Greetings, readers! With the January 31 release of Final Fantasy XIII-2 drawing near, and the PSN demo fresh in our site’s mind, it seems to me that now is a good time to look back at Final Fantasy XIII, a game that many loved, many hated, and many ignored. Released late in 2009 in Japan and in March 2010 everywhere else, Final Fantasy XIII finally brought the series into the seventh generation of gaming, with release on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Final Fantasy XIII tells the story of six people trying to save themselves and their world from being destroyed. In the process, the characters each become marked as “l’Cie”, giving them an unbreakable quest called a “Focus”. If the six fail, then they become shambling crystalline zombies. The ones giving these “Focus” quests are known as “fal’Cie”, the guardians and protectors of the world. If the plot of Final Fantasy XIII seems unnecessarily convoluted and silly…it is. The plot is hands-down the weakest aspect of Final Fantasy XIII, a nonsensical and pointless mess. Sadly, the characters are not much better; while their backstories are intertwined, none of the characters are particularly interesting or exciting in and of themselves. Mercifully, every cutscene in Final Fantasy XIII is skippable, so players are not forced to sit through the boring nonsense. Still, it is highly disappointing to play an RPG – particularly a Final Fantasy game – with such a disappointing plot.
The gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII is an interesting beast. Final Fantasy XIII is, for much of the game, painfully linear; the player is railroaded into a tunnel of cutscenes and battles. Midway through, Final Fantasy XIII suddenly becomes overwhelmingly open, but finishing the game requires a trip back into the tunnel. The battle system of Final Fantasy XIII is by far the best part of the game. Using a modified version of the traditional ATB system, Final Fantasy XIII uses a heavily-simplified job system. Taking one of six roles, characters can perform different in-battle jobs and actions. By shifting “Paradigms”, the player can control the party’s job make-up in a very similar manner to the shifting in Final Fantasy X-2 battles. The player controls the party’s leader; the other two party members are left to A.I. control. Remarkably, the A.I. in Final Fantasy XIII is decently intelligent; if an enemy has a weakness, the computer-controlled members will react accordingly, and the computer-controlled healers will prioritize the party leader and those who are lowest on health. The party is fully healed after every battle, and any battle can be retried. Surprisingly, though, Final Fantasy XIII is by no means an easy game. While not obnoxiously difficult, battles in Final Fantasy XIII are challenging, and the enemies in the linear portions of the game are well-balanced for the party’s capabilities.
Clearly inspired by Final Fantasy X‘s “sphere grid,” the “Crystarium” system for leveling allows the player to level each character’s job individually. Nodes on the Crystarium are filled using “Crystogen Points,” the Final Fantasy XIII version of experience. The Crystarium is appropriately linear, with few branching nodes breaking off from the main path. Roles on the Crystarium are, for most of the game, locked to certain characters, and each character has a unique version of each Crystarium role. Different levels of the Crystarium unlock as the party defeats certain story bosses, setting a cap on the player’s ability to level grind. This means that, for most of the game, the party and enemies will be appropriately balanced. It also means that, for most of the game, the player actually has very little input on how his or her party will develop as they level up.
The Final Fantasy series has always been known for its excellent graphics, and Final Fantasy XIII is certainly no exception. While the Xbox 360 version of the game does have some graphical issues, the PS3 version of the game looks spectacular. The game is colorful, and the world looks vibrant and interesting. It is a shame, then, that the player is railroaded onto a linear path for so much of the game. Final Fantasy XIII also sounds good, though admittedly most of the soundtrack is forgettable. A few tracks, like “March of the Dreadnoughts” and the introduction theme, do stand out, but the music of Final Fantasy XIII is largely unmemorable.
Final Fantasy XIII has received a great deal of praise and hate, for various reasons. For a gamer seeking an interesting RPG battle system, Final Fantasy XIII is definitely a game worth picking up. However, the story-seeker would be much better off avoiding Final Fantasy XIII and its convoluted mess of a plot. If one has the choice of version, the PlayStation 3 version is easily the one to pick up, as the game simply looks better on the PS3’s Blu-Ray over the 360’s three DVDs. Final Fantasy XIII is, in this reviewer’s opinion, a solid entry in the franchise that is a great deal of fun to play. As for you, readers, do you think I am wrong? Is Final Fantasy XIII good, bad, overrated, or underrated? Discuss Final Fantasy XIII in the comments, dear readers! As for this reviewer? Final Fantasy XIII-2 has already been pre-ordered.