Should I Buy? – Final Fantasy XIII

Oh dear. Final Fantasy XIII isn’t very good. Not that it’s a *bad* game by any measure, well OK by a fair few measures, but I don’t hate it and I kind of admire how it tries to do things differently. Some of them even work.

To give a quick over-view of the plot with a few spoilers, there’s this giant floating world called Cocoon in which people live. And then there are these weird angel-like things called fal’Cie that provide power, food etc. Outside of Cocoon is the mysterious “Pulse”, which has its own fal’Cie that want to destroy Cocoon. The player characters are made into l’Cie (super-powered slaves) of a Pulse fal’Cie and tasked to destroy Cocoon because…pancakes and along the way must question…oh, many things.

I don’t cherry pick the most prominent ones because the damn game can’t ever seem to decide. This is where most of my complaints come from. The game suffered from a pretty far-reaching array of internal problems. The English script was rewritten so often that the dialogue had to be re-written five times.

The narrative  holds most of the flaws. The dialogue has that slightly clunky feel that most Japanese games do, but it’s in the broad strokes. Characters will shift motivations on a dime, not address fundamental differences of opinion in the group, make senseless decisions, have strange outbursts that they never address again, the villains are poorly characterised and almost entirely absent, plot holes you could drive an airship through…It’s all kind of a mess. Not that I blame the English translators entirely, it’s clear there was only so much they could do with the original story.

To be fair, everything connected to Snow that doesn’t involve the words “hero” or “Serah” really does work, not just in the character himself but also in how others react to him. In fact if it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I’d be able to discern any character from Lightning other than “she seems like a bit of a bitch” and Hope would have literally no arc or reason being tagging along.

Let’s talk about the actual game itself. After all, we went decades where stories were an excuse to play a good game so let’s not pin a game down because it fails there.

The basic idea in combat is that your three characters can have one “paradigms” which basically amount to jobs like warrior, black mage, white mage etc.  active at a time, and you can set up different combinations of roles and switch between them on the fly to adjust to the flow of battle.

And that’s about it. You only control one character at a time, and even then it’s only this weird quasi-control. You have an Auto-Battle option that queues up the most useful actions based on your paradigm and the battle situation, and there’s few times you’ll want to choose a different set or do something different. Items are almost non-existent and the only other option is to Summon your Eidolon or use one of half a dozen or so Techniques, most of which aren’t that useful.

It works well enough. It’s not exciting, but once you gain the ability to set your own paradigms and switch between them on the fly there’s a kind of “yay I used tactics kind of” feel to proceedings.  Which is way too late in the game, but ah well.

Levelling up is done by earning points at the end of a battle and then using them to unlock a new Node in the Crystarium to get the next bonus, whether it’s stats or ability. You might be wondering how this is any different from the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. Well, each character has their own version of the Crystarium that ensures they’ll perform differently in a paradigm somebody else has because they’ll learn different abilities.

For example, as a Ravager Hope is all about powerful spells because of his sky high magic stat, but Lightning mixes it up with special “-strike” abilities that rely partially on her strength to do damage cause she’s not so hot a spellcaster.

In an effort to prevent power levelling, only so much of the Crystarium is available to you at one time, the rest being locked off until the plot says so. For the first two thirds of the game, this keeps pace pretty well with the plot, so that you can max it out with just a little grinding.

But then the final third hits and all of a sudden there are huge bonuses real close together. Except they now cost thousands of points instead of hundreds for each of them. Dick move. Literally days of grinding are necessary to be able to progress beyond this section of the game.

Finally, weapons. You can, every once in a while buy a new one from a shop or find one in a chest. But there’s not really much point. The point is to upgrade your weapons with items you find to increase their stats but these stat increases are pretty minimal and the added bonuses some weapons have aren’t really worth it.

Not that finding materials is hard, oh no, after a certain point you can just buy them (which you can do easily because after the first few hours Phoenix Downs are the only items you’ll ever need) but this just makes it a hassle to buy new items and then go through the process of upgr-ahhh no pointless mechanic go away.

That’s…pretty much it. For a Final Fantasy game there’s really very little to it. It looks pretty enough, I guess, the character designs are fairly under control and the music’s decent if not anything especially memorable or beautiful.

I don’t hate it. I don’t regret having paid £10 for it. But I really don’t know if I’ll ever replay it. I know it sold well, but  I can’t really find anything from a narrative or mechanical standpoint to justify giving it more than a 6.5 out of 10.

Inoffensive, playable but also repetitive with head-scratchingly bad plot.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mitch Allan
    May 20, 2012 @ 16:04:13

    Oh, the plot. The plot…
    I feel even FFX’s “we have to go to every temple because shut up that’s just how it’s done” lead us more seamlessly from location to location.
    And yeah…the characters are just bizarre in their motivations, random outbursts and crackpot decisions.

    I really like the paradigm mechanic, and the crystarium. But I feel it would have worked better if I could switch between my three active party members in combat. For a battle system designed on tactics, I really don’t see why I was locked into one character’s commands when they basically did Auto-command anyway.

    I kept upgrading weapons because I hate extra items floating around and I genuinely kept believing that if I used it enough, it would actually make a difference to the gameplay. Alas.


  2. Willow Wood
    May 21, 2012 @ 00:35:46

    For someone who only complained at me about this game, you’ve written a pretty fair review. You’re right, the plot is wonky and needs to be less confusing by introducing problems and villians better (especially the ‘villains’). The main characters themselves (MOSTLY VANILLE WTF) need a kick-up the backside and an injection of bitch-make-some-sense.

    I do love the paradigm mechanic, and the Crystarium. I especially love the Crystarium and I never get bored of moving into new locations to do battle, but I agree. It shouldn’t suddenly require an actual THREE DAYS of grinding just to acquire two nodes that do bugger all to your overall stats, which means you can’t progress. The paradigm system (agreeing with Mitch) could have been made super awesome if I could swap between party members.

    Upgrade your weapons whaaa? I actually have the FFXIII guide book and have to study it hard every time I want to upgrade. There’s a stupid super special forumla you’re supposed to figure out for upgrading to be effective.

    But yes. This game as a whole? I enjoy playing it. I’ll probably replay it (more than FFXII, which I also liked for the game mechanics despite it’s fantastically shit plot and dull as fuck ‘protagonists’) when I find the time to complete the last chapter.


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