Thursday, July 7, 2011

Guru Reviews: Final Fantasy XIII

I’m a little late to the game. I have quite a few games that I have bought and many that I want to play. It’s hard to juggle them, especially with Final Fantasy XIII being one of the longest games out there! However, with the sequel to it coming out this winter (2011) I figure that it’s high time I give my opinion on the game, now that I have actually cleared it.

I just want to start of by saying that Final Fantasy XIII isn’t the worst Final Fantasy game in the series. As a Final Fantasy fan I am writing this review from two perspectives. On one side I will be defending it from the new slander of everything Square (even old games that were some of the best ever) that seems to be in fashion here lately. The other side I’m going to show some places where I do agree about faults that this game has, but only when compared to other games in the series.

Graphics 9.5

I don’t know what to say here exactly. Even haters (we’ll most of them) will agree on one thing about FFXIII and that is that it has some of if not the best graphics on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I mean I could just present you with some screen shots, which I am going to do, but that alone doesn’t present to you a proper description of this game’s graphics. I have a hard time giving anything a score of a perfect 10, however FFXIII’s graphics are probably the closest to perfect I have ever seen. The only thing keeping it from being a complete 10 is the camera limitations. The Camera is quite a bit more controllable that other games but unlike FFXII which allowed you nearly fully camera control FFXIII limits you to certain angles that you are allowed to view from and it is pretty linear keeping you from exploring everything. The bottom line on graphics is that every little detail, character design, spell, weapon, and monster, are all amazing to look at. There were more than a few times that I couldn’t tell the gameplay from the amazing CGI FMVs. Though it is suppose to be a science-fiction setting the world and its cities are more magical and fantasy than any Sci-Fi has ever been. Everything is breathtaking.

Did I mention that this game can be very beautiful at times.

Sound 8.0

The sound track in this game is one of the best soundtracks for not having Nobuo Uematsu at its helm. That said there are three things that mar the soundtrack. First there is t he pop style theme song by Leona Luis in the English version. This song is bad per se but is extremely out of place in the theme of the game and is only played for a few brief times. When compared to previous Final Fantasy themes its lack luster and down right insulting. Not that the Japanese theme song is any better but I suppose not every song can be “Why” by Ayaka (Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core). The inclusion of the “My Hands” song by Luis is rather strange as the main theme of the game is a wonderful piano theme that plays at the title screen and in story segments throughout. Even the ending credits have a song that is much better than “My Hands.”. Now I know I may sound like I am hating on this song, but like the song or not, its inclusion was entirely unnecessary. All this aside the actual sound track is an extremely beautiful orchestral masterpiece with its only flaw being the repetition of the battle theme. I loved many of the tracks, having all most all of them pass my soundtrack test as there were songs that stuck in my head and were hummable even after I was done playing. This is especially true with the main boss’ theme song as it rivals that of Sephiroth’s from Final Fantasy VII in being epic. Despite all of my praise FFXIII’s sound track commits possible the worst offense that any Final Fantasy soundtrack can commit. That is the exclusion of the Fanfare theme at the end of battle. Not only is this theme not present anywhere (at least in FFXII it was played at the end of boss battles) the characters do not even give a real pose once they have defeated the enemy. Yes, they do give a quick sheathing of their weapon and a ready stance but this is not any FF fan’s way to end a battle. I know they were trying to make the game play a bit more fast paced and streamlined however though I understand that, it feels like it comes at the cost of staples such as the Fanfare song and towns which I will explain in the gameplay section.

The despite the colorful pallet the game often has a gritty and dark scifi look to it.

Gameplay 7.5

Gameplay is where FFXIII really takes a beating. It makes an attempt to do something new in order to break into the mainstream crowd. This isn't necessarily bad as from this we get very streamlined gameplay and a lightning quick battle system as a result. The truth is that this part of the article is the last part I am writing. It just took that long for me to figure out how to explain the gameplay and convey my opinion properly. First I really want to say that the games system is a hit or miss. As most RPG fans know the many systems that make up the gameplay are the core of the experience (aside from the story, presentation ect). Final Fantasy XIII is broken up into two main systems the support the function of the core gameplay. One is the Crystarium system. This is much like FFX and less like FFXII. The Crystarium is the complete character leveling up and job class system. All skills additional moves to the ATB (Active Time Battle system) and stat increases are allocated through this system. Unlike games Final Fantasy before it FFXIII does not have a traditional Experience Point system, instead the EXP is set aside for a weapon upgrade and synthesis system but more on that later. Instead the characters earn Crystarium Points after battle otherwise known as CP (yeah I know what your thinking hold your pedobear thoughts till later). CP is gained and spent on the Crystarium which is used to travel a line of energy up to a set of crystals which are broken into job classes. Each character has their own strength and weakness but in the end they can all master each job class. The major downfall of this system is that its hard to choose which character to choose for your party. This is amplified by the system's FFVI like style of characters to where there is no main character and your party's assembly is completely up to you. The other downfall of the system is that there is a level cap per-area. This cap posed no problem for me as it gave me enough freedom to become just strong enough to reduce the challenge (and there is a lot of challenge to some areas of the game.) but not enough to allow me to become overpowered. However in the last part of the game the Crystarium became completely open. This was beneficial in case I wanted to go back and do the many side missions and level myself up to a godlike level. If you are familiar with FFX's Sphere Grid system then the Crystarium will not only feel like treaded ground but extremely easy to get use to. I welcomed this with open arms, as not only did I love FFX's system I like the License Board from FFXII. I enjoy how Square-Enix is always creating new and innovative ways to keep a constant but always changing leveling up and job class system in every game. You may be reading this and wondering where the major complaints lay. Will tell you that if I could rate the gameplay on the Crystarium and battle systems action alone this section would get a 9.0., but sadly there is the weapon component system for upgrading and synthesis and the shopping plus the lack of limit breaks. Now gameplay wise most people's first complaints are that there are no real towns to explore or loiter around. This does give to the games linearity, however it make complete sense in the context of the game as fugitives wouldn't have time to stop and dilly dally in towns. However this doesn't make up for the fact that all stores have been reduced into a holographic terminal that is accessible at every save point. In the end the biggest atrocity is that weapon system. No longer does the player look forward to picking up a new weapon and reveling in its states, now each weapon has a base level which has to have it's growth and evolution compared with currently held and soon to be earned weapons in order to decide it its worth leveling up. That brings me to the leveling, biological items (loot from monsters) are mixed to give experience boosts then combined with mechanical components to level up the weapon. Once the weapon is leveled up to it's top level it can be compounded with an crystal (ala' a few Pokemon) where it evolves to a LEVEL ONE of a new weapon, which may or may not be weaker than the previous stage of evolution. All money in the game is gained by selling items such as credit chips from soldiers or rarities which in turn give you Gil which more than 90% of the time will be invested into this weapon system. There were a few times I caught myself having fun with this system, that is until I got another weapon that I either couldn't use or that I wish I had from the beginning because once leveled up it would be godly. I found myself spending more time on upgrading the weapons on this tedious system than leveling up my characters or going on side quests. Did I mention that this system is also the same for all accessories!!! Unforgivable! Oh also the battle system is amazing, fast paced and fun, if you can get over the party leader having to remain alive throughout the battle and being the only person who can utilize their summon unless leaders are changed outside of battle. Also no limit breaks...but I digress.

Wonderful Crystarium

Battle system glory

Story 8.0

Let me start by saying that this game does not, I repeat, does not, have the best story in comparison to other Final Fantasy games. It also does not have the worst story. I judge a story in a game, especially in an RPG, by a proper balance of world lore and character development. FFXIII is strong on one and weak on the other. Lore wise this game as probably the most fleshed out mythology, history and society of any Final Fantasy besides FFXII. That is if you want to read a lot. The story and most of the direct interactions within the game does nothing to present you with this rich lore to level that actually honors it. Instead at every loading point you get a small review and explanation of the story thus far, and as the story progresses you gain access to more documents in a compendium of people, places and legends like a large encyclopedia of everything you need to know. If one actually does read this compendium they will discover a deep well planned lore and personal background information about the characters. The bad part about this is that it is necessary to read these documents if you want to feel attached to the characters and actually understand the story. This is a shame because if feels that if they would have given the characters a bit more downtime to delve into their actual personalities instead of quick emotional bursts about how they feel about the current mission or each other. These outbursts and moments are good, and do a bit to further the development of the characters’ individual personalities but after a while they seem a bit rinse and repeat. This is especially grueling with each character’s Eidolon as in a monster of the week fashion each character has a mental break down, then face and tames their own fears as they manifest themselves in the form of an Eidolon. The story as well as the linear gameplay has two peaks. The start of the game is amazing and action adventure filled with mystery and well done drama. The end of the game is just as good as or better than the start of the game. The in-between moments become a blur going from one boss battle to the next with everything feeling like one large never ending dungeon.

The story can get confusing at times and if you take any time off from the game and come back you will have to read up to even understand the plot. That being said the game’s story if most comparable to Final Fantasy VI.

*Slight Spoiler’s Ahead*

Final Fantasy XIII has many references to other Final Fantasy games that only a keep eyed and eared player will catch. There are statues of three Goddesses, who are the keys to the lore of the world much like the three Goddesses in FFVI. You have the Eidolon Ragnarok playing a key role in the game (this relates to Final Fantasy VIII as well). The last boss mentions something about the creation of a new Crystal Legend which harkens back to the first five games, IX and XII. Also like FFVI, though the presentation makes Lightning the main character (much like Tina/Terra), there is no central man character in the game’s plot or gameplay.

Overall the story is good. The ending is touching and makes you wish you had more time with these characters. I suppose this is why they are making a sequel but can’t help but feeling that they could have worked in some more character development time within this game first.

The cast of characters

Overall 8.3

Gameplay wise FFXIII is no FFXII or FFVII but it definitely also isn’t Mystic Quest or FFII. Instead it is a happy medium being more comparable to FFX and especially FFVI. For some people this may make or break their experience of the game. For me it made it, with a interesting combination of elements from previous titles and an awesome story with a beautiful world, not to mention the quick paced and all around bad-ass battles. The characters may not be everyone’s cup of tea but your bound to find one that you will welcome into your party. If you get past its quirks it is at least a game worth of the name Final Fantasy.

- Zaciroth: The Otaku Guru

Friday, July 1, 2011

Operation Rainfall

Nintendo has three big action RPG titles under its casual gaming casualty the WII. Games that could possibly work wonders on making Nintendo seem hardcore again. These games are Xenoblade by Monolith Soft, Last Story by Mistwalker and Pandora's Tower by Ganbarion, being published for and by Nintendo! It's a matter of course that all of these games are either out or coming out in Japan. And now Europe is getting them! But no North America?!?! All citizens of the US and Canada (especially if you like RPGs) should be outraged. If we get passed up for some of the best RPGs Nintendo has to offer then how long will it be before no one but Square releases any RPGs in NA at all!?

It is for this exact reason that Operation Rainfall exists. Operation Rainfall is a petition project to convince Nintendo to bring these games to North America. Nintendo treated us (RPG fans) like crap during the early Nintendo with censored Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests and delayed releases....HELL the denial of the MOTHER SERIES!! YEAH NINTENDO WE ARE STILL ANGRY ABOUT THAT!

So if you agree with me that we don't deserve to be treated like this then go to the link below and join up! There are plenty of cool banners and campaign pictures to be downloaded too.

The online petition.