Straight off, I will admit that I was one of the sceptics of Final Fantasy 13. Having been a die-hard Final Fantasy Fan from a very young age, every screenshot that I saw enticed me to buy a PS3 specifically for this game. However, when the coverage began on various sites, complaining about its linearity among other things, naturally, my expectations dropped substantially. Having been so excited for the game for so long, my gamer's heart broke a little. Looking back now, I really should have known better. Despite the fact that I was a sceptic going into playing the thirteenth iteration of the main Final Fantasy series, my scepticism was swept away like a flan being swept away by Bahamut's Mega Flare.
Final Fantasy 13, like every other iteration in the main series, has no connection to the other games other than some obvious references, such as Oerba Yun Fang's Kain Lance. The characters are different, even though one in particular seems to be a female analogue of a past character (I'm looking at you Lightning…I should really stop staring now). The story is again different to past games, though the main "Save the World" archetype remains. Final Fantasy 13 is a fresh experience in the series, and seems to be taking cues from Western RPGs in a sense, but it maybe goes too far in some respects.
The most striking thing about the game is its visuals. I would go out on a limb and say it is one of the most graphically stunning games we have seen to date. Some areas in the game are breathtaking, especially in the case of Gran Pulse, a stunning vista that seems to go on for miles. The character models are very well designed, even if I question some of the outfits *Coughvanillecough*. There are some moments when I said to myself, "Oh…that's a very obvious repeating texture." At times, especially when events on screen get very busy and chaotic, there is slowdown, but it does not detract much if at all from the experience. The animation is very smooth and crisp, and some aspects are very impressive. It is odd to say this…but they animated Lightning's hair very well. Now I must crawl into a corner and curse myself for noticing that.
Cutscenes, glorious cutscenes. I was definitely surprised to see that the cinematics in Final Fantasy 13 were not very long. Japanese games, especially JRPGs, are known to have very long cutscenes, however, I find it hard to recall a cinematic that lasted more than five minutes, other than the major cutscenes at the start, middle and end. I must say that some cutscenes aren't very action focused, nor do some show off the amazing job that their creators did on them, but one particular cutscene comes to mind when speaking about them. I believe it is at the start of Chapter 12, and though I won't spoil it, it truly showcases the work that the people that worked on Final Fantasy 13 are capable of.
The sound, as always, is a pivotal part of the game. The tracks aren't awfully memorable, and I was certainly glad that they didn't play Leona Lewis' My Hands too loud during the ending cutscene. My major gripes with the sound in the game, is the voice acting. Some of it…is painful. While most characters were well cast, others weren't. At times, the voice acting of some characters influenced me into not having them in my party, or being thoroughly disappointed when they were forced upon me. If I'm to be straight out honest, I didn't appreciate the voice acting for Snow or Vanille. While my dislike for Snow's voice acting was mainly due to the writing, Vanille is a whole other story. The character, or the voice actor, couldn't seem to choose an accent at times, and while I know that she is meant to be the happy character, to provide relief from some of the character's problems, at times it becomes too much. To quote Joshua Ivey on his recent article on this very game, "…some of Vanille's fighting noises sounds like she's getting off…" I'll end this portion of the article on that note.
The one thing I haven't really talked about, is the game as a game, and it's gameplay. I left this until last because it is undoubtedly the most controversial element of the game. Final Fantasy 13 is yet another departure from the battle system established as far back as the first Final Fantasy. Instead of turn-based combat at its core, Final Fantasy 13 uses a version of it, which results in much more fast gameplay. Like Final Fantasy 12, instead of controlling a party of three or four characters, you control a Leader character, and manipulate the AI in a very small way. This leads to some issues, as you'd imagine. At times, it feels like you don't have enough control over the sway of the battle, and also it feels like the AI is doing things you don't want them to do. Also, the Auto-Battle function is handy, but it also provides a slight cop-out option. As you'd think, these are major issues in a battle system, which at its essence, is quite good.
Paradigm Shift is your one and only ally that you can control in combat. If you've played Final Fantasy 13, you will know that there are six character 'classes': Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Medic, Saboteur and Synergist, which are all upgraded through the Crystarium system. In basic terms, Commando is your Warrior, Ravager is your Mage, Sentinel is your Guard, Medic is your Healer, Saboteur is your Debuffer and Synergist is your Buffer. This element then leads into the Paradigm Deck, where you can choose six sets of three roles for your characters, which can be freely switched between during battle. Each role is important in its own way, and the Paradigm Shift mechanic, even if it sounds complicated on paper, is easy to grasp, and also adds an element of strategy for those who wish to excel in the game.
As I mentioned earlier, the roles in Final Fantasy 13 are upgraded through the Crystarium system. At this stage, if you're reading this, your brain is turning to mush as this is boring you to tears, but bear with me. The Crystarium system is actually one of my main complaints about the game, even if the interface is polished and easy to use, and the concept is simple to grasp. The Crystarium system is extremely linear. It leads to very little customisation with your character, as it basically sets you along a path. Yes, it is very easy to use, and doesn't take a long-winded tutorial to explain, but that's just it. Its almost expected from a Final Fantasy game. The upgrade system is almost meant to be complicated, but ultimately rewarding when you reach that milestone. I didn't get that feeling of achievement with the Crystarium system. It's, for all intents and purposes, streamlined.
That segways into my next point. Final Fantasy 13, I believe, is very much a streamlined Japanese Role-Playing Game, and…I appreciate that. Despite the fact that I just criticised one of the main elements that makes this game streamlined, I do like the fact that its streamlined, as it seems to be a sign that Square Enix is starting to take cues from Western RPGs. The battle system is still sort of difficult to grasp in some respects if you truly want to be strategic, but it is still quite good. The linearity of a large portion of the game is disheartening, but it still put a smile on my face when I reached the boss area at the mission marker at the end of the map.
Final Fantasy 13 is definitely not my favourite Final Fantasy; Final Fantasy 7 still holds that position. However, that's not to say that I didn't thoroughly enjoy it even though I was disheartened by the media coverage that led me to not playing the game until five months after release. I will go so far as to say that despite my scepticism, I have been converted to a disciple of Final Fantasy 13. I felt connected to the characters, even though some of them were annoying. Hey, it's not like I expected to fall in love with the personalities, or voices for that matter, of every character. The story was intriguing, mainly because I have an outspoken disdain for government in real life as it is, but also because it developed the characters as it went, and made you empathise with them when their problems began and were resolved. Moments near the end put a smile on my face, I must admit.
Final Fantasy 13 is not a perfect game, but on the other hand, what is? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even if you can't question Lightning's…and again, I feel like crawling into a corner after typing that and not deleting it straight away. Looking at my in-game clock, and half-cringing, half-smiling at the 100:02:57, I'm happy that I did not miss out on the wonderful experience.
And its about time that we had another main female protagonist in Final Fantasy! *Crawls into a dark corner*
Stephen Barry is a fairly opinionated gamer with a yearning to write…and rant. He also tends to get angry at people who complain about Nintendo's trend of systems with not-so-great graphics. Take that how you will. So if you ever read an article by him, expect one of two things: a rant or discussion about a relevant gaming topic, or hating on Ninten-haters. Oh, and its pronounced Stee-ven, not Stef-en. He gets mad when people mix it up.