Final Fantasy XIII (FFXIII) is an amazing game, a technical marvel signifying a new era in the Final Fantasy franchise. The game consists of classic a Final Fantasy storyline and well rounded characters and I was blown away by the stunning visuals and the fast paced action that seamlessly flowed from cut scenes to gameplay and back. I even had to restart the game after 30 minutes because I was looking at the stunning graphics and not listening to what the characters were saying!
Above the mysterious planet, Pulse, floats a society called Cocoon, inhabited mostly by humans. Humans live in perpetual fear of the planet below them and the taint it carries. This fear is perpetuated by the government and their military forces. Cocoon is maintained by strange and powerful entities called the Fal’Cie, who control everything from the governing of Cocoon to its food supply, weather and electricity.
The Fal’Cie (pronounced fal-see) on Cocoon split away from their counterparts on Pulse hundreds of years before the start of the game, which led to what would later be known as the War of Transgressions. Both the Fal’Cie on Cocoon and the Fal’Cie on Pulse exert their will over humans by choosing humans as disciples, called l’Cie (pronounced luh-see). These humans are branded and given the ability to use magic. L’Cie also receive a focus, a special mission that they have to complete to prevent them from turning into monsters (called a Cie’th). Should a l’Cie complete his or her focus, their fate is not much better because they fall into eternal slumber as a crystal statue.
Enter our band of (unwilling) heroes, who get chosen as l’Cie by a Pulse Fal’Cie. This leaves them with the choice: Do they complete their focus, or do they attempt a fight against their fate?
From the surly Lightning, to the overly optimistic Vanille, the main characters evolve and grow as the story progresses. Other characters include Hope, the slightly emo 14 year old boy; Sazh, the pessimist with a baby chocobo living in his afro; Fang, the warrior princess and Snow, the giant hero who solves his problems with his fists.
FFXIII drops you right in the middle of the action, running jumping and fighting against the soldiers. The action is fast paced and you are gradually introduced to the major characters in the story.
The first half of the game is fairly straightforward, with clear objectives and reasonable enemies. Players are gradually introduced to the battle system, the storyline and the characters and at no time does it feel forced. This straightforward way of playing may feel a bit linear at sometimes, but the storyline backs up the linear gameplay of the first half: You are on the run from the army. Did you really think you’d have time to shop and explore?
The new battle system is by far the gem of this title. Players control only one character at a time, the team leader, and the rest of the three man cell is controlled by the computer. Every character has access to six roles and various combinations of these roles are called paradigms. Much like the gambit system in FFXII, these paradigms are set outside of battle. Players then have the option of performing a Paradigm Shift during battle, changing the roles of the characters. There’s a good balance of roles, and although they have shiny new names, they are reminiscent of the jobs from the previous titles in the series.
The ATB (Active Time Battle) system also received an overhaul. Every character’s ATB gauge is split into multiple parts, allowing characters to create chains and combo’s by combining different actions. The “Attack” action, for instance, costs one ATB segment to perform, with more powerful actions costing more. This makes for interesting and highly enjoyable battle sequences.
The new ATB system, combined with the Paradigm system forces the player to think strategically during battle. Gone are the button bashing days where you pick an action, repeatedly entering it untill the enemy dies (or you need to be healed). Before battle, you have to make sure that you have a variety of paradigms that would suit you in any situation, and during battle you have to be vigilant and perform paradigm shifts at exactly the right time to avoid dying. The auto-battle feature is also cool, allowing you to let the CPU choose the best attacking
Characters develop by spending experience point on a grid that works like a combination of the sphere grid from FFX and the licence board from FFXII, through which new abilities are learnt for the various different roles. This method of character development is ridiculously simple to master and compliments the battle system perfectly.
When it comes to graphics, FFXIII really shines. Ever since Final Fantasy VII, the series became renowned for its breathtaking CG cutscenes. In FFXII, however, I sometimes found myself double checking the screen to distinguish between CG cutscenes and in game graphics – the in game graphic are just that good! The game also boasts some of the most beautiful menus I have seen in a game. Gone are the days of monochrome menus with little avatar pictures of characters on the status screens – we are now treated with gorgeous artwork backgrounds customized to each character.
It is really the attention to the small things like how lips move and hair blows in the wind that sets this title apart from the rest.
The scores for the Final fantasy games have always been epic, and it is no different with FFXIII. Masashi Hamauzu, the composer, managed to capture the emotion of the scenes with his breathtakingly beautiful score. Many die-hard Final Fantasy fans would frown at the occasional insertion of more contemporary pieces, and the theme song from Leona Lewis becomes somewhat forgettable after a while, but they never detract from the overall enjoyability of the game.
Despite some of its shortcomings, FFXIII is a highly enjoyable game that will keep you occupied for hours. Driven by the characters and the storylines, FFXIII heralds the coming of a new age in JRPGs.