GAMING Revisiting – Final Fantasy XIII (2009)

Join Screen Critics as we take a look back at Square-Enix’s controversial Final Fantasy XIII. What did you think of this hugely divisive outing?

Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII originally came out in 2009 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 before later being released on PC in 2014. Both published and developed by Square Enix, and is the thirteenth game in the Final Fantasy series. Development first began on the game in 2004, so it had a good lead time before finally being released five years later.

Final Fantasy XIII was my first Final Fantasy game, and it seemed like the story was not connected to the rest of the lore. The story starts off slow and picks up around 2 or 3 hours in, then slows down again, and towards the end, it just became such a complex story that I really lost track of what was happening.  Most of the story is told through cut scenes, and there is a lot of them, 9 hours worth of cut scenes span the length of the whole game.

The story is such a key element to enjoying the game to its fullest potential, so I won’t go into too much detail. The game has an overarching story for the six main characters, and as the game progresses the six characters break off into their own smaller teams and explore their own individual underlying stories. These smaller stories will give the player extra reason to care, and you build up a relationship with all of them, whether you agree or disagree with their actions is another thing though. The game also touches on some topics which back when this game released in 2009, were not as widely accepted as today such as same-sex marriage.

Visually, you can definitely tell Final Fantasy XIII is the last generation game. The cut scenes are all made out of engine and are hyper realistically made. In the cut scenes it basically looks like a big budget film, and as you know, there are nine hours of cut scenes to be watched, so you get plenty of opportunities to appreciate the visual prowess of them.

The in-game graphics are decent. The game’s environment changes from being detailed sections with plenty of objects and characters to see and interact with, to really scarce sections where you are just in a very bland area, with not much at all to see. After you get around two-thirds of the way through the story, the game opens up to a more wide scale environment which is very much full of nothingness other than more monsters. The chapters which are set in cities and more rural environments are by far the most interesting. They have a more vibrant background, and this adds to the atmospheric approach each level tries to aim for. The later stages of the game’s world really show off plenty of special effects and take look more towards having a common sci-fi theme when compared to the rest of the game. I particularly enjoyed these later stages because of the aesthetic vision on show.

Final Fantasy XIII’s character design in-game felt a little lax, however. Whilst the characters look lifelike in the cut scenes, and even in the in-game cut scenes, but when you are moving around the game world, something didn’t quite feel right with the characters sometimes. In particular, some character’s running animation was just wildly inaccurate and really detracted from the game’s realism. There is also something to be said for having such a high contrast of quality of graphics on show throughout the game. It sometimes felt strange going from those super realistic pre-rendered cut scenes, to the lower quality in-game engine style. It does remove you from the immersion quite a bit because there is such a noticeable change in quality.

Even though the game is getting towards eight years old now, I still noticed frame drops in some areas. Granted I was playing on 1440P resolution, which is a huge props to the developers for allowing a game this old to have access to those scales, but the actual graphical prowess of the game isn’t anything when you compare it to the likes of Dishonored, or Prey which I was quite easily able to play on the highest graphics settings at the same resolution. The graphical options available to you in XIII are limited, to say the least. Before you actually get into the game, all of the options are configured before hand in-game launcher window, and the only options available to you are anti aliasing and shadow resolution. Neither of which come with any description as to what they do mean for a novice player.  With that said, other than the small frame drops which were encountered scarcely, I didn’t run into any problems or bugs.

Even though I haven’t actually played any Final Fantasy games before, I still haven’t lived under a rock for the past twenty years. I know these games have amazing soundtracks, and Final Fantasy XIII really blew me away with how impressive its soundtrack was. With many of the scores having beautiful instrumental moments. The soundtrack really adds an extra dimension the game’s atmosphere.

The same voice acting is used throughout the cut scenes and in-game, both sounding the same, which is a huge plus as it would have affected the immersion if either had sounded different. The majority of the voice actors were realistic and believable, however, Vanille’s actor was horribly cringing and off point with almost every line of dialogue that came out her mouth. At the start of the game you are lead to believe that she is a young child, and at that point, you can kind of believe that she should sound like that. But as you find out towards the end, she is not that young and it makes the whole character feel wrong. She has classic anime sound effects, plenty of moans and groans that will just have teenage boys salivating at the mouth, but to anyone a bit older it is just really off-putting having a girl that looks that young on-screen making those kinds of noises.

Final Fantasy XIII is a completely linear single player experience. Having never played a Final Fantasy game first hand before, but of course knowing what I was getting into, I had some sort of idea of what to expect. The whole game took me around 40 hours to complete. I was surprised to find that the game had very little to offer in terms of side missions and quests for you to complete the later stages of the game when you venture into the more open world aspect of the game like I touched on above. These open world quests were very bland and unimaginative. They felt like MMO style “Kill this guy” quest, rinse and repeat”. They gave boring rewards and I found very little reason to go out of my way to find more to do, neither did I really want to as by that point in the game I just wanted to reach the conclusion on the story.

The meat and potato of any JRPG game is obviously going to be the combat system. We all know that Final Fantasy is traditionally a turn based game, but XIII’s combat is a little more real-time. With many JRPGs you can either use the auto attack which lets the AI figure out what abilities to use on enemies, or you can select abilities on your own to use. At first, I thought that having this “Auto attack” system removed any skill from the game, but as I will touch on shortly, that is far from the case. In fact, I think I used the auto attack feature almost exclusively apart from the ultra attacks which you have to manually select to use.

Most of the time, you have a party of 2-3 characters. These characters will develop special roles that have individual positives and negatives. By the end of the game, all of your characters will have developed the ability to use 3 or 4 different roles. You can mix and match these roles, and swap and change as you please in midst of combat by making use of the Synergist system. Allowing you to compile teams of different combinations of roles to create a unique party that is built any given situation.

The game is split into 13 chapters. (I wonder if that was done on purpose), and each chapter is usually concluded with at least on boss battle. Fights at the start of the game usually last between 20 seconds and one minute, but as you progress they gradually get longer and longer, and before you know it, when you are in the later chapters, even regular monster fights can last between 10 and 15 minutes! Bosses can last between 30 minutes and sometimes over an hour to beat! You can imagine how frustrating it would be to almost kill a boss for it to wipe you out in the dying stages of a fight just before you beat it. Thankfully I was a massive pussy and played the game on easy mode because the fear of that happening to me was just too greater risk to take. With all that said, I really enjoyed the combat system and the interesting combination of roles and attacks you can perform, and it was even better than I could sit back and focus on just swapping roles at the most opportune time with the auto attacks, rather than having to do that and figure out what abilities to use.

It should also be said that Final Fantasy XIII has a fairly decent tutorial system in the form of a tooltip. After every couple of chapters, you will unlock a new mechanic, which is usually revealed to you after you beat a boss or just before. This allowed time to get used to the previously introduced mechanic before more was being dumped on you, I felt it was fairly paced out for you to get the most out of each mechanic. Being a complete novice at this genre, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by having lots of new mechanics and elements thrown at me all at once.

Final Fantasy XIII can be played with a keyboard and mouse, or a controller. I started with a keyboard and mouse, but as with most third person games, it felt much better to play on a controller. I was disappointed to find that the control prompts on-screen didn’t automatically change to the controller when you are using it. Having to go into the menu to manually change it felt a little lax and lazy for me.