Originally Published 9 April 2010
Last night, I finished Final Fantasy XIII. In this case, by “finished”, I do not mean “beat”, but instead mean “defeated”. I’d been playing the PS3 version, so this means that I got the Platinum Trophy for the game.
From a plot perspective, FFXIII begins in the middle. You’re immediately dropped into a large fight and have little idea why you’re fighting or what you’re trying to acomplish. In fact, the game very slowly doles out backstory through flashbacks over the course of the majority of the game. The game diverges somewhat from the standard Final Fantasy plot in that your character don’t really know what they’re supposed to do for a good majority of the game. Although you have enemies, you spend most of your time running from them due to their sheer numbers.
Gameplay wise, it offers and “Active Time Battle” system with a few twists. Firstly, unlike older ATB systems, there is no option to put it in a “slow” or “wait” mode–enemies will continue to attack if you are paralyzed with indecision about what to do. At the same time, the game severely limits how much actual consideration the player needs to do. The default action for each “round” is for them to automatically carry out their role. Also, each of your teammates will automatically carry out their role without any input from you. In fact, you can’t control your teammates at all aside from setting which role they are currently tasked with. Now, these roles are actually quite important to the game system. The game has six roles: Commando, Ravager, Saboteur, Synergist, Medic, and Sentinel. Commandos are the big damage dealers. Ravagers are elemental damage dealers that build the “stagger gauge”, Saboteurs give negative status ailments. Synergists provide positive status effects. Medics heal (who knew?). Sentinels draw enemy attacks and take less damage from attacks. The game lets you select up to 6 “sets” of roles for your party and during combat you can quickly switch between them as the battle progresses. For instance, you might begin a battle with a Commando/Ravager/Ravager configuration to help build up an enemy’s stagger gauge, then switch to a Commando/Commando/Commando role to put out maximum damage once its stagger guage is broken. Since there is no way to slow down battles, this leads to rather complex interaction as you attempt to build stagger chains, keep healed, apply buffs and the like.
The game is divided into 13 chapters. For the first 10 or so of these chapters, the game is essentially a straight line with no sidequests and no ability to decide who will be in your party. I consider this to be something of a failing. For the most part, until you reach chapter 11, you’re just along for the ride. The game also very slowly gives access to new abilities and roles during this same period. Some people have likened it to a 15-20 hour tutorial and they may have a point. At the same time, the game will periodically inflict fights on you which can only be beaten through good tactics–leveling, button mashing, better equipment–all of these will have little effect.
Overall, I enjoyed the game. If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy or the JRPG style of games, there is much to enjoy here. The game is certainly one of the most visually impressive games that I’ve ever played, but that alone doesn’t make a great game.
Sticking to my previous scale, I’d say this game is probably a zero. It certainly has things that give it appeal, but the extreme linearity coupled with long payoff times make it suspect. In many ways, you could say that it is in a Mass Effect 2 sort of situation: the game is technically good in many ways, but has some obvious flaws that make it difficult to give a blanket recommendation. This is made doubly important due to the pedigree of the game.
Final Fantasy XIII: 0