Friday 2 April 2010

Final Fantasy XIII - Review

When you buy a Final Fantasy game the chances are you know what you are going to get.  Over long cut scenes, a bloated confusing story and potentially a few irritating characters thrown into the mix.  Couple all that with a confusing battle system and you have a difficult to get into title.

Final Fantasy XIII throws a lot of what you'll have been used to firmly in the bin.  This isn't quite what anyone expected.  Sure all of the above holds true but there's so many of the staples of the past that have been dismissed that it's almost unrecognisable.  Almost, but not quite.  This is evolution for Final Fantasy and although opinion on it has been divided it still out does most RPG's by some margin.

One thing everyone agrees on is the visuals.  It is quite simply stunning.  It looks marginally better on the PS3 (a rarity) but delivers colours and character detail that really does surpass anything else around.  If you think Uncharted 2 was the pinnacle, Final Fantasy XIII raises the bar to another level.  

There's been a lot of complaints about how linear the game is.  But Final Fantasy titles have always been a linear experience.  Move from point A to point B, fight a few battles along the way and move the story along. What has changed is the amount of distractions to your goals.  No towns, no shops, hardly any NPC's of note to interact with and very few opportunities to stray from the set path until at least 30 hours of gameplay.  Is any of this missed though?  No.  Not really.

You see the thing with this Final Fantasy is that the battle system works so beautifully that you actually look forward to the fights.  At least once the first four hours are done and the system opens out.  The one complaint would be that this doesn't happen quickly enough.  It takes forever until you gain some proper control, essentially just hitting the X button over and over and once in a while throwing in a healing potion.  It stops the uninitiated realising just how good this game is.

Of course even the battle system is new.  You only have control of one character during each fight with one or two others supporting you in a role you have specified.  For example your leader could be a Ravager (casting spells), and the others a Medic (healing magic) and a Commando (physical attacks).  You can change on the fly though, suddenly differing their priorities as and when you need to.  At times it's split second timing and altogether there are six roles that you can assign and six different combinations that you can set up before each battle.  If it sounds complicated, it is.  Sit someone down with you when you have a lengthy battle and they will have no clue what is going on.  However it quickly becomes very intuitive with battles developing an ebb and flow not seen since FFVII.  They are exciting pacey affairs and because, for the first time ever, your character development is capped through out, often tight and evenly fought.

The story is actually one of Final Fantasy's better.  The main cast of six all fighting to find their true purpose after being branded by one set of Gods and given an ambiguous task to fulfil.  It's utter fluff of course.  But the SciFi setting and 'two-worlds' estranged from one another tale works well.  

The characters are easily the best since IX.  The lead, Lightning, is the grumpy former cop, beautiful and mysterious.  Snow the over the top brawler, tough but with heart a heat of gold and a conflicted back story.  Vanille and Hope are the throw backs to Final Fantasy past, the former a pretty, seemingly naive girl who knows more than she's letting on and the latter the only real irritation, young kid without hope, called Hope, with a whiny voice you want to mute.  Sazh is the father who's son has been taken (he has a Chocobo chick in his hair, not as rubbish as it sounds) and Fang is a hard boiled battler of a woman with a dubious past. 

All of the above serves to stop you wondering where the cute villages and charming inhabitants are.  You simply don't miss it because this is Final Fantasy drilled down to it's most important parts and then delivered as a stunning next gen experience.  There will be those bemoaning the lack of side quests.  There will be those who have always been FF doubters, that just don't get the appeal.  But there are many different genres that make up the gaming world and quality RPG's have their place.

The cut scenes are often long drawn out affairs but they are all skippable if they're not your bag.  But they're gorgeous, so don't.

Final Fantasy XIII isn't perfect.  The game holds your hand for way too long, it's almost as if Square don't trust you with their prized asset.  But that aside it delivers wonderfully on the promise of those early video's we saw two years ago.

Buy it.


Format: PS3/Xbox
Available: Now
Price: £37.99 (Amazon)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix

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