Final Fantasy XIII Features for Xbox 360

On: Xbox 360PS3

Our Game of the Year list represents the thoughts of the VideoGamer.com hive mind, but what about the individual titles which slipped through the cracks? Our Staff Picks might not be GOTY material, usually because they're deeply flawed in certain areas, but they still managed to strike a chord with us in some way. Today, Jamin talks about Final Fantasy XIII...

When Final Fantasy IX was released back in 2001, I feigned illness so I could skive off school and acquaint myself with Zidane and the gang. When Final Fantasy X hit the PS2 the following year, I did the same thing; explaining to my parents that a slight cough I had was in fact a full blown asthma attack. In 2006, when FFXII came out, I couldn't be bothered with excuses; I simply didn't turn up to my lectures. I locked myself away in halls for three days straight, only surfacing for food when my stomach started growling loudly enough. It's shameful to admit, but these were quite possibly the best days of my life.

Imagine, then, the nauseating excitement I felt on the day of Final Fantasy XIII's release. I had no need to play truant at this point in my life, either; I was free to enjoy Square Enix's latest to my heart's content. One hour in and I was delirious with joy; great characters, a fantastic battle system and oh-my-gosh the graphics. The further I journeyed in Cocoon, however, the more my enjoyment dwindled. Where were the towns, NPCs and inns, from whose cupboards I could pilfer a cheeky Phoenix Down? Where was the world map? The infinitude of side quests? Why could I only control one character in battle? Why oh why was there a bloody limit imposed on how much I could grind in one area?

I'm not going to sugar coat it: Square Enix messed up. In its relentless quest for Westernisation, Final Fantasy XIII managed to piss off an alarming amount of people. In a series that was always famed for being expansive, and teeming with distractions from the main path, FFXIII was distressingly one-dimensional. The game pushes you through corridor after corridor after corridor, and refuses to open up until some thirty hours in. It's linear, overly simplified and incredibly back-heavy.

So, why does the game find itself getting an honourable mention, then? Three reasons, primarily:

1. The Battle System

I still regard the Dress Sphere system from X-2 to be the best combat system the series has birthed to date (truly, bring on the flames), but XIII isn't far behind. It's fast and fluid; simple at first yet brimming with strategy as you start taking on tougher opponents. Auto-battle handles most of the decision making for you, but this lets you focus your strategies on the bigger picture instead of restricting you to navigating menus.

These tactics are derived from the new Paradigm system, which allows players to change the whole dynamic of their party with a button tap; a versatile evolution of the Job system first introduced in Final Fantasy V. The class of all three active party members can be changed on the fly, meaning you can set up combinations to cover every eventuality in battle. Two Commanders and a Ravager is the Relentless Assault Paradigm, for instance, whereas two Medics and a Sentinel is a Combat Clinic. Setting up your paradigms properly before battle is the only way to ensure a victory.

Final Fantasy XIII screenshot

Combine this with the Stagger mechanic (which brings an enemy to its knees for additional damage), summonable Eidolons and the usual item malarkey (Phoenix Downs, Ethers – you know the stuff) and you have an involving battle system. Combat in FFXIII is, without a doubt, the game's strongest asset.

2. Sassy Women and Sazh Katzroy

Packed with enough history and politics to fill a small encyclopaedia, the world of Cocoon is easily as cohesive as Spira or Ivalice, but it's the characters populating its world that make FFXIII such a captivating place. The plot revolves around Lightning; a female Cloud Strife with none of the cliché. As well as being subtle and solemn, she also happens to have the coolest hair in video game history; I can often stop and watch the wind playfully blowing hair across her face.

While I might happen to have the biggest crush in the world on Lightning, she's by no means my favourite of the L'Cie bunch. The best character is undoubtedly Sazh Katroy, the hopelessly uninformed, slightly pathetic ex-military pilot who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. As well as the comic relief, he's also a conduit for the player's curiosity - asking the relevant questions to help fill in the frequent holes in the plot. He also has a baby Chocobo that lives in his bouncy afro; if that doesn't make him the best character in Final Fantasy history, I don't know what does.

The rest of the game's cast are equally strong, with personalities developed incredibly well over the course of the game. While I hated narcissistic douchebag Snow Villiers at first, his turbulent relationship with the young Hope Estheim quickly won me over. To see a character mature and purge themselves of their annoying traits during the course of the narrative is a rare thing in video games. That said, the overly chirpy Vanille never really stops being annoying, but I forgive her because she's totally hot.

3. Sweet, sweet eye candy

I'm going to go out on a limb here – Final Fantasy XIII boasts the best character designs of any game this generation. I've always been a fan of Tetsuya Nomura's work, but he's outdone himself here. If I was feeling particularly adventurous, I might even venture that FFXIII is the best looking game of 2010. In terms of fantastical scenery, stunning vistas and otherworldly architecture, FFXIII has no equal. And I don't think anybody would argue that the game has the best FMV cutscenes of the year. It might not be in-game, but who cares when it looks this good.

There are other points worthy of celebration, too. Like Masashi Hamauzu's glorious soundtrack, the Crystarium and Gran Pulse – but I've already gone over my word limit and should probably start wrapping things up.

Final Fantasy XIII is likely to find itself on more 'most disappointing games of 2010' lists than Game of the Year, which is part of the reason why I felt such a compelling need to defend it. I'm not saying I wasn't disappointed myself - I was, but that doesn't stop it being a fantastic game. While the western RPG is moving forward with relentless pace, Japan's efforts have remained largely the same for two decades. So despite getting a few things wrong, you can't blame Square Enix for trying something a little different.

For more end of year content, head over to our Game of the Year 2010 hub. Amongst other things you'll be able to watch videos in which we talk about each game in the Top 10.

New stuff to check out

11 Comments

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Woffls's Avatar

Woffls

I really enjoyed this for the first 15 hours or so. It was my first Final Fantasy, so the extended tutorial approach suited me rather well. The visuals are just ridiculous - but only on PS3 because the compression on the 360 version is horrendous - and it's easily the best looking game released this year. Even the in-game stuff that's not pre-rendered looks incredible.

Then, as I expected, I got to a bastard-hard boss and had to give up. I got nowhere near beating it, and couldn't figure out how, so I dropped it completely and never went back. I will one day, but it's so frustrating that I need to remove myself from this narrative - which I was really into - just because there's a typically Japanese difficulty spike.
Posted 12:53 on 27 December 2010
Endless's Avatar

Endless

Ok. Normally I waffle quite a lot when I have something to say, so I think i'll attempt to summarise in bullet-points instead :)

Characters - I Only liked Lightening. I liked Sazh as a character, but I would never use him unless forced to because he was CRAP. As were all the others. Snow was only useful as a Defender. There was just a massive massive sense of imbalance throughout the entire list of characters.

Combat - definitely a lot of depth once you were actually given the opportunity to explore it. Most of the time however you didn't need to do anything other than auto-battle. Your health recovers after every battle so there's no need to really worry about anyone getting hurt either. There's no sense of urgency or feeling in it. It eventually became really dull. Classic case of brilliance poorly executed for me i'm afraid.

Progression - The crysterium pretty much mirrors previous progression engines except it added a whole BUTTLOAD of annoyance and grind. I'm all for an expansive set of options, but when it takes you hours just to get a single ability you're venturing into the WoW format of gaming where the grind only exists to lengthen the experience, not enrich it. Jobs + Materia WOULD be godlike though.

On another note the battle system is Resonance of Fate pisses all over FF13 then sets it on fire. Yes, it's piss is flammable. Thats how good it is.

Graphics - Yeah yeah they're good. But you soon get used to how good they are and then you're just as bored as ever.

World - First things first. The world of Spira is nonexistant. I have no memorable moments from X or X-2 at all. It passed me by like a number 10 bus. Ivalice on the other hand was excellent, rich and diverse. Cocoon was the name of the world? really? because I only ever saw Gran Pulse...I have to admit I was kinda drawn into the story, there was a lot of facets to it which were interesting. but ultimately too drawn out and the combat and stunted progression prevented me from feeling any enjoyment from the story that I might have felt had I been allowed to fully engage with....anything. Anything at all. It felt like there should have been a book I should have read first and then this was the film of the book that gutted everything that felt real, leaving only a heartless shell of an experience behind.

What's left then? A fancy looking picture book that only allows you to turn the pages when it wants you to. Even then when you're allowed to progress some of the pages get stuck together or SOMETHING annoying happens that makes even the smallest amount of progression a frustrating experience.

I could recommend ANY of the previous Final Fantasy games over 13, special mention goes to 7 and 12. The only way i could think it's possible to enjoy 13 is if you've never played a JRPG before. Ever. And so you dont know what you're missing.

Done.

I said i'd TRY and summarise ;)
Posted 15:21 on 23 December 2010
draytone's Avatar

draytone@ FantasyMeister

I still kinda think that the game should be more interesting after the first few hours, not 30. That is a massive investment. I still haven't played it yet, but reading comments that it was a bit dull for the first 30 hours did put me off.
Posted 12:39 on 23 December 2010
scaz2244's Avatar

scaz2244

im going to be a hater here. i thought the story while intresting i just thought it was nothing compared to 7 8 9 10 12. the characters were the worst yet, while it did look beutifull, the combat just wasnt good enough for me.

i never finished it as i gave up but maybe i will re try this and maybe i will grow to like it but this has to be the worst final fantasy so far, i just hope versus 13 will be a whole lot better
Posted 22:54 on 22 December 2010
Get2DaChoppa's Avatar

Get2DaChoppa@ FantasyMeister

Completely agree with all that, and the addition of materia to any FF game would probably make my nostalgia bubble explode! In the best possible way.
Posted 22:05 on 22 December 2010
FantasyMeister's Avatar

FantasyMeister

I loved it. It was one of those RPGs that remind you that mainstream games reviewers can't review RPGs because of the timesink required. The first 30 hours are nothing compared to the next 170 hours. Sazh rocked. The ending was one of the better ones in the series.

I think the only way they could have improved it (or the series for that matter) is to add a little more tweaky stuff to the customisation for diversity's sake. Think how neat it would have been if you chucked in the Materia system as well.

I'm still not sure whether getting rid of random NPCs to chat to was a good or a bad thing, I think I missed it for nostalgia's sake, and enjoyed it because it prevented a lot of timewasting.
Posted 21:51 on 22 December 2010
Get2DaChoppa's Avatar

Get2DaChoppa

I eventually fell for this game, took a while though. The visuals are amazing, and I agree with Jamin when he said it was probably the best looking game of the year. I just hope Square-Enix can take what criticism the game received and translate it into an even better title next time.

Great choice Jamin!
Posted 20:33 on 22 December 2010
Rand401's Avatar

Rand401

I definitely agree. I bought it when it first came out and stop playing when I got half way through. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish the game sooner or later.
Posted 17:29 on 22 December 2010
KEEPINITGANGSTA's Avatar

KEEPINITGANGSTA

I thought this was an outstanding game. FFXIII was the first I played in the series, but I think that Square Enix was trying to appeal to a different demographic and in my case succeeded. I hope that future titles in the series from a visual and narrative standpoint will be just as good.
Posted 14:44 on 22 December 2010
draytone's Avatar

draytone

Still yet to play this, the fact its a massive time sink means I'm not sure I will. IF there is a lull next year then maybe I'll be able to pick it up cheap somewhere.
Posted 14:36 on 22 December 2010
Roland_D11's Avatar

Roland_D11

I completely agree with this, I liked FF XIII very much. It looks stunning and yes, I liked the characters. Too bad I can't beat the penultimate boss and can't bring myself to go back one room and fight the same few enemies over and over to grind my level.

Maybe I will give it a fresh start over the holidays and make sure to do more sidequests in chapter 11.
Posted 13:57 on 22 December 2010

Game Stats

Technical Specs
Release Date: 09/03/2010
Developer: Square-Enix Co
Publisher: Square-Enix Co
Genre: RPG
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 3,120 418
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