Final Fantasy XIII

The latest entry in the popular Square-Enix series, Final Fantasy XIII marks a milestone for the series. This is the point where I stop buying Final Fantasy games. The series has been on a steep decline since X and I fear there is no coming back.

Square-Enix has instituted a trend with their newer games. They are convinced that an eight to 10 hour tutorial is necessary for each of their games. XIII is no exception, only this tutorial is dragged out. In fact, many things are dragged out. It isn’t until hour 22-25 or the third disc if played on the 360 version that the player is given full control over the party, their abilities, and other essential functions. I can understand limiting the player for the first few hours as they get used to the learning curve, but this is ridiculous. Until you hit that 25th hour sweet spot, the game is linear, boring, and repetitive. It consists of the player moving the characters down a linear path with occasional encounters along the way. When you reach the end of the path, cue the lengthy cut scene. Wash, rinse and repeat.

There are no towns or NPCs to interact with beyond a single line of text. Stores have been integrated with the save points but are ultimately useless. As of this writing, I have yet to buy an item from the store. Potions are not needed and weapons can be upgraded with items dropped by monsters. The upgrades seem to provide little benefit and take a large amount of grinding to level up fully. Around that magical 25th hour, you can move around freely and take up side quests and roam as you please. Until then, you are locked in for the ride. It’s a sleepy one at that. A number of times, I literally fell asleep while playing. Of course this was during the first 11 chapters. After gaining control of my party and being allowed to roam a marginal distance, I found myself staying awake.

The story is your typical Final Fantasy fodder. A group of rag tag youths and one older character must unite to expose and depose the corrupt theocracy. For the most part, the characters are bland and uninspired. Some, like Hope, made me question his gender and right to live numerous times. Over time, some of the characters grew on me, but not enough to compare with classics like Squall or Zidane.

Graphically, XIII is gorgeous. The visuals, both cgi and in game blow me away time and again. The game is rich with vibrant color and beauty. The game’s score is a somber and quiet. It felt as though I was playing in a dream. The game would have truly benefitted from the ability to do more roaming. It is much too confined to do the visuals the justice they deserve.

Beyond the graphics, the battle system is where XIII really shines. It is called the paradigm system and it focuses on fast and exciting play. Each character is assigned a class or role. You program each paradigm around the roles each character plays. It makes for quick and effective strategies to swap out in each fight. Say you’re stuck on a tough boss fight, have one character heal while another buffs the party and the third debuffs the boss. Then you could switch to all high damage roles or if there are multiple enemies, set up one character as the tank while one heals and the other does damage. In the first 20 or so hours, you characters are restricted to three roles each. After the magic point in the game, every character can learn every role and ability, allowing you total customization. It is a fantastic system and a close second to my favorite (the junction system from VIII).

In closing, Final Fantasy XIII isn’t great. Much like other SE games, it is crippled by the developers. They restrict the player from fully interacting with the game for too long and even when they take the leash off, you can’t wander that much farther. I enjoyed some of the characters and loved the battle system and the visuals are astounding. But no game should take 25 hours to become enjoyable. The first 11 chapters are an endurance test. Survive and you’ll see what this game really could have been. Once SE learns to loosen up on the hand holding and let players enjoy the game we’ll see the Final Fantasy franchise return to glory.