Tuesday 9 March 2010

Video Game Reviews: Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII
Square Enix
Available Now - £49.99 (PS3 (Version Tested) and Xbox 360) and £59.99 (Limited Collector's Edition - PS3 and Xbox 360)
Review by Blake Harmer

As a hardcore gamer, there aren’t many games that I look forward to playing more than the next Final Fantasy game. Sure, like a lot of people I didn’t really get into the franchise until Final Fantasy VII, but I have become a huge fan by playing pretty much every single game in the series after that, with the inclusion of some of the spin-off games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea: Final Fantasy. So I feel extremely privileged to able to review Final Fantasy XIII, as it has been one of the games I have been looking forward to since it was first announced about three years ago.

Like a lot of Final Fantasy games, the plot sees a band of unlikely heroes thrown together to prevent untold destruction and save their world (called Cocoon). The characters involve a variety of people including Snow, the leader of rebel faction "Nora" out to save his fiancĂ©e Serah; Lightning, Serah’s sister who is also trying to save her; Hope, a child whose mother died whilst fighting Sanctum (Cocoon’s government) troops but blames Snow for not saving her; and Sazh, a civilian with a baby chocobo living in his enormous hair, who joins the fight in order to save his son from a fate worse than death. And then we have Vanille and Fang but I won’t reveal their stories as it would give too much away and I wouldn’t want to spoil FFXIII’s excellent storyline.

So what is new about this "next generation" Final Fantasy? Well, the most major difference to the game is the combat, which has gone away from FFXII’s MMORPG method of combat and gone back to the initiating a fight combat screen of old. However, the game does still retain FFXII’s monsters being on the game world, so you can avoid a fight if you want to (as long as you can outrun them), and you can also do a pre-emptive strike on them if you can sneak up on them without alerting their attention.

The combat also focuses more on the hero you’re controlling rather than your whole team, with AI deciding what moves the other heroes do. However, you can assign “paradigms” which allow you to assign roles to each person, such as healer, magic wielder, heavy hitter etc. This is done on the fly so it creates quite a tactical sort of combat where you have to assign the best roles at the best times so you can deal the most damage to your enemies whilst keeping your team healthy, and whilst this may be challenging at times, it is very satisfying when you defeat an enemy. Chuck in technical abilities such as the summoning of Eidolons (Guardian Forces/Aeons, etc) to aid in combat and you have an excellent in depth fighting system.

The game is also great as it feels like you are never too far away from a save point, which is a god-send as these are also the places where you can buy supplies and weapons, or upgrade your existing weapons and armour. This is also another nice touch, as you can improve your current weapon or swap to a new one that may be weaker, but may ultimately upgrade to be a much more powerful weapon, adding an element of "risk versus reward" to the proceedings.

Lastly, whilst it is really only a minor point in the scheme of things, FFXIII does deserve credit purely for its production values. The graphics, both in game and cut scenes, are truly breathtaking, and the sound is truly phenomenal featuring great voice acting. Every line of dialogue has been recorded so gone are the blue text boxes of doom.

So why the lack of a 10/10 score? Well, the game, whilst bringing some great ideas to the Final Fantasy table, does fall down where previous instalments have been better. For starters, the game is completely linear and there are no real areas to explore or side quests to complete, so the fun of finding the ultimate weapon or other hidden treasures has disappeared and been hidden in the form of upgrading your weapon. Also, the combat, whilst brilliant can be frustrating because, if your central hero at the time is KO’d the game ends and you have to start back at the last checkpoint, but if your team mates die, you can use a Phoenix Down to bring them back to life. This makes it frustrating if a monster does a really powerful attack on your character and ends the game when if it did it to another character it would be just a mild inconvenience.

However, with these faults aside Final Fantasy XIII is still a great game and will delight fans. Just don’t expect it to completely blow away the other games in the series.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating:
FFXIII is the prettiest multi-platform game I have ever seen, like the previous games, it graphically sets the benchmark that far surpasses any other multi-platform game, and the cut scenes are truly breathtaking.
Sound/Music: Those familiar orchestral pieces that only a Final Fantasy game can have, plus some superb voice acting makes the game feel like an animated movie at times.
Gameplay: A strong yet difficult combat system holds the game in place, but the linear storyline and lack of exploration does damage the game against previous instalments.
Lasting Appeal: It’s a Final Fantasy game...what more can I say besides that you will definitely get your money's worth, despite its linearity.
Summary: Despite FFXIII’s new ideas (some great, some not so great) at its heart this next generation Final Fantasy still does what the series has always done best: create wonderful universes with its own history and great characters, in which to tell great stories. This is essential if you are a fan of the Final Fantasy series or you really enjoy RPGs, and you will not be disappointed. However, if you don’t like the Final Fantasy series, the new changes to the combat aren’t likely to be different enough to convert you. It may not be the best installment due to its faults, but it does have elements that could make the number fourteen the best Final Fantasy yet. 8/10

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