Final Fantasy XIII (PlayStation 3) Review

By Adam Riley 16.02.2014 13

Review for Final Fantasy XIII on PlayStation 3

The Final Fantasy series reached its pinnacle with the release of Final Fantasy VI on the Super Nintendo, whilst some fans still hold on to Final Fantasy VII as the best so far, although this is in part due to that game being the mainstream breakout hit. Whatever the case, the line of turn-based RPGs has an illustrious past and when Famitsu awarded Final Fantasy XII a coveted perfect score of four 10/10s, it looked like Square Enix could do no wrong. Then the PlayStation 3 faltered from the offset and Final Fantasy XIII took a different direction for the thirteenth mainline role-playing entry.

Whilst 2012's sequel caused many to wonder whether or not it helped Square Enix get the 25-year-old Final Fantasy series back on track, it is time to take a look at the first Final Fantasy XIII to see why it was seen as the beginning of the end -- in effect the true 'final' fantasy.

Final Fantasy XII on the PlayStation 2 is highly revered by all quarters to this day, with even Famitsu awarding it a full score of 10s from its four reviewers. Therefore, clearly expectations were astronomically high for the successor and first mainline entry on the - at the time - beleaguered PlayStation 3. After all, other than Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy is the only guaranteed home-grown multimillion selling product that Square Enix can rely on nowadays, and with hardware sales of Sony's latest being stunted in Japan back in 2009 when Final Fantasy XIII finally launched, the game was facing an uphill struggle right from the get-go. The follow-up to the Final Fantasy XII project that led to Yasumi Matsuno-san infamously leaving Square Enix midway through due to stress was going to have to be something truly special to engage the low PlayStation 3 user base and reach the expected 2-3 million sales target in Japan alone. However, upon release it was met with mixed reviews on the whole from critics and a muted response from many fans. Some of the criticism is somewhat unjust, whilst other points of contention are actually surprisingly right on the money, making Final Fantasy XIII one extremely gorgeously presented mixed bag.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on PlayStation 3

Everything starts off with the standard Final Fantasy fare, with players switching between a few different lead characters as the introductory story sequence is pieced together, easing players into the upcoming vast storyline, this time set in a futuristic world called Gran Pulse, with the focus on two subsectors, Cocoon - an artificial sphere floating above the surface - and the actual surface of Pulse. There is a convoluted plot about a government organisation named Sanctum that is holding the populace in a state of fear brought on by Cocoon's citizens being worried about another invasion like the War of Transgression that took place hundreds of years ago. It all gets quite confusing at times, but like any good tale, the story unfolds piece by piece throughout the adventure and all starts to fall into place nicely after a while.

The way the action starts is sublime, with an exhilarating action sequence that introduces players to Lightning, the lead star of what is quite a scintillating cast of weird and wonderful characters, and a former 'Soldier' supposed to help humans. After the chaos seemingly starts to die down, she, and current partner, are thrown into the first user-controlled turn-based battle against a mechanical scorpion beast with spinning razor blade claws; a rather normal foe by Final Fantasy standards, obviously! Active Time Battle returns, with characters able to string together chains of attack and choose to stick with preferential manoeuvres to save time in what can sometimes otherwise become a button-mashing exercise before receiving an end-of-battle score and ranking akin to the Tales of RPG line, rather than traditional 'Experience Points.'

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on PlayStation 3

Mere minutes into the journey reveals what is quite surprisingly a trend carried through almost to the end - the game is broken into separate sectors that act almost as tunnels, pushing the player forwards to the next area. From 'Hanging Edge - The Restricted Zone' onwards, the level of exploration so familiar in the series is severely restricted, like playing the game through a narrow passageway, rather than being able to venture into the wider world. There is also a 'Datalog' (or 'Datalogue' as us Europeans would spell it…) where "information deemed pertinent" is stored if wanting to read more details. Instead of stopping at an Inn, futuristic pods are accessed where the game can be saved and shopping done for new weapons, armour, and various other items. Also, interestingly, enemies can now be seen and dodged whilst dashing around, akin to in Final Fantasy XII, which proves to be a blessing for people tired of being bogged down by endless random encounters. There is also the chance to use a stock set of moves in-battle where 'situationally appropriate' commands are used to speed up the fighting process.

Basically, there are many elements that make Final Fantasy XIII almost seem like Square Enix's answer to Final Fantasy Lite, a product aimed at drawing in the more mainstream crowd that shies away from 'heavy' role-playing outings that are too time-consuming for busy folk. There are plenty of moments where automatic jumping and continuous bouts of cut-scenes take the action away from the player to the point where at times it really feels like being part of an interactive movie, rather than becoming drawn further and further into a deep role-playing game.

That is not to say the story is not gripping, as in many ways it is, which is why the subtle changes to the gameplay hamper the overall experience so much. Rather than breaking down the flow of past entries in order to lure in a new crowd, thus alienating the faithful from years gone by, it would have been preferable to see the tale draped over the majesty of Final Fantasy XII's gameplay, for instance. When it all comes together, there are so many heart-wrenching moments, and exhilarating, adrenaline-filled sequences, mixed with plenty of intrigue and twists en-route to the finale that this could have been something truly special instead of just a 'very good' Final Fantasy that will be remembered for some of the wrong reasons.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on PlayStation 3

Rather like Final Fantasy VIII, this time the setting has again been brought more into a science fiction realm rather than the fantastical worlds seen in many other entries. As the first Final Fantasy to appear in glorious high definition, it will come as no surprise to hear that it really does blow not only socks off people, but all sorts of other pieces of clothing as well. Square Enix always has a knack of squeezing amazing visuals out of whatever hardware it works with, and the might of the PlayStation 3 ensured that Final Fantasy XIII was aesthetically pleasing, to say the least. Of course, though, style-over-substance can be a killer, and there were concerns about the adventure on the whole that certainly left an awkward, almost hollow feeling afterwards. Several elements of the story snatched at the heart-strings on many occasions, however, with the dynamic between the various cast members creating real emotion and the setting proving appealing to those with a penchant for futuristic locales and gadgetry. Feeling like control is taken away for too long at times, and then being ushered down passageways that offer nowhere near as much exploration as expected in the Final Fantasy series, sadly hampers things overall, and only ever being able to directly control the lead member of the team during battles can also be frustrating.

People may bemoan the fact that complaints about linearity, specifically in the first half of the game, are narrow-minded and that Final Fantasy really needed to be streamlined to make it more accessible. However, looking at the Dragon Quest series goes to show that sales will remain massively high if the formula is not played around with too much. Final Fantasy has seen a dip in fortunes due to the stance taken on Final Fantasy XIII, it cannot be argued, but all hope is not lost for the developer to turn things around again.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on PlayStation 3

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Although there were some problems with Final Fantasy XIII, removing several of the key elements that made the series so popular in the first place, it was by no means the disaster that some have made it out to be in the past. With stunning movie-like visuals, a truly epic soundtrack, as well as a moving story full of strong emotions and plenty of action, Square Enix's thirteenth mainline Final Fantasy succeeds on many fronts. Unfortunately, though, there were enough bumps and hitches along the way to the finish line this time round to partially tarnish the brand name in the eyes of long-term fans enough to have a negative effect on the direct sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Couldn't disagree with you more about FFVI being the Pinaccle.

FFVII brought with it a new cinematic feel, with a story that wasn't afraid to cast you the heroes as terrorists. Putting you in a very morally grey area. The backdrops even today look fantastic. The soundtrack is arguably Nobuo Uematsu finest work, its a toss up between that and FFIX. Limit Breaks were introduced, the materia system was also a breath of fresh air and the difficulty was ramped up compared to VI with a much welcome decrease in the number of random battles to boot. The mini games were excellent and the character's story arcs were intertwined in a much more enjoyable and natural way. The Villain was also much more interesting than the two dimensional Kefka.

FFVIII was a step down, the battle system was poor and the draw/junction system ruined the game. The villain went back to being 2 dimensional, evil for evils sake. Plus every time you introduce time travel, you leave plot holes everywhere. I still like FFVIII but it has more flaws than a lot of the other games. I rate it on about the same level as FFVI. 

FFIX is great, probably just edges VII when it comes to the soundtrack. The art style is amazing, when i first saw the backdrops in battle in the town, I thought this looks a bit odd. Then it hit me that they'd designed it to look like a stage production. The whole game looks like watching Final Fantasy IV played out on stage, it fills you with so much nostalgia. The battle system while better than FFVIII(not difficult) didn't  get limit breaks right, it kinda just felt like an improved FFVI. Except you learn abilities from weapons not Espers.

FFX nailed the battle system, and FFX-2 pretty much perfected it. The story was also pretty entertaining, if they cut one scene out it would go from pretty to very entertaining(That god awful whistling scene). it also proved linear is fine as long the story and gameplay are fun. 

FFXI was awful. It should have just been called FF online.

FFXII was only a little bit of an improvement, the battle system is better than FFXI (but that's kinda like saying drinking Urine is better than diarrhea). The main character is the second worst character in RPG history(emil from ToS being the worst), an interesting political drama is ruined by the worst pacing I've ever seen in an RPG, and bland environments ruin the memory of FFtactics advance.

FFXIII, the linearity isn't the problem its the battle system. Its just really, really bad. Like impossibly bad. I thought FFXI was atrocious but this battle system really ruined the series for me and nailed the coffin shut. 


( Edited 12.01.2013 04:27 by JayUK )

Whoa, whoa, whoa...FFVI and FFIX are two of my favourites. You're not a fan of FFVI compared to other FFs?

Also, I'm intrigued to hear your thoughts on FFXIII's battle system! Sounds like you're quite passionate about it Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Adam Riley said:
Whoa, whoa, whoa...FFVI and FFIX are two of my favourites. You're not a fan of FFVI compared to other FFs?

I like FFVI but I believe calling it the Pinnacle is a stretch. I loved the Final Fantasy series(IV through X-2, yes I liked FFX-2) so when I say I rate one above another we're not dealing with very big margins. I like VI and VIII a lot, but they both have their issues in the gameplay department and they both have really weak villains. 

This is what order I'd put them in by the way.
VII = IX = X > X-2 > VI = VIII > IV = V 

Also, I'm intrigued to hear your thoughts on FFXIII's battle system! Sounds like you're quite passionate about it Smilie

My main issue is I think it came about as a compromise, some people liked FFXII's system and others wanted a return to a more traditional system. So what we got was Square-Enix trying to appeal to everyone. You've got the two camps, people who liked being able to customise the AI and those who really didn't. So what we end up with is a game that allows you to customise the AI a bit, but makes the difficulty level so low that you don't really have to for a pretty big portion of the game. So you're annoying people who like FFX's combat because it doesn't feel as though you're in direct control and you're annoying the FFXII fanbase because you don't have as much indirect control. The linearity of a game really isn't noticeable as long as you're having fun, if you're bored with the battle system that's when you start picking apart the little things.


( Edited 12.01.2013 04:18 by JayUK )

JayUK said:
Everything JayUK said

I agree on just about everything you said Jay.  I don't like X much outside of the battle system(actually, I hate it outside the battle sytem).  From what I hear XII's BS is like Xenoblade's, which I love.  So I might have liked it...

IX is just FF on drugs.  It takes all the good parts - AND the bad parts - of the series and makes them all incrediblex10.

Your first comment reminded me how landmarking(is this a word?) and ground breaking XII is.  Both of these soundtracks are beautiful.  Though in one place, XII has better field music - IX has OFTEN put me to sleep while training/grinding with its lullaby field music xD.

You absolutely nailed it with XIII.  Battle system is the true bad apple that spoils the game.  There are some good parts to its story(Hope/Snow arch) but its ultimately forgettable.  Oh and contrary to everyone else I've ever spoken to hating her, I love Vanille :p

Lastly, its so interesting to me that Dragon Quest, a game as old as FF, has that "traditional" RPG gameplay yet it so seamlessly transitions from generation to generation, home console to portable console and country to country.  Why does Final Fantasy suffer so much?  Did Sq.En hire George Lucas to work on the series after IX?  He's well known for his "If it ain't broke, break it" philosophy. 

EDIT: inb4 Azurado sees topic

( Edited 12.01.2013 12:18 by IkeFE )

IkeFE said:
JayUK said:
Everything JayUK said

I agree on just about everything you said Jay.  I don't like X much outside of the battle system(actually, I hate it outside the battle sytem).  From what I hear XII's BS is like Xenoblade's, which I love.  So I might have liked it...

You might like it, I've heard that the international version improves the game a lot(too bad it was only released in Japan). The worst part of FFXII is the story's pacing. I personally don't like programming the AI, its a lot of effort which is made more of a pain that you're forced to start off with awful AI and limited options.

If Final Fantasy ended what would Spoony rant about? 
http://spoonyexperiment.com/


This is what order I'd put them in by the way.
VII = IX = X > X-2 > VI = VIII > IV = V 

Maths is fun Smilie

http://www.fanficmaker.com <-- Tells some truly terrible tales.
Last update; Mice,Plumbers,Animatronics and Airbenders. We also have the socials; Facebook & G+

I think what might be a good idea is that if when Beyond the Cube touches on FFXIII-2 in the near future, there's a poll attached so people can vote on their favourite mainline FF entry Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]
S Jump (guest) 17.01.2013#8

I'm not interested in Final fantasy games anymore, they don't have the emotions, engaging stories, fun battle systems/reward systems of the old games, I disagree with pretty much every 10/10 and 9/10 review of 12, I found it to be an annoying star wars clone with mmo battles, which I'm not ia fan of. Nothing captured my attention on that game. The villains all looked the same, there was nothing unique about their appearance or attitudes. FF13 was actually worse, the linear paths killed it and the story was far too convoluted and confusing for me to enjoy it, you literally have to read a log entry for every tidbit introduced in the game if you want any kind of understanding of its story, and from my understanding FINAL FANTASY GAMES ARE MEANT TO TELL THE STORY, NOT HAVE YOU RESEARCH IT. I'm an old fan but no longer a fan, let the franchise die and rest in peace, if I want a game with gorgeous graphics there is battlefield 3, if i want a game with turn based combat there is every persona game and multiple tactical games to play which are more fun than 13

Anyone picking up Lightning Returns then?

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Of course. Started it last night.

I'll be intrigued to see where it charts on Monday. Reviews have been very middling, but the power of advertising might conquer all...that is, if there's been a lot of advertising??

What do you think about the 7/10 score for FFXIII? I nearly dropped to a 6, but I did enjoy it the more the game went on...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

The FF name might help it a bit, but wherever LR charts, it won't be for long. It'll do poorly and will price crash quickly. Retailers already slashed it below £30 before release.

Of course, scores are subjective, but I would probably have settled with a 6 for XIII, maybe even 5. There was just too much wrong with XIII in the end. It was too nonsensical, too melodramatic. It relied on the Datalog to convey the story, where players were simply passive to the whole goings on, in a world where there was no reason to return to any previous locations because of this linearity idea that made every chapter out to be nothing but a painting to look at.

Despite the battle system faults, it was probably the best part of the game - fast and flashy. But it was a step back after XII. Playing XII after XIII made me realise that. So much characterisation and strong storytelling was lost. As a mainline FF game, it's a big disappointment after everything that had come before it.

I think your 5/6 is equivalent to my 6/7, possibly! If we still did half integers it would have definitely been a 6.5...

I know what you mean about the way the story was dished out. Everything seemed to start off really fast-paced, but quickly dropped into endless corridors of running / dodging enemies without any real connection to the story. Very detached experience. Whether it grew on me more because of the simple fact it was an FF game and my deep love of the series egged me on, or just because it actually did get better as it went on, I'm not entirely sure Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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