There are certain events in the videogame industry that get everyone excited, regardless of the publisher, pedigree, or genre of the title involved. Whether it
From a soundtrack perspective, Square-Enix’s previous works in this series have been so impressive that they’ve even launched a successful concert tour in the US combining their orchestral pieces along with images from their previous games. All I can say is that if they start running out of music for these concerts, then they have plenty of new material that they can use from Final Fantasy XIII. Masashi Hamauzu’s compositions are gorgeously rendered by the Warsaw Philharmonic and are a joy to listen to. There’s a huge amount of variety presented in the soundtrack, ranging all the way from a full symphony to harmonica music to Leona Lewis’ ballad “My Hands”. While it’s hard to imagine having that much musical variety fit in a game and not have anything stick out like a sore thumb, the developers have handled this beautifully. Each track fits well in the game world, accentuating the area you happen to be in, or even highlighting your current character and the action on-screen.
Much of this quality would have been wasted if the voice actors weren’t top notch, and I’m pleased to say that nearly every one of them delivers an outstanding performance. The only negative comment I could make about the voice acting has to do with some of the dialogue. As with any game created in a language other than English, the act of translation can often make for some stilted speech. Before games were fully voiced, this was usually represented by the “…” response that was so frustrating when trying to talk to a NPC that didn’t have anything meaningful to say to you. Nowadays, we get the awkward pauses and strange grunts that the writers put in when there isn’t an exact translation available. This doesn’t happen very often in the game, but just frequently enough to be noticeable and a minor annoyance.
Back in the day, game developers relied on flashy graphics and rock solid gameplay in their titles, with only the thinnest of storylines (if they had them at all). I mean, who remembers the “compelling” plot behind the original Doom? Umm, “hell minions are bad m’kay” pretty much sums it up. It is only in recent years that developers have realized how important things like narrative, pacing, and dramatic tension are.
Except for Square-Enix, who has always made the tale one of their chief concerns when creating a new game. And since they’ve been creating JRPGs for around twenty years now they’ve become quite good at it. Unfortunately this is the one area where the developer actually falls a bit short of their usual high quality. Final Fantasy’s story, while good, feels rushed at times, as if the writers were working from a checklist stating “at this point Character A will need to have a tearful admission”. Usually Final Fantasy excels at this kind of storytelling, but here it feels forced.
Another issue for many players is how linear the game is early on. In most RPGs there are certain “threshold events” that must be reached in order to open up new areas to explore and adventure in, but other than that you are free to create your party and just “see the sights” as it were. For the first twenty hours or so of this title you are held to a strictly linear path, where the game chooses who is in your party, who the party leader is, and what area you have available to explore. Square-Enix obviously did this to guide the narrative of the story and the development of the various characters, but this kind of restriction will definitely chafe on some players.
Most complaints about Final Fantasy XIII will come from the things that it is missing. While I did mention at the start of this review that many of the familiar Final Fantasy staples are present, there are many more things that are missing. One of the most common gameplay themes in this series is the inevitable fact that you will eventually acquire an airship that allows you to travel around the world much faster, as well as let you revisit areas from early in the game. Not so this time around. Be prepared to see everything you want to see the first time you visit that zone, because for the most part you won’t ever see it again. Another conspicuous absence is that there are no towns to explore, or NPCs to talk to. Shops are all handled via the save points, and you are granted access to the shops from access cards that are randomly dropped in each area. While the shops all have their own unique theme and the idea of online shopping fits well in the general premise of the game, the enjoyment of discovering new towns and shops is missing due to this change.
With no downloadable content expected for this game and a lack of multiplayer, you might expect that the Value/Replay Value score for this title would be rather low. Like most RPGs though, the sheer amount of exploration and leveling up involved in Final Fantasy more than offsets the things it is lacking. Combine that with the magnificent presentation in sound, graphics, and the updated ATB combat system and this makes the game an excellent value. While it is on the short side in comparison with other titles in the series (the main story can be completed in approximately 40 hours of play time), there is still more than enough gameplay to make it worth the purchase.