(http://www.finalfantasyxiii.com/) Rated Teen by ESRB. Announced five years earlier, Final Fantasy XIII has been one of the most anticipated titles to all gamers around the world. The series has, over the years, has become a benchmark for graphics and is constantly reinventing itself with every installment. FFXIII is no different, as it emerges from its long absence embracing two consoles, and an updated battle system that is meant to speed up the game, and better accommodate the new generation of gamers and console users alike. There are plenty of contrasting expectations for this game, but however different they are, FFXIII is a dazzling new universe like no other Final Fantasy before it.

(http://www.finalfantasyxiii.com/) Rated Teen by ESRB. Announced five years earlier, Final Fantasy XIII has been one of the most anticipated titles to all gamers around the world. The series has, over the years, has become a benchmark for graphics and is constantly reinventing itself with every installment. FFXIII is no different, as it emerges from its long absence embracing two consoles, and an updated battle system that is meant to speed up the game, and better accommodate the new generation of gamers and console users alike. There are plenty of contrasting expectations for this game, but however different they are, FFXIII is a dazzling new universe like no other Final Fantasy before it.

Presentation:

The story starts in Cocoon, an encased world floating inside Pulse. Pulse, avoiding spoilers here, is a mysterious world many times larger than Cocoon. Unlike the imaginative astronomical phenomenon, all six playable main characters feel like someone’s favorite character from a different time and universe. Brought together by some twisted fate, flashbacks throughout the game slowly unravel the mystery of how they came together; and more importantly, how they now share the burden of being hated by the very world they all love. Although they provide a cast of distinct characters, the awkward combination reduces the storyline to a plethora of “Let’s move forward!!” Fortunately the events in the game as well as other in-depth information are automatically updated in the datalogs section of the menu, which fill out the story beyond the brief dialogs and serve to increase the richness of the game universe.

 

Despite the abundance of drama, there are nothing jaw dropping in the story that was expectant of the Final Fantasy in the Squaresoft days. Even so, it is still an enticing and emotionally touching story one will want to see to the end.

       

Graphics:

The graphics appear to be the major sell point of the Final Fantasy brand name, and pre-rendered CG movies by SquareEnix is still second-to-none. The details in the cutscenes are impeccable by today’s standard, showing minute details such as freckles, veins, and eyelashes. Even in the game engine, realistic lighting shines life onto creatively designed environments, monsters, and characters. You simply won’t find a better looking game that captures the lighting, or the sparkle that is contained within.

 

The large environments put the grandeur of the game universe in perspective even though you can’t explore much of it during most of the game. The monsters look authentic and sometimes quite threatening. As you progress through the game you’ll eventually see a world full of stampeding creatures, massive towering beasts, and a few familiar faces from previous final fantasy games. But their creative designs definitely put your everyday orcs and goblins to shame.

 

Character design is equally thorough, with clothes matching their character’s individual style. FFXIII defines what “most human-like character models” means; the stylish fantasy costumes of these characters are already inspiration for cosplayers all over the globe. With detailed and thorough efforts in the graphics, all that left to point out is the lack of footprints in snow and sand… perhaps footprints would leave smudges on an otherwise visually perfect universe?

 

Sounds:

Masashi Hamazu, who co-composed Final Fantasy X, scored this title. He creates an ambient, vivid, yet stylistically consistent soundtrack equally enjoyable to that of FFX. The game fills the room with sweeping orchestral numbers, and electronic music with hard hitting beats. Battle music follows a heavy tempo which also gives a sense of urgency as your fight your way through a tough group. But it would be hard to recommend the entire voice cast to be similarly enjoyable. They all masterfully delivered their characters minus some awkward lines here and there, but one man’s favorite character is bound to be hated by another; therefore, chances is that one or more characters will get on someone’s nerves. It is also thoughtful that they have two people with similar origin carry the same accent.

 

During some of the more scenic adventures through large green valleys, the journey is accompanied by the sounds of wildlife off in the distance, and the sound of your feet as they trudge through the grass. You’ll often overhear the citizens of Cocoon as they talk through their day, doing away with the “press x to talk” gimmick which was part of the previous gameplay.

       

Gameplay:

Like all RPGs, the player party walks from one point to another to advance the story. And like all RPGs, it has enemies on the map. In FFXIII, the overworld map displays the field of play, and all the monsters. You can decide to run from each encounter, or sneak up from behind and initiate a preemptive strike for some significant advantage, however if you are spotted, they will chase after you. But unfortunately some encounters are placed such that a preemptive strike is impossible. It was said by the developers that they wanted to speed up the combat, making the earlier encounters lasting only seconds. But as the game progresses, it is as though their love for the combat system is so strong that it is obligatory to introduce some 10-minutes long average encounters. Although it is still helpful that all characters are returned to full health after each battle, sparing the player the time it requires to heal.

 

The developers also tried their best to ease the learning curve. In the first 25 hours or so, the game is so simple that it can be compared to watching a movie, including the eye-popping cinematic combats as seen in animated action films. But it suddenly becomes overwhelming once it finishes spoon feeding the exploration basics, the skill tree, the weapon upgrade, the combat mechanics and strategies, and the summoning to the player. 

 

During battle you’re only given control of the leader of the group. While this may seem unwarranted, it works in the game’s favor to speed up the process, instead of bombarding the player with a lot of unnecessary micromanagement in this fast-paced reiteration of Final Fantasy’s trademark Active Time Battle (ATB). The computer controlled characters are well limited to their roles that they won’t do anything unexpected of their assigned job, but micromanagement is not only unnecessary, there is simply no such option. The player does not even need to control the party leader with the auto-attack button. Using the auto-attack, the player-controlled character will simply pick the best course of action once the ATB meter fills up. While picking the optimal moves is an option, the other is to sit back and enjoy the scene in a fashion similar to TV watching.

 

The bread and butter of FFXIII’s battle system is the Stagger Meter represented by a simple %. Mastering the little bar that hovers over each enemy is vital to winning the game. The Stagger Meter slowly fills as the enemy is attacked. Once you’ve broken the enemy’s defenses by topping the bar, the % shoots up quickly, rewarding you with huge damage dealing payoffs as the bar decreases. The Stagger Meter makes for many climatic battles. At first, you may struggle to do trivial amount of damage while enhancing the party or weakening the enemies. But once an enemy gets staggered, it will go down very quickly. And after taking out an enemy, a fully enhanced party will turn the tide and finish off the rest in a domino effect. All that mounts to a battle system that’s ultimately looks and feels good, but does not necessarily require precise calculations.

 

Innovation:

When it comes to going to the next numbered entry of Final Fantasy series, SquareEnix is all about new ideas; keeping only the much loved music style, some monsters (though only in name), and creatures from past titles. The boldest move here is perhaps the job change system called the Paradigm Shift. There are 6 different jobs or roles as it is called in the game, for each character. Although they all have fancy names, fear not, the game gives a good explanation for each of them and RPG veterans will immediately recognize these roles as the classic tank, damage dealer, healer, magician, etc. During battle, you are limited to change them as a set instead of individually. So every time you do a Paradigm Shift or job change in plain English, all 3 party members get their job changed. You are also limited to having 6 sets of Paradigms, which is a pre-selected set of 3 jobs for the 3 active members. It is somewhat counter-intuitive to have all these complex limitations when so many other action RPGs allows the player to change the behavior of AI-controlled allies on the fly, and individually.

 

Different monsters require different strategies, it is a good idea to experiment and find the fastest method to defeat the enemies. Each battle is rated at the end based on the time, and a good score will result in a higher drop rate. Should you fall in battle, the game places you in the field just before the encounter, thus giving a chance to re-evaluate your Paradigms and approach for that battle. All these systems come together to bring an intense and challenging combat for FFXIII, but yet it is not frustrating thanks to the forgiving consequence of losing.

       

Longevity:

The game delivers many hours beyond the final boss without the benefit of a new game plus. Upon finishing the game, it returns you to the very last save point. The world of Pulse was given 64 different missions marked on your map, which also serves as a challenge to the player to get the max score in each mission. But unfortunately the once beloved side-quests are plagued by the problem similar to that of FFXII – it is made up of combat. In the old days, Squaresoft seemed to understand the concept of mini-games as a distraction from the occasionally repetitive nature of RPGs with lengthy side-quests such as chocobo raising, card game, blitzball, etc. But squeezing every last bit out of FFXIII involves defeating monsters over and over again.

 

Other achievements/trophies include trying to attain each weapon and accessory that the game has to offer, almost 100 of each, which may be a bit of a daunting task to the player when they try to manage all of the challenges. Again, defeating countless monsters for drops needed in the weapon upgrade process. You could happily spend 40 hours just to finish game, and then up to 100 to finish all the other challenges. It’s almost like playing two games in one.

 

Conclusion:

Make no mistake, this isn’t your parents’ Final Fantasy. While it borrows many elements from the past Final Fantasies, some of which includes character personalities, the watered down version of the Sphere Grid from FFX now called Crystarium, the idea of multiple main characters from FFVI, the monster hunting side-quests from FFXII; the pace of the game is changed so drastically that it is a different experience from any previous Final Fantasy. With its new emphasis on moving the story along, it finally satisfies the explorer bug in all of us upon arriving at the playground of Grand Pulse, but the distinction remains clear that this is a game that has changed with the times.

 

There are very few flaws in the execution behind the creators’ ideas. But it is as though SquareEnix tried to please everybody, there are lots of bits and pieces loved by some, hated by others; and furthermore, a clear sense of direction is sacrificed as a result. But regardless, it is quite evident that loads of quality efforts were put into this title that took 5 years to develop. Final Fantasy XIII is worthwhile to play, and above all, an experience that one won’t forget.

 

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