Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360) Review

By Albert Lichi 27.12.2017 3

Review for Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360

There is a lot that can be said about the fantasy that never ends. For some, Final Fantasy is the embodiment of JRPGs and can either represent everything good or bad with the genre. It is a franchise of very high highs and some pretty embarrassingly low lows. E3 2006 was when Final Fantasy XIII was first announced, and was released in 2009 after much hype and expectations. It was the first numbered Final Fantasy game of the new generation, and Square Enix invested so much into all kinds of new graphics technology and animation systems to ensure that Final Fantasy XIII would be their flagship game that would carry them into the PS3/Xbox 360 gen. What Square Enix released was a very unusual mess of ideas and utterly incoherent story that was so baffling that the developers had to release two sequels to help explain everything, and even included whole wikis in each title. Now that the dust has settled, everyone looks back at Final Fantasy XIII as the epitome of everything where Square Enix lost their way and became overly indulgent. Where did it all go wrong? Cubed3 looks back at Final Fantasy XIII on the Xbox 360.

Early in development, the producers of Final Fantasy XIII were very vocal about how this game was going to surpass Final Fantasy VII, as if they felt some kind of spite towards Hironobu Sakaguchi for leaving the company (and taking his money with him). While playing Final Fantasy XIII, it isn't before long some similarities begin to show up, like how the story opens with a train hijacking, a cold/aloof soldier protagonist, a black guy with a ranged weapon(s), invasion on some kind of industrial setting, rebels, and a ditzy girl in pink who fights with a stick. All of these similarities happen in the first 10 minutes, and it doesn't stop there. The point is Final Fantasy XIII is not coy about trying to imitate its most popular predecessor. Even concepts that FFXIII introduces as "original" are really just more convoluted versions of concepts from Final Fantasy VII, like the fal'Cie (XIII) and Weapons (VII).

Ignoring the fact that Final Fantasy VII exists, XIII's story completely misfires all because of the way it is told. There are some gaping plot holes and confusing inconsistencies throughout, but storytelling is so baffling, it is as if Square Enix is making it unbearable on purpose. Really simple little plot points are made all the more confusing because so much information is just never properly communicated at all, and this is because all the characters in XIII do not need anything explained to them. This creates a huge problem for anyone playing the game because so many weird and alien concepts are being thrown around very early and nonchalantly that it becomes bewildering and disconnecting.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360

This is where a fish-out-of-water protagonist becomes very helpful to tell the story. In Final Fantasy X, for example, Tidus was not from Spira. He would ask all kinds of questions about the things happening in the story, and by proxy the players learned with him. Everyone learned about Tidus, too, because of how he reacted to things, which establishes some kind of connection with the characters and world. That was the genius of Final Fantasy X. In FFXIII, there is nothing, and the game expects people to sift through pages upon pages of wiki articles within the game instead of telling the story in a way that makes sense. It is so important to understand alien concepts like the fal'Cie and l'Cie, what PSICOM is, how Cocoon works, and what Pulse is, but XIII does such a poor job of conveying these ideas and instead only compounds them.

After about 20 hours of incomprehensible story, the horror sets in when it's realized that none of the characters are really likeable. What is interesting is that Square Enix made the most detestable character a child who wants to commit petty revenge. As unlikeable as Hope is, he is the only character who feels human because his motivations are clear. All other characters have their reason for going on their quest (as arbitrary and nonsensical as they may be), but Hope was the only one that had real growth or any kind of arc. Lightning is always flat and boring. Vanille is always a ditz. Snow is always a dumb liability who ruins everything... It is hard to pinpoint why FFXIII is so bad at this, but it's probably because of the breakneck pace the game rushes everything. The story is always pushing forward without a moment for characters to character things, and instead are relegated to just moving the plot.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360

Final Fantasy XIII's story and how it is told is pure ineptitude, but where it excels is in the visuals. This came out in 2009 and still looks very nice - easily Square Enix's best looking title on the Xbox 360. Since there was not a lot roaming NPCs and it was a mostly limited cast, FFXIII was able to focus on a lot of details and expression. The time and money spent on the tools to render the characters in payed off well. Too bad the same can't be said about the environments. It is not because they locales are particularly poor - they aren't; they are quite serviceable. The issue with the environments is just how flat and uninteresting they are.

About 80% of XIII consists of corridors and hallways. The layouts and level design could not be more boring and lazily executed. The level design rarely opens up to an interesting setting, and the few times it branches, it leads to a dead end or an item that was not worth the trouble. Past games had interesting layouts with layers that would wrap around in interesting ways, and points of interactivity. Instead, playing XIII is like walking around in a museum. This boring theory of level design is a huge bulk of the game, and not until late in the story will it open up vast and boring fields. Some may say this is where XIII gets good, but, really, the walls of the boring corridor are still present... They are just bigger.

Core Final Fantasy titles (not counting MMORPGs) usually had battles that were played in active time turn-based method. While the franchise started to flirt with the idea of full-on action-hack 'n' slash mechanics around the time of Final Fantasy XII, it fully embraced it in FFXV. It is sort of a tradition for Final Fantasy to have some kind of gimmick for its combat, and XIII was no different.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360

This time, Square Enix opted to make the combat as uninvolving as possible. To achieve this level of boredom, the developers expertly removed all thinking that usually goes into strategizing while in an encounter and whittled all actions into an automatically deducting command. While in combat, there are only two things that should concern anyone: knowing when to paradigm shift and tug of war with the scratch damage and HP bars the enemies have. Since the combat is so restrictive, there is little room for fun builds for characters and pretty much every battle will play out the same. For some reason, the game has a battle rating, which makes no effort into explaining how anything is quantified and just seems random. Square Enix got its own genre wrong with XIII.

Today, Final Fantasy is a weird brand that can be anything. It used to just be simple variations of a hero's quest to fight evil, with some human elements thrown in to get players emotionally invested. When FFXIII came out, it really was a foreboding sign of things to come. It shows Square Enix's inability to tell a simple story and indecisiveness on direction. It feels as if XIII's developers are aliens and have never played a Final Fantasy before and are trying to guess what people want. Aside from the strong art and decent soundtrack, FFXIII is an abominable JRPG. It is a long and narrow hallway with no light at the end of it; only pain and darkness forever.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360

Cubed3 Rating

3/10
Rated 3 out of 10

Bad

Final Fantasy XIII's story will only confuse and frustrate people who play it. The gameplay will put others into a glazed-eye coma as they focus on the stagger meter at the upper right hand corner of the screen during 95% of all encounters. Most of the game can be summed up as one long corridor dungeon with no towns to explore or any areas that feel lived in. It all just feels like window dressing to serve the story and not the gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII is a roleplaying game with no roles to play and no choices to make. Everything must be done as the script demands. No agency; just a long hallway.

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  3/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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

Comments

i consider this to be one of my best reviews 

Whoa. Well, this just goes to show that (game) reviews are always subjective in the end. Even if it may only come down to *how* negative/positive you think some part of the game is. It always causes vastly different scores per reviewer.  I'll give my own views on the game here, as I don't agree with everything. That said, this is a good review, no mistake about it! So don't take this as me being aggressive or anything, as I realize my writing style can come across that way.
 
I didn't have any problem with the story. You don't have to read codex entries to understand the plot. All you really have to know is that the characters have a Focus (a destiny given to them by the Fal'Cie), and the Fal'Cie of Cocoon and Pulse are using them as pawns to try to destroy their respective worlds. The ones from Cocoon want to bring about Ragnarok with a mass sacrifice of all the humans on Cocoon. The cast tries to find a way to avoid the sacrifice, and they do. More info is not necessary. The Codex info merely serves to flesh it out, for the people who are really interested in the details.

You're correct that the characters don't need anything explained to them. That's not a story flaw; they all grew up with the stories about Fal'Cie and L'Cie. They put it all together through the events of the cut-scenes (like Raines turning to crystal). They actually explain everything to the player well and concisely. What the L'Cie are, what a Focus is… there's even a point when a crystallized L'Cie explains the whole premise of Cocoon and Pulse. It's just a matter of paying attention, even if it's annoying. The alien concepts don't stay alien.

I didn't find the combat uninvolving. It's the same as a game like X-2, it just adds more tactics in the form of the stagger bar. I will say, though, that refusing to participate in the stagger system will cause battles to drag on, which is a flaw. It forces your characters to change roles. Some players want to be totally free to use a team of three black mages (Ravagers), but XIII makes that impossible. For the role-players obsessed with role-playing rather than battle tactics, that's a big flaw. Again, it's a question of what kind of player you are - what type of gameplay you prefer.

Whether or not you auto-attack is up to you - you can still choose which attack to use like in previous games. It's just that auto-attack picks attacks based on what element the enemy is weak to, and their placement on the battlefield. To me, that eliminates unnecessary tedium from the combat. In old FFs, it was always a matter of using the same spell/attack over and over, Firaga or curative spells/items for undead, ice for fire monsters, etc. If there was a group of enemies, use an AOE version of the spell. That. Was. It. At least this FF had the good sense to remove that repetition from the equation and try something new.

I liked the paradigm system - it was all about timing, when to use which attack, and trying to constantly push the limit of offense VS defense, Ravager vs Medic/Sentinel etc. It was about risk VS reward: keep going in order to stagger, or defend, and defend with how many medics? How many 'cures' do I need to get back to sufficient strength to survive and continue doing damage (and increasing the stagger bar for insane damage)? If I launch the enemy now, can Hope cure the team enough, and in time? When do I switch paradigms, can I switch paradigms fast enough to keep the enemy airborne? I liked that micromanagement, and FF was always about micromanagement. What previous FFs did was make enemies go into certain states when they were harder to damage or when they used powerful attacks. XIII at least expanded on it. Yes, XIII is restrictive in some ways - each Final Fantasy has that issue, as I explained. But XIII is mostly the same as a game like X-2 when it comes to restrictiveness. FF is restrictive.

Lastly, the battle rating isn't random. The more efficiently you defeat the enemy, the more points you get to spend on the Crystarium (skills). It fits the combat perfectly, as the combat focuses on being as efficient as possible. Whether you like that or not depends on your preferences.

Overall, it's clear different reviewers have different preferences and priorities. I'm bothered by the game's linearity too, but not enough to consider it to ruin the rest of the game. I still think the combat is fun - the linearity of the game world has no bearing on that. So for me, the combat is enough to get me through to the next part of the game, the next part of the story. And the story is fine to me.

( Edited 27.12.2017 14:39 by Leo Epema )


One of my early memories of FFXIII was walking in on my brother watching a cutscene where Sazh was lecturing Lightning (or someone) about being hunted down because they were a L'cie. He kept going on and on, and I had no idea what's happening.

When the cutscene was over, I asked my brother what a L'cie was, and he just shrugged his shoulders. Pretty much killed my interest in FFXIII before it even started

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