<div align="center">Final Fantasy XIII Mini-Review <img src="http://everydayplaystation.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/final-fantasy-xiii.jpg" border="0" class="linked-image" /></div> Introduction: It has been many years since the release of Final Fantasy XII on the Playstation 2 and decades since the release of Final Fantasy on the Nintendo Entertainment System. With every Roman Numeral installment of the series, the expectations of the game is raised. When the transition from NES to SNES was made, vibrant colors were used as well as an extensive character dialog system. Following the debut of Cecil Harvey and his brigade on Final Fantasy IV on SNES, the platform had 2 more Roman Numeral releases, V and VI. Each of these game featured an amazing battle mechanic but a wonderfully crafted story that is carried within the hearts of many of the series’ fans and gamers. With the introduction of Playstation, Squaresoft found it a great idea to invest their next installment in the series with 3-D graphics as well as the infamous Full-Motion Videos. Final Fantasy VII would take Squaresoft leaps into infinity as Cloud and his party ventured into the depths of their past as well as the past of the planet that they wished to protect. Like the console that featured the series before, Final Fantasy had 2 more games on the console. Final Fantasy VIII took the futuristic design that the series had taken and expanded upon it while mixing a dramatic love story. Final Fantasy IX was a wonderfully crafted game that reflected upon the series’ wonderful history. The Final Fantasy series flourished as a hit in the gaming industry and many gamers wondered where it would venture next. It was obvious that Playstation 2 would carry the series forward with enhanced graphical capabilities and increased memory size. Final Fantasy X was released on 2001 in Japan and US. The game was well received but it was not just the game that was well received. The story took the bests of what VIII had done with its love story and crafted a wonderful plot that was cohesive to the core. Not only this but a song named To Zanarkand is one of the most memorable works by Nobou Uematsu along with many of his other infamous works. Unfortunately the console did not receive 3 games like the two platforms before it but only received on more, Final Fantasy XII. While the game received great scores from critics, the fans were not completely satisfied by what XII had achieved in terms of plot, world, and lore. Fans would ponder at what direction XIII would take when the first trailer was released in 2006. Disclaimer: This is a disclaimer to the long Mini-Review for Final Fantasy XIII. The reason why the review is long but considered a Mini-Review is because of the fact that the game is not delved fully by the reviewer, myself. I have some knowledge of the Japanese language but not enough for me to explore the game fully. Because of this I will be putting notices on what I fully understand and what I know little of. I will be reviewing the game fully when the US version of the game releases on March. I hope that this review pleases you. Lastly, this review is attempted to be written as professional as possible and so I will respect any criticism possible. Story ---- Unscorable, due to language barrier I won’t be discussing the various points of the story because of my lack of complete understanding. However, I will be discussing many of the aspects that make up this category much like my other RPG reviews. The characters are well designed with each character having their own distinct traits. However, it’s not these traits that make the character unique but the fact that these characters change throughout the course of the game in their own unique way. One of the more notable characters is Hope. Hope is a 14 year old boy who has the worst luck in the world. Everything that happens to him is sudden, fast, unexpected, and very overwhelming. Not only is his reaction to all of this very realistic but the way that he attempts to understand the problem and try to fix it is just as amazing. At first he attempts to relieve his pains through emotional guidance but understands that it’s not just emotions that guides a person’s path but his logical aspect also. It is these types of developments and characteristic that mark a wonderful characterization of the plot and Final Fantasy XIII executes this very well. Unfortunately the game does suffer from pacing. The game has your group of party members all split up and go their own separate ways. This is understandable in both design of story and gameplay. However, the way that the game executes the plot through this design is not well done. The problems that each character face is prolonged for so long it is very much analogous to the fight scenes in Dragonball Z where a character spends numerous episodes powering up. When all problems are tied up though, the plot moves at such a rough progression rate that it’s hard for the player to take it all in. The story is extremely slow and suddenly ramps up trying to make up for the lost time. Not only is the pacing rather detractive but the overall plot is somewhat lacking. There isn’t much going on in terms of problems that the world is facing. Previously in the series the fact that the world was in danger was very evident and made the world quite perilous. However, despite the world being in danger the level of danger is not as great as expected. Much of this is due to the lack of description of the world. The player is basically expected to know the grandness and vastness of Cocoon and Pulse itself. Because this isn’t presented very well, the problem that the world feels doesn’t feel as epic. Given the concepts of the world in Final Fantasy XIII, it would actually be particularly hard to create a game focusing on just two worlds with a small scope but the designers did it well to the best of their extent. If given the concepts to a different developer, the game would’ve turned out disastrous. When the game is reflected back upon as a whole, the game meets the standard that the series lives up to. With the introduction of Final Fantasy XIII, it seems like the series is taking a rather different direction, despite it being described in this review. Gameplay ----------- 9.0 When the first E3 trailer appeared people speculated on its obscure gameplay design that the series evolved from. Comparing it to what Final Fantasy XII was with its MMO styled turn-based game, Final Fantasy XIII is much different. Rather than attacking one per turn, players can attack more than once. Not only this but the Magic Meter is only a thing of the past as they can be used regularly. To regular gamers, this might not seem much but to fans of the series, it’s absolutely unheard of. Despite this, what Final Fantasy XIII does with the battle system is simply stunning to say the least. The gameplay remains to be what the series is based on, Active Time Battle. Each character is give a time bar and when the meter is full they can attack; the same is true for enemies. Final Fantasy does indeed have the Active Time Battle system but has changed it rather drastically. The bar is separated into multiple sections. Each action that a character does will take up a certain amount of section on the bar. Once the bar is fully depleted or once the character has certain commands completed, the bar will recharge and the process will start again. The player will start with 2 segments in the ATB but it will grow up to as many as 6. A normal attack may only take one segment but a specialized character attack may take up to 5. This sort of misleads the player into thinking that the game is not actually turn-based combat but something much more. The multiple actions that each player can assign to a character makes the game very fast paced and when combined with the actions that your party members will be doing will make the battles seem even more awesome. The battle puts you and 2 other party members against the enemies. Unfortunately, you don’t control the whole party but the party leader while an AI controls the 2 other members. While this gives you no control over the entire battle, the AI is quite competent of what they do. While the multiple commands of the newly defined ATB might be the game-changing aspect of Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system, it’s actually not. Rather, the new surprising mechanic and also the most fully developed and realized mechanic in battle is the Optima Change, or Paradigm Shift in US and EU. The Optima Change allows players to change the roles of party members on the fly. There are 6 distinct roles that the player can have a party member be assigned as: Attacker (Commando), Blaster (Ravager), Defender (Sentinel), Enhancer (Synergist), Healer (Medic), and Jammer (Saboteur). Each role has specific abilities and capabilities in battle. Assigning certain roles to a character will make the best use of that character while others not so much. However, roles themselves do not make the Optimas but rather a combination of roles for your party. For example, an Attacker and 2 Blasters will give the player to Break the enemy. By Breaking the enemy, the player will increase the damage that is inflicted upon the enemy. While that is a great Optima for attacking, if you are extremely injured in battle then it might be wise to change to a different Optima, maybe consisting of one Defender and 2 Healers. There are numerous combinations of Optimas that allow for many different possibilities and they can all be changed by the click of the L1 button. Knowing which Optima set to use in a particular situation can change the outcome of the battle and is essential to surviving especially in boss battles. The culmination of all these battle mechanics makes up a great battle system for Final Fantasy XIII and is essentially the most active, most invigorating, and exciting turned based game, probably in history. Unfortunately, the game’s battle mechanic does suffer some problems. One of the main problem is that many battles can be won by simply pressing the X-button. The Command menu is auto-assigned to Auto-Battle. This command gives the player a preset list of commands that is best to be used in that situation. Just by mashing the Auto-Battle, the battles seem more like just movie clips rather than fights. This definitely deters from the game’s full experience. Secondly, the fact you only have control of 1 character, which is the party leader, is not so much of problem if the game didn’t end if the leader didn’t die. A situation can arise where 2 of your AI controlled party members are knocked out but you yourself or not. You can resurrect them using a Phoenix Down or Revive if you’re a Healer. However, if the Leader dies, then it’s instantly game over. This actually doesn’t make sense in reality since you can change your Optima so that one of your party members is a healer and revive the party leader. However, one might also argue that the battle might be unnecessarily prolonged. Regardless, the design seems somewhat awkward. Lastly, the game’s main problem with the battles are the erratic difficulties between enemies. One set of enemies might be extremely easy but the next enemy you run into might be so insanely hard that you have to avoid it. It seems like the difficulty of enemies in one area is erratically different and seems to be a rather bad design issue. Sadly, this also carries over to boss battles. Bosses are amazing but they are just simply too overpowering sometimes. They will have an absurd amount of health and it might literally take 30+ minutes to finish the fight or fight maybe 20 minutes only to lose. The boss fights are supposed to be hard but not the way Final Fantasy XIII does it. (Demon’s Soul bosses are better designed than this…) If you’re not battling in Final Fantasy XIII, then the player will either be doing 2 things: progressing through the rest of the story or doing side-quests. The side-quests mostly consist of more battles, and despite how amazing the battle system is, when many of the side-quests consist of only one type and no variety, it gets old no matter how fun it is. The simple lack of variety is the problem with Final Fantasy XIII’s post-mortem play. Progressing through the story is as linear as it could be. It’s basically a straight line for a dungeon with the occasional branching paths to denote a treasure chest. While the linearity is very repetitive it is excusable in a way because of two things: plot and design. The plot makes it so that the player is always moving and on the run, therefore the linearity is quite fine. Secondly the design of each location is quite amazing and fascinating therefore it’s somewhat easy to dismiss the linearity of the game. These things also dismiss the fact that there are no towns and everything, as in shopping and such, are done at Save Points. While many of the RPGs are made with the sake of gameplay in mind, the gameplay in Final Fantasy XIII is rather made for the sake of the story. In all actuality the gameplay design and overall playability in Final Fantasy XIII is simply fascinating. There are few flaws here and there, despite some being somewhat game-breaking, the game is polished and is its finest form. Graphics -------- 9.5 The graphics in this game is simply stunning. Square-Enix really tried to make the game a true HD experience and they have not failed. The character models are great and the environments are all vibrant with their own distinct look. There is nothing but positive to say about the game other than the fact that there are a few texture padding that could’ve used some more work. The lip-syncing is phenomenal and the hair on every character is so well created. While the style of the art in this game is a HD 3-D anime-esque adaptation, unlike the realistic way that Uncharted and Mass Effect leans towards, the way everything is designed is great. One thing to note also is that the enemy designs are very distinct. Each enemy and boss feels different, despite some being re-skins, and the overall designs of the enemies actually look bada**. Sound -------- 9.0 The Audio in Final Fantasy XIII is amazing but not exceptionally phenomenal. Nobou Uematsu has left the seat to compose the track for Final Fantasy XIII for Final Fantasy XIV, but despite this fact it doesn’t mean that the game’s musical score is bad. In fact, the score is surprisingly good. Masashi Hamauzu did a great job cultivating this ambient score. From the intro of the game to the end credits, the music sounds amazing. One particular music that some might find annoying but somewhat happy-go-lucky in reality is the song that plays while you are playing as Vanille in a lush green forest. Many of the pieces sound like remixes of each other but the tones are different giving each piece a distinct feel. Overall there isn’t much to complain about the music but it’s not extremely memorable nor is it “crazy good.” The voice acting in the game is well-done. There isn’t anything that stands out particularly when compared to other games of the genre other than the fact the voice acting in this game is better but not excellent. Each voice actor captures the essence of the situation and the character. Nothing excellent but everything is done very great. Tilt/Value ------- 8.5 (The explanation is in the gameplay) Conclusion -------- 9.0 Final Fantasy XIII is definitely not a masterpiece among the other Roman Numerals in the series but definitely deserves to be a Roman Numeral. The production values, the intricate details carved into the world’s mythos and story, the graphical presentation, and the extremely finesse battle system. There are a few minor problems in the game and there definitely more rights than wrongs, if any major ones exist. The wonderful world of Pulse and Cocoon is fully realized when looked upon the right way, and amazing creatures that inhabit this warm, vibrant, and ambient world make this a living world rather than a stagnant one. Final Fantasy XIII is definitely a game worth the experience from start to finish and for the last and Final time, worthy of the Roman Numeral, XIII.