Final Fantasy XIII Review

After spending 75 hours on a game I might as well tell you my thoughts on it, so here’s a very quick review of Final Fantasy XIII.

Synopsis

If you’re not at all interested in the nuances, just know that I gave the game a 7 out of 10: stunning graphics, great voice acting, good music, but pacing killed the story and gameplay. A good way to think about this game is to think of it like Lord of the Rings: very slow in some areas, but very rewarding when it finally begins to explain what’s going on. If you can trudge along for a while until the party all finally re-unites half way through the game, and if you’ve liked the Final Fantasy series then this is one I recommend. Also, if you like visually stunning games, this one’s for you. Heck, as of this writing it’s selling for about $25 on Amazon, so go grab it. Now. But, if you’re more interested in very detailed, brain intensive gameplay look elsewhere.

The Review

The story in this game is the standard FF affair: a small band of people made extraordinary by some event or choice have to save the world. There are two societies that hate each other, and through the game you visit both, you discover that things aren’t what they seem, and in the end you fight something that wants to destroy everyone for the sake of some grand, delusional goal.

Final Fantasy XIII Cover

The characters have the potential to be interesting, but really aren’t.

  • The main character is Lightning, a soldier with the body of a model and the personality of a rock.
  • Lightning has a sister (Sera) who’s getting married to Snow, who’s… this guy, you know? He’s pretty good with his fists and leads a band of lazy jackasses named NORA. Lightning dislikes him. She dislikes everything, but mostly him.
  • Speaking of disliking Snow, there’s Hope, a kid who watches his mother, Nora, die after Snow fails to pull her from a falling bridge. He blames Snow for some reason and has this weird Anakin/Padome relationship with Lightning.
  • Then there’s Sazh. He’s “the black guy”. He’s got a fro with a bird living inside it. A chocobo. In his hair. As in “permanent residence.” He also has a kid, Dodge, who also has a fro, though his is fowl-free. A grand total of two black guys in the game, one named after a car, and they both have fros. Also, they’re magical. No, seriously, they are.
  • Then there’s Vanille, the happy-go-lucky love-a-bunch who’s 16 and also hundreds of years old. For some reason she’s also the narrator for part of the game. This whole narration thing goes nowhere. I wish it would have, because I love narrated stories.
  • She has a friend, Fang, who wears this awesome sari along with a not-at-all awesome mullet. Fang and Vanille are from New Zealand, I think.

FFXIII Characters
From left to right: Snow, Vanille, Fang, Lightning, Sazh, Hope, Snow’s financee/Ligtning’s sister.
So those are your characters. They all have some type of development go on, but it’s not particularly dramatic in most cases. With a little tweaking to the way the story was presented, these guys could have been incredible. Instead they were just… you know, kind of cool, but not really all that interesting. Maybe if I play it again…

Speaking of playing again, gameplay is also standard: you run around and fight enemies. The battle system really allows for fluid battle scenes, so it’s great for eye candy, especially when Lightning gets a cool ability like Army of One. Not so great for when you want to control every aspect of every character, because you can’t. You choose a party leader and that’s the only person you can control. This was problematic in some ways–only the person you control ever uses their special ability or related summon, for example–but it also made it fun in others, since it kept things moving. (Two words: Eye candy.)

The biggest overall flaw in this game had to do with the pacing. It was a complex story with a lot of threads from the start. That isn’t a problem, in fact it’s a good thing, but the character development happens so slowly that you really don’t get a chance to WANT to start caring about the characters. I didn’t care about the characters until I was already almost 35 hours into the game. This is due to the fact that character development happens exclusively in cut scenes as opposed to conversations you initiate, which is the case with other FF games. Also, the fact that you don’t really get to explore until Chapter 11 (which is about 35 hours into the game) means that the vast majority of the game is comprised of a long hallway with an orange spot at the end of it indicating either an enemy or a cut scene, thereby giving rise to the nickname “Hallways and Cut Scenes: The Game.”

Still, if you’re a fan of FF games it’s worth a try, if for no other reason than to enjoy the beautiful graphics. The fact that you can play the vast majority of the game with one finger (just keep pressing X, you’ll be fine) is debatable as a weakness. Personally, I rather enjoyed being able to watch shows on my computer while “playing” the game, especially in parts where I was mostly farming for money or points.

The Score Breakdown

 

Story and Character Development: 2 out of 10.7 out of 10 if we ignore the pacing (which we won’t, seeing as it’s such a HUGE flaw). As for the story itself, unless you pay close attention to the clues in the story the ending will have you thinking “What the heck just happened?” Still, it’s not bad. But pacing… yes, the pacing is THAT bad, and it causes problems through the entire game. I lay it squarely (no pun intended) on the shoulders of character development happening exclusively in cut scenes rather than in player-initiated conversations. Also there weren’t really any enemies you could point your finger at and say “That’s an enemy,” at least not any memorable ones. A lot of characters were introduced, but they simply weren’t developed. Oh sure, you had that one Fal’Cie guy who kept showing up, but the only thing that made any other baddie distinguishable from random background characters was the (forgettable) reappearances.

Final Fantasy XIII FFXIII glasses lady Above: Forgettable character
Below: Slightly less forgettable character
Final Fantasy XIII Fal'CieThe pacing was so bad that 30 hours into it I almost dropped the game. I simply didn’t care about the cardboard characters or the convoluted story. After plowing through and finishing the game anyway, I’m pretty glad I didn’t drop it.

Gameplay: 6 out of 10, and it’s mostly due to a huge issue with the party set-up. The fighting system itself is pretty good, and you can choose how involved you want it to be: do you want to choose every move or do you want to let the computer decide the best course of action?The problem is that in this game you only control one character at a time, which is on its face not all that bad since it makes for more fluid battles, until you realize that you can revive every other character in your party, but if your main character dies, no one can revive you. Game over. This pissed me off to no end: why in the heck can’t my healer heal me? And why can’t someone use a Phoenix Down?! I have like 30 of them!

Edit:I forgot to mention stores, money, and points. Unlike in other FF games, FFXIII does away with the concept of gil-for-kill. (The point system, however, is alive and well.) Instead, all the animals drop something which can be used to either upgrade weapons or sell in the games stores. If you use it to upgrade weapons then the weapons get experience points. There’s no secondary development which makes the weapon gain intrinsic powers based on what you use to upgrade it. It’s just points. If you sell the item then you can get enough money to buy some worthwhile and hard-to-get items which can speed up the weapon upgrade process.Regarding stores, these are only available in save spots. They’re not shops in the map, but rather more like websites. This makes the shopping experience a predictable and somewhat boring experience, but it takes the annoyance of having missed a shop (and therefore an awesome item you can never again gain access to) out of the equation. I actually rather liked this change.Finally, there are upgrade paths. Like Final Fantasy X and XII, upgrades are done by using points buy level upgrades: more HP, different powers, higher strength, higher magic. Unlike these previous versions, however, and in keeping with the rest of this games linear proclivities, the upgrade paths are very… well, linear. There are different roles you can upgrade, but each role’s upgrade path is fairly linear. I guess this goes along well with the role-based fighting system they introduced, which is similar to the outfit system in Final Fantasy X-2: so long as you’re playing this particular role you can’t do things in other roles. So your guy is a Sentinel? Then he can’t cast cure. I’ve never really liked that system, although it makes sense, and does give the game an element of strategy.

Graphics: 10 out of 10. Yes, they were that stunning.  I’m tempted to give it an 11, or even a 12! The bonus points for being the only thing at times that kept me playing. The game is GORGEOUS. Here’s a beautiful example of what I mean. This is at the beginning of Chapter 12. Fast forward to 7:45 for a great scene.

Music: 8 out of 10. Not memorable, but certainly not bad. It fulfilled the most important role of theatrical scores: ambiance without getting in the way. During fights, I rarely noticed the music. This is a good thing. I only really noticed it when it was fitting within the story. This, again, is a good thing.

Value: 9 out of 10. One cool feature for those of us who get all obsessive about completing every single thing and getting the absolute most out of the game is that you can go back to the game after you finish it and complete all the side quests you may have missed. (You get a chance to save your progress after the credits.) That’s a nice little bit of extra value, and just about the only real exploration you get to do in the game. The keyword here is “value”. I wish more RPGs did this. Heck, I wish I got to do this with Final Fantasy X (probably my favorite in the series). I really liked Blitzball! The 9 out of 10 is taking into consideration the after-game playability, which can go on for as long as you’d like. In fact, the game took me about 75hrs to finish, and I can see myself playing for at least another 30 if I decided to undertake all the sidequests and the upgrade paths. The only knock is that you have to trudge through the game for too long before you finally get to the fun part.

So taking all these scores into consideration: 5 categories for 50 points total. The game gets 35 points. That’s a solid 70% or 7 out of 10. (3.5 stars out of 5 is more Amazonian.)

In the end, here’s the important question: was it a fun game? Yes. Would I play it again? Maybe, if for no other reason than to watch all the cinematics. That’s one thing I loved about Final Fantasy X: you could re-watch the story’s cinematics in the Luca theater. FFXIII deserved at least as much.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I’ll pick up the sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2. Don’t know about Final Fantasy Versus XIII, but we’ll see. Hope you enjoyed this review.

Wait, You Finished the Game. How About a Walkthrough?

This isn’t a walkthrough. This is a review. If you’re looking for walkthroughs you can buy the official guide–there’s even a collector’s edition–or you can use a search engine. However, if you want a pretty great set of video walkthroughs check out Hassan AlHajry’s channel on YouTube. In fact, if you don’t want to play the game, but want to enjoy the cut-scenes and know the story you can just watch this.

While I’m usually a fan of walkthroughs (I’m the type that buys the book and tries to do everything perfectly), I found that this game lacked so much exploration throughout most of it that one wasn’t really needed until Chapter 11, when you get to Gran Pulse. (Unless, of course, you want to get top ratings on every fight, which helps out when it comes to dropped items and trophies.) After that, yeah, you may want a walkthrough. What you will definitely want, though, is a gil farming guide since there really isn’t any gil to be gained by killing monsters, only by selling stuff they drop and things you find while riding around on a chocobo.