Final Fantasy XIII is possibly the most anticipated game in the entire celebrated series, so it should come as little surprise that, while it is a great and entertaining game, it just isn’t as good as all the hype made it out to be. Honestly though, it would have to have been one of the best games of all time to live up to the hype. It is still a must play for any fan of the series or the genre, there are just a couple of minor issues that prevent it from rising to the top.
The story is one of the highlights of Final Fantasy XIII, and it draws you into the world of Cocoon right from the start. Right from the opening scene to the end game cinematics, you’ll be drawn into the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse until the game is won. Perhaps the only downside to this is that Final Fantasy XIII is an extremely linear game. As you move forward from chapter to chapter, you’ll rarely revisit previous locations, and there is little room to go off the beaten path, even at the end of the game.
As usual, Square Enix has changed the battle and leveling system for Final Fantasy XIII, though they are both reminiscent of previous entries in the series. The battle system is very autonomous, and it appears to expand and improve upon the Gambit system of Final Fantasy XII. Called the Paradigm system, each character is given a role to play, and automatically chooses an action to do from a list of abilities for the specified role. Throughout the battle, you can switch out paradigms, or sets of roles, at will. This allows you to quickly heal your party when needed, or quickly switch everyone to an offensive role to do more damage. The only problem with this system is that battles are more about strategically choosing and switching between paradigms than it is about actually controlling any of your characters. Another aspect of this system is that if your lead character is killed, you lose. Any other character can be revived if they fall in battle, but not the lead. Additionally, your entire party is healed between battles. You might think this would make the game easier, but you’d be mistaken. Square Enix uses this as a way to increase the difficulty of every fight in the game. After the tutorial is over, which does take awhile, nearly every fight will be a high tension affair with death hanging in the balance if you are not smart with your paradigms.
The leveling system is called the Crystarium and is extremely similar to the Sphere Grid system of Final Fantasy X. Each character has their own Crystarium, rather than sharing a large grid as in Final Fantasy X. Instead each role shares a place in the Crystarium. As you collect Crystarium Points(CP) during battles, you can use them to upgrade your characters in various predetermined courses. You can upgrade any role you wish for a character, with upgrades for HP, strength, and magic along the way to learning new abilities for each role. Any abilities learned are only able to be used when assigned that role in battle, though the HP, magic, and strength upgrades are always present.
Graphically, Final Fantasy XIII is beautiful and impressively detailed. It is easily the most graphically impressive game I’ve played yet on any system. Oddly enough though, the cinematics look better on the 360 version while the actual game play looks better on the PS3.
The soundtrack of Final Fantasy XIII is great work as usual. It doesn’t have the instant classic feel of most previous Final Fantasy soundtracks, but it is definitely top quality work. The only disappointment I had with the soundtrack was the lack of the classic victory song. A variation of it has been in every Final Fantasy game until this one, so it’s sad to see it go. As far as the voice acting, it is definitely the best cast of voice actors Square Enix has used so far, although Vanille’s voice is irritating and annoying.
One other side note is that the loading times for the 360 version of the game are shorter than the loading times for the PS3 version.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII is a great game, with much to recommend it. Unfortunately, the linearity and the somewhat self-controlled battles keep it from being among the elite of the Final Fantasy series. If you love Final Fantasy, be prepared for yet another epic fantasy. If, however, you aren’t a fan of JRPGs or linearity in games, there is little here that will change your mind.
Plays Like: Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy X
Pros: Story is intriguing; Graphics are impressive; Soundtrack and voice work are great; Battles are epic affairs; Characters are great
Cons: Vanille is annoying; combat system sometimes feels like it is playing itself