Final Fantasy XIII

6 / 10 Banzai!s

The Game:
On December 17th 2009, the most highly-anticipated games hit the stores in finalfantasy13coverJapan: Final Fantasy XIII, the first in the series available on the Playstation 3! (Yes, it’s on Xbox 360, but no one in Japan owns oen of those strange white boxes).  Lines formed that day (and the night before) in various game and electronic shops.  Final Fantasy XIII broke all kinds of selling records.  The Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu awarded it a nearly perfect 39/40, while overseas, IGN gave it an 8.9/10, and Eurogamer awarded it an 8/10.  Wow.

So why is my Banzai! score a mere 6?  Well, according to Webster’s dictionary, “denial” is “a refusal to admit the truth or reality.”  For more information, check out the What I Didn’t Like portion of this review.

The story, as best as I can describe it, takes place in Gran Pulse, which is made up of two worlds – an artifical sphere called Cocoon, and the planet it floats above, called Pulse.  The people who live in various towns on Cocoon are being “purged” because they came in contact with something from Pulse.  Our main characters, Lightening, Snow, Sazh, Vanille, and Hope, are riding a “purge train” off to be “purged,” when they break free and head off to rescue Lightening’s sister, Serah.  During the course of the game, players will watch flashbacks to events occuring before the “purge train,” while the characters worry about tattoos appearing on their arms, risk being turned into crystals, and try to save Cocoon from its destruction, all the while battling the final boss four or five times, which resembles an evil pope that can transform into a tank with a huge head.

Make sense?  If not, please refer to the What I Didn’t Like portion of this review.

What I Liked:
The graphics in this game are some of the most beautiful and inspiring I’ve seen in any video game thus far.  Square Enix poured 80% of their manpower and a lot of money into this game, and you can see their efforts visually.  From the character designs, to the worlds themselves, to the way Lightening’s hair billows over her face and the rendered material of her clothing, to the shadows as something flies overhead and, of course, the theatrical cut-scenes; everything is just top-notch.  Squaresoft has managed to fascinate us with their beautiful visuals with Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation One, and again with Final Fantasy X on the Playstation 2.  Final Fantasy XIII is no exception, and while I have issues with this game, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the graphics.

finalfantasy13screen1And what’s really impressive is that, despite these incredibly well-rendered and detailed visuals, they don’t slow down the game – there’s almost zero loading time!  Moreover, Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t even download any cookies onto your system.  when I first started Fallout: New Vegas, I had to download 3.5 GB worth of data onto my Playstation 3, the game froze nearly once every hour, and the graphics weren’t even that impressive.  So what’s Square Enix’s secret?

As you’re playing in one stage, th game is already starting to load the next one ready.  This eliminates both the need for a long loading time, and the requirement of downloading anything onto your system.  Hopefully, we’ll see more of this technique in future games.

What I Didn’t Like:
Okay, here we go.

My main issue with Final Fantasy XIII is with the story itself.  It was too complicated, thrown in with unnecessary flashbacks just to complicate it further, then the story splits in three different directions, all the while I’m trying to figure out what’s going on.  What the hell does being “purged” mean?  Are people being taken to concentration camps?  Are they turned into crystals?  Why?  What is this “interaction with Pulse?”  What’s the difference between a ‘fal Cie and a l’Cie?  Do I care?  About halfway through the game, I lost interest.  Instead, I just sat back and enjoyed the visuals, then moved my characters around like someone playing chess who doesn’t understand the rules of the game.

Then there’s the characters.  Lightening is, for lack of a better word, a cold-hearted bitch.  She warms up during the game, and I suppose she’s meant to be one of those “hearts of gold wrapped in a hard shell which needs to be cracked” types, but by the time that started to happen, I stopped caring.  Then there’s Hope, who for half the game, is a spineless, whimpering wuss.  And Vanille, the typical Lolita-like character in many Japanese games, who’s genki and cute while behaving like a total retard.  I’ll give cudos to Square Enix for putting in some character developement, which you often see in movies and novels, but not so much in video games.  But unfortunately, all the characters either started off as unlikeable or boring, and so couldn’t bring myself to care if any of these people changed during the course of the game.

The third issue I had was the level-up system.  There isn’t any.  Final Fantasyfinalfantasy13screen2 XIII, like all its predecessors, is described as an RPG, and in RPGs, usually you can level-up your character.  Instead, they place “caps” on your level during each stage.  There’s no farming involved, because you’ll have maximized your character’s level way before you’re allowed to proceed to the next one.  By the end of the game, your cap will be as high as Level 5.  That’s it.  Can you think of a single RPG where the level cap is 5?  I can: Final Fantasy XIII.

The man behind this game is Motomu Toriyama, whose directing credits include only Final Fantasy X-2.  I’m guessing he was so proud of this story he’d created, that through linear gameplay and the limited leveling-up, players are forced to focus on this complicated mish-mash.  Also, it’s worth noting that Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the original Final Fantasy and responsible for most of the great titles in the series, had nothing to do with Final Fantasy XIII.

Overall:
Final Fantasy XIII is an achievement in gaming history for some of the greatest visuals ever seen in a video game – and that’s it.  The story is so complicated, with an overuse of made-up names and words, and filled with boring or unlikeable characters, that I stopped caring half-way through the game.  I played it just to finish it, with the small hope that everything would make sense towards the end.

And it didn’t.

Worth checking out if you’re a fan of the series, and just to see some beautiful computer graphics.  The English version is very well translated and voice acted, particularly compared to some of its predecessors.  But to be brutally honest, I had more fun playing through Duke Nukem Forever.  And if anyone out there can explain the story to me, please give it a shot.

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