Yeah I know that this has been out for well over 12 months now but I've decided to review it anyway because I'm such a huge FF fan and I only purchased a PS3 and this game a couple of months ago. I still haven't finished it (I'm trying for the platinum trophy) but I feel I've reached far enough into the game to give a pretty thorough review. So here goes.
I probably don't have to tell you that the Final Fantasy franchise is massive, and for the most part has improved with every entry into the main series. FFXIII was released in 2009/2010 and became the fastest selling game in the franchise with over 1 million units sold on the day of release in Japan and another million copies in the first month of its release in North America. But does this mean that it's a great game? Well no not really, because any game with the words Final Fantasy attached to it is sure to be a big seller. After such a successful history, Square Enix could release a terrible game in the series and there would still be millions of people pre-ordering it. So is it any good?
The first thing I have to say is that FFXIII is completely different from any of the others in the franchise. For this reason I've decided to review it not as a Final Fantasy game but just a game in general. It received a lot of criticism, no doubt because fans weren't expecting such a big change and I don't think it's really fair to compare it to any of the other FF games. I will admit though that I was pretty critical of it at first, but as I've progressed my attitude has completely changed and now I fucking love it.
The biggest problem most people seemed to have with the game is it's linearity. Sure the games have all been at least a little linear in the past, but FFXIII brings it to a whole new level. In fact the first 10 chapters (of which there are a total of 13) are basically one huge 20 - 30 hour hallway. There's a marker on the map you'll need to reach while on the way fighting a huge variety of enemies and picking up items. Once you leave an area you can't just turn around and go back, the only way is forward. This might seem constricting and boring but it actually encourages you to push on and dive into the fast paced battle system which is great.
The battle system is one of the best of any game in the franchise so far. It uses the ATB (Active Time Battle) system with a battle queue which is filled with certain physical and magical attacks before being unleashed on the enemy. At first you may be tempted to experiment choosing attacks manually, but most of the game you will be using the auto function. This isn't as bad as it sounds though because although it takes most of the control from out of your hands, it does allow you to focus on swapping paradigms which is an integral part of the battle system especially in the tougher fights. And what exactly are these paradigms? Well this is where it might get a bit confusing if you haven't played the game. The paradigms are basically preset groups that you set to your three active characters. There are 6 different roles (much like the job system in FFX-2 but infinitely better) available to your characters. These are Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist and Medic. You'll need to train your characters in these different roles and you will instantly notice that certain characters are better suited to specific roles than others. You can then set these character roles into what is called a paradigm. Paradigms can be changed (in fact will often need to be changed) during battle and can be the only thing separating victory from defeat. You might start a battle using the Premeditation paradigm which consists of a synergist, a saboteur and a sentinel. The synergist will bestow positive status effects on your characters, the saboteur will load up the enemies with negative effects and the sentinel will draw physical damage while protecting the two other characters. You might then choose to switch to the Relentless Assault paradigm which consists of a commando and two ravagers which will both assault the enemy with physical and magic attacks. You will need to master these paradigms if you want to make it through the more difficult battles.
Confused yet? Well sorry but there's more. The aim of the battle is to 'stagger' the enemy. Each enemy will have a stagger gauge and once it is filled you will be able to do higher damage and even some special abilities. To fill the stagger gauge you will need to use certain attacks. For example a ravager will fill the gauge quickly but needs to be supported by a commando in order to keep the gauge from dropping. Once an enemy is staggered you can keep pounding it with attacks and keep it from attacking you until the stagger gauge empties again in which case you can start all over. This all takes a while to get used to but you will find it fun and challenging and it keeps the action fast paced. Make a mistake and accidentally choose the wrong paradigm though and it could cost you a long and hard fought battle.
And if that's not already enough information to get your head around, now we need to talk about the Crystarium. This the levelling up system in FFXIII and is quite similar to what you may have seen in FFX's Sphere Grid. After each battle, instead of EXP you will receive CP (Crystogen Points) which can then be used to enhance your characters' roles using the Crystarium. Each role has a separate section and you will find it more convenient to concentrate on only one or two roles for each character to start with. The Crystarium however is very limited, and will only expand at certain parts of the storyline. So once you've completed a role level and maxed out your Crystarium, you won't be able to increase it any further until it expands. You will still receive CP, you just won't be able to use it. This is probably in place to prevent you from overpowering your characters and rushing through the game. I don't usually like overpowering my characters because it takes away the challenge, so I thought this was actually a good idea.
And now we come to the weapons & accessories. Each character has a certain type of weapon and each weapon can be upgraded. There are three tiers and a few different base weapons to upgrade. All of these base weapons will end up turning into the character's ultimate weapon, but depending on which weapon you started with the stats will differ. There are save points all over the map and these double as a shop and weapon / accessory upgrade station. You need to upgrade your items with components which can be dropped by enemies and also purchased in the shop. Gil is scarce in FFXIII so most of the time you will find yourself selling certain items to purchase components for upgrading. Eventually your weapon / accessory will reach a 'star level' and then to upgrade it further you will need to use a transformational catalyst. The catalysts are expensive and range from a few thousand Gil up to 2 million Gil. They can also be dropped by enemies. Unfortunately the game gives you absolutely no hint as to which catalyst is needed for which weapon, so you will definitely need a guide. The bad news is that it will take a very long time to upgrade to the ultimate weapons but the good news is that you won't actually need the ultimate weapons to finish the game. Although there is a trophy in it if you get all of the ultimate weapons.
The best part of FFXIII for me so far has been reaching chapter 11. All of a sudden the game opens up entirely into a huge world called Gran Pulse. Even though it will take around 20 or 30 hours to reach this point, you can easily stay here for double that time, grinding for CP and components. It's actually a little overwhelming going straight from this linear hallway to this big, beautiful world with an even bigger variety of monsters. And this is where the Cieth Stone Missions come in. I won't go into what a Cieth is but I will say a little about the missions. You will find these Cieth Stones scattered around Gran Pulse and when you activate them they will give you a quest. The quests are basically finding a certain creature and killing it (like the hunts in FFXII) but they are not ordinary creatures. They will be more powerful than the regular monsters and range in difficulty. After you've finished a mission you will unlock further stones and more missions. I think there are around 60 or so missions which increase the gaming hours significantly. You will also find Chocobos which can be used to dig for buried items.
I was going to go into the storyline of the game but I don't think I will. If you haven't played it then you can find out for yourself. If you're familiar with the Final Fantasy franchise though you will probably have a general idea of what's in store.
I also could go into the Eidolons (the equivalent of GFs, Aeons, Espers etc) but again if you're familiar with the games you'll know what they're like. But I suppose I should talk briefly about the technical aspects of the game.
The graphics are amazing, the best I've seen on the PS3 so far. Playing this game on a huge HD TV is a fantastic experience. The cut scenes could give Avatar a run for it's money. The soundtrack is one of the best I've heard in a game too. The voice acting is great but falls just short of being amazing for a few minor reasons (the character Vanille being one). Traveling around the world is easy, the controls are easy to use and I found that the camera was good too, it would pivot and turn at the right moments and for the most part it doesn't get in the way.
This is by no means a perfect game but is a great addition to any game collection and in my opinion almost essential. Even if you aren't a FF fan but still like RPGs then you will definitely enjoy it. And the sequel is only a few months away.