The 13thCrystal Japanese Final Fantasy XIII review

At first I wanted to write a short review like Famitsu did, but this post quickly turned out to be a very lengthy one. Strangely I’m writing this prologue at the end of my review because I know that this is the hardest paragraph to write. So let’s start:

Prologue

I don’t really like the way how RPG’s are evolving. Western RPG’s are becoming more and more popular these days but they basically are shooters with a few ripped things from RPG’s.

Games aren’t accepted by many people and communities because they’re often associated with violence. Many people have forgotten the RPG’s that try to tell a good story or philosophic wisdom and I, despite my young age, am in a constant search for such a game. And I’ve found it.

When I finally got my hands on Final Fantasy XIII last month, I didn’t knew if it really could distinguish itself from the other RPG’s on consoles from the 7th generation. Let’s find out together.


ffxiii review story 

If you’re looking for a dramatic story mixed with some tension, well developed characters and some unexpected twists, you will love Final Fantasy XIII. Last year, some elements from Final Fantasy XIII’s lore convinced me that this game would have a very strong story unlike anything ever seen in RPG’s from this console generation.

The civilized floating paradise Cocoon.

Their leaders, the Sanctum

The relentless harsh lower world of Pulse.

The divine entities, Fal’cie, who rule these worlds

Their chosen ones, the l’Cie, for a greater destiny

A destiny to complete their unclear Focus

If they complete it they will be turned into crystals, and if the fail…

Turned into Cie Corpses, immortal monsters.

When our characters became l’Cie, there life was turned upside down…

This was confirmed in a very intriguing way when I first played Final Fantasy XIII a few weeks ago. The story is divided in chapters, narrated by a very important character in the story, similar to Final Fantasy X (no it isn’t a dream or flashback 🙂 The way how this is done really creates a very intriguing, inscrutable tension unlike anything seen in past Final Fantasies.

Final Fantasy XIII has the best cast compared to other Final Fantasies. Each of them has an unique story that is unfolded as the game progresses. If the English translations live up to the previous Final Fantasy games, I’m sure a lot of people will get emotionally attached to them.

In the main menu you’ll have an option to delve into Final Fantasy XIII’s back-story with the very detailed Auto-clip feature which provides more insight into many things from FFXIII’s world. You’ll also find countless tips and many never before seen screenshots and renders. Make sure to read this if you can’t get enough of FFXIII’s story.

Some people don’t seem to like the story because it’s unrealistic and fantasy/anime themed. I like stories this way and I really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII’s story. It’s perfect… too perfect… It feels like a movie rather than a game.

Score: 10/10

I originally wanted to give the story a 11/10 but finally decided not to do it because it might feel unnatural for some people. I can’t describe how much I’m in love with the story, even without understanding it completely. It just is something that you have to experience for yourself to really understand what I mean. From a philosophical point of view, I think the lore and outcome of this story will leave many players in relentless discussions so please experience it for yourself next month.

ffxiii review gameplay

To drive the cinematic experience even further, Square Enix left a lot of traditional Final Fantasy elements from this masterpiece behind. Some people won’t like this, others – like me – will love this.

Field

As you have heard by now, the game is very non-linear for some people but when I play the game it feels as linear like Final Fantasy X was. The fields are huge but when you look at your map you’ll only see the straight path that you’re walking. When you walk around, however, you’ll find some smaller paths with treasures that are hidden very bad. This game will also have a jump feature similar to FFX-2, indicated with a blue jump marker. Another thing to note is the wind parameter that blows each characters hair in a very natural way. There are basically no loading times except between two areas, but I have encountered some small loading screens randomly when exiting my main menu. (I’ve got the original 60GB PS3 so it’s maybe the fault of my blu-ray player. When you’re loading the game from the main menu, a summary of the events in that area will be displayed during the loading screen.

You will not encounter any traditional Final Fantasy towns in FFXIII. There are some but don’t expect anything to do there except for listening to NPCs. All the shopping is done through save points.

Furthermore you won’t find much mini games in FFXIII. There’s even a Golden Saucer area but the only thing you’ll do there is watch other people playing mini games. The only “mini-games” that you’ll encounter will be a weather control in one area and some “turn the switch” mini-games to progress further in other areas.

Crystarium System

A lot of people write it with a L instead of a R like it’s displayed in the main menu. Similar to the gameplay, the character growth system is very linear and in my opinion even worse than FFX’s Sphere Grid. In battles you will earn CP (Crystal Points) which are used to spend on the Crystarium System. You will follow a ring pattern that branches out to another ring as the story progresses, giving it a 3D look that you can alter with the right analog stick. (you can display it in 2D too!). Each character’s job follows a different pattern on the Crystarium with the possibility to unlock HP nodes, Attack/Magic power nodes and even Accessory nodes and ATB+1 nodes.

In the beginning you will have a lot of CP to spend but as the game progresses you will have to spend more CP on the different nodes (e.g.: in the beginning a HP node will cost around 30CP, later on around 8000CP). This makes the growth system a little bit less linear because you could skip a node in a optional branched circle.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a real fan of this system because, unlike to Final Fantasy X, you won’t get a penalty here when you retrace your steps to unlock a node. In Final Fantasy X you had the lvl1-4 keyspheres to unlock another node. In FFXIII you don’t have that either, making it very linear. The good things about this is that you won’t be able to complete the Crystarium before it is updated with new nodes during the story so if you’re facing a though boss it’s probably best to grind a bit for more CP.

Weapon Upgrade System

Characters won’t have levels, but weapons and accessories will have them. When you’re a few hours into the game, this option can be found at Save points, similar to the shops. Each weapon starts at level 1 and 0 exp. They are upgraded with loot from battles and shops. There are three types of materials:

1: EXP BONUS materials: These materials don’t give much experience, but when you use them in large quantities, they may trigger an EXP BONUS up to 3x. This bonus multiplies the amount of experience each material gives and expires after the weapon gains another level.

2: EXP material: These materials will never trigger an EXP BONUS, but they will provide a lot of experience for the weapon (especially with a EXP BONUS 3x). You don’t need to go from level 1 to level 2. You could use a lot of materials to immediately jump from level 1 to level 20. This could be dangerous when the weapon only needs 13 exp. to reach the maximum level because when you use 13 items with 20 exp only 1 will be used and the remaining 12 will disappear.

3: UPGRADE materials: When your weapon reaches the maximum level , you can use a weapon specific UPGRADE material that can be found on fields and for an expensive price in shops. When you use it, the weapon will transform into another weapon that can be leveled up again.

This is basically everything that you’ll be doing until a point much later in the game. When you near the final chapters of the game you will suddenly start noticing that areas will be less linear. When you arrive on Pulse you will suddenly be drowned into areas 10 times bigger as Final Fantasy X’s Calm Lands with a fun monster hunting mission system. Suddenly the game feels so non-linear that you wish to have the linearity back 🙂

Battle

Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system replaces a lot of traditional elements with some new ones which are very addictive when you master them. There aren’t any Limit Breaks and surprisingly the game doesn’t make use of MP (Magic Points) and fully cures your party at the end of every battle. At first I thought that this game would be ridiculously easy because you could cast each spell as much as you want but I was wrong. Final Fantasy XIII is a pretty hard game. Battles are very action packed with a high pace that keeps you at the edge of your seat with every battle.

The game features a Stagger system and Paradigm Shift system. In order to defeat an enemy it is crucial to get it into Stagger status by filling the Stagger bar in the top right corner. When this happens, you can deal massive damage or advanced status ailments to make the battle a lot easier.

Furthermore this game also features roles (FF dictionary: jobs) which you can switch at any time during battles thanks to the Paradigm Shift system. Below are the 6 different roles with their abbreviations in capitalized letters:

– COMmander: attacks enemies with weapon (warrior)

– RAVager: casts black magic

– MEDic: casts white magic

– SENtinel: defender

– SYNergist: casts positive status ailments (Protect, Shell,…)

– SABoteur: casts negative status ailments (Poison, Deshell,…)

In the main menu you can set 6 combinations of 3 roles (1 for each character) through which you’ll switch between during battles. This combination is called a “Paradigm”. The Paradigm Shift and Stagger system both adds some tactical elements to the battle system which are very addictive and even fun when you master them.

Because of the high speed of this battle system you will only control one character with the other 2 controlled by a nearly flawless AI. Because of this switching to the Healer Paradigm takes the same time as selecting magic -> cure with other FF’s.

The FFXIII battle system is very addictive, and according to some people even revolutionizing, but still I miss the Limit Breaks/Overdrives. Some battles could take 20 minutes or more to complete and in that time you’ll always be doing the same thing: Trying to Stagger the enemy – Stagger the enemy and deal massive damage – Switch to the Healer Paradigm to cure and repeat. After a while this really gets annoying sometimes so it’s kind of a shame that they left out the Limit Breaks. To replace them Square Enix introduced transformable Eidolons at E32009 but it’s a fact that the Eidolons are very weak so you’ll barely use them.

Another bad thing about the battle system is that the score system at the end only cares about the time it took to complete battle. Even if 2 party members died and you didn’t use Optima’s you’re still able to get 5 stars!

There are some other small things about the battle system but you’ll have to discover them for yourself. In a nutshell: it’s good but not perfect.

Score: 6.5/10

A 6.5 might seem bad for a Final Fantasy game but that’s mainly because the possibilities are limited for the majority of the game. The few gameplay mechanics that are in the game will really become better and more extensive until you’ve completed 3/4 of the game.

ffxiii review music 

Masashi Hamauzu always composed great music for bad games, this time he composed great, if not amazing, music for easily one of the best games in this generation of videogames. Hamauzu is able to live up to Nobuo Uematsu with varied music tracks and epic battle themes. Some are regular themes that aren’t too special, others are epic action paced violin pieces that just give me goose bumps each time I listen to it. While FFXI/FFXII’s soundtrack might be a letdown, FFXIII’s 4 disc soundtrack is one of the better soundtracks in the Final Fantasy series.

For some people some drawbacks could be the many remixes and the field music that sometimes continues to play during battles. Personally it didn’t bother me (honestly, I even enjoyed it).

I can’t really say a bad thing about the soundtrack but I also can’t give it a 10/10 because there really are some themes that are regular and should’ve received a bit more polish.

Score: 9/10

Music from RPG’s has always been an integral part of my life. In fact, I don’t listen to anything else except for some J-pop. As a result I set the bars high and even with Hamauzu’s arrangement of FFX’s Piano Collections, I wasn’t too sure that FFXIII’s music would live up to previous Final Fantasy installments. After a few hours of intensive playing, I quickly changed my mind…

ffxiii review graphics 

I can’t say much about the graphics because you know by now that they’re gorgeous. From the sudden movement of the eyes to the giant Adamantoises roaming Gran Pulse, all without a single framedrop.

Like past Final Fantasy games Square Enix again uses 2 types of models for each character: a low quality and a high quality one. For some reason the low quality ones are used a lot and are noticeable less beautiful in close-ups than their high quality counterparts. Still, in-game looks amazing. In terms of locations, Final Fantasy XIII looks better than Uncharted II which I played a few days before I got FFXIII. Sometimes I can’t even tell the differences between in-game and CGI!

The game also feature a lengthy amount of CGI and, similar to past Final Fantasy titles, it looks magnificent and flashy with an incredible amount of detail.

There’s just so much detail in this game that I can’t describe here in one paragraph, but you’ll find out next month!   

Score:

FFXIII score

Story: 10/10

Gameplay: 6.5/10

Music: 9/10

Graphics: 9/10

Does it live up to the Final Fantasy series: 0.5/1  – It does, but in its own way

FINAL SCORE: 35/40


Epilogue

For some reason the Final Fantasy games created for new consoles by Yoshinori Kitase are the best titles in the series for me. Final Fantasy XIII follows this trend and if you’re able to omit the linearity in the beginning, you will discover a true masterpiece for PS3/Xbox  360. Final Fantasy truly is a classic that will be remembered as a real, but different, Final Fantasy game after the failure of Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XII. For me this title easily ranks 2nd in my top 3 of RPG’s and I’m sure many people will love this game next month, regardless of the negative reviews that some people posted (fanboy hate?). I think, with a strong English translation and some entertaining DLC, this game has the potential the best Final Fantasy game in the series.

The 13thCrystal

Starting this week, I’ll be giving gameplay tips and advice before and after FFXIII’s Western release on Twitter with the hashtag “#FFXIIITIPS” or “#ffxiiitips” so follow me on Twitter or become a fan on The 13th Crystal’s Facebook page to get the latest updates on Fabula Nova Crystallis news.

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  1. #1 by kibankurosaki on 03/02/2010 - 01:09

    I have two words for this review: fair and reasonable.
    You just described the game in such a good way and you made me love it even more. You were objective and pointed out the difects without going epically mad like in other reviews I’ve read so far. Well, in other words I like this review so much! XD

  2. #2 by nagekawashii on 23/06/2010 - 02:46

    Some people really hate that Final Fantasy XIII is linear, but to tell the truth, I hardly noticed. I was too enveloped in the beautiful cutscenes and gameplay as well as the very well developed story. See what I thought at http://nagekawashii.wordpress.com

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