Developer: Square Enix / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Teen (Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $39.99
In the past few decades the world of Final Fantasy has gone to space and beyond, literally. From humble beginnings on the NES to the latest installment on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, Final Fantasy XIII brings the franchise to a new and beautiful look and feel. A cast of characters with hidden pasts somehow find their way onto a train in which the dread l’Cie have taken over on a “Purge.” The only way to survive is by fighting their way out of a sticky situation. One girl is the cause of all of this, she has fulfilled her “Focus” and has given them theirs. It is their mission to protect “Cocoon” at all cost. Can they band together and save the world, or will their goals separate them completely?
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Any fan of Final Fantasy knows what to expect out of the gameplay. It hasn’t changed much over the years. Upgrade systems and a few items have worked their way in to better the series. By all accounts, this one is a departure from the traditional Final Fantasy gameplay we have grown to know and love. In Final Fantasy XIII Square Enix have updated and upgraded the combat system in ways that make it not only comfortable to use but enjoyable to play as well. You control one character and the other two are on auto-pilot. Fans may not enjoy this as much but for you non-believers, you play as every character throughout the game. So if you prefer Zazh over Hope, guess what, you get to play as Zazh.
I was very pleased with the Crystarium upgrade system as well. In previous upgrade systems things could often get confusing on the way to the final choice. In the Crystarium you go on a linear upgrade path. Granted, there are a few side upgrades you can get, but those are worth it. You earn CP’s and you can put those towards the Crystarium upgrades. Weapon upgrades are simple as well.
A few changes were added that I wasn’t a fan of. The lack of markets you can visit is a big one. I remember going to Wal-Market in FF VII and buying new Materia and weapons. Everything is done via the save point in this game. It’s quite a shame. Those are more personal touches, some folks might enjoy the new look on shopping. Another minor but important gameplay mechanic that I loved is potions and phoenix downs do not count towards your allotted time during combat. That is a huge plus because if you are running without a medic, curing yourself can be a pain. Paradigms are another new mechanic in FF XIII. You can shift on the fly to the different classes your characters have and it makes combat completely different. A ravager and commando can be tearing apart the bad guys while a medic is curing everyone. It makes the combat ten times better than in previous games in the series. The combat system is a great gameplay mechanic.
Final Fantasy has always been known for its style and design when it comes to levels, worlds, and characters. Final Fantasy XIII looks fantastic. The near seamless cuts from in-game graphics to the CGI cinematics are breathtaking. The characters look and feel as real as the possibly can, given the world that is presented. Facial skin tone and depth to the look brings these characters to life. The environments and level design have been taken up a notch. It’s rather difficult to explore with such linear gameplay, but if you do stop and take a look you will be surprised how detailed the textures and structures are. Each creature is distinct and recognizable from one another. Not to say they didn’t re-skin some here and there, but for the most part the enemies in the game are well done. As a whole Final Fantasy XIII is the best looking in the graphics department so far.
The sound design in Final Fantasy XIII is pretty good. The score can be hit or miss sometimes. At some points the music is pulsing with rhythm and heart and the next scene it takes you out of the story completely. I guess this is what happens when Nobuo Uematsu doesn’t do the score for the game. Nothing against the new guy, but it wasn’t consistent. The voice acting is done very well. A few of the characters can be quite annoying at times, but it’s tolerable. Characters like Vanille and Hope just get super bubbly and emo at times and it presents many earaches. The sound design is really well done. Ambient noises and footsteps are well crafted for this game.
The control layout is very simple and, for the most part, unchanged from previous titles. My only gripe with the controls is the camera movement. It is very unresponsive. When you are walking around and you want the camera to rotate left or right it sometimes doesn’t move as fast as you want it to, or it moves so fast that it gives you a odd camera angle. Other than the laggy camera, the controls are near perfect. The paradigm button layouts, menu navigation and combat controls are all simple. It would be hard to be confused by the controls in FF XIII.
Final Fantasy games are not for everyone, but for those of you who enjoy them I think you will be surprised with the dedication, look and vibe, which are all spectacular. Audio can be a bit of an issue, as well as some of the controls, but that shouldn’t deter you away from it. Is Final Fantasy XIII a perfect game? No. Is it close to perfection? No. Is it a fun game that deserves your attention and love? Yes. Final Fantasy XIII is a good game that belongs in the upper echelon of the franchise. A beautiful looking game with an engaging story is what needed to be delivered. Final Fantasy XIII delivers more than you expect. .