Published on March 29th, 2010 | by prime2
Final Fantasy XIII – Review
Summary: It's graphically outstanding throughout
Waiting for years for Final Fantasy installment is a particularly unusual feeling, but it’s undoubtedly a painful one. After what felt like an eternity of screenshots, trailers, announcements and import impressions, the PAL version of FFXIII is finally here. And at first, it’s massively disappointing.
After a searingly beautiful cut-scene that promises a world of wonder and unimaginable scope, Final Fantasy XIII drops player into a long, green corridor of despair. It’s barely interactive, all you have to do is push upwards and jab the A button as you bash your way through the tutorials, endless weak enemies and shoddy voice acting. And just when you think it’s going to end, you start the whole purgatorial trudge again as another character. For a Triple-A game, it has to be the worst first hour ever.
Quite why Square-Enix chose to kick off its most expensive project ever in such a fashion is a mystery, but mercifully, the opening 60 minutes are by far the worst you’ll find in the 50 hours or so that follow. The environments gradually start to open out, bringing more combat options, more narrative exposition, and a lot more enjoyment.
The world of FFXIII is a complex one, full of odd names and concepts. Basically, it tells the story of Lightning, a soldier, and Snow, a civilian with a cool hat, as they try and figure out the Fal’Cie, a strange entity that conscripts citizens to become l’Cie (essentially a servant) and have them carry out a ‘focus’ – basically a pilgrimage. As with every Final Fantasy game, it doesn’t ever really make sense, and takes a long time to reach any sort of coherence whatsoever, but the characters and landscapes are strong enough to compel you onwards.
None of this would matter if Final Fantasy XIII failed in its most important function – providing a engaging combat system. Thankfully, the protracted tale of Lightning and Snow doesn’t let us down, basing its battles around the turn-based ATB system, probably the most kinetic and engaging turn-based structure yet devised.
As opposed to the pseudo real-time brawling of Final Fantasy XII’s Gambit system, ATB owes much more to the classic to-and-fro of Final Fantasies past, but with one crucial difference: you only control one character in battle.
Yes, you still take a team into war, but your buddies will look after their own actions. You queue up your attacks based on the amount of ATB bar they’ll consume, and when the bar fills back up, you’ll strike.
As the game progresses, you can start to order your team-mates to fight in certain ways, forcing them to bias particular moves. It’s called ‘paradigm’, and adds the much need strategy to the fighting that the early stages are sorely lacking. When you begin to get tooled-up with paradigms, summons and great weapons, Final Fantasy XIII becomes as deep and engaging as any of its superb predecessors. And those who struggled with XII’s change of direction will find themselves in much more familiar and welcome territory. The tutorials also do a fantastic job of easing you into the complexities of battle, never overwhelming players with unnecessary information.
Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the Final Fantasy XIII package though, is its most obvious: the looks.
Character models have been rendered with the kind of lavish detail and care that is normally reserved for CGI movies, and the subtle motion blur and soft lighting only helps enhance its prettiness. And that’s before you get to the really special sights of the enemies. Square-Enix has outdone itself with a weird and wonderful bestiary that owes a debt to Tolkein and Geiger at times, but is absolutely unique to the Japanese masters.
So, the only real problem with Final Fantasy XIII – once that ghastly first hour is out of the way – is its own lack of ambition. It’s defiantly stuck in the JRPG template, entirely focused on the depth of its combat and the impenetrability of its story, removing almost all exploration and experimentation in the process.
It’s not for all tastes, especially given the advances in Western role-playing games in the last few years, but for those wanting the most beautiful and composed version of Final Fantasy ever made, then look no further. The beautiful people are back.