Square-Enix’s latest, true entry in the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy XIII, has completely reinvented the series. FFXIII was the first non-MMO in the series to be released on the Xbox 360. Along with the strangeness of it being multiplatform, many gamers were thrown off by how different this title was from previous entries. The lead role in this game is female, which has only been done a few times before (Only in 6 and X-2. Yes, that game exists). Lightning seems to be roughly based off of Cloud as far as her background goes. She is an ex-soldier (no, not SOLDIER from FFVII) but has since started fighting against the government.
Lighting is joined at the start of the game by Sazh. Two interesting things about this character are that he has a baby chocobo living within his afro and he is one of the few characters in recent years to use a gun. While Lighting and Sazh are progressing through their half of the story, Snow, the leader of NORA, has his own half of the story. For a while, you control the different parties at different times, collecting different allies with each. Eventually, though, you meet up and are able to freely choose who is in your team.
The battle system in this game is very unique from most other games. The best way I know how to describe it is the Active Time Battle from some classic titles taken to the next level. You only control the party leader and your team mates act completely independently of you, a first for the series. The only other time something similar to this was seen in a Final Fantasy game was the Gambit system of Final Fantasy XII. You are able to let your characters pretty much auto-battle or you can get extremely technical and choose every move separately. Early on, there isn’t much you can change as you can only really choose Attack but later you can choose from tons of different ways to attack. After you develop your characters more you unlock magic and magic-imbued physical attacks. This, paired with a auto-ability that allows you to knock your enemies in the air can lead to some devastating combos.
Along with the new battle system another aspect has been added, changing your classes during a battle. This process is done through what is called Paradigm Shift. You can switch which classes you have active to any set up you already have set up. There are many different combinations you can choose from and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. This is somewhat reminiscent of the mid-battle Dress Sphere changing seen in Final Fantasy X-2.
The leveling system is strange in this game as well. There are no levels, per say, in the game. There is a grid somewhat similar to the Sphere Grid from FFX. The grid is very linear and is different for each different class for each different character. As you progress through the grid, called the Crystarium, you get different bonuses such as HP up, Attack up and different moves.
The weapons all have different levels which change the attack and certain abilities will be added. Eventually, after “evolving” your weapons a few times you will have an ultimate weapon. All of the ultimate weapons for each character have the same name but, depending on the starting weapon, have different stats.
Summons, of course, make a return in this title. This time, however, the Summons are known as Eidolons. To gain each character’s Eidolon you must first defeat it in battle. This is much easier said than done since each Eidolon has a specific way you must defeat it. Certain ways of battling will charge the Gestalt gauge which, once full, allows you to instantly win the battle but is also the only way to win. In battle, Eidolons are summons and everyone leaves the screen. They are controlled much like the Aeons of FFX and have Gestalt mode which allows you to morph your summon and do moves similar to the Overdrive attacks of the previously mentioned game. After Gestalt mode is depleted or the summon runs out of HP, he is dismissed.
The first disc of the 360 version and first chunk of the game on the PS3 version serve mostly to set up the story and have a very large amount of cut-scenes. While this may turn many gamers off, when you make it past this part the game gets much more fun. The story picks up even more and you get a little more freedom of how you play. Once you reach Chapter 11 you have a lot of the free roaming aspects many gamers will crave early on.
There are a plentiful amount of side quests in this game giving you much to do even after beating it. The main attractions as far as side quests go, however. Like the hunts in Final Fantasy XII, there are 64 extremely tough monsters to beat. These monsters will take a hell of a lot of strategy and a lot of grinding.
The new Crystal Core engine makes this game one of the most beautiful on consoles yet. It is absolutely gorgeous with virtually no flaws. You will be entranced by the stunning landscapes and scenery of the game. Along with great visuals the sound is fantastic and the music is okay. Although Nobuo did not compose the soundtrack, which it did suffer because of this, it was still a very nice change to the mix. The only real memorable song, however, is the battle theme.
Final Fantasy XIII will give you an upwards of 60 hours just to complete the story. After that, you can look forward to around a total of 100 hours to complete the game. Sadly, the New Game+ option found in a handful of more recent titles is not found here. The game, while very different from the rest of the series, is amazing and I personally think it is a step in the right direction. While it will take a lot of getting used to, the story is solid enough and if you truly play the game with strategy and technical attacks, you will thoroughly enjoy it.
- Very interesting new battle system
- A strange but good reinvention of the series
- The graphics are absolutely beautiful
- No New Game+
- The soundtrack is not very memorable, a real negative for a Final Fantasy title.
- A ridiculous amount of cut-scenes early on