Final Fantasy XIII (PS3) PAL Final Fantasy XIII (PS3) PAL Limited Collectors Edition Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360) PAL Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360) PAL Limited Collectors Edition
Version Played: Xbox 360
Version Recommended: PS3

When one thinks of an RPG from Japan, the most well known of them all is Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy. It could very well be because of the quality and sheer scale of the games released each and every time. We have seen re-released versions on newer machines and even a remake of the third and fourth instalments in the third dimension. It is a global phenomenon, but everyone has their favourite. So whether you thought Final Fantasy VI was the pinnacle of story-telling, Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII was the coolest antagonist of all time or you actually liked the rather stoic emo-kiddie Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, they all have the namesake in common. After a slightly disappointing plot from the PS2 swansong: Final Fantasy XII, we finally get the next generation in this epic series. We oddly get Final Fantasy XIII in a multi-platform format, a first for the series. But is thirteen the series’ unlucky number?

It’s a little hard to pin down who is exactly the main protagonist of the game as it seems to be every playable character. You start out as Lightning, a girl with some vendetta against army types with Sazh seemingly tagging along for the ride. Also in the chaos surrounding them are a rebellion group called NORA, led by the charismatic Snow. During the chaos, a young mother is killed which leads Hope; a young fugitive, to resent Snow because he is to blame for her death. Somehow, all four of them and Vanille; a young girl also caught up in the events surrounding the introduction, to be ensnared by a “Fal’cie”. Much to their dismay, they are all now what the military forces have been searching to eradicate. It may take a while to process the concept of “fal’Cie”, “l’Cie” and all these weird terms, but think of it like ruling factions. Some of the godlike fal’Cie are on one side, whereas rest are on the other side. As it happens, the protagonists are all turned into “Pulse l’Cie”, which are the rebellious force. When you dissect the terminology, it comes down to it being a case of warring factions. Subtle twists litter the games plot and some really good characterisation make it a joy to play through. It takes a while for some characters to show their true emotions, but once they do they’re a little more believable than most that come from the Final Fantasy series.

A little blurred, but the environments are amazingly cut-scene like.

As with every instalment of the seemingly never-ending series, Final Fantasy XIII manages to up the bar in terms of visual presentation significantly. The transition between cut scene and in-game engine is very hard to notice now. The lights and brightness of the industrial areas, combined with more natural landscapes give it a varied tone. Even the Xbox 360 version looks stunning in comparison with most games out there. That said, the PS3 was definitely the first console of choice in development due to some graphical tears during cut scenes on the Xbox 360 version. Voice acting is top notch on most parts, as early game Vanille is so annoyingly happy and optimistic that it almost makes you want to tell her a kitten has just got run over. She seems to mellow out during narrations and emotional moments she has, but her voice is still too high. The others have the right sense of emotion during the plot moments, with Sazh sounding a lot like Lawrence Fishbourne did in The Matrix on occasion. Music is generally above average, though their dependency on “Serah’s theme” is a little too much for my liking considering how bland it actually is. Also: Leona Lewis? Talented singer maybe but why shun out many other talented singers for one that disembarked from the Simon Cowell train?

Characters in Final Fantasy XIII don’t level up per se , but are upgraded via the Crystalium menu. Each character has a maximum of three skill-sets which they can upgrade using CT points accumulated in battle. Classes vary from the offensive Commando, the defensive Sentinel, Medics and even classes that boost your stats or expose enemy weaknesses. Through this, characters get new moves to unleash over the enemy and new techniques to use instantly in battle. Thankfully like items, these are instant and on the fly unless you’re attacking, meaning you get a chance to recover quickly. The only thing about the character progression that doesn’t quite follow is that you don’t get a lot of money at all. A lot of the time you’ll be selling loot in order to gain GIL, to buy stuff you actually need. Weapons and accessories can be upgraded for more effectiveness, which helps balance the stats somewhat. It is also worth noting that while Crystalium is very similar to the Final Fantasy X level up system, it leaves little room for customisation, another one of Final Fantasy’s strong points.

Fighting seems to be what is done a lot in RPGs, and this one is no exception. Battles return to the ATB gauge routes the series is famous for, but with a significant twist. Gone are the staple MP/Skill power bars found in most games. Everything you can do is listed under a certain amount of the ATB it takes off per turn. For example, not everyone can “attack”, but those who can take one part of the ATB for it. This also means the almost complete eradication of customising everyone’s attacks, apart from your own of course. This is however the only familiar aspect of the combat system as everything else is completely different. Instead of controlling everyone else’s actions, you control what tactics they use in the form of Paradigm Shift. In the menu, you can customise what tactical combinations everyone uses, with some combinations focusing on healing and others focusing on sapping enemy strength whilst boosting your own. It does of course mean that everyone has some form of selective amnesia, but the system works well in terms of balance.

Enemies have their own gauge for you to exploit in the form of a stagger bar. If you as one might put it, “Lay the smack down” on your opponent a little too much, they understandably get weaker. This essentially means that once you decimate an enemy into this state, a large chunk of their health will be taken off quickly. Some enemies even change their state in order to make the advantage clearer, such as the trundling porcupine-like giants the game actually advises you avoid. Incidentally, the fact the game flat out tells you to avoid some confrontations is a bit of a tease. In actuality, it is definitely possible to beat those things at that moment in time. It just takes a while. Summons act a lot like they did in Final Fantasy X, in that they come out and start fighting. You still control your character while the Eidolon goes to town on the enemy. You also start building up a gauge, which can be triggered at any time to start “Gestalt Mode”. For those that think that Square-Enix have just tacked on a random definition, you’ll be surprised to know that it is English and has a real meaning that is incredibly appropriate. Gestalt means simply a combination of physical, mental and/or biological subjects that have a function which amounts to more than the sum of its parts. This couldn’t be more true for a summon that is able to take a human rider, but also does things it couldn’t do on its own. You activate a mode where you can press a certain amount of button combinations, depending on how far down your gauge is. When it has nearly run out you can activate the Eidolon’s ultimate attack, which is more reminiscent of the attacks of old.

As things open up later on, the potential for lighting goblins on fire returns.

My only real criticism of the battle system is that should the character you control die for whatever reason; Game over. No second chances. No allies rummaging through their inventory to find a Phoenix Down or cast a Revive spell. Just flat out Game over. When you have enemies that deal a third of your health in damage surrounding you, you get the feeling that it has a quota of how many times it has to kill you in a single session. All it leads to is immense frustration, and makes some battles just severely one sided. While this is surely annoying, the biggest problem with Final Fantasy XIII is that it is incredibly linear. For a series that once boasted on exploration and side quests, there is a sheer lack of it in the latest instalment. Someone once described it to me as “running through a tunnel, chasing the orange dot”. Essentially that person hit the nail on the head. Think of it also like Pac-Man where the little dots are replaced by ghosts. It is fight after fight after fight, and when you get to the orange dot it is a case of cut scene or boss fight. Engaging these enemies is more reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII in that you must approach them when they’re not aware of your presence to gain the upper hand. This makes the aforementioned stagger bar almost full on each enemy you encounter in the fight and grant you a full ATB bar for each character. It worked in the previous Final Fantasy and countless other RPGs, but then again so did exploration! You have the option to backtrack in case you missed an item or want to grind, but this is rarely the case. However, you can only backtrack to as far as the first area of each chapter or particular segment. The only advantage to having such a linear path is the emphasis on plot and battles. Both these aspects are comparatively well executed. But the lack of exploration will have veterans wondering just what is happening to their beloved series. A concern I happen to share at this point. The game does open up slightly towards the end of the game, but by that point it is too little too late. The damage has already been done at that point.

To say that Final Fantasy XIII is the disappointment in the family is a little bit of an understatement. In all fairness, it did address the biggest problem in Final Fantasy XII; story progression. There is the right amount of tension and the plot is one of the best in the series. Even the Xbox 360 version’s visuals are above par, but the best experience should come from the system it was actually designed for. There are even fresh ideas within the confines of the corridors. But fundamentally it isn’t Final Fantasy. Why? Because a lot of the characteristics don’t fit at all with what the series is famous for. The battles are linear and scripted, battle system; linear. If it wasn’t for the big logo on the front and the brooding looking characters then I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. In theory, I could condense this entire review into a Haiku, “Just a series of tubes, with monsters”. But this would be inaccurate because it does open up towards the end of the game. By then though, you’ve probably already gone back to your age old Playstation (PSX) for yet another trip down memory lane.