By Matt Carey
Alternative Title: I’ve Finished It Now So I Can Tell You A Bit More
Some two or three weeks ago, I delivered a first impressions review of Final Fantasy 13, the latest instalment of the Square Enix uber franchise. I made a point of saying that I was only 10 hours or so in, still in the tutorial phase, and would report back upon completing the game for overall impressions rather than initial ones. So, here I am. I will keep the dreaded spoilers to a minimum, but I may let slip the odd thing here or there.
The first thing to point out here is that my first instalment was quite a positive one, and in some respects, I want to continue the love.
The visual feast on offer just gets better and better. Whist, as I mentioned before, the character models are beautifully rendered, I neglected to state that this extends to the enemies too, with a large diversity of beasties and bad guys all supremely realised. And the moment later in the game where the whole world opens up and you see gigantic dinosaur-esque creatures wandering the lush environments is truly a sight to behold.
And, yes, the world does open up, and removes the rails you have been steadily traversing to enable you to go exploring.
No game is flawless, however, and Final Fantasy 13 has more than a few problems. I mentioned in the last review about the story being slightly confusing. That doesn’t change. IT continues in exactly the same vein. Sure, there might be certain occasions where your objective is clear cut – get to Hope’s house, for example – but the wider picture is not so obvious. In terms of the characters themselves, we get to know ‘where they are coming from’, so to speak. The driving force that has put them on the path they are on. The story does the meat and bones of the story very well. Unfortunately, and keeping with the little butchery imagery I just used, I’m not entirely sure what animal the meat and bones came from. There is, as mentioned, a log of everything that happens, a full history of planets and people and governments and so on, but I don’t want to have to sit reading all this. If I wanted to read things like that, I would go and buy a book. But I don’t. I want to play a video game. This leaves you in a weird position where you actually like and identify with the characters, but couldn’t give a toss what they are doing or where they are going. Which is the exact opposite of almost every Final Fantasy since number 7.
The combat is strangely pointless. It is a nice, intriguing system, and a nice evolution of what has gone before, but it does have its limitations. The first problem we arrive at is the fact you can control but one of your characters. This makes for a faster paced battle, but it does limit your options. Later in the game, when some of the more powerful attacks open up to you, you will find yourself in a situation where you want to swap players rather than paradigms. This is exacerbated by the fact that the characters in your team, but not in your control, will not attempt to use some of the more extreme assaults. So, Vanille may have her handy ‘death’ power, but if you are not controlling her, she will never use it. You do feel, later on, that you have all the power in the world, but you’re not allowed to fulfil your potential. This makes the ensemble cast pointless. Everyone that has ever played a modern FF game has their own nice little ways of going about things, but this system negates that completely.
The second problem with the scraps is the lack of challenge until much later in the game. Far, far too often I found myself hammering the ‘auto attack’ option whilst I played about on Facebook. The enemies were of no challenge, and the AI was perfectly adequate at throwing out the necessary punishment for me. Once in a while, sure, I may have had to switch paradigms, but for the vast majority leading up to the latter stages of the game, I was just plodding along from one easy bout to the next.
There are other things I could pick up on here, like the lack of towns, or the oft confusing upgrade system, but these things are far more subjective. I, for one, like the change of pace from other Final Fantasy games, where the linearity is brought more into focus than you would otherwise notice. I didn’t mind the lack of towns, for example. Whereas before you would reach a town, check out the buildings, steal some items from them, shop, go to the inn and watch countless cut-scenes before resting and being on your merry way, now the shopping can be done whenever you reach a save point (although for the most part shopping is pointless as you can find nearly every single item you need in treasure orbs), and cut scenes are sprung on you when you least expect it, rather than whenever you reach a new locale.
There are many that declare this not to be a true Final Fantasy game. In truth, it is as much of a Final Fantasy as any other, with its desire to try a great many new things. The series has never rested on its laurels. It could have simply remade the seventh instalment ad infinitum, with just different characters, stories and worlds, but they never have. Every year, something new is tried, and every year something that has worked before is retained. Some things don’t quite hit the mark, but at least this is a company that are devoted to at least trying, and for that I applaud them. The game does have its faults, and some pretty big ones too, but at the end of the day, when I find myself a couple hours to go and play a game of my choosing I cannot help but to pop this in and try to finish off some more side quests. Games like Lost Odyssey may do the classic JRPG better, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get enjoyment or your money’s worth from this. When this generation of console shuffles off its mortal coil, Final Fantasy 13 will be viewed as one of the highlights.