Final Fantasy XIII Review
|Release Date:||March 9th, 2010 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Andy Hemphill (Bandit)|
With a pedigree like Final Fantasy 13's, you might ask 'just what could go wrong?' And I will answer: A fair bit, and it's all down to too much innovation. While other games do need a little innovation to keep them fresh and exciting, Final Fantasy often goes a little too far.
Take FF10: a great game all round, minus the silly storyline, then Square-Enix (Squenix) decide to do a sequel, add a whole load of new customisation through the 'dress spheres', and messed it all up.
And so we come to Final Fantasy 13, the big one, the game that has been at the forefront of every fanboy's mind for years and the first of the series to appear on the latest generation of consoles, and is it any good? Yes. But it could have been so much better, if it wasn't for too much innovation.
Set on the artificial world of Cocoon, the game starts out with a Nazi-style purge as the ruling elite deport hundreds of thousands of people off planet through no fault of their own - their destination? Pulse, the underworld, a place steeped in myth and legends.
Into this dilemma comes Lightning, a gunblade-armed soldier bent on her mission and mercilessly driven (basically Cloud Strife, from the epitome of Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy 7. But female.) Along with her supporting cast: Sazh, a wisecracking pilot, Snow, a beefy freedom fighter, Vanille, a stereotypical and irritating manga-style girl, Hope, the most naive child ever, and Fang, a fallen soldier, Lightning has to battle an ancient evil while escaping Cocoon's rulers after being branded an outlaw and being given freaky magic powers by the FalC'ie, mechanical gods and feared protectors of Cocoon and Pulse alike.
So far so predictable RPG, but what really sets the game apart is what was put back into the formula - active time battles (ATB), cinematic mastery and a sense of humour, but while Squenix gives with one hand, they take away with the other: towns are gone, along with the world map and any sort of control you would have over your journey is taken off you for the first 20 hours, rendering the game more an RPG corridor-shooter than a free-roaming epic. Bad move Squenix.
Similarly the active time battle, which was scrupulously hit-and-miss since its heyday in FF7, has come back in roaring form - but you can only control one character. Instead rather than relying on each party member's skills to win a battle, you have to cleverly use a 'paradigm shift' to gain the advantage.
This sets your team up in a certain way - Lightning may be a commando, attacking consistently, while Sazh acts as 'ravager', hitting the enemy with ranged spells, and Vanille acts as medic, healing the group.
Later you may need to despatch a large group of enemies in one go, so the 'relentless assault' paradigm - two ravagers and a commando, would be the best choice.
One you've got the right paradigm the battles become manageable, and after you cause a certain amount of damage an enemy can be 'staggered' - lowering their defences for an easier kill, especially if you use Lightning's ability to take the battle to the skies.
There's also the usual variety of Summons- Ifrit, Bahamut and Odin are in attendance, but this time they fight with you, once you've won them over by beating them in single combat.
This ATB system also goes back to using the counter to time attacks, with different attacks needing more or less of the bar, which fills gradually. There is also the option to use 'auto battle' - where the system chooses the best attack for the situation, but I found that no fun at all.
While the choice to cut ATB command to only one character was an odd one, the paradigm system makes each battle that little bit more fluid, allowing you to admire the beauty of Squenix's imagination as you hammer the enemy into the floor. However, I couldn't help but feel like a major element of player control was taken away in the process.
This feeling is continued in the general gameplay. Simply put, for the first 15 to 20 hours you have no control of where you go or what you do - you have to follow the story as it unfolds, and there's nothing you can do about it.
You can't even choose who is in your battle party; the game does it for you. That said once you get past these opening hours the game opens up completely and you can chose your own path, but expecting gamers to stick with it for that long is quite the leap of faith.
The environments on offer range from the beauty of Cocoon's hanging cities to frozen lakes, seaside towns and flying airships, all rendered in quite possibly the best graphics I have ever seen. It's simply stunning, and pulls you into the world instantly.
The cutscenes are all CGI, but it's so good you wouldn't notice, and the characters themselves are well fleshed out and interesting to follow, minus Hope and Vanille, who tick every box in the 'annoying manga sidekick' department.
General exploration is carried out from the usual third-person perspective, but thankfully Squenix have done away with the hated random battle system and have instead let the enemies wander the map and look for you, allowing you the chance to dodge them completely or sneak up on them from behind for a brutal surprise attack.
It's a shame that Squenix chose to remove towns from the mix, however, as I used to enjoy taking a break between battles and going shopping - doing all the shopping through the save menu is both dull and repetitive.
While Final Fantasy 13 is still a great game, the incessant quest for innovation has torn some of the heart from the series' much loved style, the ATB system is a welcome return but the paradigm shift mechanic is just not the same as controlling three character's attacks at the same time. The early section of the game, with its corridor-shooter style, is unlikely to appeal to FF traditionalists either, especially those who like a little control over where you go, who you fight and who fights alongside you.
But stick with it past those first 15 to 20 hours and the beautiful graphics, decent (if underwhelming) story and incredible creativity of Squenix is sure to entrance you once again, it's just a shame they had to take away that which makes Final Fantasy what it is: freedom from the off. Now, would you kindly remake Final Fantasy 7? Please?
- Amazing graphics
- ATB is back, sort of
- Lengthy, engrossing story and world to explore
Not so good stuff
- First 15/20 hours is on rails
- Annoying sidekicks
- No towns and no early exploration