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Monday, May 3, 2010

Updated Impressions: Final Fantasy XIII

What can I say about Final Fantasy XIII? After reading the reviews, watching trailers, and reading forums, I thought I knew what to expect. But I was wrong...and pleasantly surprised.

Judging from the reviews, I expected an extremely slow story with some uninspired and boring fights. The combat in Final Fantasy XIII was supposed to be extremely easy over the first 12-20 hours depending on the review. A simple pressing of one button would be enough to get me through this "let-down" of a game until I reached the first interesting bits at the 28 hour mark of the game. It's fair to say that I had my sights set pretty low which makes my experience with Final Fantasy XIII all the better!

In terms of story, Final Fantasy XIII presents a gripping story line. There are a number of events that take place before and after the beginning of the game. I was a little confused during my first session simply because things started off with such a bang. I didn't know the characters, didn't know what was going on, and knew only to fight my way through PSICOM units in a desperate attempt to survive. But over my hours spent playing over the weekend, I've come to learn the events surrounding those first few minutes of gameplay.

Each of the game's characters' backstories are being delivered as the opportunity arises. I find this approach to be well thought-out and interesting. I was given the opportunity to form my impressions and feelings of Final Fantasy XIII's characters before learning more and perhaps changing my established views and opinions. The pacing of the story has allowed me to become attached to the characters and kept me guessing about what is to come.

The setting of the story - the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse - feels alive and "real". There is so much history presented in the game either through cutscenes or the ever-present datalog. And FFXIII's graphics really bring everything to life when there is nothing left to say. Some of the background history on Cocoon seems a little confusing at first. It's hard to imagine a world protected by a shell from its neighbouring world of Pulse. Or a war that takes place between these two worlds that forever changes Cocoon's society and landscape. Interesting stuff if you ask me.

Finally, I wanted to address Final Fantasy XIII's combat system. It's a simple combat system that leaves players a lot of room for improvement and deep strategy. I like the idea of changing classes via on-the-fly Paradigm shifts. If a fight is going poorly, it's a simple press of a button to change my party's Paradigm to a more defensive style. I can likewise shift to a more aggressive Paradigm if I need my active characters to launch a full-scale assault on their enemies.

The Paradigm system, coupled with the Crystarium upgrade system and multiple character classes, may seem a little complicated. Thankfully, Final Fantasy XIII introduces new elements of combat and character enhancement slowly. If the game had necessitated the use of Paradigms, classes, and upgrades from the beginning of the game, I might have gotten overwhelmed and discouraged. As it stands, Final Fantasy XIII's gradual additions to combat and party improvements are a welcome change of pace from your standard RPG. The only other roleplaying game that I played that utilitized this same form of gradual complexity was Eternal Sonata - another incredible RPG in its own right.

I'm roughly 12 hours into Final Fantasy XIII. I can't wait to play again this evening. There are so many things happening in the game right now that I'm dying to see what happens next. And with the introduction of Eidolons (aka. Summons) into the game, I'm looking forward to testing my combat skills further.

If you've ever enjoyed a Final Fantasy game, please don't let the sometimes-negative hype scare you away from this game. Final Fantasy XIII is an incredible roleplaying game and a worthy addition to the incredible Final Fantasy series.