Do yourself a favour and just....don't. Here's my initial, half-assed review I wrote soon after it came out (This is almost a decade old, my prose and pacing and quality of writing have vastly improved since then)
Final Fantasy XIII: Your patience will be tested
A Review by Runa Merone
I’ve been a long-standing fanboy of the Final Fantasy series, from my first playthough of Final Fantasy III in the SNES era right up to what I felt was the masterpiece of Final Fantasy XII. Not only was I a fan, but I used to actively defend each and every iteration from its generation of detractors. Hell, I even stood up for that campy Charlie’s Angels wannabe in Final Fantasy X-2.
That said, I tried to like XIII, I really did. But as time went on, I found more and more things frustrated me, upset me, or just plain angered me. This isn’t a game, it’s a test of your patience. The entire game took me about 65 hours to complete, and of that 65 hours, perhaps 10 hours were enjoyed, the rest felt like a true chore.
Let’s break it down:
Generally speaking, I don’t really care much for the graphics in a game, but I have to start off with something positive!
As for audio and visual, Final Fantasy XII is pretty damn good. The graphics are as crisp and clear as you’d come to expect from a next gen FF title. However, pretty as they may be, they are not only wasted on SDTV’s, but the high definition game actually makes reading menus and battle commands a true pain. I have good vision, and I have no issues with my sight, but half the time I don’t know if it’s 300 damage or 800 damage! This is, in my eyes, a pretty considerable complaint. Having an HDTV, on the other hand, would negate this criticism, but not everyone has one. I know they’re trying to push HD, but we SD folks shouldn’t have to suffer for it.
Audio-wise, the game maintains it’s high production values, but at the same time, lacks any real atmosphere or memorable tracks. It’s good music, but it all seems a little poppy for me, personally.
Sound Effects and Voice Acting are both good, nothing special, but not bad either. I can’t really give any mark for it since they both seem to do what they need to without being too distracting or detrimental to my experience.
Total: 8/10 because of blurry text
Most RPG’s out there don’t need their ‘level design’ criticised, as there are no platforms to traverse, no levels to speak of, really, nothing like that, just pretty backgrounds. However, there’s a lot to be said for creativity and variety. This game has neither. Not only are the ‘maps’ little more than narrow corridors from one point to the next with zero chance of exploration, but the worlds they take place in aren’t that creative in the first place!
Previous Final Fantasy games would run the gamut of natural and artificial environments, they have mountains, pastures, caves, cities, mines, you name it. 13, however, consists almost entirely of three worlds: futuristic urban environment, scrap-heap wastelands, and pretty plains. There are the occasional parts that aren’t those, but they are few and far between, and therefore don’t register enough to get proper mention.
One thing I’ll consistently say is that the only part I liked was the wide-open plains area that was not only pretty and perfectly atmospheric, but frankly the only part of the game with a hint of openness and exploration, which you’ll come to find was the only part of the game I enjoyed. Too bad it only lasted a few hours (unless you went on hunts a lot).
3/10 for that one part I enjoyed
Okay, the story is simple enough, you’re living in a utopian floating city called Cocoon above the hostile lowlands of Gran Pulse. There’s the church (I think) which also appears to be the government, who decide to ‘purge’ all ‘l’cie’ off Cocoon and onto the surface world of Pulse. What are l’cie? Best I can tell, people branded by the gods who can supposedly harm society in some way.
Long story short, your characters get branded l’cie, and have to fight against the government/church and get your life back. I honestly wish it was deeper than that, but that’s really it until the last couple hours of the game, where the ‘sinister plot’ to destroy the world is revealed, which is so cliché and bland I almost want to spoil it for you now.
The world itself, however, is pretty well developed, and the lore is pretty clear! That is, if you want to read the in-game encyclopedia. Yes, that’s right, if you want to truly get the story and understand the lore, you have to do your in-game homework! Not a good decision on their part, but it’s a minor gripe. The issue with the game is that, in spite of having worked out this l’cie/fal’cie/cie’th lore, none of it matters. There are pulse fal’cie (which are gods) and there are cocoon fal’cie which are at war for some reason…it’s never explained (if it is, I missed it entirely.) all that matters is that you’re now a deadly public enemy l’cie and you’ve been ‘purged’ and have to get back home, or fight the government, or something. Truthfully, I felt absolutely no goal was present until the last 3 hours of the game, when they suddenly decide to kill the pope.
The heroes in this game are, for lack of a better word, bland. None of them really had any character development, they all stuck to a pretty basic character trait or cliché. You have your stereotypical black guy comic relief, your wannabe hero, your ex military person, and an emo kid full of angst. None of them stood out, none were likeable, and not a single one of them got enough of a backstory for me to care; I spent most of the game wondering if any of these characters were going to get more development, and each one did have some simplistic backstory that linked them to the big evil corporation or one another, but really, it was all quite boring and unoriginal, and for that they lose a lot of points. Not to mention their names were dumb and they were all in one way or another really annoying and unrelatable. Seriously, Snow? Hope? Lightning? Fang? The only good name was Sazh, too bad he was a stereotype!
The one good thing I have to say about the characters was Sazh’s Frocobo, a baby chocobo living in his hair. Stupid as it may have been, it was cute!
The enemies were even worse! I spent 75% of the game wondering who, or what, was the main boss/bad guy. In the end, it was the pope…I kid you not. Something about needing to cleanse the world or something (sorry, I spoiled it, trust me, it’s not special). Characters come and go every few hours, and there’s really nobody you love to hate.
One thing that could have saved this all was the ending, but it was easily the worst ending to a Final Fantasy game ever, and easily one of the worst of all games. Long story short, prophecy comes true, bad guy wins, you are the cause for destroying the world, but that’s alright! After you’re done destroying civilization as you know it, you shrug it off, laugh, meet up with someone you were trying to save, and start planning your wedding…I kid you not. You just destroyed all of cocoon, and your top priority is getting married to the person to started all this!
Oh, and the black dude gets his kid back…the end.
I just can’t get behind that!
Between the characters being uninteresting, the enemies being bland and uninteresting, and the story being as straightforward as it gets right up to the end, I just don’t care…
1/10 for getting to kill the pope.
This is where I rub my hands together, laugh maniacally, and wonder how the hell I’m going to explain this to you without giving you a step-by-step explanation on how much I hate the gameplay of this game, with breakdowns and examples, so I will try to be brief. Seriously, I could write 10 pages explaining WHY the gameplay sucks, but I’ll try to keep it short.
The battle system is, like all Final Fantasies before it, unlike any Final Fantasies before it. Like 12, there are no random battles, only pre-scripted battles; not only do we get a series of narrow corridors, but pre-determined battles, making the game even more linear. The actual battle system is both very simple and exceptionally complex.
The game has an active time battle system, but it’s incredibly fast paced, and is horribly executed. In theory, it sounds good: you control the leader, giving “roles” to your teammates that dictate what abilities they have and what they do. Sentinel is the defensive class, Ravager is the magic attack class, Commando is the physical attack class, Medic is the healing class, Synergist is the support class, and Saboteur is the status ailment-inflicting class.
You decide what combinations you have and who has each role. This is called a ‘Paradigm”. “Relentless assault” is made up of two ravagers and a commando, “Solidarity” is made up of a sentinel, medic, and commando, etc. Each one has it’s own uses and can be changed on the fly. The issue? You can only chose six of them, and they come in packages. You can’t just say “Okay, this paradigm works, but I just want to change to a medic and leave the other two the way they are.” Instead, have to chose another whole package from your list, one that hopefully works to your advantage. Some would say this adds a level of strategy to the mix, I say it just limits you and makes the game frustrating if a battle shows up that needs a synergist, and your pre-existing paradigms don’t have the right one.
Now, the issue is that you control only one person, and simply chose what others do. This wouldn’t be an issue, except for about a dozen reasons. First and foremost, if the leader dies, you die, end of story. And you will die to the point of frustration. On some battles, I died dozens of times, resulting in me rage-quitting. Also, when you’re a certain role, you ONLY have the abilities of that role. If the character I’m controlling is a commando, I attack…and only attack. I can’t just heal myself quickly, I have to change my whole paradigm to one where I am a medic. Again, this wouldn’t be so bad, except the paradigm changing animation takes a few seconds to go through: a few seconds where my ATB gauge does not increase, I cannot defend myself, but the battle doesn’t stop, so the enemies can still kill you. This means that, if you’re going to heal yourself because the party leader is low on health, it takes just a sneeze to kill them.
So, again you die, by no fault of your own. You die a lot! The one good design choice here is that, at least when you die, there’s no punishment outside of having to start the battle over again….except some bosses have millions of hitpoints and can literally take 20-60 minutes to defeat, only to have you die due to some simple mistake…because party-leader dead=game over.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if there was a better balance. One of the main issues of all this is that the battles happen so fast that you literally need to anticipate what’s going to happen or you will die. Again. I’ve had battles where my health was perfect, and out of nowhere, some super-killing move hits my main character, boom, dead. Game over. All it takes is one wrong move to kill you, because, again, your main character dies, game over. I cannot stress how stupid this is.
Sure, you COULD maybe change over to a better paradigm, but that’s really pointless, because you cannot pick and chose your attacks. 99% of the game you’re obligated to just pick “auto-battle” or “auto-defend” or “auto-heal”, because actively chosing your abilities will just waste time and result in death. And to make it worse, auto-attacking often doesn’t do the right thing anyway. “no, I don’t want to use cura, I want to use esuna.” Which means you gotta waste time manually picking your attacks, which will kill you.
Again, the battles are too hectic to do anything other than auto-battle. This is just bad programming. As you can see, I can think of many small tweaks that would make this battle system better, and I’m not even a professional game-maker. There’s about a dozen small changes that could, in theory, make this battle system perfect, but they somehow felt that this was the best. Did they not actually test the game? The game is so incredibly frustrating for this reason. You will die, a lot. Again and again, if you don’t do precisely what needs to be done, or be able to perfectly predict the boss’s actions.
Hell, in a game where there are attacks with area of effect, it frustrates me to no end that you can’t control where you stand. There were some battles where I died a dozen times because my two characters sat side by side, and the enemy had a sweeping move that killed us both, but after a dozen times, my leader decided “maybe it’s a good idea to stay back”, then I beat it. Too much of the game seems to be based on factors beyond your control, or random chance, and that is simply poor design.
Of course, then there’s the stagger system, which requires that you hit one enemy fast enough that his ‘stagger’ guage gets up to max, then you have a period of time to hammer this opponent because now he’s weak. This is a good idea, but it’s forced. Some enemies have millions of HP, and therefore have to be staggered or fighting them will take hours, other enemies CANNOT be hurt unless they get staggered. And to make all this worse, you can’t run from battles should you chose fighting them will take too long, or the rewards are not worth it (hint, they never are).
What you get is stuck fighting scripted battles that take 5-10 minutes to kill, even just regular bad guys can take 20 minutes (I had a fight early in the game that literally took me 24 minutes because I didn’t have what it took to stagger him, and you could only do 10 damage at a time.) You can’t run or avoid most fights, and literally every battle CAN kill you if you’re not careful. I’m all for making every battle count, but I found it was little more than a test of my patience. Battle after battle, all of them taking too long, and being insanely frustrating is bad design, a consistent issue with the battle system.
It seems the battle system is poorly thought out, and the only redeeming factor is that there’s little penalty for game-overs.
Of course, something with this much detail needs a hefty introductory phase, and this game really has that. Linked into the story aspect of the game, it takes forever to really know what’s going on. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the first 10-15 hours of the game are dedicated to teaching you how to play the game while it slowly introduces you to the world. Those 10-15 hours are absolutely mundane and unfun. At first it just tells you to play on autoplay, then once it lets you go and lets you do your own thing, the difficulty turns upwards quickly! It’s very unfair, unbalanced, and frustrating, to say the least.
And to make it all even more frustrating is the camera both in battle and on the map. In battle, half the time you can’t even see the enemies/allies to know what’s going on, and sometimes you don’t even see how much damage you’re doing, you almost entirely have to go by the menu system, which, as I said, is blurry and unreadable if you don’t have an HDTV. Not cool Square-Enix, not cool.
When it all comes down to it, beating a hard boss, or any boss really, should make you feel accomplished. All this game makes me feel is that I got lucky and/or had the patience to just wait it out. Battles take too long with no payoff, the battle system is rigged so you can’t actually play anything beyond picking what classes your characters are, and you die so much it becomes commonplace. It’s not fun, it’s not rewarding, it’s not properly balanced, and I can think of perhaps a dozen small things that could make the gameplay infinitely better, and the fact that a huge company like Square-enix couldn’t think of it makes me wonder if maybe they were actively just testing our patience.
Of course, none of that even touches on the level-up systems in this game. The character level ups (which you don’t get until like 5 hours into the game) are pretty linear paths with occasional offshoots, very reminiscent of the Sphere Grid from X, but each character has their own…for each class. It’s not a bad thing, but unoriginal and bland, with little chance of deviance from the main stat-building tree.
The weapon/accessory levelup system is, for lack of a better word, erratic. Instead of gil in battle, you get occasional items that can be applied to your weapons to make them level up. It’s good in theory, but it relies too heavily on guesswork and random chance, so it’s hard to actually use to it’s max potential, and you can never tell if you’re just wasting your items on an inferior product or if this is a good idea. Not to mention the rewards are minimal. I maxed out one weapon and it only gave me 30 bonus to my attack, a number that seems high until I fought a couple battles and got enough experience to gain 20 to strength anyway. A complete waste of an idea wasted on randomness. I continually can’t help but wonder who’s idea this is.
And to make it all worse, you can’t modify yourself, or alter any of this, it’s all incredibly linear both in gameplay and story, so there’s no chance to do better than the person beside you, or do much better a second time around. The only exception is that one period where you get nonlinearity and some actual exploration once you hit the open plains. Long story short, that was the only part of the game that was fun.
And as a final gripe, that happened to the good old days where you had two hands to equip (usually a sword and shield), a helmet, a body, and an accessory? It enabled far better customization and added a level of depth to the game I haven’t seen since 6. I want that back! World maps, exploration, sidequests, these are ALL important parts of an RPG. All gone in favour of linearity and simplicity. This game is the perfect example of going in the wrong direction.
Gameplay – 0/10 because even the good parts were frustrating.
There is almost none. The game is too linear with absolutely zero chance of any deviance in the levelup systems or the story that there’s no reason to go back and play it again.
Once you get let loose to do some exploration, you get ‘hunts’, like FFXII, and that’s actually a lot of fun. You get to explore a massive, open-ended plains environment with hidden areas, caves, and forests. This is the one part of the game that deviates from the rest of the game and actually becomes fun. There’s still a lot of pointless frustration from the battle system, but it’s almost forgiveable because the exploration part is just…yeah, it’s a lot of fun. However, that’s just reason to go back when you finish the game just to that part, the rest of the game is frankly too boring, too irritating, and too frustrating to play through again. I will never touch this game again, and playing it just makes me want to go back to XII so I can play a real FF game.
Pros – Great graphics, good sound, some fun parts.
Cons – bland, simplistic story, boring uninteresting characters, frustrating battle system, too linear, bad camera, bad levelup systems. In other words: pretty much everything else.
Do not play this game, it’s not worth your time, unless you like boring stories, bland characters, and a frustrating trial-and-error based battle system.