By Matt Carey
- Alternative Title
: I’m Only 10 Hours Into The Game And Didn’t Think You Guys Would Want To Wait For A Review Till I Finish The Game In Another 80 So I Thought I Would Do A Mini Review.
Phew. Long subtitle. But yes, I thought that, rather than make you all wait, by which time there would be other games piquing your interest, I would do this initial, first impressions type mini-review. Although, 10 hours into a game by anybody else’s standards would indicate I have finished the main story and am ploughing my way through the multiplayer, in the world of Final Fantasy games it means that I am still in tutorial mode, so to speak.
Final Fantasy 13 is a bit of a landmark title. It is the first Final Fantasy game of the current hardware generation – odd considering it is now 5 years old – and the first new Final Fantasy to appear on console that isn’t stamped with a Playstation logo. Those that have been playing computer and video games will have some, or great, knowledge of the series humble beginnings back in the 1980’s, and will know how, over the years, the titles improved steadily before the seventh title in the series changed the face of not only rpg’s, but games in general. High production values and an intricate storyline, coupled with superb game mechanics ensured that the game was held in high regard, many claiming it as the greatest of all time. And so, over the years, instalments continued to come out of Japan, all commercially successful, with varying degrees of critical acclaim. Even without the multi-platform hype, this title has its own legacy to live up to first.
As with most Final Fantasy titles, we begin with a beautiful cut scenes before you are thrust straight into the action. These initial few fights bring you up to speed with the new battle system and help you get to grips with it. Everything seems very familiar; you have a choice of attack, a slightly different attack, and use of an item, such as a potion. Added to the list is auto-attack. This handy little button saves you a little time and effort. For instance, if you want to do nothing more than swing your sword a couple times, then it will do just that. As you fight more of the same enemy, you and your characters understanding of said enemy increases. So, if the enemy in question is susceptible to fire, then the auto attacks will adapt to exploit the bad guys weakness.
It is not too dissimilar, though, from the system used in its predecessors, but there are changes. First, you only control one character in your party. Any other members will automatically go through the motions, their actions again dictated by familiarity, or lack there-of, of the enemy. There are noticeable and discernable classes this time around though, ranging from attack minded to defensive or healing. During the course of a fight, you are able to switch to a different combination of these classes. The ‘Paradigm Shift’ can be used as often as you like, meaning that whilst you may start a battle with 2 or 3 ravagers – attack minded – you can quickly change things around to make sure you have a medic in your squad when needed.
The other major addition to the battles is a little gauge on the enemies. This gauge increases the more you wallop the enemy. Fill it up, and the enemy becomes “staggered” meaning that not only do your strikes hurt more, but they continue to increase in strength for the length of the “stagger”. It is a clever, intuitive little system, and one that works well, throwing up some nice little tactical conundrums on occasion.
The last method of pummelling available to you is one that you attain very gradually, and it is that of Eidolons, FF13’s version of the summons we all know and love. This year, the number available is stripped down, but attaining them is a trial in itself. The Eidolons will only side with you should you prove yourself in combat, but victory is not as simple a process as just beating the crap out of them. There are conditions to adhere to, and displaying adequate proficiency will reap the reward you want; a transforming (yes, you read that right) uber-demon.
Previous Final Fantasies have adopted strange grid and sphere type systems for learning new abilities, and the same is true here. However, this time around we find that the different classes are brought to play in this as well. The Crystarium, as it is called, is a much simpler version of what has been used before, with the classes breaking it down further. Progression along it is straightforward – using points earned in battle – and the choice is yours as to which of each characters potential classes gets developed and how quickly. The Crystarium is defiantly a welcome change from the sometimes baffling methods for progression that has come before, and the player is able to flit in and out of it, rather than spend hours wondering which direction is most beneficial.
As expected, and keeping with tradition, the graphics – especially the cut-scenes – are eye-candy of the highest order. Square Enix have much experience in creating visuals that stand head and shoulders above their peers, and this final move to the current console generation reaps its rewards. Not only is the scenery as mouth-watering as you would expect, but the character models too look more fleshed out and realistic than ever before.
A good job too. Not since Final Fantasy 7 has the series seen such a diverse and interesting group, with barely a bad one amongst them. Sure, they stick to certain FF / Jrpg clichés, but the irritations that have plagued previous incarnations have been toned right down. This year truly does see an ensemble cast. flitting, as the story does, between characters emphasises that there is no true ‘main character’, but instead, the player takes control of each member at some point, and along the way finds out snippets of back story information as they progress. Snow initially seems cast for the role, especially given his boyish good looks and cool demeanour, but you soon come to realise that Lightning, the touted female version of Cloud Strife – although she has much more depth to her, Sazh, the token black Denzel Washington lookalike, Hope, the obligatory young teen hopelessly out of his depth or Vanille, the hot young redhead aimed directly at the crotch of teen boys could all take the reins quite admirably on their own.
As for the story, well at the moment, I cannot comment too much. Normally the general narrative progression follows a set path of twists and turns, but you are never in any confusion as to where you are going or what you intend to do. Here, however, you find yourself deposited in a universe where everyone knows what is going on but you. Whilst, I suppose, this is pretty clever – it gives the illusion that these characters and the universe they inhabit have had lives before you join them – it does mean that everything is fairly confusing. I seem to have spent much of my opening 10 hours wondering who or what everyone was talking about. There is a log of everything that goes on in the game which does offer a bit more of a history lesson, but in all honesty, who wants to sit and read when there is a game to be played?
So, that brings you up to the 10th hour, and my progression and thoughts so far. The game is, as reported, very linear at the moment and whilst some may criticize this, I think this is an example of a game built around a story rather than the other way around. Given the story being told, it suits it. And, in truth, 75% of any Final Fantasy game is pretty much on rails any way. But I am enjoying it. The game is truly a joy to behold and certainly a great reminder of not only how good Japanese role-playing games can be, but also just how far above the competition the Final Fantasy games stand. This title will have its critics, of which I may be one by the time the game is finished, but as for now, 10 hours in, I’m positively salivating at what is yet to come.
See you in around 80 hours then.