Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thoughts / Final Fantasy XIII

Before I get right into what I think about FFXIII, let me give you a brief history of my experience with the game. FFXIII released back in early March 2010 and I made sure to pick myself up a copy. I played it to completion and obtained 62% of the trophies. My hdd failed shortly after so I lost my save file. I bought a new 250gb drive and started again, only to have my PS3 get the YLOD. Once again I lost my save. Now, equipped with a new 160gb slim PS3, I'm starting again.

The story of FFXIII is about a war between ...well, planets I guess; Cocoon and Pulse. Cocoon floats high above Pulse making it feel very much like a moon that orbits Pulse, but I don't think there's any orbiting going on here. Cocoon is where most of the story takes place, but once you hit Pulse everything changes. Where Cocoon was straight forward and linear, Pulse is huge and very open. Also, Cocoon seems to be reliant on high technology, while Pulse is full of jungles and valley's. A soldier named Lightning kicks things off by infiltrating her own nation in order to save her sister from being "Purged." by the military.

Lightning's sister has been infected by something called a Fal'Cie, a god like creature, thus turning her into a L'Cie. L'Cie are feared by Cocoon because they can use the gift of magic. Several other characters get involved and the story takes huge twists and turns as the entirety of Cocoon is trying to capture you. This is quite different than any other entry in the Final Fantasy series as you usually have time to breathe and take on side quests as you move along the story. Final Fantasy XIII however, you are constantly on the move and trying to survive. There are battles and story progression around every corner. No time for towns with random NPC's, no side quests, or secrets. At least, until much later in the game.

All shopping is done through the very frequent save points. You can also use these save points to upgrade your equipment and accessories, but you can't really do much with the system until much later in the game, which is disappointing really. If you know where to farm (fighting over and over to collect items) for the proper upgrading items then you can do some upgrading fairly early on but you also need to know where to farm for credits, which you can sell for gil (the usual currency for a Final Fantasy game.) It would of been nice if it was a little easier to upgrade your equipment because it's a pretty simple, yet addictive, system.

The way you enhance your characters is different in all the Final Fantasy entries. This time in FFXIII however, it's so simple it's stupid. Did you like the way you enhance your characters in Final Fantasy X? Well take that system and dumb it down so you have no choice what stats to enhance or what abilities to grab. You also don't have to worry about collecting spheres because you can just spend ability points to casually move along the track, enhancing things like magic, strength, and hit points. This system is incredibly simple and easily the lowest point of FFXIII. However, it's not the only thing that's dumbed down.

I'm very happy we have a return to the classic ATB (Active Time Battle) system from classic Final Fantasy's. This time however, you can let it charge to fill multiple bars which enables your character to perform more than one move per turn. That ATB system might be my favorite new feature. Too bad you can only control one of your party members during a battle. If that didn't sound bad enough, you also have the option (hardly an option really) to select auto-battle each and every turn. Now, I have to point this out because everything "sounds" negative, it isn't. When I first started playing the game back in March, I had very mixed feelings about what I thought of the battle system in this game. After spending a hell of a lot of hours playing the game, and currently working on my third playthrough, I'm still not bored with anything this game has to offer. The battles are quick, exciting, challenging, and yet probably fairly easy for a newbie to pick up and play. Which is probably exactly what Square-Enix was trying to do.

Anybody remember Final Fantasy X-2? That dress sphere system where you change your job class during battle to keep up with ever changing battle conditions? Well FFXIII has a very similar system and it's what saves this game's battle sequences for me. At any time during a battle, you can set up a Paradigm Shift with pre-battle-created Paradigm decks. What this means is that you can hit L1 on your controller, choose a deck and voila, all 3 of your in-battle characters change their job type. Commando for physical attacks, Ravager for offensive attack magic, Saboteur for offensive status effects, etc. This system works great and sometimes you really need to switch fast in order to throw a Medic onto the field for quick healing, or a Sentinel to absorb hits and provoke the enemy.

Final Fantasy XIII isn't my favorite Final Fantasy. It is however my favorite Playstation 3 game I think. The only other game for PS3 that I've spent more hours in is Borderlands, but that's because I mostly play it online with friends and so I can play for longer stretches of time while I'm chatting it up with online buddies. If I were to rank FFXIII with all the Final Fantasy's, it would probably end up mid to bottom top 10. Which isn't saying it's bad by any means, nothing compares to a Final Fantasy game and so far the only one I haven't liked is FFXII for PS2. It's the only one I haven't finished that was originally released here in the west. I was never able to get around the horrible License Board or stupid Gambit System. Ugh.

There's one thing that's been excluded from newer entries in the Final Fantasy series that I've missed. Airship world map traveling was something I always used to look forward to unlocking in my PS1 FF's and we haven't seen it properly recreated since. I always imagined seeing it back in the PS2 days, flying over lakes and oceans where you could actually see the sandy bottom with sea-weed and stuff. I can't imagine how exhilarating it would be with the power of the PS3. With what we've seen so far of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, I have high hopes once again that we may see just that. Who knows?

My overall thoughts on FFXIII are that it's an awesome and extremely detailed experience. There's nothing like it on the PS3, and if you're like me and dying to get some HD RPG goodness, go buy it now. It has some excellent end-game missions and quests and the world totally opens up (a little too much actually) once you reach the huge world of Pulse. It's got some basic systems and holds your hand for almost everything so it's great for newbies to the series, but yet still is a challenging and rewarding game. I just pray I don't loose my save file yet again.