Final Fantasy XIII is arguably the most controversial entry in the long-running series. The franchise is famous for introducing new elements with each installation, but XII’s linear corridors and absence of traditional towns and shops was a far more drastic change than many fans were prepared to accept. XV proved that fans are fine with a tweaked battle system as long as exploration and towns are present.
This Game Looks Amazing
Released seven years ago on the PS3/Xbox 360/PC, this game still look stunning.
The environments are overflowing with breathtaking detail, reckless imagination, and polished to a brilliant shine. The character and enemy models are just as slick and wonderfully animated. The game wouldn’t look out of place on a PS4.
On the negative side, those gorgeous environments lack interaction and end up feeling like a beautiful green screen. Most conversations and battles could take place anywhere and could have benefitted from some grounding to the setting. It feels like the game and setting were produced separately. The enemies lack logic. I’m fine with three-headed rock creatures with stegosaurus spines as long as they have a reason to exist. The character models are fun to look at but most feel meaningless.
The nucleus of the plot contains great elements: A rag-tag team in a race against time to complete a mysterious objective or be turned into horrible ghouls. The dynamic of Lightning and Snow arguing for the right to save Serah (her sister and his fianceé) is effective and entertaining. Snow’s incessant positivity is the perfect foil for Lightning’s no-nonsense demeanor. He calls her sis and she hates it.
The plot is quickly bogged down with too many confusingly named elements and exposition rather than actions that make us care about what’s going on. Cocoon and Pulse, Fal’Cie and L’cie, the Purge and the Vestige, PSICOM and the Guardian Corps, are names that are uttered often but rarely explained.
After wrapping my head around the initial info dump the game spends a few hours simply focusing on the team running from the authorities while searching for Serah. These moments are the strongest as they deal with believable relationships instead of weightless name dropping.
The franchise’s original turn-based combat saw minor tweaks to an Active Time Battle system and X’s hot-swapping, but XI, XII, and XIII took much bigger risks.
XIII’s combat only allows direct control of the lead character, but the main twist is the Paradigm system, assigning different roles and abilities on the fly (Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Medic, Synergist etc). For almost every challenging enemy after the third chapter, you must also ‘stagger’ the opponent first (using at least 2 Ravagers to fill up the stagger bar.
The combat is fast, the animations are outstanding, and the paradigm shift offers enough control of party members to justify its evolution. Switching characters on the fly in X was a fantastic feature, and this feels like the natural evolution, especially after XI
Although you can customize your own Paradigm groups, it feels like many of the tough enemies can only be beaten a certain way. Solving that puzzle can be satisfying, but I usually felt confined to the one strategy that gave the most success rather than multiple strategies feeling effective.
Also, the first few chapters lack challenge, only to see a huge difficulty spike that can feel very frustrating.
Final Fantasy XIII is not as bad as many (myself included) made it out to be. Sure the exploration and towns are mostly gone, the story is overly complex gobbledy-gook, and the combat can feel as linear as the corridors, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had.
The visuals are stunning, the combat can be exhilarating, and many of the themes and relationship dynamics are strong.
Final Fantasy XIII lacks the execution of the best FF games, but it wasn’t afraid to experiment. With an open mind, there’s plenty of unique fun to be had, and a fascinating (for better or worse) adventure to behold.