I picked up the game on release day, March 9, 2010. I played it quite a lot for the first week, about 15 hours (which is more than usual for me per week lately). The next week I played a few days and never got into it where I felt like I had to keep playing. It isn't that it the story is bad, the characters are annoying, or the game plays poorly; it is exactly the opposite of that. The story is interesting, I really enjoy all of the characters, the music is fantastic, the graphics are outstanding, and the battle system is really polished. I just don't feel drawn in yet, like I have no freedom in the game. From what friends, blogs, and reviews have said, the game will begin to open up in a few more hours.
Currently, I am at the boss at the end of Chapter 9, I won't go out of my way to spoil who it is (I can't remember or spell his name either, so it works out anyways), but it was definitely an "OH SHIT! NO WAY" moment. It was something I didn't really see coming, and as a boss, he looks sweet. I've fought him four times and my party gets wiped out every time, but I'm confident I'll get it eventually. Chapter 9 may have been my favorite chapter so far in the game. I can see how things are coming together, and the party finally is full to the point where every main character in available to be selected (however, not yet to be selected as the character I control).
On to more in-depth views of each aspect of the game!
Let's just remove MP they say! Let's just remove levels they say! Let's just remove EXP they say! Let's just remove towns, shops, and inns they say!
Final Fantasy XIII at times sounds like a JRPG fan's worst nightmare. At times, it honestly is, but at other times it is a breathtaking, fabulous game.
Final Fantasy XIII in some ways seems to be such a departure from the classic JRPG that I have become accustomed to and love. I've put a lot of thought into why it is I enjoy turn-based JRPGs so much. I think I may have discovered a little bit of it, mostly being the fact that I play games in my free time solely because I enjoy them. Playing FPSs, action adventure, and sports titles all require skill that is more than just selecting commands from a menu. They often require quick thinking, a lot of movement, and often times tons of frustration. This stresses me out beyond belief for some reason. I won't blatantly say that I suck at games, but I am pretty bad at playing some of them. Harder games like Mega Man kick my ass, and Devil May Cry wipes my ass up and down the wall. Multiplayer games online are by far my worst strength, though. I enjoy playing with friends, talking the occasional trash, laughing, and having a good time, but I could never see myself playing competitively or seriously. Being addicted to things isn't my forte, I like to do things in moderation and enjoy it for what it is. On the other hand, JRPGs really just require the press of a few buttons to watch some amazing things happen. I feel like I can sit back (or hell lay down) and just enjoy the game. The narratives are often of higher quality than that of other game genres, and I prefer the character designs.
RPGs often require a time investment of astronomical amounts, way more than I have time for. I always say to myself, I'll get to it eventually. This sounds out there, but I really like knowing that I always have something to do.
Final Fantasy XIII takes what I enjoy about JRPGs and throws most of it away. The game lets you suck on the tit of the mother that is the first 20 hours of the game like you are some newborn baby who has no idea how to feed itself. This really, really bothers me. A typical hour-to-two-hour tutorial where the game forces you through the story is fine; at that time in the game, I am still new to the game and its world. I don't mind being force fed, but then most games throw you out into the open to explore, discover, and progress the story at your will. Final Fantasy XIII literally holds your hand through the first gigantic chunk of the game, shifting from what characters you are playing as the group gets separated and eventually reunite.
If there is anything more linear in a game than walking in a straight line, experiencing an okay battle system every few steps, and watching predetermined cut scenes, please let me know!
The battle system to me is literally "let's take a perfectly fine system (FFI - FFX, I liked FFXII's too but that is a totally different conversation) and try to ramp it up to appeal to broader range consumers." That's fine and all, but when you have a title that is already in its thirteenth iteration, the fans know what they want. Change is fine in some cases, and not so much in others (e.g. DQIX changing from real-time to turn-based due to fans criticizing it before it was even released). The problem I have with the battle system in Final Fantasy XIII is that it gets boring very, very easily. Regardless of how difficult the enemy, or when the paradigm system is introduced, I just end up repeating the same exact tactic, attack queue, and paradigm shift until the enemy is defeated. When there are over 20 enemies in one area of the same type, this gets stale very quickly.
I also don't like how if your leader dies, it is game over. This is utterly ridiculous because in FFXII the ability to shift party leader at any time was fantastic. It allowed me to feel like I still had the option to be totally in control of the game, but if I felt I didn't need to or was just grinding, I could let the excellent gambit system do it for me. FFXIII feels like Persona 3 in some ways, where I am at the mercy of the AI code in my partners. This adds to the frustration factor and stress factor when my computer partner(s) does something utterly retarded.
The lack of towns really blows my mind, it is really one of the things that make the world seem like a world. Talking to NPCs, hearing whatever the townspeople have to say, gives the game character. FFXIII feels like a cheap date, trying to please the player by streamlining all the things that make JRPGs what they are. Morphing a save point into a shop, weapon, and accessory upgrade location is so unappealing to me. The sparse Gil found in the game doesn't encourage shopping, and I always am worried when deconstructing items, thinking "maybe if I sold that I could it would have been more worthwhile." This is of course, extremely trivial in the whole scheme of the game.
I'm done ranting, it isn't all bad.
The good things about the battle system, that I feel deserves praise, is the strategy that comes along with the paradigm shift system. It creates a unique play on the classes of the character, not forcing them to be just one specific class all the time.
I am in love with the music. The return of a real battle theme is so great. The music in different areas in the world of the game really adds to the emotional feeling and attachment to that specific area. When I listen to the soundtrack, I immediately remember that location in the game, the scenery, enemies, and whatever cut scenes may have occurred. I ordered the soundtrack at Figure Haven, it arrived quickly and was a steal for the price!
While the U.S. release features a different opening song than the Japanese version, I feel both deserve equal praise. The instrumental and vocal arrangements suit the game very well.
I will close up this long, meant to be brief, thought post with the strongest part of the game, the graphics. They are honestly breathtaking. The in-game models and cut scene models are superb. It is great to finally see what the PS3 is capable of when fully utilized in an AAA RPG title. There is always something moving, in high detail, on the screen. The settings are gorgeous, to the smallest details. The game is just a pleasure to look at.
like: graphics, music, gameplay (somewhat), story (so far)
dislike: lack of freedom, gameplay (somewhat), time it takes to actually get into the game
Thanks for reading, expect more thoughts soon and hopefully a full review, when (if) I finish the game!