Monday, July 24, 2000

Final Fantasy XIII Ps3 review | 9.0

-As many preliminary reviewers have stated, this iteration of the Final Fantasy series is quite noticeably linear in nature in its first half. Compared to the previous FF installments, which allow you to explore a vast open world from the outset and take on various optional side-quests, FFXIII gives you neither for the first 18-20 hours of the game. Things open up after that point, but your options are still very limited compared to earlier FF games. There is also little opportunity to "level grind" (although the term doesn't explicitly apply here, more on that later) until you reach this point. You are given a proverbial "ceiling", a temporary limit to which your party members can be strengthened and developed, and for better or worse, you have to make the most of what's available to you to overcome the next challenging boss battle. Also, NPC interaction is highly limited, almost to the point of non-existence. Luckily, the story development balances all this out very nicely. It's like one big, long, winding corridor full of hurtles to jump, though the game manages to become more and more fun to play as you progress. And damned if it isn't the most visually appealing corridor I've ever seen.

-Which brings us to the graphics. Square Enix has historically made painstaking efforts to keep its Final Fantasy games on the very cutting edge of the graphics scene, and FFXIII is no exception. The characters--even token NPCs--are all meticulously rendered and animated, each doing justice to the art of the series' premiere character artist, Tetsuya Nomura. Their facial subtext is unprecedented in the series, making for very convincing performances. The way they move in battle is consistently a treat to watch, particularly in Lightning's case, as she vaults and flips about, slashing up baddies and tossing fireballs around the arena. Despite participating in chaotic battles with as many as 10 enemies on-screen, I've noticed absolutely no lag or slowdown in the framerate. The environments are positively SPECTACULAR in both their scope, lighting, and design. It's enough to make you cry, knowing that you're chained to a single path and unable to freely explore these awe-inspiring vistas, but don't worry, you'll get more freedom to roam in the latter half of the game. The prerendered cutscenes are even more beautiful, in my opinion surpassing the taut action and visual appeal of even the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete [Blu-ray] feature film. They occur fairly often, and they're an absolute joy to watch.

-About battles: the new battle system is a great departure from what FF vets might be used to. There are up to three party members fighting on your side, and you directly control the actions of the leader only. The other two members provide AI support based on their role in your party's currently active Paradigm (a battle plan that assigns specific roles to each party member, and can be changed on-the-fly at any time). Timing these Paradigm Shifts is the name of the game, otherwise you'll get pummeled in short order.
Gone are the days when you'd have to manage your party's HP and MP between battles; HP is automatically refilled for all party members (even KO'd ones) after every battle, and MP is non-existent.
Magic spells take the form of elemental techniques that are seamlessly integrated with physical attacks and other special techniques, in long hitstrings that cost only ATB Meter stocks. The focus is not only to survive and win battles, but to finish them quickly and decisively. It pays to have your strategy thought through before challenging the next group of enemies. Judiciously switching Paradigms in mid-battle is indespensible to victory, and necessary to receive a 5-star rank at the end of the battle, and ultimately more valuable spoils.
Summons take the form of Eidolons, who join you as AI-controlled battle buddies when called upon. You can also press Square to enter the Eidolon's "Gestalt Mode", wherein it transforms into some sort of vehicle that the summoning character rides on/in, unlocking new attack options and enabling you to execute the Eidolon's ultimate technique on command. Only the party's currently assigned Leader may summon an Eidolon.
"Limit Breaks" (as they are more popularly known) can be unlocked for each character once they've reached Chrystarium Level 4. They do not cost TP, and there are no special prerequisites for executing them; fire away to your heart's content. As with Eidolons, only the Party Leader can execute his/her Limit Break.
It takes some getting used to, but the game offers plenty of tutorials to explain how to make the most of the options available to you. Personally, I find this new battle system to be a lot of fun.

-Character levels as you know them are gone as well. Your party members' stats are boosted through the expenditure of Crystogen Points (CP) in the Chrystarium Development system (very similar to the Sphere Grid system of FFX). As you advance through the Chrystarium, you gain new techniques and spells, and increase the levels of each character's available Roles.
What does level up are your weapons and accessories. Spoils you earn in victory can be spent to allocate Experience Points to your equipped gear, raising their stat bonuses and special attributes, and even transforming them into other, more powerful items. I guess this is your incentive to shoot for that 5-star battle score.

-Camera movement feels a bit sluggish, but smooth. It gives the battles a cinematic feel, but when you're running around the map, it can be a pain. I like to sneak up on enemies so that I can get the initiative when the battle starts, but the slow-turning camera has robbed me of this opportunity more than a few times (though it's not a game-breaker).

-BOTTOM LINE: It's definitely worth checking out, but I recommend you rent this one first, even if you're a Final Fantasy veteran. FFXIII has its own unique style and flow; you either love it or you hate it. The story is deep, mysterious and compelling, and the characters each have very interesting, multi-dimensional personalities. If you can stick it out, you'll be handsomely rewarded with gameplay that just gets more and more exciting as you progress.

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