Final Fantasy is one of the greatest video game series of all time, which is an undisputed fact backed by sales numbers and numerous top ten lists. Due to its massive reputation, Square Enix has had to make games that not only push the limits of video game technology, but also innovate new ways to keep their brand fresh. They've done this through original stories, a new cast of characters every time, new worlds, and entire new systems of playing the game.
To sum it up, I've been waiting for this game to come out for a long time and I had really high expectations. The trailers looked amazing and judging from the rest of the series I felt secure, but I was still a little afraid that it might be another FFXII (So different, that they had to make it easy.) After several years of waiting, I finally had the disk in my hands. I put the game in my PS3, and I began what I was hoping was going to be a great experience.
The game starts by dropping you in the middle of a new world, Cocoon. Because of how much was going on at the beginning I felt a little overwhelmed, but after a few hours of playing I felt somewhat comfortable with the environment. Looking back, I think I liked how fast the game got started. You begin learning the battle system inside a few minuets, and it's a good thing too, because the first few hours of battles are really just glorified tutorials. (It was a little repetitive, therefore, I don't know how the beginning will stand up to replays.)
I thought it was interesting that for the first twenty hours of gameplay, you are essentially on a track. There are no city's to visit, or side quests to do, you just kind of go from dungeon to dungeon in a very mathematical fashion. What was surprising about this, was that it was actually really fun. Its simplicity helped me to get into the game before turning me loose, and I think they made it simple enough for themselves to really focus on the storytelling. I really enjoy aspects like this in modern games, but it's something I would have complained about ten years ago. Because this was one of the main aspects of FF XIII that made it not feel so much like Final Fantasy.
I think that my favorite part of the Final Fantasy series is the stories that go into them. Sadly, I don't think that Final Fantasy XIII has mimicked this success. The actual story, and the complexity of the world are pretty amazing. What I think FF XIII did wrong was the delivery. Since FF X Square Enix has been moving away from subtitled scenes and speech boxes. FF XIII has made the move to 100% voice acting. Most people would think this is a good thing, but I have two problems with this. First, the Final Fantasy stories have always been cheesy, the more voice acting they have, the cheesier it gets. When you get lame dialog in a speech box it doesn't stick with you. But bad writing with voice acting, can make it feel like a horrible movie. Therefore my long winded complaint is, sometimes the bad dialog made me laugh out loud and took me out of the story.
The second reason is much shorter, it's simply that speech boxes are great. In the past I've been able to say, "I was playing Final Fantasy, it's an upper echelon video game, in many ways it's more like reading a book." But, now I can't say that any longer... oh well.
The graphics were tremendous. The models, the landscapes, and the environments are easily the best I've ever seen. If I had to complain about something it would be the crappy costume design on some of the humanoid bosses. (Not really an issue with the graphics, but I think it's a valid complaint.)
When it comes to sounds, I usually don't have too much of an opinion, but I would definitely say this game had a really strong sound track. Some parts reminded me of Ghost in the Shell, and Macross Plus. Which I think was a good fit for this game. (a futuristic element.) As far as video games are concerned, the voice acting was really well done-- especially when you factor in how much of it there was.
The new paradigm battle system is definitely different from any other Final Fantasy game. It resembles the gambit system from FF XII in that the computer is doing most of the work, but it is far more intuitive than its predecessor. What I liked about this system is that it requires both skill and strategy. The battles have a lot of variation, and since you really can't back track in the game, they are pretty consistently challenging.
Although, overall the battle system was really good, it had its flaws. I felt like the most annoying aspect was that you couldn't change the party leader during combat, and if your party leader ever got killed, it would automatically game over. I can't tell you how many battles I got in where all the enemies would gang rape my party leader, so I would have to restart, sometimes several times in a row.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint about the entire game-- the summon system. The summons in Final Fantasy XIII were literally the worst in the entire series. Not only did they change what the summons looked like, but they actually turned them all into transformers. For example, Shiva is now the Shiva sisters, and they transform into a motorcycle. Ifrit turns into a race car, and Alexander (I wouldn't lie about this) turns into a castle. I actually refused to use the summons, so I can't go into great detail about how they work, but save to say-- I didn't like them.
What I liked about this game, was that it was well made and fun to play through. The battle system was unique and challenging, and the story was good enough that I wouldn't mind running through it again.
My main complaint is actually the stupid Summons, but if I look passed that, I really don't have much to say. It wasn't the best Final Fantasy game to date, but I'm not disavowing it from the series either.