Final Fantasy XIII released in 2009 as the first iteration of Square Enix’s long-running Final Fantasy series on the seventh console generation (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360). The game marked the beginning of the ‘Fabula Nova Crystallis’ series of games with the focus on crystal imagery and the recurring theme of a battle against Gods.
The narrative of Final Fantasy XIII can be described as convoluted in some regards, however, despite this the plot itself is fairly solid. The story of Final Fantasy XIII takes places across two different worlds: Gran Pulse (a form of Earth, for lack of a better description) and Cocoon (a ‘new’ planet floating about Gran Pulse, where humanity resides). Beginning on Cocoon, during a ‘Purge’ – the removal and execution of humans that had come into contact with a Fal’Cie (Demi-god) from Gran Pulse, the majority of the main cast assemble.
Here, they are entangled with the Fal’Cie itself and as a result are turned to L’Cie – humans with extraordinary power and the ability to use magic in exchange for being set a task they must complete (known as a ‘Focus’). Should they fail that ‘Focus’ they are turned into monstrous beings known as C’eith.
This bizarre naming convention is perhaps the single most complicated thing regarding Final Fantasy XIII – if you can wrap your head around that, you’re 90% of the way to understanding the game.
The overall narrative itself is very run of the mill. The main cast of characters are fighting to overturn an unjust fate that has befallen them. The journey along the way has a few fairly touching moments, and in my opinion, towards the closing hours of the game, the story hits its peak at just the right time. As a result, I was left was a pretty satisfied feeling at the end of the adventure that I think a lot of people could get enjoyment from.
However, I feel that the game falls short with its characters.
Barely any of the characters, be they main cast or side cast, receive any major forms of development. Even for those that do, their development is shallow and lacks any really meaning. While they are complete enough characters to tell the story and present and emotional enough conclusion, overall, I felt the experience was lacking substance.
The game could have done with a couple of extra scenes to allow, at least, the main cast time to break out from their pre-establish character roles to expand a little further.
Narrative aside, the game took a huge leap forward graphically between this and Final Fantasy XII releasing on the PlayStation 2. This boon in graphical power can be seen from the immediate onset of the game.
Final Fantasy XIII is undeniably a visually beautiful game.
The vast majority of background scenery is dynamic and full of life, leading to the immersion in the world that is being presented.
Unfortunately, these dynamic backgrounds are nothing more than that. Final Fantasy XIII is an extremely linear experience. Throughout the first ten chapters of the game, you are forced down narrow (so be it, graphically stunning) corridors, dispatching numbers of enemies along the way to reach the end.
Honestly, I don’t have an issue myself with the linear experience of Final Fantasy XIII, I believe that it lends itself well to the story that it is attempting to tell. However, when the world around the player is so vast-looking and vibrant, I’d love nothing more than to explore around me, venturing off over the mountains in the distance. Yet, ultimately, it’s nothing but scenery and that’s a disappointing revelation when playing the game.
As for the gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII itself, it seems to have taken gameplay elements from Final Fantasy XII and modified it – bolstering the Active Dimensional Battle combat system and converting it into a random encounter scenario, now referred to as the Active Time Battle (ATB) system.
The inspiration behind the design choice for XIII’s combat system came from the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children fight scenes. The developers desired to make combat appear more cinematic and action-packed.
The single action bar in Final Fantasy XII’s combat was evolved during transition to Final Fantasy XIII.
Beginning at two segments, and with a potential maximum of six, actions during combat – from regular attacks, to use of various magic – could be stringed together into fluid and dynamic combos.
Actions to be queued in the ATB bar can either be selected manually or chosen through an ‘Auto-Battle’ command that selects actions that the game decides are the best string of actions to use.
These battles are much more visually engaging than they had been in previous entries in the Final Fantasy series. Personally, I love the visual effect that the game achieves with this style of combat. The only discrepancy is that due to the ‘Auto-Battle’ feature, the game can devolve into simply mashing the action button in order to defeat foes quickly.
On the other hand, the most significant aspect to Final Fantasy XIII’s combat by far is the ‘Paradigm Deck’.
Each character has ‘Roles’ that they are utilise; these roles determine the types of commands that they are able to use. There are six roles to learn: Commando (Physical Hitter), Ravager (Magic Attacker), Synergist (Buffer), Saboteur (Debuffer), Sentinel (Defender) and Medic (Healer).
You can set which role you want a specific member of your battle team to be before battle, however, a character can only be in a single role at a time and thus only has access to a limited number of commands to use.
This is where the ‘Paradigm Shift’ mechanic of the game comes into play. When establishing your ‘Paradigm Deck’ you can create up to six different decks at once. During battle you are able to switch the active deck that you are using.
Due to this, you are able to think more strategically about how you want to approach each battle that you face.
I love the ‘Paradigm Shift’ mechanic – it combines the perfect level of forward planning with the added challenge of ensuring that you have set up the right types of paradigm to account for each possible outcome.
For example, if you’re up against a foe that has an extremely powerful desperation attack, set up a paradigm that consists of three Sentinels to lower the damage your characters will take.
This style of strategy also plays into another key feature of Final Fantasy XIII’s combat – staggering.
Every enemy that you will fight in the game has a ‘Stagger Meter’, the higher the meter is, the more damage the enemy will take from attacks. Once the meter reaches its limit, the enemy will stagger and not only will it take a lot more damage, but it will also be prevented from attacking.
The strategy here comes from effective use of paradigm shifting. The Ravager role is exceptional at boosting the stagger meter, therefore, by setting a load out with three Ravagers to quickly stagger the enemy, you can then switch to three Commandos to bring the pain.
This level of strategy is the highest point of Final Fantasy XIII. I absolutely love the combat system and how it makes the player think about their strategy before entering a fight, than in previous games in which you have near time to scroll through a huge command list to decide there and then.
Another feature that I like the concept of, is the levelling system.
Characters in Final Fantasy XIII don’t have set level-ups where they grow stronger. Instead, it’s more similar to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid, in which you can decide you path of growth.
Final Fantasy XIII’s characters level up via the Crystarium; after every fight, you earn Crystogen Points (CP). These points can be distributed across any of the roles that you have learnt by whichever point you are at. This grants you the opportunity to specialise your team in the way that would best suit your style of play.
Overall I love this style of level up, however, personally it led to me alienating certain characters from my roster because I could never find use for them.
I really enjoy the combat of Final Fantasy XIII, however, if you’re someone that isn’t overly keen on combat then this game certainly wouldn’t be for you.
There are only 64 side quests in the entire game, and all of them of monster hunts. All of them.
The side content for Final Fantasy XIII is pretty atrocious. Most of the monsters that you fight for these hunts are beefed up, or varied versions of monsters that you’ve fought hundreds of times. There are some that can present a genuine challenge, especially when trying to 5-star each mission, but if acing every challenge isn’t something you’d want to do, then you’ll be hard done by to find enjoyment in the side content of the game.
There is a lot to love regarding Final Fantasy XIII, from the style of story-telling, to the combat. Yet, there is a lot to dislike for some people too, like the style of story-telling, to the combat… It can be a very divisive game. Nonetheless, I loved my time with it all the same.
The characters may be one-note and archetypal and the game may be the most linear in the entire franchise, but the game developed and honed many features that had come from previous Final Fantasy titles and made them much better.
If you’ve never considered picking up Final Fantasy XIII before, I’d definitely recommend it. If you’ve played it before, but thought you couldn’t stand it, I highly recommend giving it another shot – yes there will be bad parts, but there is a lot to like about it too.
Final Fantasy XIII earns a
Thank you for reading my review of Final Fantasy XIII. I know that this title can be fairly divisive, but everyone’s opinion is valid – if you liked this game as well, let me know! If you didn’t, tell me why in the comments.
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