Final Fantasy XIII

May 28th 2008 – Rapid RPG fans have waited anxiously for the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy games to advance to their Next Generation consoles. Nintendo and Microsoft fans have never had the pleasure of hosting one of the truly great Final Fantasy games, and once again Sony exclusively welcomes the next inclusion in the series onto the PS3.

Years after making a historic debut over two decades ago, the boom in popularity of the fantasy-adventure series has led to the Japanese creation to become a household name. Finally, months of anticipation have elapsed – the wait has ended – as Final Fantasy makes its long-awaited debut to the Playstation 3. However, with the apprehension based around its release, and with the unprecedented success of its predecessors, did Final Fantasy XIII live up to the hype?

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What began as a miniscule cult following back in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System has now become an RPG revolution, with Final Fantasy capturing the spirits of obsessive internet and critics alike – and has helped forge the series into a worldwide extravaganza. What this has culminated in, is the longest running series of games ever – and has helped bring this game to the next generation.

Enter the XIIIth Fantasy

Succeeding a game which has created so many iconic characters and moments can never be easy. From the legendary death of Aeris in the 7th instalment; to the timeless and tragic love story of Tidus and Yuna in FFX; all the way to last year’s cool and casual Balthier character – Final Fantasy has it all. More pressure was put on game designers when, if you were to go onto Youtube and type in Final Fantasy XIII into the search engine, you would get a trailer with over three million views. That’s anticipation for you. The question on all Final Fantasy fanatic’s minds is: did this year’s game leave the other Final Fantasy’s in their dust or will it be stuck in mediocrity? Well, it certainly holds a claim for being the most unique game, for better or for worse.

Fast as Lightning

The game introduces the mysterious warrior girl – Lightning – who explodes onto your new HD TV in dramatic fashion. The girl is reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife, employing similar characteristics in terms of personality and even in looks – with her green eyes and exaggerated jawline. In our hands on, we argued how this character remained unoriginal, and was just going to be regarded as a shadow of Cloud Strife. While the resemblance is uncanny, as you continue through your journey the deep and dark history of Lightning becomes apparent, and it truly silences any critics.

Lightning lives up to her name in the all new battle system. The battle system was contrived the creators, and makes the game more like a movie – eliminating any dull and tedious fighting. Once again, the no random battle concept that was first introduced in the PS2 game Final Fantasy XII returns, but has now expanded to make it more life like. No longer will you find one character standing around doing nothing while your other characters are being annihilated by a fifteen foot mutant, but will be more active. This also brought in a lot of critics, many of which claiming that this will be too complicated. Once again, SquareENIX managed to silence them, by making a Matrix-like sequence occur as you decide your next move. What this means is that time will essentially slow down as you decide to change from an attack into using a vital potion which could literally save your ass.

A rollercoaster of emotions

The story is similar to that of Final Fantasy XII, in which your characters attempt to overthrown a powerful empire on the overworld which is plagued with monsters. However, there is more to this game than just that, and the whole background of the story is based around God-like Crystals, but saying anymore would ruin everybody’s fun, wouldn’t it? In actual fact, when you first pick up your game and put it in, you will consider it like a mixture of all the Final Fantasy’s put together, but soon the game will expand, and as you meet the mystery blond character, the story unfolds into a beautiful and tragic story, with an absolutely shocking ending! And we’re talking Tidus and Yuna shocking here!

Some simple shocks take the player’s breath away as the further your journey goes. Your main bad guy, who is not revealed until the climax of the game and remains hidden, is one badass son of a female dog. He employs a lot of Seymour’s characteristics from Final Fantasy X, in which you just have to hate him, despite him being one of the most amazing bad guys in the history of Final Fantasy. He does some pretty fiendish stuff to say the least, especially near the beginning of the game, and from there the mystery begins as you try desperately to decide who your enemy is.

One great aspect of the story is the subtle hints that the story leaves. While you’re walking along, someone will purposefully emphasise one word that keeps you guessing. The really intelligent thing that is employed by this year’s voice actors (which is also truly great), is that some of these hints are totally meaningless, but still keep your head spinning more than Crash Bandicoot on LSD.

This year’s cast of characters introduces some contrasting personalities which really keep the story moving brilliantly. However, as you shall hear about in the next section, there are some major flaws in some of the newer characters.

Visually, this game is stunning. The new and improved graphics make your characters leap out of your screen and make the gameplay more intense. Even outside of FMV’s, your characters move perfectly and cleanly, and don’t look like they’ve been chopped straight off of MS Paint, but look like actual people in an actual background. The game designers have gone so far that their characters actually sweat the more you’ve run around the battlefield, and now slight bruises and injuries are now visible, as your characters move slowly if they’ve been damaged, and you would require healing.

Not only does it add realism, but it just makes sense, and how its taken the designers twenty years to figure it out is beyond me. But when you get into the FMV sequences, you seriously cannot fathom just how good the game looks – and that is something you have to experience. It’s really like sitting in a cinema, by yourself, watching some classic fantasy film such as Lord of the Rings, and really experiencing it all first hand.

With every silver lining comes a dark cloud

While Final Fantasy XIII will be hotly debated as one of the best games in the Final Fantasy series, it poses some serious questions about its longevity. Playing the game all the way through the first time is an absolutely amazing experience, and one that any RPG fan needs to embark on, yet when you put it in after seeing the ending and start up again, it doesn’t hold up. Having waited another week before playing again, it still didn’t hold a candle to the first time playing it. Critics who have already completed the game after just two weeks of non-stop action have all agreed that the story is far too long, with the game taking over 80 hours of playtime to complete – and that’s not including sidequests! Naturally, it feels tedious trying to do all that again.

The audio in this game leaves a lot to be desired also. While fighting an intense boss battle, you’re left listening to dance music. With nothing against dance music, it just screams that the fight is not to be taken seriously, thus taking away from the story. The voice acting is good, but it doesn’t compensate for the fact that battle music makes everything seem childish, especially when you’re about to fight the final fight against the unnameable evil that threatens your existence.

The final flaw is that this game will not attract any new Final Fantasy fans for the simple reason that the battle system is now so advanced you really do have to have played the previous Final Fantasy games first.

Closing Thoughts

This game is brilliantly witty and intelligent or needlessly complicated depending on what perspective you look at it from. For the fanatics out there, this game will be a brilliant addition to their 20+ year collection, but for newer fans they will be so perplexed at the beginning of the game they will put the game down and pop in a more easy-playing game. If you are a previous Final Fantasy fan, get this game immediately, sit down and get engulfed in a stunning story with unbelievable visualisation. If you are a newbie fan, I would suggest buying a previous game to start with.