Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve made it to the end of our Final Fantasy main series reviews! That’s right! If you have been keeping up, you’ll notice that Malboroknight and I started with the very first one and now we are here at Final Fantasy XIII. We’ve made it out of the PS2 era and into PS3 and Xbox 360 territory. While this one is controversial to a lot of fans, it happens to be one of my favourites in the entire series. There is quite a bit going on in it so let’s get started!
Final Fantasy XIII was released in Japan in December 2009 and Worldwide in March 2010. As the title suggests, it is the thirteenth installment in the series. Development began in 2004 and the game was initially showed at E3 2006. It was originally supposed to be released on the PS2 but got pushed back with the PS3 coming out. FFXIII became the fastest-selling title in the history of the series and has shipped over 11 million copies worldwide. Currently, it is the 4th best selling Final Fantasy in the series. After all of the success, Lightning Farron started popping up everywhere. Lightning and the gang were even featured in a Louis Vuitton advertisement. Completely out of character, but a video of Lightning’s ad can be found here. Also, it has been said that Ali Hillis (Lightning) did one of the best voice-over works in history with her character. Final Fantasy XIII falls in the same universe as Final Fantasy Type-0. Final Fantasy Versus, now XV, used to be a part of the same mythos, but I believe Square has changed all of that. XIII is part of a trilogy and I may review the two sequels with the two-month delay of XV.
Let’s talk gameplay! A lot has been changed from the previous Final Fantasy games, that’s for sure. A lot of longtime fans of the series have had their complaints as well, whether it is the fact that you can only control one character in battle, the cut scenes, auto-battle, or that the first 20 or so hours is linear. (FFX was linear though..) I actually did not mind the linearity of the game. The first 20 or so hours did a great job with telling the story and that was what had me hooked. Storytelling has always been one of my favourite things about Final Fantasy and is what made me fall in love with the series as a kid. Yes, there is auto-battle, but I can assure you that the game doesn’t just hold your hand throughout with it. Later on, in the game, you will have to use strategy for some of the main bosses as well as optional fights. (I actually put the game down for 4 years because I couldn’t beat Odin in 2010…) Yes, it’s true that you can only control one character in battle, but it didn’t really bother me because the game gives you the chance to control everyone and get a feel for how they play. The monsters in the game appear roaming on the screen (Similar to FFXII). If you get lucky (or use deceptisol) you can sneak up behind them and raise their stagger bar at the beginning of the battle. The battle system has your standard ATB gauge, FFXIII introduces Paradigm Shifts. Paradigm Shifts occur in battle when you change your team members’ roles. There are six categories: Synergist, Saboteur, Sentinel, Commando, Ravager, and Medic. During the first half of the game, your party will have 3 roles to use and get used to. As you progress and unlock the other 3, you may find that a certain character is better suited for something else. There are a lot of possibilities and you can set up a few different Paradigms at a time. (Sen Sen Sen is great for defence against those pesky turtles..) This game does not have your standard level up or gil system. You do not acquire experience points or gil after battles. You acquire Crystarium Points and (sometimes) items to sell. (You will need a lot of gil to max out weapons and accessories…) Luckily you do not have to individually use each character for them to gain CP. Inactive characters will have CP waiting for you when you get to use them again. Unlike most Final Fantasy games, you do not have to worry about healing or status effects after the battle because you will automatically go back to full health. There aren’t really any NPC’s to interact with, not much exploring to do in towns, etc, but you can get all of your items and weapons that you need from the save points. There isn’t any form of travelling other than walking/running and Chocobo’s. There are airships in the game, but those are only in cut scenes.
The main cast consists of 6 six playable characters, Serah, Team Nora, and of course the bad guys. (Which I won’t list here)
- Claire “Lightning” Farron – Ex-Guardian Corps Soldier. She had joined the GC to take care of her sister, Serah after their parents died. She ditched her real name, Claire, and took on the role of Lightning. The story takes place shortly after her “Worst Birthday Ever”. She comes off as rude and pushy but becomes more “emotional” as the game progresses. She is a strong female lead who wields a gun blade. Her primary roles are Ravager, Commando, and Medic. Her Eidolon is Odin.
- Snow Villiers – Serah’s Fiance (Against Lightning’s wishes). He is a part of Team Nora. He calls himself a Hero and vows to save Serah. His weapons are his fists. His primary roles are Sentinel, Commando, and Ravager. His Eidolon is Shiva.
- Sazh Katzroy – Ex-Pilot. He got caught up in this mess while on vacation with his son, Dazh. He keeps a little baby Chocobo in his afro. His weapon consists of two guns. His primary roles are Synergist, Ravager, and Commando. His Eidolon is Brynhildr.
- Oerba Yun Fang – A mysterious woman who woke up from her crystal slumber 13 days prior to the events of the game. Her mark is scorched white and she cannot remember what her original focus was before she turned into crystal. She is strong and fearless and will stop at nothing to keep Vanille safe. Her weapon is a lance. Her primary roles are Commando, Sentinel, and Saboteur. Her Eidolon is Bahamut.
- Oerba Dia Vanille – A mysterious girl who woke up from her crystal slumber 13 days prior to the events of the game. Unlike Fang, her mark is active and she remembers everything. She is usually bubbly, trying to hide any form of negativity. Her weapon is a binding rod. Her primary roles are Saboteur, Medic, and Ravager. Her Eidolon is Hecatoncheir.
- Hope Estheim – A fourteen-year-old boy who got caught up in this mess while on vacation. He lost his mother at the Hanging Edge. He has a lot of anger towards Snow during the first few chapters and is often seen as a weak kid. Lightning turns soft towards him while trying to protect him. His weapon is a boomerang. His primary roles are Ravager, Synergist, and Medic. His Eidolon is Alexander.
- Serah Farron – Non-Playable. Lightning’s younger sister. Snow’s fiance. Key character to story.
- Team Nora – Yuj, Gadot, Maqui, and Lebreau.
For the sake of spoilers, I will try not to give too much of the story away. Especially since the game is only six years old. The game takes place in the fictional world of Cocoon where the government, known as the Sanctum, is ordering to purge all of the civilians who may have come into contact with the Pulse Fal’Cie. Serah has been branded by the Fal’Cie and Lightning will stop at nothing to save her. Lightning, along with a group of individuals, fight their way from the Purge train to the Pulse Fal’Cie at the Hanging Edge. They find Serah who completes her focus and turns into Crystal. The group all become l’Cie after this. (Enemies of Cocoon). If they complete their focus (Destroy Cocoon), they will be granted eternal life as crystals. If they fail their focus, they will turn into Cie’th. (Horrible creatures). Together this unlikely group of heroes set out to destroy the Sanctum and save the ones they love, no matter the cost. For those who want to know everything that happened in the thirteen days leading up to the main story, I suggest reading Final Fantasy XIII: Episode Zero. The game does provide flashbacks of it, but the full story really adds more. It was only published in Japanese and French, but there have been some English translations made. (With only a few minor errors in translation, but it is ok.) In this novella, we learn what all of our heroes were doing in Bodhum leading up to the thirteenth day. We find out when Lightning met Snow, when Serah and Snow found Lightning’s birthday gift, When Snow found his engagement necklace to Serah, when and why Serah and Dazh became l’Cie, the events after Fang and Vanille woke up from their crystal slumber, when Fang lost Vanille and ended up in the hands of Rygdea and Cid Raines, why Hope and his mother were in Bodhum, when Sazh got the baby Chocobo, and everything that lead up to our heroes joining the Purge train. While playing the game, we didn’t know that Sazh had seen Serah being taken by the Vestige or all of the guilt that Vanille held onto. I really enjoyed reading it and if you want more of the story, I’ll link it here. (Lissar – Blogspot)
There are a few side quests in this game, but the only real time consuming and challenging one is the 64 Cie’th stone missions. This side quest is only available from chapter 11 on. You have to activate a stone, travel to the mark and slay it. (5 stars for the completionist). Some of them do get very challenging and you’ll have to utilise your Paradigms (and possibly Eidolons) effectively. The very last stone mission is one to be taken seriously if you want 5 stars. There are roughly 9 or so side quests in the game and a list can be found here.
Eidolons play an interesting part in Final Fantasy XIII. They show up as tests when the l’Cie are losing their faith in their focus and need an extra push. If the l’Cie cannot win, the Eidolons take mercy on them by killing them. [“Yeah, ‘help.’ That’s what Eidolons do, they help us. Eidolons are our salvation. If we can’t decide what to do next, they come put us out of our misery!” -Fang] Each character has to fight their Eidolon, with or without help. During the fight, you have to drive up the Gestalt meter to get them into Gestalt mode. (Basically where they transform and are ride-able). You have some of the classic Final Fantasy names like Odin, Bahamut, Shiva, and Alexander, but there are also two new ones, Hecatoncheir and Brynhildr. These creatures really help out with some of the more challenging and optional battles. Vanille and Hecatoncheir can be used to drown out poison on some of the foes who have a massive amount of HP. They may look like transformers but are still pretty neat nonetheless. They don’t have the primal look like in previous Final Fantasy games. One of my favourite cutscenes involves all of the Eidolons when the party makes their way to Eden. There is so much going on in it and it’s so beautifully done!
Speaking of cut scenes, a lot of people hated them. I never understood that because I personally loved them. They were beautiful to look at with all of the detail in them. They added important bits to the story. My favourite CG cut scenes are when the group make it to Gran Pulse and when they make it to Eden. (Linked above). I enjoyed the normal cutscenes as well. Lightning’s birthday party, Lightning punching people (poor Snow and Fang), the group using the anti-gravity devices, and so on. There are roughly 7 or so hours of cut scenes, but I still managed to put in about 120 hours or so of gameplay. The graphics are stunning as well. Square Enix did extra work to make sure the lip syncing matched the English voice actors. The scenery is amazing. There is always a lot of detail and when you get to Gran Pulse, it’s really vibrant and alive. The characters are all really detailed. You can see their emotions with ease. Square Enix definitely put in a lot of work for their first title on PS3 and Xbox 360. Just from the opening, you can tell it’s going to be an epic adventure.
Now, as we’ve established in past reviews, you can never talk about a Final Fantasy game without talking about the music. This was the first game in the series to not have a single track done by Nobuo Uematsu. Instead, it was composed by Masashi Hamauza (Collaborated on FFX, hence why some of the tracks may sound similar). You could tell that the music style was different, but that was never a problem to me. Everything seemed to flow well with the game. Lightning, Fang, and Serah’s theme had reoccurring parts and/or different variations in different songs. (All of the main characters did, but these three stuck out to me the most) Lightning’s theme by itself is peaceful, but it can be heard during the battle theme, “Blinded by Light”. Fang’s theme can be heard in, “Gran Pulse L’Cie”, and “Dust to Dust”. (Dust to Dust plays throughout Oerba and during the battles. It’s kind of chilling at times.) Serah’s theme can be heard in, “The Promise”, “Fabula Nova Crystallis”, ending credits, and even bits in, “Sunleth Waterscape”. Serah and Lightning’s theme can be heard in different renditions throughout the whole trilogy, though. Overall, I would say that this soundtrack is pretty spectacular. Even a lot of people who didn’t like the game still enjoyed the soundtrack. I would have to say some of my favorite tracks in the game were: Prelude, Miracles, The Promise, Defiers of Fate, Start Your Engines, Blinded by Light, Lightning’s Theme, Serah’s Theme, The Hanging Edge, Test of the l’Cie, Fighting Fate, Fang’s Theme, Dust to Dust, Fabula Nova Crystallis, Eidolons, Vanille’s Theme, and Will to Fight. Also, you can’t forget the Leona Lewis song featured in the game, “My Hands”. It fits perfectly in the trailer and in the ending cutscene. Also, the soundtrack is right over 4 hours long.
In conclusion, no the game is not perfect. It has its flaws just like the rest of the games in the series. My only complaint with the linearity is that you can’t go back to areas before Gran Pulse. (I made over 140 saves though so that I could view cut scenes again…) The game can be difficult at times and the later battles will keep you on the edge of your seat. There is a lot going on in this universe and if you let it, you’ll get completely wrapped up in it. Square Enix put in a lot of work coming up with the mythology and story of this game. I regret the fact that I originally stopped playing at Odin, but I am glad I picked it up again. I felt rewarded each time I defeated a difficult enemy. I enjoyed every bit of the story, even if I got stuck at a few parts. The voice actors did an amazing job, even if Vanille annoyed me at first. Her character grew on me and became more important in the later half of the game. Also reading the novella gave me more of an insight into her character as well as everyone else’s. As a longtime fan of the series, (at least 16 years worth), I can say that Final Fantasy XIII has become one of my favourites. This is why I am rewarding Final Fantasy XIII a 9/10.
I know there will be disagreements, but please remember that this is my opinion of the game. No this wasn’t my first Final Fantasy (far from it), and it won’t be my last. Thank you, everyone, for sticking with us while we reviewed the series.
Also: Fun Fact – Lightning was Japan’s favourite female character. (At least until the remaster of X, then it became Yuna).