Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Final Fantasy XIII Series (Part 1 of 3)

For as long as I can remember, I've always loved RPGs, mainly those in the Final Fantasy series. Ever since I first played Final Fantasy 7, I've made it a personal mission of mine to play every mainstream Final Fantasy game to completion. And throughout my mission, I've noticed that many people have had sort of a stigma towards certain games in the series. But, despite that, the name “Final Fantasy” has always equaled an overall great experience for me. Nothing made that more apparent after experiencing the awesomeness that is Final Fantasy VI and IX. These games cemented what I loved about RPGs. Recently, I've played the newest game in the Final Fantasy universe, and it made me reflect on the evolution of the series as a whole.

This brings me to the first of my three part review of the Final Fantasy XIII series. In 2010, Final Fantasy XIII was released stateside, and there were many who didn't approve of it. The word “linear” came from so many people’s mouths when describing the game. Some people even complained about the battle system. But I had to see for myself.

Final Fantasy XIII tells the story of Lightning, a member of the Guardian Corps, a military organization. Lightning’s younger sister, Serah has become a l’Cie, a human marked by a divine entity and given supernatural power and a mission to fulfill. If a l’Cie fails to complete their mission after a certain amount of time, they turn into crystal-like monsters. The “reward” for completing this mission isn't any better, for the l’Cie will be given “eternal life” and turned into a crystal until they are given another mission. Our heroine Lightning isn't having any of that, and goes AWOL in order to save her sister. Along her journey she meets others who help her out for their own reasons, such as Sazh Katzroy, a resident airship pilot, and Snow Villers, Serah’s fiancĂ©e and member of a resistance group. As the story unfolds, they learn the truth about the world around them.

The main characters in all their glory.

And this world is pretty cool. Although the graphics weren't as amazing as other PS3 games at the time, I still found myself amazed by the floating world of Cocoon, and the expansive lower world of Gran Pulse. What I wasn't too keen about was that there wasn't much exploring of this world. I’m used to playing RPGs where I could explore my surroundings, but I didn't have that luxury here. I mean, the characters are supposed to be fugitives, and they don’t even have a place to hide, haha. The first 20 hours of this game was comparable to a hallway full of firewalls; the game opens up at a sluggish pace. While this isn't a bad thing, it makes story progression a priority over everything else. You don’t get to choose your party, there’s no world map, and there’s no element of choice. While I don’t mind a linear RPG, I expect more from Final Fantasy.

A map from Chapter 1. Pretty Straightforward , right?

Finally, after 10 chapters, I get some semblance of exploration.
Ah, the gameplay. XIII introduces an all new battle system, the Command Synergy Battle. This new take on the traditional turn-based system is complex but fun. This is mainly in part to the Paradigm System, in which you merely give suggestions to your other party members. While it’s pretty awesome to watch characters move about in battle, it doesn't work so well when you have two party members with no real power. Most of the time it’s impractical; you’re simply too slow. I was more inclined to use the game's "auto battle" feature and watch every thing play out. The only time I manually selected something is if I wanted to use a special attack, an item, or summon an Eidelon, the game's form of summons. Also note that if the main character dies, it’s automatically Game Over, something I found out once I got to the later chapters, where auto battle was pretty useless. There’s no real sense of control other than the Crystarium System, the means by which characters learn skills and boost stats. I guess it's meant to act as the games' leveling system, but even that’s limited as to how far you've gotten into the story.

The battle system is pretty hit or miss.
Then there’s the music. I love the soundtrack, especially the battle theme “Blinded by Light.” It really sets the mood for kicking butts and taking names. Most people were thrown off by the replacement of the original theme song with Leona Lewis’ “My Hands,” but I really didn’t care for it one way or the other. Apparently, the original theme was too hard to translate, but I digress. The voice acting was pretty awesome as well. I love Ali Hillis as Lightning. I always looked forward to hearing her voice, and I grew to like her as a character. You could really feel the impact in her voice. On the other hand, the Australian accents for two of the characters threw me off, but they grew on me soon enough. One thing that I couldn't get over (and still can't) was the absence of the two signature themes in Final Fantasy: The opening theme, "Prelude", and the "Victory Fanfare". Final Fantasy XIII would be the first main series game to not feature these tracks. It just didn't seem right at all not to include these.

But is Final Fantasy XII a bad game? Depends on who you ask. Yeah, it has is faults, but what game doesn't? The only thing it was guilty of was being different, of being innovative. Ever since it's first game in 1987, every iteration in the Final Fantasy series - especially with its arrival in 3D with Final Fantasy 7 - has been a reinvention, each telling a brand new story with new characters, worlds, tools, systems, and ever-greater helpings of prospect and romanticism. I for one consider Final Fantasy XIII a welcome addition to my gaming library for what it was - something new.

Check out my review of the second game in the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy:
Final Fantasy XIII-2

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