There are two sides to every story, of course, especially one as elaborate and long-winded as your typical Final Fantasy tale. But this criticism, on a basic level, baffles us somewhat. The Final Fantasy series, and indeed the JRPG genre, has never been open world in the Fallout 3, Oblivion sense. JRPGs are linear by design, focusing more on stunning cutscenes and scripted storytelling. That's part of their appeal.
Tastes change, of course. There is a school of thought that says traditional JRPG design has become stuck in the mud. At a time when the likes of BioWare and Bethesda are pushing things forward with shooter/RPG hybrids, Square Enix has rested on its laurels, not least in graphical and structural terms. We'd subscribe to this, to an extent. But the last thing we want to see is the JRPG genre becoming little more than a poor reflection of the WRPG. What we want to see is the likes of Square Enix taking on board the best of both worlds, creating something fresh and groundbreaking while retaining what's great about the Japanese role-playing game. That is what we've been hoping Final Fantasy XIII will achieve all along.
We'll end on what we know you're dying to know: what version looks the best? Before we answer this question, a few disclaimers: One) We are not biased. Two) The preview event we attended had a bank of PS3s running the game directly opposite a bank of 360s running the game, but different television sets were used for each console type. And three) Really, we're not biased.
The PS3 version of Final Fantasy XIII looks better than the Xbox 360 version. It's crisper. This relates most to the stunning full motion videos the series is known for. On the PS3, they look razor sharp. On the 360, they are noticeably blockier, as if the resolution was lower. This effect is no doubt the result of the Blu-ray format and its gargantuan data capacity. The only conclusion we can draw is that, for the 360 version, Square Enix reduced the quality of the FMVs in order to fit the game on three DVDs.
It's harder to pass judgement on the quality of the in-game graphics, however. To our eyes the PS3 version looked crisper, but this effect might have had something to do with the televisions. But there is an upshot to all this visual fuss: if graphics are incredibly important to you, and you have both consoles, then you'll probably want the PS3 version.
This is not to say that the Xbox 360 version looks bad. On the contrary, it looks fantastic. Indeed we imagine that had the 360 version not been running right next to the PS3 version, we wouldn't have noticed the difference in quality at all. In short: if you only own the Xbox 360, you won't be getting a substandard version of FFXIII. This is not a shoddy port.
Phew. That was fun, wasn't it? We certainly feel as if a load has been lifted. Good fun, really, all this console war graphics stuff; in a playground sort of way. Reminds us of the time we punched that snotty git who said the Master System was better than the NES. Oh he deserved everything he got, he did. The question now is, what does Final Fantasy XIII deserve? Not long to find out.
Final Fantasy XIII is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 on March 9.