If you’re anything like me, your childhood was spent in basements and living rooms playing video games, beating any games you could get your hands on and boasting about how you could kill a boss or finish a game others couldn’t. And one serie that hooked me on roleplaying games and by extension MMOs has been the Final Fantasy series. I have played every single numbered game in the franchise(even the japanese ones on badly translated emulators) and have beaten most of them. I say most of them because obviously you can’t beat an MMO(FF 11) and some of them are not that great(12, x-2).
So of course I’ve picked the latest one and played it for most of the past few days sprinkled with some Lotro and some heavy-duty cleaning of the apartment. I’m now 17 hours in and feel like I can give an honest opinion of the game, at least the first part of it.
In case you have been living under a rock you need to know first that a Final Fantasy game(talking the main line here) is a huge event in itself, especially if you happen to love jrpgs(japanese rpgs). Those games are supposed to be the pinnacle of the genre and every detail is worked to perfection. The graphics are amazing and the orchestral score could rival one made by John Williams. On the story side it keeps to an incredibly convoluted and complicated one like previous FF games. You also get your stereotypical jrpg characters, meaning you get the reluctant hero, the spunky girl, the token black brother, the grizzled vet, etc…If you’ve played one Final Fantasy game before this one will feel like stepping in old shoes.
So is it good? Yes, I’d even go beyond that and call it awesome and worthy of the Final Fantasy title, unlike the last few games. Is it perfect? Not at all. So let’s get the bad out-of-the-way first. First of all the game is linear, extremely so even. Maybe it will open up later but so far it’s go from point A to point B with a few branches to get an extra treasure or two. And that’s pretty much it, it’s the only true low point I can find with the game.
Now the combat system is something you will or will not like. The system revolves around the use of roles (melee,caster,tank,buffer/debuffer and healer) that your¸ characters can learn. You create paradigms for your team wich are sets of role that your party can use. For example I can have a paradigm set up for maximum damage (melee, caster, caster), one for damage and some healin (melee,caster,healer) and another for quick buffs/debuff setup (tank,buffer, debuffer).
During combat you control the party leader and the other characters will act according to the roles they currently have. Most of the time you will also assign your leader to automatic so he follows his role too wich means that the minutiae¸of the exact abilities used will be left to the computer. What makes the system dynamic is that you can switch paradigm on the fly during battle. I can start the battle with damage setup, switch to healing mid way to top myself up, then move to a tanking paradigm to survive a particular devastating ability, back to healing after and so on.
This means that combat is more strategic than technical. It’s not about casting a big spell from time to time it’s about planning and anticipation. This means that the game is in the end a bit harder than previous FF games. I’ve died quite a few times to bosses or tough battle where I tried to force my way through without paying attention to the particular enemies ability. Buffing, debuffing, going to a protection mode often pay off bigger than just pure offensive all the time. Still if you pin for the old days of inputting attack for every character then you might not like this system.
Then we come to the good part, the story. I said earlier that the game featured somewhat stock characters that we expect from jrpgs but the real beauty of FF13is to make them believable. They start out as simple stereotypes but as the story progresses and you discover more about them you start to understand them and they move beyond being simple stock characters without resorting to cheesy and easy story twists. It is a real feat from the storytellers to make me go from not liking any of the characters to make me want to play more to learn how their story will go.
Talking about the story its a very original one and not anywhere close to anything we’ve seen yet wich tends to be one of the strength of the FF series. Where Dragon Age is very predictable, Final Fantasy isn’t. They’ve built a very complex universe with his own rules and background and somehow, they make it believable. The actual storyline is very complicated but again the game manages to explain it all in a way you can understand it.
So, do I recommend FF13? Yes, if you approach it without any special expectations. This game is a lot like a movie, meaning that you will enjoy it if you allow yourself to simply enjoy the ride.