Thunder and Lightning (FFXIII Review)
Final Fantasy Thirteen is, as the title says, the thirteenth "official" instalment of a game that was supposed to be Square's swansong. Of course, we all know how that turned out: the game did fabulously and spawned more games than I have fingers (mostly because I cut some off).
In this iteration you play multiple characters, but Lightning is the main one. She's a soldier who took up the job after her parents died so that she could take care of her sister and herself. Unfortunately her sister disappears after having an "accident" and it's up to Lightning to find her.
As with any AAA roleplaying game the graphics are amazing. The game is predominated with a non-isomorphic third person point of view detailing crisp and varied backgrounds with brightly coloured characters that neither stick out too much or blend in. Shadows are well rendered and a fine gradient of light levels exist within the game. This ensures when it's dark it's dark and when it's light it's nice and bright out. You can even tell the difference in lighting between simply overcast (and raining) and the shadow of tall mountain cliffs blocking the sun.
Frankly, a video can detail the graphics better than I can. So I went and found a video that'd do just that. Now if you don't want to watch the video because you're some kind of Luddite; except for the very beginning there's no difference between battle graphics, world graphics, and cutscene graphics. The beginning, sadly, has better cutscene graphics but you'll have forgotten the markedly small change in quality before the first chapter of the game is done.
I like Final Fantasy combat, I always have. It's nice and simple using menus and timed battle. FFXIII is no exception. Compared to the first it's an evolution for the better. The battle is dominated by two statistics; Strength which determines your physical damage (but likely affects your defense in some way) and Magic which defines magical damage (and possibly magical defense). The ATB or something something something bar has made a return visit along with summoning monsters.
That said, there's nothing original and there's better battle systems for roleplaying games out there. I love the Star Ocean battle system which allows you not only full control of the entire party, should you decide to do so, unlike FFXIII but also allows you to control where your character is on the battlefield. This is something that the conversion to three dimensional graphics allows for and should have been implemented in FFXIII. It doesn't have to be an isomorphic view like Star Ocean but frankly it should still exist.
There is a subsection that I want to cover here in the battle section: summoning monsters and how to get them. Much like in Final Fantasy Two you have to battle summoning monsters, or Eidolons as they're called, in order to obtain their use. Each player corresponds to an Eidolon and has a time limit in which they can defeat their Eidolon.
Sound can be clearly divided between two things: voice acting and music score. Both are pumped out to your speakers via Dolby Digital sound processing (Although DTS is likely usable as well).
Voice acting has been a staple in AAA games for a decade now and I'd say it's general consensus that it's been perfected. Sound comes from different corners and can be experienced best when walking by people who are talking. Yes, strangers that have nothing to do with the story will talk as you pass them by. This is frankly a better advancement than the battle system in my mind.
The second part is the music score. Its ability to express mood and emotion is certainly unparalleled but you'll find yourself tiring of it after awhile as it's pretty generic background sound.
When I say infrastructure I mean all that stuff that really doesn't effect direct gameplay. Essentially I'm talking about the menu system, options, replayability and such.
There are some ups and downs about the infrastructure. For one, you can still obtain gold. Unfortunately it's few and far between and despite access to a wide variety of stores saving up for the good stuff is well nigh impossible. Not to mention the good stuff still needs to be upgraded before it's useful in combat. All gold is good for in most of the game is buying cheap potions and antidotes.
Don't expect an open world until well past the halfway mark of the game. This game is a story and stories are, for the most part, linear. Exploration isn't a thing that's encouraged. With that being said though, once you can start exploring you'll be introduced to side missions, which Final Fantasy has never really advertised before in game.
The menu system is clear and concise with the one exception of finding where the controls are for who's in your battle team and who isn't. It's tucked away like an afterthought in another section that really doesn't quite cover what it's for. That section? Jobs. Each character can have up to six jobs but starts with three. Each job can be advanced via a tree like progression that's reminiscent of Final Fantasy Ten. You can only use one job, and its corresponding attacks, at a time but you can change jobs in battle on the fly.
The story to this game is well written, taking multiple viewpoints and incorporating them into a single flow. You play each character at some point and several times you'll be going to different places or have different goals than other characters. Do not expect to be returning to old places and re-exploring them for the most part however. The story, ultimately, is deep with twists and turns and lots of excitement but it's mostly progressed through cutscenes rather than gameplay.
Final Fantasy Thirteen is a good game for classic roleplaying gamers. It folds storyline and graphics into a mesh that keeps you curious. However the gameplay brings it down, there is absolutely nothing original in this game and very few parts that are even evolutionary. If you're used to games like Dead Space or Call of Duty then this game isn't really for you. In the face of other roleplaying games for the PS3 it certainly has those better graphics but the gameplay still brings it down. If I had to put a number on the game I'd give it a 5 out of 10. Unfortunately the battle system and it's lack of interactivity simply brings what could be a show stopper down to average levels.
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