Published on February 26th, 2010 | by prime0
Final Fantasy XIII Hands On
When it comes to post-1997 Final Fantasy, there’s a certain acceptance that each iteration has failed (some spectacularly so) to live up to the series’ highpoint, that rather than build upon its legacy, Final Fantasy has simply given up, content with wallowing in the shadow of its former self. So, while the release of this thirteenth Final Fantasy overlapping the thirteenth anniversary of FFVII may be purely coincidental, it’s also the perfect opportunity for Square-Enix to silence its critics. It’s been a long time coming but with the power of PS3 by its side, can FFXIII finally outclass the series’ thirteen-year-old darling?
Ironically, it starts not unlike Final Fantasy VII, aboard a cargo train heading into a green-hued urban area known as Hanged Edge, a zone on the edge of the city of Cocoon torn in a fight between PSICOM soldiers and a rebel alliance. It’s here that we first meet Lightning, a former Cocoon soldier, and co-star Snow, the head of Hanged Edge’s resistance group, whose paths suddenly collide as she attempts to save her sister from the terrorized city.
Hanged Edge is atmospheric if not spectacularly well designed, where identikit single-path highways and railroads funnel us through an introduction to the game’s combat system. There have been some big changes made to Final Fantasy’s combat over the years, of course, and some necessarily so, but FFXIII undoubtedly marks the biggest of them all.
FFXIII’s Active Battle System is very much a continuation of its immediate predecessor’s doing away with random battles and replacing them with visible enemies in the environment, but with one key difference: that control is limited solely to your party leader, rather than every member of your team. It’s a dumbing down of sorts but works remarkably well, with other party members performing actions for themselves, allowing you to focus purely on whichever member is leading your party at the time. It’s much faster as a result, with the ATB gauge letting you string together combinations of moves to unleash simultaneously. For example, Lightning’s opening ATB gauge offers two move slots – a standard attack on a single foe takes one, while her Blitz move, which damages multiple enemies within range of the blow, consumes two. Continuing to attack the same enemy, chain attack gauge, in turn increasing the damage dealt with every blow, and once the bar is filled you’re able to ‘stagger’ your foe, which increases your attack damage significantly. Items, too, are free actions rather than anything requiring a turn, allowing you to use potions to recover your team’s HP, or Phoenix Downs to recover a fallen comrade without expending any of your ATB gauge. And though your allies can fall, if the enemy manages to KO the partly leader, it’s an instant game over – so be sure to keep an eye on that HP bar at all times.
But if this all sounds a bit too confusing for you, rest assured that in practice it really isn’t. The combat system is far more accessible than that of any Final Fantasy previous with the included auto-battle option a life saver to anyone who have been put off by the barrage of options thrown at them in Final Fantasies gone by. FF vets won’t want to touch it with a barge pole, of course – the system reduces combat to nothing more than mashing the X button – but the fact that it’s there shows Square-Enix’s intention of opening Final Fantasy up to the widest spectrum of players possible.
Of course, the most important element of any Final Fantasy title is its story, and with only having played the initial few hours, it’s difficult to comment on too much. What we will say, however, is that the English voiceovers, though far from perfect, are still fairly impressive for a JRPG, and complete with some remarkable lip-synching. You’ll still have to put up with the hammy dialogue, however. The visuals, too, are gobsmackingly beautiful – its environments are striking, and its character models and CGI are easily the best we’ve ever seen in a videogame.
FFXIII’s visuals are gobsmackingly beautiful – the CGI is easily the best we’ve ever seen in a game
So, it’s a return to form, then? Well, we have to say that the jury’s still out on that one. But however Final Fantasy XIII turns out when it launches next month, it looks like it may be the most refined and most accessible JRPG ever, and certainly the most gorgeous.