The Final Fantasy series have never seem to let me down throughout the many years of my gaming experience. Final Fantasy has always been about the storyline to me, and the improvements in graphics and gameplay are there to enhance the overall experience of it. Keeping this in mind, Square Enix brought Final Fantasy XIII on to a brand new direction on the PlayStation 3, full with new characters, new worlds, and new gameplay mechanics to revolutionize traditional JRPGs.
In the past few weeks I spent some time on and off and by the time I finished the main story I was probably around the 60 hours mark. I spent another good 30 hours finishing side missions and collecting all the items to finally get the Platinum trophy. Now that I’m completely done with this game, I thought that I should share with you my overall thoughts about it, without any major spoilers to the game. As most of you may know, one of the main things that have been the criticized in this game is the extremely linear path which the players must take throughout the game. By linear I mean that we’re just walking down one path to continue the story. They also removed the traditional elements of the towns/villages, side quests and there are no places to explore, not until towards the end of the game.
Despite this, as someone who completed the game and as someone who has played Final Fantasy since 10 years ago, I can see why Square Enix made this game incredibly linear. They wanted the players to be immersed into the exciting story of the game and they didn’t want players to diverge away from the main plot. That being said, there was great character and plot development which showed us how the main characters ended up being together and how their actions affected some of the main conflicts between Cocoon (planet above the ground) and Pulse (the land below).
I decided to write a bit on the background on the story of the game without any major spoilers as it could sometimes get a bit confusing with all the different terms used in the game. In the world where Final Fantasy XIII takes place, the Maker has created human life and to help and protect mankind, he created superior beings known as fal’Cie to perform a host of tasks and duties. The fal’Cie later on created a floating utopia above the planet known as Cocoon as a paradise to meet the needs and desires of humans. In Cocoon, many fal’Cie existed to nurture and support humans with everything from power (Kujata), food (Carbuncle) and weather (Pheonix). With these support in place, the humans were allowed to govern themselves and eventually led to the creation of a government called the Sanctum.
The land below Cocoon, an entirely different world known as Pulse, also has its own fal’Cie and group of inhabitants. However, because of the war which happened few hundred years ago between these two worlds, citizens of Cocoon are in constant fear of Pulse and they are forbidden to enter Pulse. Anyone who leaves Cocoon is immediately exiled from the planet.
These fal’Cie from both words alike have the power to bind humans to a task. L’Cie is the name given to such humans, and the task given to them is called a Focus. Once humans become a l’Cie, they are granted magical abilities to help them complete their Focus, which are only conveyed to them by vague, dreamlike thoughts. L’Cie who fail to complete or those who entirely reject their Focus face a terrible fate as they become monsters known as Cie’th. Despite that, even those who fulfill their Focus are not free to return to their previous lives. The “reward” for completing their Focus is not an eternal life, but an eternal sleep where they are transformed into crystal. Because of this fact alone, it is perceived that being selected as a l’Cie is as good as being cursed.
This leads on to the story of the game where they found that a Pulse l’Cie was lying around on Ewleede Canyon and the Sanctum eventually decided that everyone at the nearby coastal city Bodhum be Purged from Cocoon. The Purge was a Sanctum initiative designed to protect the stability of Cocoon by focusing potentially dangerous civilians to relocate to Pulse. However, it was later found that the Purge was simply a facade to cover for the massacre that was to come.
A new battle system was introduced in Final Fantasy XIII, which utilized the Paradigm Shift system. This system is very similar to the Gambit system used in Final Fantasy XII. Square Enix have done a great job in combining those main elements in the Final Fantasy XII and polished it into an automated interface which is less complicated to use. In the new Paradigm Shift system, each party member is assigned one of 6 main roles (Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist and Medic) to perform their respective actions during battle.Read More on the Roles
Commando – An offensive role focusing on physical attacks and non-elemental magic spells to deal massive damage to the enemy. Attacks by Commandos keep the Chain Gauges from draining rapidly to allow Ravagers to Stagger enemies. Commandos cannot charge the Chain Gauge by themselves but they have passive abilities to enhance their combat performance.
Ravager- A role aimed to raise the enemy Chain Bonuses, which leads to an increase the damage dealt and to also Stagger the enemy quickly. To do this, Ravagers use different types of elemental magic and physical attacks. Ravagers and Commandos work together closely because the Commandos will prevent the Chain Bonus from draining while the Ravagers build it higher.
Sentinel – The “tanks” in the party. Sentinels draw the attention of enemies on themselves with Provoke and allow the other party members to perform their actions on enemies. Typically, Sentinels have high HP and have high defensive skills that can boost their resistance to damage. While “tanking” the damage, allies can deal more damage and have more time to cast heal/buffs/debuffs on enemies.
Medic – As its name implies, Medics heal party members, restoring their HP, reviving allies and also removing status ailments. It is important to have at least one Medic in your party, just in case someone dies or if you need someone to clear that status ailment quickly.
Synergist – A role that enhances the overall performance of the party with magic. Synergists are particularly useful in boosting damage, defense, speed and resistance to elements and status ailments. Some of these buffs are not necessary, but once they are applied they can be very important, especially in boss fights (e.g. Haste, Protect, Shell etc.)
Saboteur – The opposite of Synergists. Saboteurs weaken the defense of enemies by inflicting status ailments on them. Besides that, they can also cast Dispel, which removes the buffs on enemy targets. This is always important as some enemies are susceptible to spells such as Death and can make a battle very, very simple.
Using the Paradigm Shift system, players have to utilize these roles by quickly switching around with it during battle to deal damage and to Stagger the opponent. Staggering an opponent is one of the key elements in the battle system as staggered opponents are much easier to take down. However, players need to fill up the Chain Gauge and once it is full, the enemy is Staggered, making it more susceptible to physical damage and status ailments. After spending a lot of time using this battle system, I think it is very simple to use but it takes sometime to get used to. It takes a bit of trial and error to know what roles are best for certain battles, but you will get the satisfaction once you have mastered the system and understanding how the AI works when you assign a role to a character.
The AI attempts to perform actions based on the party leader. It actually does a pretty good job in remembering the types of attacks that does the best damage to an enemy. Once you’ve used Libra and you know what their weaknesses are, the AI will attempt to cast spells and attacks that are most appropriate for that enemy. If they are weak against fire, your AI characters will use fire-based attacks and so on. However, there are some episodes of near misses when they fail to do what we want them to do. When I wanted them to revive a dead ally, they just wouldn’t do it as their priority would be to heal everyone else until they have green HP, before actually attempting to revive someone. This can be prevented later on, once you’ve understood how the AI reacts and once you’ve learned how to adapt to it.
Within these roles, there are actually nothing more to it than just developing their skills using a system similar to the Sphere Grid system in Final Fantasy X. After battles, instead of gaining XP, we gain Crystogen points which are then spent on the Crystarium. The Crystarium allows us to upgrade the strength, magic and health of characters by taking a path in within a role. Basically, the “leveling” system is not complicated as you will follow a linear progression for each role that you want to improve on. There are limitations, however, as you will need to continue to progress in the story to unlock the Crystarium stages. Once again, this shows how they designed the game to keep players immersed into the main plot of the game.
Beyond the Story
As mentioned earlier, exploration in this game is very limited, but there are still a number of places that you can visit, even after completing the main story. All of the locations in the game were well planned out and presented at their best visually. Stunning graphics and an incredibly seamless type of gameplay – there were hardly any loading time for battles and cutscenes. Moreover, the voice acting was done tremendously well with all the lip-syncing efforts in place too. The only drawback I felt was with Fang and Vanille because their accent did not really fit in very well to the game.
Other than that, I would say that I really enjoyed playing Final Fantasy XIII, not only because it is Final Fantasy, but because of the plot and the well-designed gameplay mechanics. The battle system is definitely not as complicated as Final Fantasy XII, but I guess it could be justified by the its wonderful cinematic storyline.
What else can be done after you finish the main story? Well, if you haven’t done those Cie’th Stone missions, you can go ahead and finish them. Most of them are finished easily later on in the game but I guess it’s sometimes fun and challenging if you attempt to beat it when you’re weak (with the right tactic and accessories). If you’re looking for more challenge, you could try to get the Ultimate Hero trophy, provided that you are able to spend lots of time going through those boring battles with Adamantoises.
Final Fantasy XIII is without a doubt a first class game, keeping intact all the main elements from its predecessors, with a bit of drastic changes to gameplay. Chocobos and Cactuars? Yup, they’re there. Eidolons? Well, not much of a use and probably just an eye-candy for battles. It would definitely be a better game if they allowed more freedom during the early stages of the game, allowing us to customize and personalize our characters. Asking for these features is a bit too late now, but it is clear that Square Enix had set out a focus to deliver a video game with an epic story, mixing in revolutionary graphics with a seamless, exciting gameplay, and Final Fantasy XIII will give you just that.