FINAL FANTASY XIII REVIEW

Theme Song by Brian Setzer and owned by Walt Disney Records

 

For those of you who missed out on my TOP 13 MOST MAGICAL FINAL FANTASY MOMENTS list my #3 spot went to a moment from Final Fantasy XIII which has been dubbed by many fans as absolutely terrible. Like Return of Jafar I 110% DISAGREE!!!!!!!!!! In fact I’ll say that this is a return to form. It took the majority of flaws from Final Fantasy X and XII in terms of acting, story and other technical problems and corrected them (Final Fantasy XI was an MMO and doesn’t really count). This is the best Fantasy since IX! It has a grand (yet linear) story, a quite likeable cast, OH MY GOOOODDD!!!!! graphics, memorable musical score, and solid strategic gameplay and combat. This is Final Fantasy XIII!!!!!!

STORY

Since this is a Square-Enix story I’m not going to go into any major details because if I do we’ll be here all day. Final Fantasy XIII’s story is classic Final Fantasy! It tells the story of 2 different worlds called Cocoon and Gran Pulse. Cocoon is a paradise and a marvel of technology and prosperity for humans. Gran Pulse is an untamed wilderness and is referred by the citizens of Cocoon as “The Hell Below”. Cocoon is ruled by a totalitarian regime called the SANCTUM and it uses the politics of fear to get the citizens of Cocoon to go along with it by claiming that the people need the SANCTUM if Pulse invades. The SANCTUM is the form of government, but the real beings in charge and truly provide for the people are god like beings called fal’cie. These are beings created by “The Maker” for a specific purpose. For example: one fal’cie was created to provide food and water while another provides sunlight. The fact of the matter is that the people of Cocoon don’t control their fates and lives and are dependent on the fal’cie. Pulse has fal’cie as well and these fal’cie are considered enemies.

 

When a Pulse fal’cie is discovered in the city of Bodhum the SANCTUM creates an atrocity called the PURGE to take anyone in the city and supposedly send them to Pulse, but the SANCTUM plans to eradicate the deportees. It is in this event where we meet our characters who find themselves inside the fal’cie for reasons specific to the individual character’s motivations. They fight and kill the captured fal’cie, but before it dies it brands our characters with an insignia and transforms them into l’cies. A l’cie is a human that has been branded by a fal’cie to do a specific job that the fal’cie wants done which is called aFOCUS. Failure to complete the FOCUS results in the l’cie turning into a monster called c’ieth and losing all sense of self. If the FOCUS is completed then the l’cie becomes encased in crystal for eternity. Either way it’s a curse and an end of your life (The SANCTUM has l’cie too). Our heroes are branded Pulse l’cie which means that they are enemies of Cocoon. The heroes decide what to do, whether to complete their FOCUS and have something bad happen to Cocoon or to fight their FOCUS and save the world. The plot twists and turns revealing the true nature and jealousy that the fal’cie have for humans and prompt the group to make their own fate and free humanity from the tyranny of the fal’cie.

 

This story is grand and awesome! It showcases the world, characters and the relationships between the characters and the fal’cie. A great adventure and it is 110% worthy of the Final Fantasy magic! Due to the major forward momentum of the story and the game design it is highly recommended that once you have the opportunity is to open the menu and read the “DATALOG” entries to give you the necessary exposition so you can actually understand the vernacular I’ve been using.

 

CHARACTERS

The characters of FF 13 are a very diverse group with re-imaginings of classic archetypes such as the serious anti social warrior, the cocky rebel, the perky and cheerful girl, the family man etc. Each of them are interesting and well written despite some of the dialogue being a little melodramatic (I personally think melodrama is perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with it).  The right balance was taken with writing that’s grounded enough in seriousness and well done voice acting, but isn’t dry and boring or too over the top like the X and XII. These are the heroes and villains of Final Fantasy XIII.

 

LIGHTNING FARRON (REAL NAME: CLAIRE): voiced by Ali Hillis

Lightning is a no nonsense tough woman and is a very cold person. Lightning may start off as cool, but she’s not too likeable. As you progress through the story you learn why she is the way she is and you do feel for her and about half way through the game  the journey has taught her that her behavior wasn’t the best. That’s what I love about this storytelling, it’s not just about saving the world, but how the journey develops the characters and makes them better people. Her parents died when she was about 15 and she had to be strong to provide for her little sister Serah. She grew up much faster than she needed to and equated strength to having as little emotional ties as possible even shutting Serah out to where Lightning didn’t understand her. It wasn’t until she started to see the effects that her behavior had on another character named Hope that she realized that she was filling his head with anger and resentment when she needed to console and inspire. Lightning is a very worthy addition to the list of Final Fantasy main characters and one of the best!! Her role in the group is the leader and is a very diverse character in combat. She can use magic based attacks, heal other characters, and use full on physical assaults. Her musical theme is my favorite character theme. It is an orchestrated version of the battle theme and it combines strength and vulnerability that captures Lightning’s strength and shows the vulnerability and emotions that she’s tried so hard to hide.
Lightning’s Theme
SNOW VILLIERS: voiced by Troy Baker

Snow is a cocky rebel who wants to undermine the SANCTUM’S authority to prevent the innocent people from getting purged. He is the leader of a group called NORA that defends Bodhum from hoodlums and monsters (I know it’s a stupid name, but it’s an acronym). He is the boyfriend of Lightning’s sister Serah. In my # 3 pick on my magical Final Fantasy Moments list we see a softer side to Snow and that he is a caring person and he truly loves Serah. Yes he does have his own set of problems being that he’s all talk and is ineffective at carrying things out and uses false optimism as a shield. Like Lightning the journey makes him stronger and more responsible and a worthy man for Serah. Lightning obviously doesn’t like him for the first half of the game, but as the journey changes the characters their relationship changes as well and Lightning and Snow respect each other and stick together as a family for Serah’s sake and their own. His role in the group is to be the moral support and is quite strong in terms of strength and defense so he is quite useful in certain combat situations. His musical theme is a punkish rock type to illustrate his rebellious nature yet is controlled enough that it isn’t too punkish so his charming nature is intact.

Snow’s Theme

 

SAZH KATZROY: voiced by Reno Wilson

Now you may be thinking that he is just the token black guy, but you couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact he’s one of the more relatable characters. He’s a hardworking civilian pilot and has a son named Dajh. Unfortunately his son is turned into a SANCTUM l’cie and must work for the SANCTUM, either way Sazh loses his the most important thing in the world to him. So Sazh decides to complete his son’s FOCUS so he doesn’t have to turn into a c’ieth or crystal and that’s when he decides to find his answers in the Purge and there he meets Lightning a member of the Guardian Corps who wants to be purged so she can save Serah who has been trapped inside the Pulse fal’cie. Sazh agrees to team up with her and is our main support through the first part of the game in combat. His use of his twin guns is great for ranged combat and has satisfactory offensive magic, but the real value comes from his status enhancements. He can cast enhancements on the characters increasing their strength and magic as well as casting the ever important Haste spell that makes characters attack more often and is invaluable in certain fights. His musical theme is a jazz and blues style theme. It fits his mature and laid back nature and his level headedness and offers plenty food for thought and encourages the group to think things through. Another thing that makes him cool is that he has a really cute Chocobo in his afro.

Sazh’s Theme

 

HOPE ESTHEIM: voiced by Vincent Martella

Hope is a 14 year old boy and he was an innocent caught in the Purge and due to events he loses his mother and blames Snow for her death. Lightning encourages him to be strong and claim his vengeance, but she sees that his anger should be directed at the SANCTUM not Snow and that that anger of his will corrupt him and she sees the consequences of her actions and reflects on her mistakes and pushes her to change. Hope for the first half is the most unlikeable character. He’s pessimistic and sucks all the atmosphere and sense of adventure out of a room. He probably has the most ironic name ever. After his confrontation with Snow and his reconciliation with his father Hope matures in great ways and wants to seek answers regarding his fate as a l’cie and the fate of his world and sticks with his companions to the end. In combat his physical attacks are useless. He has the weakest strength, but his magic and healing powers more than make up for it. He is also good at status enhancements casting spells like Protect and Shell, but some players may use Sazh simply because Sazh learns Haste quicker in the game. His musical theme is a very understated guitar and shows the solemn yet in a weird way “hopeful” nature the character adopts later.

Hope’s Theme

OERBA YUN FANG: voiced by Rachel Robinson

Fang is a Pulse l’cie actually from Gran Pulse and supposedly her FOCUS is to destroy Cocoon, but she really doesn’t want to fulfill her FOCUS. The interesting thing about Fang is that behind that cool demeanor she truly cares for her friends and she would rather fulfill her FOCUS  than to see the people she care about be turned into c’ieth. Her combat expertise lies with drawing enemy fire to her as well as extremely powerful physical attacks and also causing status ailments to enemies. Her musical theme is an adventurous triumphant piece and is reflective of her calm demeanor.

Fang’s Theme

OERBA DIA VANILLE: voiced by Georgia Van Cuylenburg

Vanille is a very kind and cheerful person that always has a smile on her face. She may be annoying, but it’s more of the situation of an annoying friend, but they’re so sweet and nice you don’t have the heart to tell them. She uses her kind personality to hide her true feelings. She hides her pain and fears behind a smile and the journey teaches her that there is no shame in revealing your true feelings to your friends. Her musical theme is serene and happy reflecting her happy go lucky personality even when she is hiding something. Her physical attacks are extremely weak, but her magic and healing skills are really powerful as well as her ability to cast status ailments.

Vanille’s Theme

SERAH FARRON: voiced by Laura Bailey

Serah is Lightning’s sister and she agreed to marry Snow much to Lightning’s disapproval. She is a very kind person put in a very difficult position. She was branded a Pulse l’cie and is an enemy of Cocoon. She is scared and feels so alone and Snow vows to be with her and see her predicament through. She is the glue that holds most of the gang together even though she turns to crystal early on and isn’t shown till pretty much the end of the game and is the source of resolve for Lightning and Snow.

Serah’s Theme

PRIMARCH GALENTH DYSLEY/ BARTHANDELUS: voiced by S. Scott Bullock

Barthandelus is the main ruling fal’cie of Cocoon and took the form of the ruler of the SANCTUM Galenth Dysley. He is the main villain of the game and intends on using the l’cie to destroy the fal’cie that powers all of Cocoon called Orphan and to destroy Cocoon. Once humanity is extinct the fal’cie don’t have to serve humanity (a race they view inferior) and will  be reunited with “The Maker” so the fal’cie can take the place they think they deserve. He is fought 3 times and can be quite difficult if he isn’t fought in an effective manner. He drives the conflict and the sense of urgency for the characters to seek solutions that don’t end up destroying Cocoon.

Fighting Fate Barthandelus Boss Theme

ORPHAN: voiced by S. Scott Bullock, Julia Fletcher(Shell)  and Martin Sinterniklaas (True Form)

Orphan is the final boss in the game. Once Barthandelus officially dies his essence becomes the outer shell of Orphan and engages the heroes in battle. Once the shell is destroyed Orphan’s true form is revealed and the heroes must defeat the true form and then Orphan will die and then all that you can do is watch the ending to the story.

GAMEPLAY

The gameplay of Final Fantasy XIII starts out simple enough, but quickly becomes very complex and there’s a ton of things to keep track of.

BASIC BATTLE

On the bottom right of the screen is a green bar. That is the Hit point (HP) meter which is your life. If it hits 0 you die. The other characters in your party will have their meters displayed and you can have up to 3 people in your party at a time. The green bar over the enemy is the enemy’s HP so you always know how much farther you have to go. The gauge at around the middle of the screen is the Active Time Battle gauge (ATB). There are segments and each segment represents how many actions you can perform in a given round. More complex attacks require more segments. You have the option of choosing these abilities individually or you can choose the default command in the menu which is auto battle that picks commands for you. It’s fairly reliable. Yes, it takes away control, but the game sacrifices that for strategy. From your command menu you can also choose to use items to create buffs or use healing potions. The technique section can allow the player to use techniques like the classic Quake spell or summon an Eidolon to your aid. The gauge on the top right that fills up as you deal damage to an enemy is called the Chain Gauge, it’s important because if you use magic attacks it fills up quickly and if you use physical attacks it fills up fairly slowly, if it is filled the enemy enters a “Stagger” state. This is an opportunity to deliver serious damage and this is when the enemy is most vulnerable.

JOBS

When the group is branded l’cie by the fal’cie Anima the being bestows upon them jobs. There are a total of 6 jobs: Commando (physical attacks), Ravager (elemental and offensive magic), Sentinel (has high defense and draws enemy fire so others can attack uninterrupted), Saboteur (deploys status ailments to enemies making them less efficient and effective in battle), Synergist (applies status improvements to defense and makes fights much easier) and Medic (healing magic and revival magic). Every character is proficient in 3 of the 6 jobs and those are the only ones initially available for each character. At about the halfway mark the game allows all the playable characters to have every job however the 3 new jobs are bare bones in structure and have basic abilities that pale in comparison to the abilities of a character proficient in that particular job.

CRYSTARIUM/ WEAPONS AND ACCESSORIES

Once the heroes become l’cie they have access to the Crystarium. This is a place in the main menu where you as the player will boost the statistics of your characters. After almost every battle enemies will drop Crystogen Points that you can spend in the Crystarium to level up stats such as HP, Strength, Magic and abilities for a particular job. You absolutely must have upkeep in this department otherwise your characters will be severely weak. Attain as much CP as you can. Every character can equip  weapons and accessories. Enemies also drop junk called components or you can buy components from shops. This junk has an experience value and are poured into a simple upgrading system that will increase the level of your weapon or accessory.

PARADIGMS

Paradigms are absolutely essential to victory! A paradigm is a grouping of 2 or more jobs when the characters enter battle the characters will act in those jobs, but there is a deck where your characters can switch to another paradigm set up beforehand and the characters take a different job to meet the situation of the battle. For example:

COMBAT CLINIC: is a defensive paradigm made up of 2 Medics and a Sentinel. This allows for extreme defense and uninterrupted healing.

RELENTLESS ASSAULT: is an offensive paradigm of 2 Ravagers and a Commando. This allows a volley of offensive magic attacks along with raw physical damage. Great for driving up the Chain gauge and dealing heavy damage.

The system encourages experimentation with various paradigms and basically make your own strategy and playing styles. Difficult fights become easier when you manage your jobs more carefully. Is the boss truly too powerful or are you the moron who forgot to put paradigms with Synergists and Medics in them. Auto battle takes care of the mundane tasks of selecting actions while you focus on the overall strategy and bigger picture of the battle. It requires thinking and planning so that you are 2 steps ahead of the enemy and fully exploit the enemy’s weaknesses. Any fool who thinks they can button mash their way through is in for a rude awakening. Here’s a battle where all of this put together.

Barthandelus 1st Battle

SUMMONS

Summons have been a staple of Final Fantasy since FF3. The classics are back such as Odin, Alexander, Bahamut and Shiva with Ifrit and Carbuncle making cameos in a cutscene. Two new summons have been added Brynhilder and Hecatoncheir. The summons are called Eidolons that appear to a l’cie that has lost hope and is there to test and restore the resolve of a l’cie. Each Eidolon must be fought by the specific character it’s tied to and once a specific gauge fills the Eidolon is tamed and learned by the character. To summon choose the technique in the command menu in battle and select summon (There is only one because one character has one summon and only the party leader is controlled by the player) and then select the summon’s name. The summon will then take the place of the other 2 party members and go to town on the enemies. Instead of an HP gauge it has a gauge that depletes showing how much time the summon has to help. If the gauge starts to run low you can hit another button to go into what is called Gestalt Mode. This is where the Eidolon goes into another form and in a way combines with the character. For example: Odin turns into his own horse Slepnir and Lightning picks up Odin’s weapon and rides Slepnir. The two Shiva sisters combine into a motorcycle and Snow rides the motorcycle. This allows for about 17-20 moves and it ends with a really cool over the top finishing move. After the summon departs the party is completely healed and restored to 100%. The cost is quite a doozy, but it’s still awesome!Here’s a video of the Odin Battle!
Odin Eidolon Battle
EXPLORATION

This is a bittersweet thing for me. It makes sense, but I’m not fond of it. This game is very linear. Exploration isn’t really there. The areas are pretty much long corridors with occasional branches that usually have treasure chests at the end of them. The game doesn’t truly open up till Chapter 11 out of 13! But when it does open up boy does it open up!!!!! The free roaming area is huge and this is where the optional content is. This area is so diverse and open you could run around for hours (providing you don’t get killed). The level design of the corridors is that there is essentially a path to follow that has enemies scattered throughout it that move in scripted paths if a battle is engaged then a flash transition occurs and you’re taken to a battle arena type area where the battle occurs. When the battle is won the enemies disappear and after a certain distance traveled they’ll respwan. This linearity makes sense because yes the nature of the story is a story that drives forward and doesn’t really leave room to breath until that point in Chapter 11. In other words no overworld map or airship flights (although airships and Cid do appear and a waiting area before infiltrating the enemy flagship is an airship). Towns are also non existent. Yes you do technically visit towns, but in terms of the purpose towns served in RPGs you don’t. All shopping and upgrading is done with Save Points. The environments are so spectacular I want to explore them, but since everything is a corridor it does take away the sense of adventure, but that area in Chapter 11 is worth the wait and the story and characters are engaging enough to stick with it.

OPTIONAL CONTENT

This game has very limited optional content. It’s content that appears in the expansive area that appears late in the game that I mentioned earlier. It involves touching c’ieth stones that give you the task of fulfilling the FOCUS of a long forgotten c’ieth. This involves tracking down a monster. Aside from these “Mark Missions” there’s really nothing else. The mark missions are entertaining enough and range from really easy to 5 times more powerful than the final boss. In other words these missions are meant to be played after beating the game. Which is what I’m doing now. This is also where classic Final Fantasy monsters appear such as Cactuars, Tonberries, Ochus, non mechanized Behemoths etc. Also some marks can only be reached by everyone’s favorite Final Fantasy transport the adorable Chocobos. After a certain event they appear in various places and all you have to do is press a button and you can ride across the landscape without any enemy encounters.

MUSIC

The problem that I had with Final Fantasy XII’s music was that even though the music was good it wasn’t Final Fantasy good (Uematsu tracks notwithstanding). There were no iconic pieces. This game has iconic pieces of music. A really good score that has the best battle theme of the series in my opinion called “Blinded by Light”. Wow!!!!!!! The main theme which is also Serah’s theme is simple, catchy and beautiful. This score may not have been written by Nobuo Uematsu (composer for the majority of the series), but Masashi Hamauzu’s score is still great!!!! Here’s quite a few standout tracks from the game!

Blinded by Light (Battle Theme)

Born Anew (Final Boss Theme)

The last videos that are really great are the theme songs. The Japanese theme song is Kimi ga Iru Kara. This is a good song, but in the North American version it was replaced by the Leona Lewis Song “My Hands” because the Japanese theme was supposedly too hard to translate. But there are plenty of translations and english  covers of the song and they’re quite good. I’ll let you decide for yourself here’s an Anime Music Video of “My Hands” and a fanmade english cover of Japanese theme.

My Hands by Leona Lewis

Kimi ga Iru Kara (Fan English Cover)

 

ARTISTIC PRESENTATION

WOW!!!!!!!!!!!! Square-Enix games are famous for their amazing production values and since Final Fantasy is the flagship title they spare no expense in making the games look and sound AMAZING!!!!!!!!! With the PS3 and 360 graphics this world is brought to astounding life. The environments are extremely detailed and the scale is breathtaking. The only problems such as occasional flat textures will only be noticed if you’re looking for them. Overall the meticulous detail and holy crap awesomeness makes AVATAR look like a 4th grader’s homework assignment. It’s that damn good. Here’s a great scene that combines the great music astounding graphics and human emotion!

Lightning and Snow on Pulse

FINAL THOUGHTS

This game is great! I still stand by my claim that this is the best Fantasy since IX! It’s great story, likeable cast of characters, WOW graphics, excellent score, and strategic combat and gameplay is enough to make me forget the linearity! Excellent

VERDICT: 5 blazefire sabers out of 5

Join me next time where I review a great movie that came out recently. A childhood favorite group makes an epic return to the big screen with a vengeance! “It’s time to play the music! It’s time to light the light! It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show Tonight!”

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