Jarv Reviews a game: Final Fantasy 13
Well, I’ve been watching far less in the way of films recently, since the acquisition of a PS3 and this game. As a result, I’m a bit short on material, so I thought I’d just bang out this review which will, at the very least, give Droid an(other) opportunity to be rude to me for a while.
Since I first played Final Fantasy 7 years ago, I’ve been hooked on these fucking things. I even liked 8. The only one that I would say is out-and-out shit is X-2, which is a load of side-quests in search of a game. I would go as far as saying that FF12 is probably the greatest game I’ve ever played, and I was really, really looking forward to this instalment.
I have to say, from the start, that this is a superb game. However, I also have to say that it isn’t anywhere near as good as 12. That’s not a criticism, per se, because very little is (it’s like comparing a football side to Brazil 1970) but when the series consistently hits unprecedented heights then it does feel a bit like a let down. Nevertheless, it is still extremely good
If you’ve never played Final Fantasy, then this is how they work: there’s a completely fantastic world composed of a strange mix of futuristic technology and magic. You initially play an androgynous anime character, before assembling a party of usually well-drawn characters to stop an extinction event instigated by a completely demented villain.
Final Fantasy 13 is no exception (aside from the fact that the main character is clearly not androgynous). The storyline is lovingly put together with a small band of cursed people battling an unjust fate theme that really works a treat. You play Lightning, an ex-Soldier with a filthy temper and the quest follows her and her friends’ attempts to avert the destruction of the world they live in (Cocoon) at the hands of the demented Fal Cie who are determined to create a huge sacrifice to bring back God.
Final Fantasy games always look stunning, and this is unsurprisingly beautiful. The various playing locations (particularly the second main location, Gran Pulse) are superbly rendered and, damn it, gorgeous. The characters are all excellently devised and also brilliantly painted. The monsters aren’t the usual Final Fantasy collection of blobs etc, rather, they’ve spent some time and redesigned them. This is undoubtedly a good thing. There are monsters that you will have certainly seen before, but most of them have recognisable names and unrecognisable appearances.
The sound is also simply superb (even if the soundtrack is sung by future Butlins employee Leona Lewis), and the voice acting is actually an improvement on previous instalments.
Previous Final Fantasy games (the exception being 12, again) have clearly drawn character roles. One character is your white mage, one your battler etc. For Final Fantasy 13, they’ve ditched that. Instead, you can customise your party as you see fit, and there’s far less of the tedious “fighting the same battle repeatedly to level up” stuff as a direct result. You then assign roles to your characters for battle, and switch between set ups during the action. At first, this does feel a bit alien, but after a few battles (which you’ll comfortably win) it becomes really intuitive. Basically, leave it on “relentless assault” until you get a bit fucked up, then put it in Combat Clinic to get them back to strength before swapping back to your offensive lineup. You can fuck around with other roles such as saboteurs and shit like that, but it doesn’t really make that much difference, and most of the big monsters tend to be immune from sabotage anyway.
Then there’s the action. In previous efforts (with the exception of 12, shockingly), battling was turn based and random. This time round they’ve devised an Active system and, as in its illustrious predecessor, there are no random encounters. As a result, the battling feels fluid, and the role changes (called Paradigm Shifts) add a new dimension previously missing from other games. This is a definite plus. Once you master the role options (and it doesn’t take long) switching between them in the midst of battle becomes completely intuitive- even if you end up using only about 3 of the possible 30 set ups. As the game progresses you also earn the ability to summon fuck off monsters (stunningly animated) to help you kick some ass, and square finally found a way to interject this staple feature of Final Fantasy without ruining the flow of battle, and also without you relying on them exclusively.
However, and this is where I start to be negative about it, there are problems. The first is that it doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game. The first third basically splits the party into 3 groups that each follow a linear storyline. Party A moves from point A to point B, then there’s a gorgeous cut scene, before party B moves from Point C to point D etc. There are pros and cons to this. The big pro is that the storyline in this section is damned compelling and following the three strands is exciting stuff. The big con, and it’s the big con of the game is that two of the characters are fucking irritating moping cunts, and one of them is an irritating chirpy cunt. Luckily they group Chirpy with Mopey, so the exposure is limited, but that still means that a vast tranche of the game is less enjoyable. To be fair to the Chirpy character (Vanille), she’s the direct descendant of Penolo, Selphie, Rikku and the like so her chirpiness isn’t surprising. However, the incessant whinging of Sazh and Hope is beyond the pale and without precedent. They really drag some of the cutscenes right down, and it was a wise move to allow the player to fast forward them. Another blunder, but this is far less of a cock up, is that the map screen rotates with the direction the character is facing. As a rule this wouldn’t matter, but Gran Pulse is basically a big expanse and it’s easy to get confused and realise you’ve just tracked back on yourself. The minimap rotating is fine, but a solid point of reference would have been nice.
The second major drawback, and it is similar to the first, is that there’s fuck all in the way of sidequests etc. There’s a huge amount of unlockable stuff in the game, but they don’t help you out at all with how to achieve it (something they also repeat with upgrading weaponry). This means that if you want to 100% the game (something I won’t be doing) then it’s going to be a long and lonely road. There’s a hunting sidequest that’s pretty easy to spot, but apart from that not a damned thing.
Overall, would I recommend it? All in all, I would. However, I’m not sure that I’d recommend it at full price, and it’s far too big to be a rental. Final Fantasy 13 is a sumptuous, superbly realised game with a couple of flaws that doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game (there’s no interaction with non-characters to go through: none of this “walk into shop, press x to talk to dwarf” stuff.) Not to mention that for all the flaws of the party characters (I just ended up using the 3 women, and not for pervy reasons) the ending is both sad and uplifting. It’s a beautifully animated close scene and one of the most rewarding victory sequences that I’ve ever seen. Furthermore, Squaresoft have learnt from previous complaints, and if you save it after your final victory it actually puts you just before the last boss, but with a teleport location to the main sections of Cocoon and Gran Pulse.
A flawed but worthy effort. Oh, and fuck Chocobos. They sucked in the 80’s and they suck now. Get rid of them, please.
Until next time,