lauantai 11. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy XIII (2009)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2009
Available on: PS3, X360
Developer(s): Square Enix
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Players: 1

As some sort of a tradition would have it, the development of Final Fantasy XIII began before its predecessor was complete. It was originally intended to be one last Final Fantasy game for the PS2, but a technical demo of Square Enix's new Crystal Tools engine was so well-received that the game went under an additional 2-3 years of development, so that it could be released as a seventh generation game utilizing the new engine. In 2006, the first teasers of the game emerged and people began to speculate whether this game was to be the true follower to Final Fantasy VII. As more and more details emerged, such as the implementation of a wholly evolved Active Time Battle system and interesting character specifics, the hype grew to unimaginable proportions. In late 2009, the game was finally released in Japan, and it became the fastest-selling Final Fantasy game to date, surpassing the record previously held by Final Fantasy VIII. The word from Japan was that the game was all everyone had hoped for... I guess everyone didn't include us living everywhere else. Final Fantasy XIII is not a bad game... it is just a bad Final Fantasy game, and to me, as a hardcore fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, it's perhaps the biggest disappointment of the 21st century.

Out of Focus

Ali Hillis : Claire Farron, "Lightning"
Troy Baker : Snow Villiers
Georgia van Cuylenburg : Oerba Dia Vanille
Reno Wilson : Sazh Katzroy
Vincent Martella : Hope Estheim
Rachel Robinson : Oerba Yun Fang
Laura Bailey : Serah Farron
Daniel Samonas : Maqui
Erik Davies : Cid Raines
S. Scott Bullock : Galenth Dysley / Barthandelus

Above the world of Gran Pulse, floats Cocoon, a sophisticated, artificial globe inhabited by humans, whereas the world below is mostly rampant with savage beasts. Cocoon is ruled by fal'Cie, machines that have been granted godlike powers by an entity known as the Maker. The fal'Cie have total control over the human race - they are both benefactors and oppressors. At any time they wish, they may choose any one of their "slaves" and brand this person to do their bidding as l'Cie, whatever that mission, or Focus, might be. Reward for their success is eternal life in crystallized form; for failure, the punishment is transformation into a Cie'th, a mindless creature with the inability to distinguish right from wrong. A former soldier calling herself Lightning rises against the fal'Cie in an effort to save her younger sister Serah, who has gone missing after becoming an l'Cie. Unbeknownst to her, Serah's fiancee Snow, the leader of a fal'Cie resistance group, is also on the move for the same reasons. Lightning, Snow and their three newfound allies find Serah, but they also find that they have all been chosen by the fal'Cie as well. The group separates due to conflicting personalities, but soon they see how destiny has brought them together.

I pre-ordered this game as soon as it was possible. From the same company that brought me into role-playing in the first place, there was to be this game that would blow the rest of the role-playing genre off the map. Final Fantasy XII was a good game, but it wasn't really that much of the Final Fantasy we all more or less grew up with. Final Fantasy XIII was to be a return to the roots of the franchise's mainstream success. Lightning was to be the female version of Cloud Strife. The Active Time Battle system first conceived on the behalf of Final Fantasy IV was to make a comeback, better than ever. Final Fantasy XIII was supposed to rock! ...For the first eight hours, I thought I had the game I had expected on my hands. Despite a clearly lackluster story, mediocre music and the introduction of some of the all-time worst Final Fantasy characters, the game felt good to play, it looked perfect, but just a few more hours were all I needed to see what everyone was cursing the game for. 30 hours into the game, I found out I had beaten about 90% of the story, but just about 50% of the game. And I was already bored to fuckin' tears. There's cool stuff in it, but a great game Final Fantasy XIII is not.

The story is not all that bad, but it could use a lot of trimming. There's a lot of totally useless, over-the-top mumbojumbo, and even more totally useless characters who are simply not interesting and their mere inclusion in a Final Fantasy game is just embarrassing. Director Motomu Toriyama started out as an event planner for Final Fantasy VII, which, as you should know, is my favourite video game of all time. He went on to manage the same job in both Final Fantasy VIII and X. He then directed Final Fantasy X-2, which wasn't that great but regardless, the guy has so much experience with the series that he should most definitely know what it's all about. Lightning IS a great character. Lightning isn't the kind of girl that slaps people in the face, she downright punches the living daylights out of them. She hates people, and she doesn't like herself too much either. The only person she really cares about is her sister. Too bad that we know from the start that Lightning's going to change during the storyline like Cloud and Squall did, and in her case, it happens too damn fast. She breaks from a no-bullshit war machine into this worried mommy mode without any pit stops. Sazh is another cool character. Kind of ridiculous, especially the 'do and the Chocobo chick living in it, but I like his lines and his backstory quite a lot. Could've worked on him a little bit more. I absolutely love Fang. Wild girl, great moves, lovely Australian accent. It's not a sexual thing, instead she gives off an image of a female Steve Irwin, it's surprisingly cool.

The best and the worst.
Then, the OTHER HALF. Snow. For several hours, I totally dug this guy. It doesn't take more than a trenchcoat and a scruffy chin to convince me that this guy could've been so damn awesome. Most of the time, he's just useless. And worst of all, he believes himself to be a true hero, and he says that a lot, too. A LOT. There was a huge topic on first impressions of Final Fantasy XIII on a PS3 forum the day the game was released, and Snow was pretty much voted the most hated playable character. I still don't agree on that, 'cause we have someone who simply drives me insane with each and every line she says. That's Vanille, who is THE worst, most useless, most annoying character ever in a Final Fantasy game, and hell, any video game ever. I would like to lock this constantly clucking and giggling piece of white ass into a cramped rocket together with Bubsy the Bobcat and send it flying on autopilot to the heart of the sun. I just had to see what the voice actress looks like. Luckily she's hot. Lucky her, lucky me. It's funny, that her Australian sounds faker than Milli Vanilli, and she's really Australian... while Fang's voice actress is American. Well, overdoing your part makes even your very own accent sound bad. Oh, well, it was a bad part anyway. Hope... there's no hope for him. Like Vanille, Hope is a kid. Unlike our little miss sunshine, Hope hates the world for reasons that are revealed during the game's first hour - especially Snow. He has these tall tales of revenge, but when it comes to it, he's a useless coward, who we're waiting and waiting to see growing a pair during the storyline; we just know it'll happen, it's the Japanese way of storytelling and it never changes. After he does, he becomes a little more bearable... but never the more useful.

Moogles once again appear only in imagery, while Chocobos serve as steeds on the vast battlefield of the second half. Cid appears as a villain for the second time in a row, this time as a much younger person. Once again, the long-haired dude is first introduced as a kind of conflicted character, we aren't supposed to quite know what his aim is, but we've seen many Final Fantasy games; Cid is a villain, no matter what happens. We just know. Not the main villain, though - that spot is reserved to possibly the most cryptic, uninteresting main cheese since Final Fantasy VIII. Yeah, I know what you all think of Necron in Final Fantasy IX. Let me say this one final time now that we're finally at the end of the marathon: no matter who you fought, Kuja was the main villain. If there hadn't been an out-of-the-blue final boss in his stead, he wouldn't have been able to make the redemption his character was practically screaming for ever since we learned of his origin! So shut the fuck up. Thanks. Let's get back to this much worse game.

Like its predecessor, Final Fantasy XIII is simply perfect from a visual standpoint, but it doesn't really deserve a full rating since it's the first Final Fantasy game of the seventh generation, and movement in the game is quite damn restricted, the first half of the game has way too much background as opposed to the actual field you can walk. The environments also look a tad bland. Going into the second half of the game, the visual design and proportions of the game switch gear to simply phenomenal, off the charts - it's just what a Final Fantasy game should look like in this day and age, especially after a visual masterpiece like Final Fantasy XII. We all know it'll get even better, that's all... even though just looking at some of the most gigantic Pulse beasts in standard definition takes one's breath away.

Leona Lewis' music in a Final Fantasy game? Yep. And get this: it isn't even the most unbelonging crap on the so totally non-Uematsu soundtrack. Actually the song is quite good, that's a lot coming from me. The soundtrack spans four CD's... supposedly. I don't buy that. To me, it feels like there's a million remixes of that revolting, repetitive title track, and just a few additional tunes. Seriously, imagine playing by using a team led by Vanille (because you're forced to!), running on a field which seems to go on for an eternity, and the only breaks you get from that horrible song are cutscenes made just because Vanille wants to turn around and say something retarded to Sazh, who I so want to just raise his guns and put a bullet or two in his companion's head. Did I already mention how much I fuckin' hate that noisy bird? There are simply no classic Final Fantasy themes here. Even the Chocobo theme is totally different than ever before; it contains the same basic melody as always, but it's almost unrecognizable. No classic victory fanfare, nothing. Overall, the soundtrack isn't quite as bad as that of Final Fantasy X-2, but it's still below mediocre on the series' standards.

The voice acting is excellent. With the exception of Vanille who just deserves the axe from every possible angle (preferrably all at the same time), even the worse characters are well delivered by their actors, it's just the script that takes some more or less lengthy breaks to suck. There are some strong points in the story, but it just isn't interesting as a whole. The actors make it a little bit more bearable even at its lowest. There's this one particular scene I love in this game, it induces a positive shock truly worth of the franchise that goes somewhat to waste in this game. Strangely enough, Vanille is involved, and she delivers her only good lines in the whole game in this very scene. It's just beautiful - but it also reminds me of all the fine potential the game had.

Usually Final Fantasy games are very hard to explain, but Final Fantasy XIII is very easy to break down into two words: running and fighting. There are no towns in the traditional sense. You just run through the game, seriously, from point A (the beginning) to point B (whatever lies in the horizon of Pulse). On the way, you do visit some towns, but they're all part of the same tube as the rest of the game. So, the first half of the game is all about managing three separate teams on their straight line to somewhere, and of course, tutorials... which you don't need. The game makes believe of a really complicated scheme, which isn't complicated at all unless automatizing everything goes over your head.

You talk to NPC's automatically by approaching them, and they never have anything important to say. All shopping is done at save points. There's also an equipment upgrade system, which kind of works like selling loot in Final Fantasy XII; you can manually upgrade your equipment by using the loot you get from enemies. Some loot works better, some worse. It's all about trial and error. Adding a Crooked Fang to Lightning's Gunblade won't make it a Fang Sword or anything like that, the equipment does change over time but there's no real logic to the stuff you use to upgrade the equipment. It's a quite brainless system, all in all. There's no real feeling of customization. Hell, most of the time Final Fantasy XIII doesn't even feel like a game. Much less an RPG.

The biggest reason for that is the "evolved" ATB system. You can either spend a lifetime scrolling through the battle menu, or do just what everyone else does to even their own dismay: set up an autochain. Upon using Libra on an enemy, each character can build an autochain of commands to use on them, which remain until the game's very end. For example, if an enemy is weak against ice and water, a Ravager's (Black Mage) autochain consists of powerful Blizzard and Water spells. You don't need to do anything but use the Autochain command. That's right, the game is nothing but X mashing, all the way... almost.

You control the party leader at all times. The party leader changes constantly, and each character is one at some point of the first half - yes, even Vanille. At least twice, actually. If the party leader dies, the game is over, for no logical reason at all, you can't just swap the party leader on the fly like you could in Final Fantasy XII. You can use Phoenix Downs on everyone else, like always. To ensure the safety of your party leader, along with everyone else, you need Paradigm Shifts, which changes everyone's "Roles". Since the game takes liberties with just about every other Final Fantasy term and element, Job becomes a Role a character takes on in a battle. There are six different Roles. Just one is available to you in the beginning, Commando (Warrior), but the other five are unlocked at a fast pace and once you make it to the second half of the game, you have total freedom to give everyone the Role you want. Each member of the active party having a Role is called a Paradigm. Paradigm is a combination of any three Roles, like Commando - Medic - Ravager, or even a group of three Commandos. It's totally up to the player's strategies which Paradigms they want to use. The Paradigms can be changed manually at any time, or the player can let the CPU work out some useful combinations. Is there anything about the game that doesn't have an automatic option?

Well, Crystarium is the forum for developing your characters. Instead of AP or LP, you get CP - Crystarium Points, or something like that, and use them to advance on a crystal grid that is exactly like a 3D version of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. You can choose which Roles you want to truly focus on for each character, but there's pretty much one single route you can take on each grid, and on the first half of the game, you aren't allowed to develop your characters too much, so forget excessive level farming on the first half altogether.

"We don't need another hero..."
Each character has his or her own Eidolon. All of them appear as bosses during the story, and have to be fought in order for them to join the character. As bosses, they're quite cool - they always require an exclusive strategy based on traits of different Roles to be used on them, they can't be just simply beaten into submission. If their personal time limit is exceeded, it's game over. In use, the Eidolons are kind of ridiculous. They're like a collective anime version of Transformers - they become these sort of vehicles for the characters. Their special attacks can be controlled and managed for a certain period of time, before they unleash all hell with their most powerful attack, either automatically or manually. They're quite useless altogether, just like in the previous game.

After the totally linear first half, you're thrown on Pulse, an extremely large playground of wild animals and savage beasts of all difficulty scattered around the barren lands. At this point, you'll have freedom on your hands, but even that freedom is limited to searching for pretty useless treasures by using a Chocobo and doing mark hunts, which are carried over from Final Fantasy XII as Cie'th Stone Missions - pretty much the only sidequests you have the option to try and conquer in the game. Personally, at this point I had originally lost all my interest in the game. It becomes weaker and weaker right up until that point, and even though freedom is a welcome element into the game, it comes a little too late; everything that has been remotely good about the story has already been used up, and even the good characters have fallen flat. OK, so they wanted to make a different Final Fantasy game, a visual treat with a compelling story. They got the visuals right. I hate the several flashback sequences, 'cause I just couldn't care less about most of the plot and these lengthy scenes distract the player from an already lame game. They wanted to make the battles as dynamic and flowing like they were in the Advent Children movie. OK, so that explains everything. They wanted to make a MOVIE, it seems. Well, you should've done a movie then. What we players want from a Final Fantasy is a GAME.

Yeah, suck it, Behemoth King. Suck it.
Final Fantasy XIII is not a difficult game, it just has very severe difficulties to keep a player interested for the tens of hours he or she could easily spend with a real, exciting Final Fantasy game. Learning to use the Paradigms efficiently, and just watching which enemies to fight and not to fight are the only things that are truly challenging about it. Difficult enemies can quite easily be avoided, just by keeping distance or using these Shrouds, which either give your characters pre-battle buffs or make you totally invisible to enemies. The Trophies/Achievements are mostly about patience, and that's quite fitting since that's exactly what you need with this game: iron will and a patience of steel. Even the Cie'th Stone Missions aren't that bad. They're just all the same. Five-starring each Cie'th Stone Mission is probably the most challenging achievement to make, in terms of actual difficulty. Yep, you are ranked from 0 to 5 stars for each battle. Have fun cursing at the game's inane logic from time to time with these rankings... if you even care. I don't.

Heh, I just read this all through and figured that this has to be the most literally bored review I've ever written. I don't want to call Final Fantasy XIII a bad game, 'cause it has its brief moments and because it's such a visual snack, but it is damn boring for damn sure, and the weakest Final Fantasy game since the first game's original version. In a way, we've come full circle here then - we still have one game to go, but it's not from the main series. I was hoping to pass whole different judgement, but my opinion on the game sadly hasn't changed within the nine months it's been out in this part of the world; if it has, it's definitely for the worse. No more protection from the hype.

Graphics : 9.9
Sound : 7.0
Playability : 6.7
Challenge : 6.5
Overall : 6.6


GameRankings: 85.17% (PS3), 82.18% (X360)

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