Final Fantasy XIII – Review

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Posted May 7, 2010 by Marshall in PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Cocoon … a utopia in the sky

Its inhabitants believed their world a paradise.

Under the sanctum’s rule, Cocoon had long known peace and prosperity.

Mankind was blessed by its protectors, the benevolent fal’Cie, and believed that tranquil days would continue forever.

Their tranquillity was shattered by the discovery of one hostile fal’Cie.

The moment that fal’Cie from Pulse – the feared and detested lowerworld – awoke from its slumber, peace on Cocoon came to an end.

Fal’Cie cursed humans, turning them into magic wielding servants.

They became l’Cie – chosen of the fal’Cie.

Those branded with the mark of the l’Cie carry the burden of either fulfilling their Focus or facing a fate harsher than death itself.

Story

The plot of Final Fantasy XIII takes place in a world known as Pulse and revolves around the story of the fal’Cie, mechanical beings with godlike powers created by a being called the Maker. Each fal’Cie has crystals residing inside them. People who are marked by the fal’Cie are called l’Cie. Each l’Cie has a Focus, a goal the fal’Cie wants him or her to fulfil  within a certain amount of time. However, the fal’Cie do not explicitly say what the goal is. L’Cie learn what their Focus is by interpreting visions that are given to them. L’Cie may also gain the ability to summon an Eidolon, monsters who fight with the l’Cie. However, if a l’Cie dies before completing his or her Focus, fails to tame his or her Eidolon, or fails to complete his or her Focus within a set period of time, he or she becomes a fowl monster known as a Cie’th. If a l’Cie does complete his or her Focus, the reward is not much better. Permanent or so, transformation into a crystal. For this reason, being chosen as a l’Cie is seen as a curse.

During the story you play a variety of characters who’s story’s all intertwine with each others. One of the main characters you play is called Lightning. A former sergeant of the Guardian Corps, Lightning sought the Pulse fal’Cie, Anima, in order to ask it to save her sister Serah, whom the fal’Cie had turned into a l’Cie. However, much to her dismay, Lightning was turned into a l’Cie herself. To which she now bears the brand of the l’Cie on her chest. Lightning not being her real name, she discarded her birth name after her parents died in an attempt to emotionally reinforce herself so that she could protect Serah, although this only caused tensions to rise between them.

The second main character you play also has a large role in the story. Prior to becoming a l’Cie, Snow Villiers is the head of Team NORA, a resistance group fighting against the government of Cocoon. Throughout the game Snow find himself on a never-ending quest to ‘heroically rescue’ as he likes to put it, his loving fiancé Serah Farron, Lightning’s younger sister. Snow bears the mark of the l’Cie on his lower left arm, through which he has the power to summon the twin Shiva Sister Eidolons, who can combine into a motorcycle for Snow to ride while wielding a large gun.

Apart from the two main characters, the other four also have definitive roles played throughout the story.

Oerba Dai Vanille is a mysterious but upbeat young girl originally residing from Oerba Village located on Gran Pulse. Vanille is among those being exiled from Cocoon at the start of the game and is subsequently rescued by Team Nora. She has a childlike innocence and is shown to be very compassionate, but at times she can also be very stubborn. Though some characters such as Lightning have their own sections in story where they openly speak their mind, Vanille on the other hand serves as the game’s narrator giving you a sense that she may have the largest involvement in the story. She has been a l’Cie for a long time, one of two l’Cie given the Focus to summon the Eidolon Ragnarok who dealt the first blow to Cocoon, ultimately igniting the war between the two worlds.

While most characters in the story set out one the one mission to end the war. Some also have other motifs such as saving loved ones. Sazh Katzroy A former airship pilot of the Military has a six-year-old son named Dajh with whom he is very close. When Dajh inadvertently became a l’Cie by an unexpected character in the story and was taken by Sanctum, saving him became Sazh’s main motivation.

During the Purge, many citizens of Cocoon were stranded only to find help from team NORA. One mother offers to help Snow and Team Nora fight off PSICOM gaurds. She dies during the battle, and with her last words, request Snow to protect her son. Hope, who sees Snow let his mother fall to the depths of Cocoons great lake hates Snow in a grief-induced rage for his connection to his mother’s death. Throughout the first half of the story, Hope tries to build courage to stand up to Snow for his actions.

The final and one of the most over confident playable characters in the game is Oerba Yun Fang, A raven-haired woman who comes from Oerba Village, and bearing the mark of a l’Cie on her right shoulder. Though she is a l’Cie from Pulse, she originally works for the Cocoon Sanctum under Cid Rains, commander of the war ship ‘The Lindblum’. One of FFXIII’s many references to previous instalments. It later turns out she is one of the two l’Cie given the focus to summon Ragnarok.

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Gameplay

The concept for Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system is to maintain the strategic nature of command-based battles. The system came from the desire to create battles similar to those found in Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. Like most in Final Fantasy XIII, enemies are integrated into the world environment, but by contrast, battles do not take place in the same field. Instead, there is a short transition and players are transported to a new battle screen, separate from the main playing world. The Active Time Battle or ATB system returns, but works differently from its predecessors. Users are able to chain large numbers of commands together in order to achieve multiple attack bonuses.

A “Stagger State” is one of the new features of the Final Fantasy XIII battle system. The enemy becomes staggered when a chain combo has been maintained for a certain period of time on an enemy, filling its stagger bar to maximum. When a high level combo has been achieved, the enemy will glow orange and enter this state for a limited time, during which the player will be able to inflict high amounts of damage and, if the Launch ability has been learned, may launch enemies high into the air, disabling the enemy’s moves. During Stagger mode there is a noticeable percentage under the bar which heightens on every successful hit which usually starts at around 400.0% and can go all the way to 999.9%. So the higher the percentage, the higher the damage you deal .The chain bar will gradually deplete during this period until empty in which the break state ends.

The “Role” system exists in order to control what abilities are available to characters in battle. Rather than having all abilities available to characters as they are learned, abilities are restricted to certain Roles, similar to the Job system of previous instalments. These Roles are Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Synergist, Saboteur and Medic, while the Japanese versions are a little different. Commandos use physical attacks, slowing the rate of stagger decay and striking for high damage, especially with a high stagger percentage, while Ravagers use elemental abilities like Blizzard and Fira, greatly increasing the stagger bar. Synergists use buffers like Shell and Brave to enhance the party’s characters, while Saboteurs use debuffs like DeShell and Bio to weaken the enemies defences. Sentinels provoke enemies, absorb enemy attacks and counterattack, and Medics exclusively heal, using abilities like Cura, Raise, and Esuna. These are the only means by which to direct friendly AI.

Each character may only take on one role at a time, and each combination of three Roles for a party is called a Paradigm. Up to six Paradigm combinations may be stored in a Paradigm Deck at any one time. During battle, players may switch between them, called a Paradigm Shift. Timing Paradigm Shifts correctly can fill the ATB gauge, making switching frequently in battle an advantage.

The classic summoned creatures called Eidolons (as they were named in Final Fantasy IX) return in Final Fantasy XIII. Each character possesses only one Eidolon that is summoned from a crystal that emerges from the character’s l’Cie brand. The Eidolons include Odin, Shiva, Alexander, and Bahamut, and newcomers Hecatoncheir and Brynhildr. When summoned, the Eidolon stay in battle while the characters accompanying the summoner leave the party. There is also a new feature called “Gestalt Mode”, which when activated joins the summoned and its summoner just how Snow can ride and steer the combined Shiva Sisters which is a motorcycle, Vanille’s Hecatoncheir can transform into a bipedal mech, and Sazh can ride and steer Brynhildr as a race car. This changes the pace of the combat significantly. Although not all summons turn into mechanical vehicles as Odin’s Gestalt Mode changes him into a horse for Lightning to ride, Bahamut can transform into a mechanical dragon for Fang to fly on, while Alexander’s (Hope’s Eidolon) Gestalt Mode changes him into a large tower which surrounds the enemy and fires lasers from all sides. These summons play a major role in the game’s storyline as well as previous titles like Final Fantasy IX and X.

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Design

The graphics in the game where just as Square Enix wanted them to be since throughout the game you will constantly notice the beauty and splendour that the game throws at you. Despite the many discussions about graphical changes before the game was released. I find that the game looks just as great on both XBOX and PS3 as the game was dramatically sharpened up about a year before it came out. Also one of the best things about the game is the CGI involved which tells you a lot about the game and also how hard Art director Isamu Kamikokuryou worked his team to provide the best possible CGI outcomes. This radical improvement in graphical quality was critical to the game’s success as the previous instalment XII didn’t receive as much love as It could have.

Between the years of 2008 until the middle of 2009 hundreds of people had already made up their minds about XIII’s graphical quality from some images of older renders of the game, stating that the graphics were falling rather than getting better with each instalment. It was these images that caused all this:

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The first screenshot here was released by Square Enix in August 2008 which is an older build of the game.

The second image is a CGI shot found on the Japanese Advent Children Complete disc which is a later build of the game.

A few of the changes between the two images are the floor texture is a slightly more simple design than before. The sea is considerably less choppy and the hair of the characters is quite different. Other subtle changes between the images include the textures of Lightning’s clothes and the shape of her shoulders which are considerably less rounded in the later build. The game also appears to have added depth of field effects, throwing Snow and Vanille out of focus.

Well now from these images it may seem true to what many people had been saying but clearly none of them had done their homework. In early 2009, The developers behind the game shared their knowledge about the many features the game holds. During the interview, they said that many screenshots may have caused speculation about the overall games graphics but the screenshots released so far were only a guideline of visuals from older builds of the game, meaning that we should expect ‘better’ graphics in the final version. They also stated before that Final Fantasy XIII was originally going to be released on PS2 so that clearly shows why the graphics weren’t as we expected them to be.

Soundtrack

Soundtracks play a giant role in games especially for me as they are always there to set the right mood depending on the game and location. An interesting fact about the XIII soundtrack is that during November 2009, it was announced that the song “My Hands,” from Leona Lewis’ second album Echo was going to be used as the games main theme. Surprisingly it worked as the song makes you feel slightly sad in a way that goes very well with the games story that deals a lot with with the feeling of loss and hardship.

However there are also many instances throughout the game that differ from the saddening sounds of Leona Lewis, for instance when you fall into the heat of battle. This changes things up a lot more as the music will suddenly transform into a tense dramatic battle theme that works very well with the current situation. You could say that this so called ‘Paradigm shift’ of music works with the games many themes because at one moment you might be walking across the dangerously beautiful planes of Gran Pulse and within a split second you are overwhelmed by a giant Behemoth that can stand on its hind legs and create a gargantuan sword from its head piece. Trust me It’s happened.

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Conclusion

I am going to give Final Fantasy XIII a well deserved 5/5 for providing me with the best FF gaming experience so far in the series. The only word I have to describe this game is truly amazing. From the first time I ventured into the world of Coccoon I found myself lost for words and at times I would literally have to slap myself in the face for standing in one spot for too long. If you aren’t a massive fan of the Final Fantasy series, you should still definitely check this one out as I grantee you, It will be an experience you never forget. There isn’t really much else I can say about XIII since I have pretty much explained the whole game in these few paragraphs … well maybe more than a few, but from the awesome experience gained from playing this epic game, the only other thing I can say is that I cant wait to join in on the online sensation that is Final Fantasy XIV hitting the stores later on this year.

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Author

Marshall
Marshall

Video game fanatic since a young age. FIFA expert and all-round sports junky. I dive into various titles and love experiencing new and creative games.


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