Finally Finished Final Fantasy XIII   Leave a comment

I bought Final Fantasy XIII (FFXIII) back in late 2010. I even wrote a first impression on the game based on a few hours of gameplay. Then my fat PS3 broke. It couldn’t handle all of FFXIII’s awesomeness (The original 80GB PS3s could play PS2 games and DVDs, overworking the disk lens. FFXIII fried it). My initial review was heavily biased over a broke PS3 and I chimed in haterade bandwagon online. Three years later, a new slim PS3 and numerous games after, I decided to pick up where I left off on the game early December completed the game.

The cast in Final Fantasy XIII: Left to right: Sazh, Snow, Hope, Lightning, Fang and Vanille.

The Final Fantasy series is the poster boy for everything that the gamers of the world know about Japanese Role-Playing Games. Numerous iterations, different game mechanics and new stories later, we are now at the thirteenth of the series.


Story (mostly from Wikipedia)

Review


Story

FFXIII is set on the gigantic world of Gran Pulse (simply called Pulse). Central to the story is Cocoon, a massive artificial sphere that floats above Pulse’s surface and is ruled by the Sanctum, a theocratic government. The two worlds are controlled by godlike beings known as fal’Cie. The Cocoon fal’Cie are responsible for keeping Cocoon floating, as well as providing light and water to the people that live inside. Each fal’Cie handles a specific task. The fal’Cie have the capability of marking the humans that live in Pulse and Cocoon as their servants. These servants, called l’Cie, are branded with a symbol representing either Pulse or Cocoon and are given a “Focus” — a task to complete. If the ‘Cie complete their task in time, they are transformed to crystal and according to legend gain eternal life; otherwise they become mindless monsters called Cie’th. The l’Cie are not explicitly told their Focus, but are instead given visions that they must interpret.

Lightning on the Archylte Steppe in Gran Pulse, looking at Cocoon.

Several hundred years before the events of the game, a battle known as the War of Transgression took place between Pulse and Cocoon. During the battle, l’Cie from Pulse attacked and ripped a large hole in Cocoon. Eventually, the l’Cie complete their focus and were turned to crystal. The hole was patched with material lifted from Pulse, and Cocoon’s citizens have since lived in fear of another invasion; this fear is used by the Sanctum to remain in power. the Sanctum oversees two military branches; the Guardian Corps, responsible for keeping order on Cocoon, and PSICOM, the special forces in charge of dealing with any threat related to Pulse. The fal’Cie have given the humans advanced technology, including flying airships and mechanical creatures, and a form of magic also exists. The magic is normally only accessible to l’Cie, fal’Cie and various monsters in Cocoon and Pulse, though distilled chemical forms can be used by normal humans.

The six main playable characters of Final Fantasy XIII are Lightning, the main protagonist of the game, a former soldier and older sister to Serah. Snow Villiers, Serah’s fiancé and leader of NORA, a paramilitary group. Oerba Dia Vanille, the game’s narrator and an exile who is later revealed to be a l’Cie from Pulse. Sazh Katzroy, a civilian pilot and father to a young boy, Dajh; Hope Estheim, a young boy who is struggling within the relationships he shares with his parents; and Oerba Yun Fang, a l’Cie from Pulse who is working with the Sanctum’s Cavalry branch. Other characters include Galenth Dysley, the ruler of the Sanctum and main antagonist; Cid Rains, a Sanctum Brigadier General in the Cavalry who does not trust the government; and Serah Farron, Lightning’s younger sister.

Courtesy of IGN: Snow and Vanille looking at the Pulse Vestige after it crashed on the ground and crystalized the waters in the surrounding area.

FFXIII begins in Cocoon as the citizens of the town of Bodhum are being evicted, or Purged, from Cocoon after coming in contact with something from Pulse. Over the course of the game, the player is shown flashbacks of the events of the previous 13 days, which began when a fal’Cie from Pulse was discovered near Bodhum. Lightning’s sister Serah had found the fal’Cie from Pulse and been changed into a l’Cie by it. Lightning and Sazh derail a Purge train bound for Pulse in an attempt to save Serah. In the subsequent battle, Snow leads his resistance group, NORA, to rescue the Purge exiles. Several of them, including Hope’s mother, are killed. As Snow heads to the fal’Cie Anima to save Serah, he is joined by two of the exiles: Hope and Vanille. The two groups meet at the fal’Cie, and find Serah just as she turns to crystal. Anima then brands them all as l’Cie and they are cast out into a different part of Cocoon. During this transformation, the newly crested l’Cie all have the same vision: a monster called Ragnarok. The group, arguing over the ambiguous nature of the dreamed Focus, find Serah in her crystallized form; Snow remains with her as the others leave.

The System

The beginning plot covers three out of the thirteen chapters in FFXIII. The start of chapter three is when your characters start using magic, bestowed upon by the Pulse l’Cie who marked them. The rest of the game is the group rationalizing their decisions on whether to undertake the “focus” given to them, run away and give up, or option three, like most epic RPG plots, go against the status quo and start shit up.

Playing FFXIII over the last three weeks made me like the game. As far as JRPGs are concerned, FFXIII is still the same formula as previous games. The biggest difference is the change in overall game mechanics.

For starters, while you still have health points (HP) there are no mana points (MP). You still have magic abilities, but they are no longer dictated by how much MP you have left before you use an Ether to restore them. You still get HP in battle, but you can use cure to restore it or an item. After the battle ends, your HP is back to full. All of your attacks, special techniques and magic are simply abilities. the power of your abilities are determined by your Strength (STR) and Magic (MAG). You increase these attributes, along with HP using the Crystarium System (CS).

Each characters gets their own CS. Each battle awards you with Crystarium Points (CP). You can use these points to increase your character’s attributes and gain new abilities. There are 5 levels in the CS. Each node holding an attribute or ability requires CP. You require more CP as the level progresses.

The team facing one of the toughest and largest monsters in the game: Adamantoise.

Initially, characters get to have three CS for any three roles: Commando (attacker), Ravager – magic user (RAV), Medic – healer (MED), Synergists – status booster (SYN), Sentinel – damage tank (SEN), and Saboteur – status ailments (SAB). You can only have three people in your batty party. You can mix and match your characters to have different roles for each paradigm and switch out of that during battle. For example, you start the battle with three characters as RAV and fight the enemies. If one character’s HP is almost gone, you switch to another paradigm of two RAV and one MED, continuing the fight while one character restores health. You can mix and match your paradigm set up and tailor it for different enemies.

In essence, you don’t level up your characters in FFXIII. You level up their roles to gain attributes and abilities. It is the same thing with weapons and accessories. Each character have their own weapons which they can level up and upgrade from Tier 1 to Tier 3. Each Tier 1 weapon have their own Tier 2 counterparts. All Tier 2 upgrade to the same Tier 3 weapon for a specific character, with different stats and special attributes. Upgrading weapons requires organic and industrial components. You get these from enemy drops or from buying through online shops inside save points. This brings us to another change in the Final Fantasy series. While you still have gil as currency, enemies don’t drop them at all. Selling enemy drops and only a select few treasure orbs are your only monetary source. The good part about this is that certain enemies drop what are called premium items. These items are useless for upgrading your weapons and accessories, but they sell for a lot in the stores. This forces you to battle in the chance of acquiring premium items and get CP and enemy drop for upgrading in the process.

With these, FFXIII’s battle mechanic is still a JRPG at it’s core. They just stripped out the tedious parts and focused on making the battles look cool, flashy and fast-spaced. It’s the best of both turn-based and active real time battles. You also have to be proactive with the battles and change your roles accordingly.

The Good

Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) will always hold a special place in my heart as the first Final Fantasy game I ever played and for introducing me into the world of RPGs. Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X are close second place next to Final Fantasy V and VI. That said, FFXIII managed reinvent the RPG genre and streamline the storytelling process. The soundtrack is quite new and sort of a step up in the same direction as Final Fantasy XII (FFXII).

They got rid of random battles, which is also a step up from the same formula in FFXII. You see your enemies on screen as you plow through from start to finish. Enemies are alerted by your presence when you enter their radius. If they notice you, they give chase. You can fight them head on, try to dodge them or avoid them entirely. You also have the option of using shrouds (Aegisol, Fortisol and Deceptisol) to buff your party or hide from enemies before battle and cause a preemptive strike. When you need to farm for CP and enemy drop, you can exit out of the area and go back. This resets the area and have another go at the enemies you just passed or beat. This level of freedom is a nice addition Final Fantasy that won’t be going anywhere.

The CGI cutscenes are one of the best in any RPG to date. It’s signature Final Fantasy… always flashy and never disappoints. The environments, characters and enemy models had an upgrade. At some points in the game, you couldn’t even tell whether you’re watching a CGI cutscene or in-game graphics.

A still from one of the cut scenes riding Fang’s Eidolon, Bahamut, flying over Gran Pulse.

The game can be as short or as long as you want it to be with fully developing your characters and their weapons and accessories. My total time in the game after getting 100% completion is close to 100 hours. Even if you just plow through the story, you can get back to completing missions, side quests and getting 5-star rating on those missions.

The Bad

Despite all the new additions to “wow” gamers, FFXIII is not as good as previous Final Fantasy games. For such a long-standing series, there are traditions and appeal to the series that fans have known for two decades now. FFXIII is a case of too much something new and disastrous omission of what Final Fantasy.

FFXIII sort of mimics how FFVII started out. You’re thrust into this situation and only get snippets of the story as you progress. Everything is linear, going from point A to point B, battling enemies and unavoidable boss battles. After chapter three, you’d think  you see the world map. But you don’t. You’re going through ten more chapters in a linear direction. The closest this game to ever getting a world map is in Gran Pulse when you finally get out of Cocoon. Gran Pulse is one huge place. There are 6 main interconnected areas. They’re all still point A to point B areas and longer. If it weren’t for teleport spots, Gran Pulse would have been a tedious area.

The maps in the game show are different from the previous game. The point of a map is to show your location on a stationary fixed-point. in FFXIII, the fixed-point is the direction that your character is facing. The map rotates accordingly. This is useful when you’re following arrows to the next location as a compass, but you’re left scratching your head on side quests. It took a while to get used to it until I figured out landmarks to know my whereabouts.

At it’s core, FFXIII is a very short game compared to previous adventures. there are no towns to go and visit to relax when the entire plot revolves around running away from enemies and going forward to the goal. They had two relaxing parts in the game: a flashback and a brief rest from all the chasing. The entire story for the first 12 chapters were supplanted by cutscenes and flashbacks on the first thirteen days before the events of the game took place (thirteen days, thirteen chapters, thirteen Analects in the game to read, etc). I accumulated almost 100 hours of gameplay because the distance between point A to point B is really long. I think they tried to make it so distances are as lifelike in the game. They succeeded in making the game longer. There aren’t enough side quests like in previous games, though I can kind of get that because of the overall plot.

A personal “bad” for the series is the inclusion of staple names in history and mythology present in Enix games, but were not in Squaresoft. The marriage between both companies is a compromise. As an homage they would put staples from both companies in their games. It’s not really a game breaker, but it’s also not the Final Fantasy I knew. It’s a change. Whether fans like it or not, I welcome them just as well.

Overall

Overall, FFXIII is an okay game. It’s still Final Fantasy. It’s got a great story. The characters and the world setting is something you can get used to and invest your time in. The battle mechanics are a welcome change. The story felt short, made longer by the massive environment. I think it set itself up for the sequel Final Fantasy XIII-2 and the upcoming sequel, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. I’m going to take a short break before moving on to the sequel.

I’m done.

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Posted January 2, 2014 by StupidSystemus in Games, Reviews

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