the more musical FFs we’ve ever had; new and surprisingly complex pieces will accompany your adventuring at all times and although I still miss that classic battle theme, I suppose I can let it slide. The effects and music are just that good.

Okay, here we go; the meat and potatoes. Let’s get the facts out of the way first, and then we’ll move into the commentary and critique. Any game that’s as story-driven as this one requires me to be discreet about the plot and characters, so I’ll just say the storyline in FFXIII is very, very good and ultimately quite satisfying, as we’ve all come to expect from this series. Technically, the main character is Lightning, a former soldier who embarked on a brave – even rash – quest to save her sister, Serah, who has been turned into a l’Cie in order to serve the fal’Cie. You’ll learn more about those strange words and the back story behind them when you play; you should also appreciate the added writing and explanation provided by the invaluable Datalog. Now, as for game progression, it is indeed very linear for the first half of the game; you are pushed along a set path at all times, with very little in the way of exploration involved. Some will compare this to FFX but at least we had towns and other standard stops along the way, and we could usually backtrack, too.

Yes, it’s true: there are no towns to wander through in FFXIII. Much has been made about this absence, and when you combine it with a lack of levels (we didn’t have levels in FFX, either, remember), and several other elements that tend to make an RPG an RPG, the negative feedback must be expected. I’ll get back to this but for now; let’s just say that most of the game feels less like an FF or an RPG and more like a straightforward action/adventure game. You will encounter enemies in pseudo-real-time in the field; they will rove about as they did in FFXII but unlike the latter installment, where you simply encountered them right there on the same field of exploration, touching an enemy in FFXIII brings you to a separate battle screen. This is a throwback to the old days, but that’s where the resemblance to the “old days” ends. Once in battle, everything plays out in real-time; you can’t even pause the combat as you could in FFXII. You also can only control the leader and if he/she dies, it’s game over. You can resurrect fallen allies but you must stay alive at all costs.

You also don’t move your character manually, as you did in FFXII. All you really do is input commands and keep an eye on the action. You have an ATB bar – a definite standard – and when it fills, you can unleash your chosen abilities. The ATB bar is broken up into segments; you’ll have two at the start and that will grow as you move forward. This will dictate the actions you choose: for instance, Lightning’s Blitz requires 2 ATB segments so the bar must be that high before she can unleash that skill. You have the option of waiting until the entire bar fills and the character will automatically execute the chosen commands, or you can press Triangle at any time to have the character execute the commands available. So if you really just want to finish an enemy quick and you only need one more strike, you don’t need to wait for the ATB bar to fill entirely so you can attack three consecutive times. How your characters operate in battle is dictated by the Paradigm System. A Paradigm sets the classes for each character in battle; for instance, DualStrike is Ravager/Ravager for two party members while Tide Turner is Synergist and Saboteur. Same idea with three party members and you can fully customize any Paradigms. Classes include Commando, Enhancer, Medic, and others.

Character advancement is done via the Crystarium, which is a simpler version of the Sphere Grid from FFX. You basically move around circular graphs and grab skills and stat boosters; the added twist is that there are separate Crystariums for each class, and each class can be upped in level. You earn Crystarium Points from battles and can distribute them however you see fit. Any abilities you learn will be automatically added to your battle queue and with the help of Libra (Scan, essentially), AI-controlled characters will know which of their learned skills works best against a particular enemy. Finally, there’s the weapon and accessory upgrade system, which is also quite simple: all those seemingly useless items you collect from battles each can be applied to a weapon or accessory, and each is worth a certain amount of experience. So if a Thickened Hide grants you 8 EXP (I forget if it does; this is just an example) and you put 5 of them on your weapon, you’ll get 40 EXP. If the weapon requires 400 EXP to level up…well, you get the picture. Now, all of this works exceedingly well.

The AI is damn good, switching between Paradigms is fast and easy, and the micromanagement outside of battle (upgrading, Crystarium, Paradigm, etc.) will satisfy most any RPG buff. Heck, I didn’t even mention the Eidolons, which are technically the Summons; they join you in combat and you can even jump on ‘em and deal even more damage. In short, the depth is here. It takes a good 7-8 hours to unlock it all, but it’s there, and it’s most satisfactory. The originality of this combat mechanic – who ever heard of a real-time system that doesn’t actually have you control the characters? – is refreshing, the challenge is significant, and the possible strategies for players are almost limitless. Once you hit the 10-hour mark, everything gels together so beautifully, it’s tough to put the controller down. Add in the great story, the likeable characters, the unbelievable CGI, the top-notch music and effects, and the overall polish and refinement, and Final Fantasy XIII is one amazing production. …and yet, I have a problem. Like I said earlier, I can’t help it.

Look, despite the depth, this just feels as if too much of the control has been wrenched from my grasp for the sake of streamlining very fast battles. I wrote an article earlier about how twitch-gaming may have affected FFXIII and I can only conclude that this is definitely the case. This is for people who quite honestly can’t sit still for ten consecutive seconds. Even the cut-scenes, notoriously long in the series, have been cut down a lot. Just because there are a lot of things to consider doesn’t mean I feel that depth in combat; too much is happening automatically behind the scenes. You can’t ever control other characters in combat and although you don’t need to, that’s beside the point. You can’t even choose your own party until you reach Pulse and even then, your options are always limited. Some of my favorite things about RPGs was setting up the party I wanted, exploring the landscape and visiting the towns, and feeling as if I were part of a virtual world . And you know, people can rag on turn-based all they want; as far as I’m concerned, that has always allowed the most amount of depth and intricacy because you had time to select from endless lists of commands.

Well, Square-Enix obviously wanted to keep that depth but in order to appease those who have to constantly press buttons throughout a battle, they were forced to automate most of it. Think about having all the options of past FFs thrown at you in total real-time with full control over each character…wouldn’t even be possible, would it? So this time, when I cast Libra to learn the attributes of an enemy, I don’t need to actually do anything with that knowledge. All I need to do is hit Auto-Battle and my character will automatically select the best possible attacks based on that information, and my other characters will do the same thing. You know what else? I like to actually see the effect my party members have on enemies. I get Comet, I wanna see Comet. One of the coolest parts of RPGs is to test out new skills to see what they look like. Sure, you can catch glimpses of special skills in FFXIII but most of the time, I find I’m just watching a bunch of bars. I’m watching health bars for my allies and enemies, the Stagger bar, the Gestalt bar; it’s just a lot of bar-watching and I only realized a little while ago that I’m not actually seeing much.

In the end, I find myself in a real pickle. I have difficulty finding anything significantly wrong or flawed about this game. It all just works so, so, so well. If this was my first Final Fantasy or even my first RPG, I’d think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever played. But I really can’t shake the recurring feeling that Square-Enix has taken something away from me. It’s hard to pin it down exactly, but it’s the void I feel when I subtract so many beloved role-playing elements; the sneaking yet distinct suspicion that I’m not playing an RPG. Maybe that shouldn’t matter. Maybe I should take the bare-bones, almost entirely objective view on this and simply score the game based on its merits alone and without the influence of the past. In fact, I know it’s probably the right thing to do. And maybe I’d manage that if this were anything but FF; if this were anything but an entry in a franchise that has had such a profoundly positive and memorable impact on my gaming career. I mean, the camera can be a bit of an issue and control isn’t entirely perfect, but that’s not enough to knock it down below a 9.

Especially not when you consider everything that’s so damn great about this game. But hey, I’m human and I’m a fan. Perhaps I’m a human and a fan before I’m a critic. And because of that, I have to do this…I have to assign it the score you see above. However, I feel better that you all have an appropriate explanation as to why and I hope you won’t hold it against me.

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Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

FYI, Arnold's review will come this weekend. You all wanted so badly to have two separate views on this game…

Snaaaake
Snaaaake
11 years ago

We did?

LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
11 years ago

Damn, I was so close too…sure you don't want to add .01 to that score?

Alienange
Alienange
11 years ago

And score it a 8.71? What for?

LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
11 years ago

I think it's pretty obvious I meant .1 but I was unable to edit the comment and figured I'd deal with the downvotes since I was going to get them regardless.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

Snaaaake: Yes. Via e-mail and PSN messages. It just HAD to stop. LOL

Limited: Really? I don't remember what you predicted…

LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
11 years ago

BS!! 8.8 and you know it as do the rest of the regulars.

Alienange
Alienange
11 years ago

LOL the old "edit button wasn't working" excuse. You ARE as funny as some say.

MyWorstNightmar
MyWorstNightmar
11 years ago

Limited, the "regulars" wouldn't know what you predicted, because we know to skip over your comments entirely without reading them. =)~

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

Limited: Oh yes, I remember now. 😉

LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
11 years ago

Alienange,

You know as well as I do that the edit button fails when we need it the most.

Nightmare,

We used to have something special, don't stop believing in us.

8.8 I called it and close enough, booya!

Alienange
Alienange
11 years ago

I don't care what you say LV, an 8.71 is still a good score.

Silent_J
Silent_J
11 years ago

hey you got to act quick on that edit button before its gone.

kraygen
kraygen
11 years ago

@LV

When I saw the score I laughed inside because first thing I thought of was how you predicted 8.8 and Ben promised he wouldn't give it that score just because it's what you predicted. lol hilarious.

coverton341
coverton341
11 years ago

I haven't picked up this game yet, but it will only be 2 hours and 45 minutes before I track down a copy come hell or high water.

I for one think this is a great review Ben and the points you made seem like I will be having the same impressions of the game as you. Though I personally fell in love with gaming as much as I did because of all of Square's games not just the FF series. But that aside, I think I will, as I said in a separate article, enjoy the game for what it is and feel a bit nostalgic for what it lacks.

I, like many long time fans, was really expecting the first current gen FF to be an RPG extravaganza with summons, skills, limit breaks, magic, towns, and side-quests, and while everything anyone says about the game paints a wonderful picture it still sounds like what I have feared from the negativity and what you have confirmed. But, in the end I don't think an 8.7 is too shabby and I will give it a shot.

laxpro2001
laxpro2001
11 years ago

lol reading this convo made my morning

totozero18
totozero18
11 years ago

I held twitch-gaming responsible for this.

I can't understand people who can't sit through a cutscene or a in-game event, I mean sure, that kind of gamer can give it a try, but I find really unfair that the last entry of a franchise like FF had to become a bastardized hybrid between to genres. If you can't watch as the story unfolds or as the plot-twists revolve then
A): This kind of games ain't for you.
B): You don't understand anything of the plot (maybe because you're 10 yrs old, or… well I don't want to offend anyone).
C): You really need to stop eating sugar and settle down a bit.

My point is Square tried to attract more people by making the game more appealing to "Western" (actually twitch) gamers, but the way I see it they didn't stop one second to think "Wait this might actually alienate Good ol' JRPG fans" and of course there's M$ lurking in every corner, and that is the cause of the lack of freedom and exploration, I don't want to sound like a fanboy but this is not what xbox users are used to, ergo they made it fast paced and action packed.

P.D.: I always find myself encouraging my friends to try RPG games and from my point of view this is not the way to go.

rell
rell
11 years ago

I say bring back the ff creator who made the franchies wat it is i forgot his name but he made Lost Oddesy old skool turn-base game like ffvii, ever sense he left SE ff games aint been the same. I hope versus XIII be good like CC. Playb3yond

inkme101
inkme101
11 years ago

thank you for such an honest review

www
www
11 years ago

Yes, honest, that shows he's a good critic who didn't let his FF fanboyism get to him and issue a 9.8 or something lol.

WolfCrimson
WolfCrimson
11 years ago

This is what I like about this site, the reviews are all real, straightforward, honest, no-nonsense and objective. Thank you Ben.

That being said… I… I don't think I'll get this game. I can't. I was really hoping for a world to immerse myself into, something previous FFs provided.

DemonNeno
DemonNeno
11 years ago

@ Wolf

I think his views DID get in the way of the reivew. I wouldn't call this so much an objective review. Not that Ben's review is BAD! I think he did a great job, explained a great deal and entitled the game much of its deserved credit.

I knew the game would end up being this, however. Such a sad day in my world… You can't even pick your own party?! Really, now? Ugh.. What a bummer. I had no idea about this.. Along with everything else I'm not too keen about this game, another game design I'm now stacking on the CON side of the list.

Gamestop for Less than $40 is the plan.

Natalisrubbish
Natalisrubbish
11 years ago

OOOO! Awesome, Ready to read up. Im likely going to get it tomorrow if I can find anywhere with a ps3 copy laying around… lol.

Snaaaake
Snaaaake
11 years ago

I actually find more positive things in your review Ben.

Jawknee
Jawknee
11 years ago

"I wrote an article earlier about how twitch-gaming may have affected FFXIII and I can only conclude that this is definitely the case."

i.e. Xboxers. 🙂 i still find my Xbox friends hating on Final Fantasy especially now that the PS3 version has been proven superior. I have no idea why people find it so hard to play RPG's with turn based style battles. I too feel like controller over my party was taken away from me in order to streamline the battles. While i don't hate this aspect, and i am still very much enjoying the game, i do agree the effects "twitching gaming" has had on this title is a cause for some let down. As fast as the battles are, it seems it was necessary to do it they way they did.

The story is great. Top notch like most Final Fantasy's. I don't even mind how linear it is. The story seems to be keeping my attention away from that.

As for the game over if the party leader dies? Don't really see the point to that. Its more frustrating then anything. Great review Ben.


Last edited by Jawknee on 3/12/2010 1:05:55 PM

WolfCrimson
WolfCrimson
11 years ago

About the fact that it's gameover when the party leader dies: it's the same concept in FPS's. If your AI controlled teammate falls in battle, it's OK (like in KZ2), you can revive them. If you die, gameover.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

Wolf: Yes, but since when does FF hold ANY elements of an FPS?

shadowscorpio
shadowscorpio
11 years ago

Well its seem they're working on Final Fantasy Versus 13 now. Lets see if they can redeem themselves when it comes to what people didn't like about FF 13.

The best way to keep your customers is to actually listen and even implement what they want if at all possible.

coverton341
coverton341
11 years ago

Alright shadow, I'm not sure who let you in here with all that logic and reason but if you don't cut it out you're going to have to leave. Everybody knows the best way to keep your fanbase loyal is to do whatever you want to do and ignore what they think.

All joking aside, I have always found myself in more anticipation for FFvXIII even with my limited knowledge about the game overall. I hope you are right and they do take into consideration some of the gripes people have with XIII and with their recent statements on having some of the elements of prior FF games returning in future games maybe they are doing just that.

Anyway, I suppose we just have to wait and see at this point.

FullmetalX10
FullmetalX10
11 years ago

@shadowscorpio: I read several places that Versus XIII, would be more in the Kingdom Hearts style, meaning real time battles, so you probably won't find any turn-based there.

Though I kinda hoped FF XIII would be turn based, like the old FF's, and Versus XIII being like Kingdom Hearts, so I could have both those things, in a near succesion.

Bandit King
Bandit King
11 years ago

I completely agree with your post. Complaints aside I really like what I have played so far. XIII has what might end up being my favorite cast since FF7 and 8 (well besides Hope, but I always hate the kid characters in newer games for some reason)

johnld
johnld
11 years ago

@jawknee

I agree, i hate that when the party leader dies its game over. Its not like AI controlled players cant use a pheonix down. It would be the best option to use right, especially if your partner is a medic paradigm. i just reached that level with all the bomb monsters that self destruct right away. i know i died a few times especially when there are 2 bombs and 2 mechanical guys that take forever to kill. One of the bombs blow up then i get attacked by the mech guys right away. i do get the preemptive attacks a lot but the bombs just blow up right away.

Jawknee
Jawknee
11 years ago

Those freakin Bombs nailed me a bunch of times. It would make sense if a party member had Medic available and could cast revive. Seems logical.

Mr Bitey
Mr Bitey
11 years ago

I'm dying on the inside. The game arrived in the mail day 1. However, I've been going insane with finals, so I've only managed to squeeze in about 4 hours of playtime.

I've enjoyed the tiny amount that I've played so far. It took a few hours for the battle system to start to showing it's potential, but I think it's going to end up being an amazing game.

LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
11 years ago

The gameplay in FFXIII is very FF-Lite, I don't understand SE's reasoning for going this route. I understand the lack of towns and linear nature of the game deals with the way the story is told but there is no excuse for taking a majority of the control away from me. RPGs are as much about exploration as they are controlling your character/s decisions in battle.

People that were complaining about the gambit system in XII should be ripping their hair out over XIII.

Thanks for the review Ben, FF is my favorite gaming series as well.

Jawknee
Jawknee
11 years ago

At least we could turn off the Gambit system. The more i played with the Gambits the more i liked it. I hope that's the case with XIII. Although i have to admit, its taking much longer for this system to grow on me then the Gambit system did.


Last edited by Jawknee on 3/12/2010 1:19:39 PM

LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
11 years ago

Oh I agree, I love the gambit system. My party members were doing EXACTLY what I wanted them to do, it was a lot of fun mixing and matching different styles of play. XIII is the exact opposite.

Jawknee
Jawknee
11 years ago

Yup, I'm hoping when that Party Management option unlocks under Paradigm we get some more freedom. Switching party leader in the middle of battle perhaps? like in WKC's.


Last edited by Jawknee on 3/12/2010 1:27:38 PM

SvenMD
SvenMD
11 years ago

The gambit system was great. People may argue that it was "automated", but LV's point is right on – it was automated to do what I WANT! And that's at the heart of an RPG – I am supposed to control the fate of my party, not an "auto-battle" button.

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
11 years ago

The automation of combat seems to me to have taken several steps too far in that direction.

I have a problem with games that automate character combat. What am I actually doing in a role playing game if the combat is automated? One of the aspects of RPGs that is the most fun for me is the combat. When you go into combat, you might have the wrong skills set, or the wrong party members active and you have to formulate a strategy that works with what you have. You have to find ways to chain your attacks together in the optimal order for the enemy and your characters skills, you have to balance which turn to attack on in the hope of earning the best bonuses for finishing the enemy. All these things and more are part of the turn based combat, or real time systems that are not automated beyond my control. Not only that but I can challenge myself by deliberately taking the weakest party members, or the ones with the most limited range of attacks, or whatever other mix I want.

The level of automation described by Ben, and other reviewers, takes all of this out of my hands and removes a major reason for playing the game. I'm not arguing specifically against FFXIII here, I'm arguing against this level of automation in RPG combat. Turn based combat is a centerpiece of the traditional JRPG and old skool RPG games. Pushing everything to real time and automating the selection of characters and attacks so that everything automatically optimizes takes all of that away from me, the player.

Sad.

LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
11 years ago

^

I agree, it's as if SE cared more about telling a story than making a proper RPG.

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
11 years ago

I may try this game via rental, but I will have to get my head around it not being a RPG first.

cLoudou
cLoudou
11 years ago

Eff paradigm! eff gambits! turn-based FTW!


Last edited by cLoudou on 3/12/2010 2:13:08 PM

piratedrunk
piratedrunk
11 years ago

One thing you could do is set the battle speed to slow to give yourself more time to choose your actions. You still wouldn't be able to control your other characters directly but if the auto-battle thing bothers you it is definitely an option.

Silent_J
Silent_J
11 years ago

My cousin bought this ,so im probably gonna play it after he's done with it.Great Review.

Mavfan321
Mavfan321
11 years ago

This review is EXACTLY my take on this game. Especially the being part of a virtual world, for me a RPG works so well when you feel like you're doing a job within it, even if that job is (sometimes reluctantly) saving the world or something, you can still go visit mom, or go to an arcade.

Bromus398
Bromus398
11 years ago

Glad to see yet another honest review. I'm 40 hours into the game myself and I agree with you on almost every point. I guess my only knock on the story is that while it's been interesting, it's hardly fully engaging especially with quite the level of melodrama that's come along with what I assume was the change to voice acting in cut-scenes. Perhaps the story will pick up a bit for the last two chapters though, i'm not knocking it, it just feels a tad too goofy and awkwardly melodramatic at times – staples of jrpgs, i know, but still a bit disappointing compared to some of the clever translations of earlier FF games. Still great review, I've been feeling the game at around an 8.5 myself.

Monkeysnarf
Monkeysnarf
11 years ago

I think it’s telling of the series that when the latest game drops and doesn’t earn a 10, we all try and find out what is wrong with *us*. Ben that’s a good review.

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
11 years ago

I think it's telling when the first Final Fantasy game of the HD generation gets 8.7 from a reviewer who is a major RPG fan, and loves Final Fantasy above all.

It doesn't mean it's not a great game, 8.7/10 is a great score. However, it tells me that there is something lacking from the game.

Alienange
Alienange
11 years ago

Well if everything "works" as you say, then it's a damn good game and I'm glad it'll soon be mine.

Another bang-up job on the review by the way. It told me everything I need to know without destroying the plot and unleashing spoilers.