Rental Review: Final Fantasy XIII

Posted: May 12, 2010 in Rental Review

Alright, I’ve got this sucker for 7 days, let’s see what’s what here.

Oh good!  An instruction manual, how helpful.  Hmm, three disks, if I know my FF it means this one’s pretty long.  Well let’s RTFM and see what’s going on in number XIII…

Our journey begins on Cocoon, a human city floating above the planet of Pulse.  Pulse is a place filled with monsters and danger, all humans on Cocoon despise it’s existence.  Fal’Cie are magical beings that bring life and purpose to their people.  Those chosen by a fal’Cie are made into a l’Cie and given a focus to complete, though they’re not really told exactly what their focus is.  A Pulse fal’Cie has been choosing residents of Cocoon for foci, this has put the Sanctum (Cocoon government) in disarray.  In retaliation the Sanctum begin the Purge, a mass exodus of all people touched by Pulse by their military force PSICOM.  Here enters our hero: Lightning.  Her sister has been chosen as a Pulse l’Cie and she vows to save her from the Purge.  Uhh, okay.  Hopefully the story will make more sense as I play the game…

“New Game”

Intro Movie

After 20 minutes of cut scenes where Lightning owns some soldier goons, another character Sazh is introduced.  Sazh is a typical adventurer, he uses his pistols to great effect and uses some magic.  Carrying around a chocobo chick in his afro must be kind of gross… more on this later.  Now time for some combat tutorials.

“Fight this weak dude”

So how have they changed combat for this particular Fantasy huh?  For one thing, at this early stage of the game, there isn’t much to do.  Since all our party can do is “Attack” that’s all you can really do this battle.  There’s no need to heal with potions or whatnot, this fight is practically unloseable (yes, I know that”s not a real word).  Luckily this game has an “Auto Attack” button that will simply do the maximum amount of attacks available to your current character, when their ATB (active time battle) gauge is full anyway.  All the while Sazh is attacking of his own free will (as in, no interaction from myself).  This is unnerving to me.  I’m used to inputting all my character’s actions in a battle, then watching them play out.  This seems to me like an attempt to emulate, but not duplicate, the BioWare d20 style system from KotOR (and Mass Effect to a lesser extent) and I don’t like that system all that much to be honest.

“Walk forward, watch cutscenes, another combat tutorial”

Now that the tutorial’s done we can get on with the game right?  Wrong, now it’s time to walk forward, yup that’s it.  The environments are very well detailed and quite colourful.  Honestly the game is gorgeous, the environments look lived in, but clean.  There’s a distinct Tron vibe on Cocoon with light strips everywhere – even on some armour.  If only we were allowed to explore Cocoon at least a bit, *sigh*.  Once out of a cutscene there’s really only one way to go: forward.  There are a few branching pathways, but they either reconnect to the main path or reach a dead end.  There’s generally a chest (sorry: treasure sphere) in any path that leads from the main, but there’s no exploration to find them, they can usually be seen from the main path anyway, so treasure finding is less than exciting.

At the beginning of the game there are so many cutscenes to set up the story and the characters.  Sometimes they’re shown as an earlier day in Cocoon, showing the characters as they go about their lives.  Other cutscenes are what’s going on in other parts of the world, like the bad guys making plans and others that look like-bad-guys-that-aren’t-yet-still-seem-that-way…  uhhh. okay.  I still can’t get the characters honestly.  Lightning is the typical FF hero, brooding, vengeful, trust issues, etc…  Her sister’s boyfriend Snow is annoying.  He claims to be the “hero” and tries far too hard to accomplish this; even allowing Hope’s mother to die fighting the Purge with him.  Ahh Hope, I spent the whole time wishing he would just die already.  The whiny brat will not shut up about Snow and his vengeance.  Then he gets put with Lightning, sure, stick the whiny shit with the quiet brooding hero…  good times (uhh, no).  At least there’s Sazh and Vanille right?  Sazh I like, he’s more down-to-earth than any other FF character I’ve played.  His son Dajh was chosen by the Pulse fal’Cie and he is trying to save him.  Vanille is a mystery, she appears very young and is quite happy – almost naive even.  She’s pretty annoying as her voice is a little grating, but I’m interested to see what really becomes of her.  I”m sure she’s related somehow to Fang, basically she’s like Lighting and Snow put together.  Both brooding and confident, I think Fang could be quite dangerous in the course of the game.

Now we learn about paradigms and the shifting thereof.  Paradigms are like the classes from the FFs of old, only characters will learn quite a few of them and there quite a bit of overlap.  The paradigms consist of: Commando (physical attacks), Ravager (attack mage), Sentinel (tank), Synergist (buff magic), Saboteur (debuff magic) and Medic (healer).  Each character has 3 or more paradigms and mixing and matching these will give a benefit in battle.  Switching paradigms at the right moment will also fill your ATB (active time battle) guage thus is a benefit to swap alot in battle.  In fact, a few of the later enemies require much shifting of paradigms to succeed (ie: not die), even regular foes on the field.  Which reminds me:  there are no random encounters in this game, all enemies are on the field; if you touch them the fight starts.  Luckily the paradigm shift system is in this battle system… otherwise this would be seriously boring.

“walk forward, watch cutscenes, level up, summon fight”

Now it’s time to walk forward and watch some more cutscenes.  If I wasn’t so confused as to what was going on and the cutscenes weren’t so awesome looking I’d be really bored (as opposed to just plain bored).  I’d really like to know why there’s no sidequests or a town or something.  Something other that walking forward and fighting monsters.  This would be excusable if this game was a hack and slash or beat-em-up or something, but it’s not.  This is like reading a book that can kill you and make you re-read the last chapter you just read when you’re resurrected.  I have no problem if your story is told in bits an pieces out of chronological order (I do like Quentin Tarantino films) but at the very least keep me entertained in between those story bits please.

Along with paradigms there comes levels.  Never one to leave well enough alone Sqare-Enix has changed this too.  In an effort to eliminate level grinding from the game Square has gone with a system called the “Crystarium”.  It’s basically like level paths, when a battle is won characters acquire CP (Crystarium Points) which can be spent on leveling your paradigms for stat boosts, new moves or spells and HP increases.  The Crystarium only opens new levels based on the story completed, so you can never over power the enemies in the region.  Even if you grind, your powers can only progress to where the story will let you at the time.  Usually all Crystarium levels can be maxed before it expands as long as you fight everything you see on the way.  You could grind to the maximum (allowed by the story) by killing everything in an area, then leaving and coming back to respawn them, but it’s not really worth it.  This is a little worrisome to me as I like to grind in an area with monsters I like to fight so I can tackle the story in large chunks without the battle system kicking in and delaying things.  FFXIII has no towns so there’s really no hub to do this from (and no expensive items for motivation to do so) so the whole thing just falls on it’s face from here.  The fact that nearly all the characters gain all the available paradigms to level up as well makes all the characters pretty similar as far as abilities go, and less interesting when you finally do get to choose a party yourself.  In the other FFs this was one of the best parts: finding what party was best for each situation.  This is diminished, if not eliminated a connection to the characters by the player (me).

After walking forward and watching some more cutscenes I encountered my first summon fight.  In FFXIII (and FF IV DS and FFIX) the summons are called Eidolons.  One must be conquered by a character to use it later in battle (as a summon, duh!).  Each character gets their own Eidolon to use when they have the required points to use it.  The first summon battle is with Snow for Shiva.  Shiva is two sisters who combine into a motorcycle.  This is called Gestalt mode and makes summons fun in battle.  The Eidolon fights are frustrating, instead of beating the piss out of them like all the other monsters in the game you need to use a specific strategy.  A strategy that is not explained or hinted at by the game, ever.  Every Eidolon has a “target bar” in purple by their head during battle and your character gets a countdown above their head.  You must fill the bar until it reaches “gestalt” (printed inside the bar) when you can press “X” to claim the Eidolon.  If the countdown timer above your character’s head reaches 0, you die.  If you die and there was a cutscene before the fight…  watch it again (you can skip it however, it’s not intuitive though).

Shiva Eidolon fight

Once defeated you may summon your Eidolon in battle as long as you have enough points to do so.  When summoned the other party members disappear and you may choose the attacks your Eidolon makes as well as your own.   It’s more entertaining than most fights as you actually get to control something.  You can even enter “gestalt mode” where your Eidolon transforms into a vehicle of some sort (differing depending on the suommon) where your character rides it and attacks from there.  There are a fixed amount of points for your Eidolon to attack with and a few different attacks to choose from including a screen filling super attack that takes all remaining points to use.  Unfortunately, you don’t get to fight with one until much later in the game.  Once Snow gains the Shiva sisters the story jumps back to Lightning who doesn’t gain an Eidolon of her own for a while yet (psst: it’s Odin), and that’s the first one you get to use.

“walk forward, press “A” to watch crappy movie, upgrade stuff, get to Pulse”

After much more walking in a forward like direction and fighting increasingly annoying enemies, I start to walk forward some more.  At one point when playing as Sazh and Vanille there was a puzzle!  On the world map!  It was just a generator with a bunch of switches around it on an elevated platform.  Not a challenging puzzle to say the least, but I didn’t walk forward for a while there and that’s kind of positive.  Right?

At this stage in the game a lot of cutscenes play out between a little gameplay.  Seriously, the first 12 to 18 hours of the game are quick bursts of gameplay with heaps upon heaps of cutscenes.  I understand that the “Next-Gen” systems have rather robust graphics but pre-rendered cutscenes don’t really show off the horsepower all that much.  The hair looks great in this game though and the emotion is quite well presented in the characters faces, but the story is too random and not much is really explained in this time.  We know that fal’Cie exist, but not much else.  Are they Gods or some magical sentient machine?  Why the apprehension of Pulse by Cocoon?  What exactly do fal’Cie do?  None is explained in the early goings of the game, and I was not better off for it.  The game was starting to become “Press “A” to watch crappy movie” and the end is not near yet.

This is the trailer for FFXIII, does any of this make sense to you?  Me neither.

At some point you realize that you can now upgrade your equipment at the save points (along with buy stuff too, yeah, no towns) using all the previously useless loot taken from fallen enemies.  You can even convert whole weapons and armour into parts to upgrade other sets of weapons and armour.  This makes all weapons found in the game world obsolete before even getting them.  I kept the second sword found by Lightning through my entire game and simply upgraded it as I went along.  There was no penalty for it either.  Any new sword I found had lower stats than my current (2nd) sword and would have cost me too many parts to bring it up to speed.  This system makes looting for gear (an RPG staple) pretty much a moot point.  You can convert your older (upgraded) weapon into parts to upgrade another, but you only get 1 item from a conversion and it’s not going to upgrade the new weapon to better-than-the-old-one status.  Cool, I guess (no it’s not).

After putting in disk 2 I thought the game might get a little better.  I mean a new disk could be where the game can be played, by me, on my Xbox.  Alas no, same old, same old.  The story did start picking up a bit as we got to Hope’s hometown, but Hope sucks so, meh.  Finally we’re introduced to Fang and Snow is back, but I still can’t make the party I want.  Then there’s a bunch of Arks to beat, more Eidolons and more walking forward and pressing “A”.  As my 7 days came to a close I made it to Pulse and was able so select my own party.  I wasn’t in any position to explore there either, but it seemed Square would let me play their game (finally).  Too bad it had to go back now though, this was just starting to get interesting.

Though, not interesting enough to spend $60 on a game that won’t let me play it for 24+ hours lest I get in the way of their awesome story/production/flashy graphics/whatever.  All in all I was fairly bored during my paytime.  I’d like to have been more involved in exploration and battle to be honest.  The lack of towns and side-quests was fairly disappointing as there was nothing to do except walk forward and press “A”, some variety would have gone a long way here.  The story could have used some early exposition to get us to know (and care about, really) the characters in the game.  As they are presented is quite shallow at first, then deeper as time goes on.  It’s the anime principle:  Drop the player in at the deep end and let them figure it out themselves as snippets of information are leaked through the game.  The set up is not quite right, get me to want to help these characters, then give me the means; not the other way around.  Especially when the means are “walk forward, press “A””.

BUY[ RENT ]PASS


Played 24+ hours got to Vallis Media on Gran Pulse (disk 2), stuck at Alexander Eidolon battle when the rental was up. Xbox360 version, standard controller.

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