The latest offering from the Final Fantasy franchise has proved contentious and has divided its enormous fan base into two groups: those who resist changes to its almost twenty year old formula...and those who embrace them. However, regardless of whether you consider yourself a battle-scarred veteran of role playing video games, or are simply seeking a slice of escapism to immerse yourself in, Final Fantasy XIII is likely to satisfy every desire – despite some jarring flaws.
Those who have followed the franchise since its birth in the late eighties (in all its sixteen bit glory and two dimensional storyline) will have been awaiting this release with bated breath. The previous instalment had, by all accounts, disappointed in terms of characters and storyline, having decided to simply lavish impressive graphics and game play on the reader instead. Fortunately, one can quite safely assert that publisher ‘Square Enix’ have learned from this mistake, and invested in deep characters, an engaging plot, and some more than memorable events to be devoured by the player.
Players take on the role of the feisty and scantily clad heroine Lightning, who is on a bloody yet often uplifting quest to save her sister. She is joined by the cocky and self assured character Snow, as well as an afro-sporting, middle-aged wise cracker by the name of Sazh. The latter is particularly charming, not least of all because a cute, little yellow bird called a ‘Chocobo’ lives inside his hair. This motley crew of rebels travel extensively across a rich and awe-inspiring fictional world, engaging in battles and fantasy daring do at every turn. Although it may sound not unlike stock components of your average Japanese RPG, this episode of the Final Fantasy saga feels by no means stale. Plot twists and shocking revelations are sprinkled liberally across the game, avoiding the classic RPG pitfall of being too much like a prosaic cliché-ridden film, and less like a tear-jerking, emotionally exhausting video game.
In between lengthy cut scenes which drive the plot steadily towards its satisfying yet shocking conclusion, players must engage in numerous turn based battles with a combat system which clearly attempts to synthesise the best aspects of its predecessors. Gone is the real time action of its predecessor Final Fantasy XII, having been replaced by the old yet reliable ATB system – with a twist. Rather than simply waiting for your characters’ turn and hitting a button every now and again, players have nearly full control of each character, and will often need to make quick tactical decisions in order to ensure victory. As usual, the thirteenth instalment also offers a plethora of exotic weapons, armours and spells for the player to collect along his way, as well as some valuable items achievable only through the game’s numerous side quests. Therefore, regarding the storyline and battle system, Final Fantasy XIII delivers in spades, and is guaranteed to satisfy even the most diehard of RPG fans.
The music, as always, is quite exquisite in this latest episode of Final Fantasy. ‘Masashi Hamauzu’, the composer of the equally successful tenth instalment, triumphs once again by offering a rich casket of orchestral pieces for the player to enjoy. Perhaps the catchiest is the theme music for battles, a true ear worm which one will have to hear an almost infinite amount of times while playing the game. Fortunately, it never gets old. By the same token, the graphics of Final Fantasy XIII are truly stunning – every player will be seduced by the gorgeous cities and staggering lighting effects that the game has to offer. At times the player may find themselves doing a double take, amazed that the richly and meticulously animated characters on-screen are not, in fact, real people.
However, the game is not without its flaws, and these can sometimes glare so strongly at the player that they can severely disrupt enjoyment. Vanille, for example, one of the main characters, has been almost universally condemned by the Final Fantasy fan base as generic and irritating. Her voice is admittedly somewhat jarring and one puzzles as to what the production team were thinking when they hired Vanille’s voice actress. Furthermore, her consistent yet infuriating optimism, even at the darkest and most depressing points of the games’ plot, means she in unable to transcend the murky realm of video game stock clichés. Another rather disappointing aspect, borrowed somewhat dubiously from Final Fantasy X, is the severe linear quality of the game. The player must literally follow set paths from A to B throughout its entirety. Although the visuals are impressive, this formula can nonetheless grow prosaic and frustrating.
However, in spite of these shortcomings, one cannot deny that Final Fantasy XIII is a triumphant instalment to Square Enix’s lucrative franchise. For those who are able to ignore the linear nature of the game play and deafen themselves to Vanille’s incoherent rambling, the thirteenth instalment in this fantasy saga offers a rich and awe inspiring world of sword and sorcery. Perfect for diehard fans and RPG newcomers alike, this game is not be missed.
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