26th Jan2010

Final Fantasy XIII Review

by Kuro Matsuri

Final Fantasy XIII Logo

Welcome to the Kuro Matsuri Video Game review of Final Fantasy XIII. Since this is our first review, let me start by presenting the format of our reviews (you can skip to the first category under this paragraph if you don’t care). First, we select a number of dimensions that are highly relevant to the genre and/or specific game we are reviewing. Then, we rate each one on a 0 to 10 scale, decimals allowed. We sum the scores up and divide it by the total possible in order to give the final score for the game, which will be in terms of percentage (100% being an absolutely perfect game in our eyes). Then, since we review Japanese games for American and European audiences, every one of our reviews includes a part at the end about how “import friendly” the game is. This rating is based on two things, how easy or hard it is for a person with the American or European version of the console to be able to play the game (e.g., can they just put it in and play it, or will they have to modify the console, or even get a new Japanese one?), and how easy or hard is it for someone with little to know Japanese knowledge to play and enjoy the game. This, too, is on a 1 to 10 scale. Alright, here we go. We’ll start with graphics.



Graphics

The graphics are outright impressive, especially when viewed in full 1080p. Most everything looks crisp and pretty. However, it certainly isn’t flawless. Some of the characters’ hair appears to have an odd filter over it, making it appear almost pixelated. Lightning’s hair seems to be have the worst case of it, while Sazh’s hair doesn’t seem to do this at all. Apparently, afros are the way to get around this problem. Ironically, whenever the characters are in motion, this filter makes the hair look very realistic. But, whenever they are standing still, it makes the hair look out of place when compared to the rest of the game. That is, until you get used to it. By the end of the game, it probably won’t bother you anymore. There were also a few cases of lower resolution textures here and there throughout the game, but really not too many. Considering the length of the game, the detail presented through the entire game is certainly something worth admiring.

Graphics Score: 9.5/10


Story

(NO SPOILERS) Full of twists and turns, the story in this game is what you have come to expect from a Final Fantasy game. It might not become one of your favorite stories, but it will not disappoint. It has several sub-plots that emerge as the game progresses, none of which feel pointless. You will have to struggle with whether your group is doing the right thing or the wrong thing, and you later find out for sure which one it is. After Final Fantasy XII, I was worried that the ending might disappoint us much as FFXII’s ending had. I was happy to discover the opposite. The ending was pleasant, but not too pleasant (perfect happy endings are kinda boring), and had everything to do with the characters we had grown attached to through the game. There is no question in my mind that the story is the highlight of the game. That being said, there are sections of the story that wear on a little too long, and some of the twists and turns are very easy to see coming. That’s why FFXIII didn’t get a perfect 10/10 for its story.

Story Score: 9.8/10


Battle Gameplay

In any Final Fantasy game, how the battles are played is something to be considered separately from the rest of the gameplay. In order to complete the game, you’ll have to play through hundreds, if not thousands, of battles. Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is fun, but flawed. First, I’ll explain the basics of the battle system. There is no MP, all actions cost one or more sections of your ATB (Active Time Battle) bar. As such, there’s no way to use magic outside of battle, so you’re always automatically healed to full after every battle. You either select your actions manually or use the “attack” button to allow the game to pick the best options based on the enemy you are selecting and the optima you are in (optima will be known as paradigm in the English version). There is a “break” system (known as “stagger” in English) that increases the amount of damage that your attacks do. Every time you hit an enemy, their break percentage increases. This percentage represents how much of your base damage you do to this opponent. So, if the break meter says 500%, you do 5 times your normal damage. If the break bar fills up, the break percentage automatically increases by 100%. Furthermore, when an enemy is in break mode, some of them won’t be able to attack back, and some of them can be knocked into the air and juggled. This is crucial to doing well in battle, as shown below:

In fact, for the Behemoth, if you don’t manage to get them to break before they are half dead, they will transform and become even harder to kill, as shown below:

However, if you do manage to get them to break, they become MUCH easier:

You may have noticed in the above videos that you are given a ranking for how well you did in the fight. The rankings go from 0 to 5 stars, and it’s based solely on how quickly you beat the enemies. The time restrictions get smaller as you get stronger because it attempts to be an accurate judge of how well you did a particular fight. On average it’s a good indicator, but there is one problem. The required time can be manipulated by reducing your max stat. If you have medium high physical attack and magic attack instead of really high physical attack and low magic attack, the time required for a 5 star rating is increased. Which means that there is a reason not to max out one role versus another, and instead it is indirectly encouraging keeping each individual character very balanced as opposed to a balanced team of characters that are each really strong in their own areas. This aspect was a bad move. A battle rating system shouldn’t be able to be manipulated like that.

But the real flaw is that you can only control one character, and you can’t switch which character mid-battle. Furthermore, the best you can do to control the other two characters is to give them a role to play. Basically, you can give one character the general role of “Attacker” (“Commando” in English), and they will use the abilities that come with that role as they please. Same with “Healer” (“Medic”), “Enhancer” (“Synergist”) and the other 3 roles. How the other characters utilize these roles is completely up to the AI, and you have no control over it. The only saving grace is that you can change characters’ roles mid-fight, but you can’t just change one character’s role. You have to pick one of the 6 3 role combinations you made before you entered the fight, meaning you have to change everybody’s role at once, though it is possible to “change” someone’s role to the same role in the process. Just to make matters worse, if the leader of the party dies (the leader is the one you are actually controlling), it’s an immediate game over. This can be particularly frustrating when the leader is low on health, but another character is slightly lower on health, so the AI heals that one first even when the leader is clearly the target of the next attack, resulting in a game over. Granted, that scenario doesn’t happen all that often, but it did happen several times while playing through the game.

Another thing to note is that there is no evasion or accuracy stat. All attacks hit or miss based on straight hit detection. Some enemies move around a lot, and you’ll miss them more often. Other enemies hardly move at all, and you’ll essentially never miss them. That’s all well and good, but that means that there is no way to increase how well you dodge, or how well you aim. Ever. Though, to be honest, I’m overall happy with this aspect. It kinda makes sense when you play it. Except for ONE enemy. The Behemoth. If you break a Behemoth after it has transformed and then knock it into the air, if no one else hits it to force it to reset it’s floating animation, you WILL miss the next 2 hits. The enemy is supposed to be completely helpless and open to attacks, and you automatically miss twice. This is a horrible flaw that, thankfully, only seems to effect one fight, but it is glaringly awful.

Battle Gameplay Score: 7.5/10


Leveling System

The leveling system (called the Crystarium or Crystalium) is always a major part of any Final Fantasy game. As such, it’s a category that simply can’t be ignored in a Final Fantasy review! The leveling system in FFXIII is very reminiscent of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, with a few major differences. One difference is that the characters never become essentially the same. Yes, every character can eventually get to the highest level of every role, but certain characters will never be as good as other characters at a particular role. For example, Lighting is one of the best Attackers in the game, and Hope or Vanille just simply can’t get as good at the role. But, they can be better Blasters than Lightning can. Also, every character has their own special attack that they can use as many times as they want in battle that the other characters can never learn. On the other hand, every role tree is very linear. You’ll rarely go more than 4 slots out from the main path, and never go more than 5 or 6. You also don’t really have a location in the tree, unlike the sphere grid, so you never actually backtrack. As such, there’s less planning involved with leveling. However, there is still some planning in the sense that you need to choose which jobs to prioritize enhancements for, and then you need to match that planning up with the way you’re leveling the weapons and accessories. Yes, you level up your weapons and accessories.

So, how do you level up weapons and accessories? Well, you obtain items that can be spent to increase the experience points of a weapon/accessory. Some items will give the weapon or accessory a multiplier that increases future experience point earnings for that weapon or accessory, while others will give huge boosts but reduce that multiplier. Once you get the weapon/accessory to a high enough level, you can use items with the effect “item change” to change the weapon or accessory to a lower level of a higher tier item. Meaning that you can really invest a lot into a weapon and make it very powerful.

So, with careful management, but without the pain of true micro-managing, the leveling system becomes very enjoyable. It is one of the better (though it’s hard to call it the best) leveling systems in the Final Fantasy franchise.

Leveling System Score: 9.1/10


Pacing And Exploration

This is where much of the buzz on the internet has been coming into play. The pacing of the game is very controlled by being very linear, with the exception of one large, open area that is around 2/3 of the way through the game. I consider this to be both good and bad. On one hand, there are no side quests until you reach the larger, more open area (which I didn’t do until just over 30 hours into the game), so there is no reason to spend extra time in any area unless you plan to run back and forth in a straight line just to kill more enemies for experience. On the other hand, there’s no need to really do that. If you kill every enemy you see and level up wisely, it won’t be impossible by any stretch to beat all the bosses that come up through the game. But, everything changes once you reach the plains-like area. Once you’re there, it would be wise to do many of the missions (though not all of them as some of them are ridiculously hard until you reach much higher stats) so that you can get strong enough to avoid lots of difficulties after you leave the area.

Except that, despite what I just said, not everything changes. Once you’re done with the big open area (which you can return to), the path goes right back to being incredibly linear with almost no exploration whatsoever. I can comfortably say that this is the most linear main Final Fantasy title to date. This doesn’t bother me too much, as before this, FFX was in my top 3 or 4 list of FF titles, and it used to be the most linear of the Final Fantasy games. But exploration is definitely limited, which hurts the score of this category. And a few things simply took too long before they were available. I couldn’t choose my party members at all until just over 25 hours in, for example. There is definitely room for improvement here.

Pacing And Exploration Score: 8.5/10


Continuing Playability

What I mean by continuing playability is this: is there any reason for me to continue playing the game after I’ve finished the story? This is a little different from replay value in that I’m not referring to starting the game over, but rather whether or not you will want to continue to improve your characters and completing optional content once the final boss has beaten. The answer: yes, you will. The last tier of the Crystarium is not unlocked until you’ve beaten the final boss. This sounds odd, but it keeps the final boss from being too easy the first time you fight him, which I feel is a good thing. This last tier gives HUGE boosts to stats. Beyond that, there are 64 optional missions, some of them more difficult than others, and some of them more fun than others. The Jumbo Cactuar (or Sabotender as they are known in the Japanese Final Fantasy games) is an amusing fight that makes you feel rather accomplished once you manage to beat him. About that fight, let me say this. 10,000 Needles is painful.

Even if you beat all of the missions, there are trophies and secret wallpapers to unlock by collecting all the items in the game or beating all of the missions with a 5 star rating. All of this is more than enough to extend the play time to over 100 hours, which is very respectable for a good Final Fantasy. However, there isn’t much else that you can do. No mini-games or other amusing distractions. Thus, a perfect score just can’t quite be justified.

Continuing Playability Score: 9.5/10


Summary:

Graphics Score: 9.5/10

Story Score: 9.8/10

Battle Gameplay Score: 7.5/10

Leveling System Score: 9.1/10

Pacing And Exploration Score: 8.5/10

Continuing Playability Score: 9.5/10


Total Score: 53.9/60 = 89.8%



Import Friendly?

Since this game isn’t available in the US or other regions until March, the only way to play this game at the time of this posting is to A) be in the gaming industry or gaming journalism industry and get an advanced copy or B) import the game from Japan. The good news is that the PS3 version of the game (the only version available in Japan) is completely region free, as are all PS3 games. This means that if you have an American or European PS3, the game will play just fine in your system. This certainly lends it some “import friendliness”. But, since this is an RPG with an involved story, it has LOTS of Japanese text and voices. You will not understand the story and may even get confused as to what you’re supposed to do if you don’t understand a fair amount of Japanese. Can you still get through it and enjoy the gameplay without knowing Japanese? With some experimentation, sure. But you won’t get the story, which I’ve already said is the best part of this release. If you can understand Japanese, though, you should go ahead and Buy Final Fantasy XIII at Play-Asia (maybe even with the FFXIV beta application code, if you can still get a first print copy) especially since the English voice acting isn’t quite as good (minor complaint) and they changed the main theme song (bigger complaint) in the English version of the game. If you can’t understand Japanese, or can’t afford to import (it is more expensive), just wait a couple more months until the game comes out in your own region. It will be worth the wait, even with the unfortunate changes.

Import Friendly Score: 5.0/10

If you have any questions, complaints, hearty agreements, disagreements, rebuttals, etc., please comment below! It will be much appreciated! ^_^

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