Final Fantasy 13 is here! And what a wait it’s been. Since Final Fantasy 7 brought the traditional Japanese RPG to a mainstream audience way back in 1997 Square Enix’s long-running series has been one of video gaming’s most profitable and beloved franchises. It’s also remained resolutely loyal to Sony, with each major episode being exclusive to PlayStation hardware. How does Final Fantasy 13 extend that legacy? Read our Final Fantasy 13 review and we’ll break it down for you.
Final Fantasy 13 is a break from the norm. The gaming landscape has changed over the past decade and Square Enix has obviously decided that ignoring millions of Xbox 360 owners is tantamount to commercial suicide; Final Fantasy 13 therefore marks the first time the series has been released simultaneously across two separate formats.
It’s also the first time that Final Fantasy has embraced the world of high definition and is arguably the most aesthetically cohesive title in the franchise yet; the lush CGI footage no longer jars awkwardly with in-game graphics. The tremendous advancements made in console technology ensure that the transition between video cut scenes and the 3D game engine is so smooth that you often find yourself wondering which of the two you’re watching at any given moment.
Final Fantasy 13 on the Xbox 360 spans a whopping three DVDs, compared to the PS3’s single Blu-ray disc, and sadly some corners have been cut in order to shoehorn Final Fantasy 13 on Xbox too. The quality of the pre-rendered cut-scenes is notably worse, with unsightly artefacts and pixilation during fast-moving moments. It’s not all bad, though; the 3D engine used in the 360 version is actually smoother and zips along at a steadier frame rate than Final Fantasy 13 on PS3, although admittedly it’s running in a lower resolution overall.
To compliment the lush visual package there’s an equally sumptuous soundtrack courtesy of famed composer Masashi Hamauzu. Fusing a variety of different musical styles – including grand orchestral movements, guitar-based rock and pumping dance tunes – Hamauzu’s score fits Final Fantasy 13’s on-screen action beautifully, although during the more emotional moments the music does become a little overbearing; imagine an episode of Neighbours set in a mythical world and you’re not too far from the truth.
Final Fantasy 13 splits its gameplay into two main components – exploration and combat. The former sees you traversing each location as you search for a main objective (which is handily identified by a big yellow arrow on the game map). During these moments you’ll spot enemies patrolling the landscape; unlike previous Final Fantasy outings – and traditional Japanese RPGs in general – battles do not occur randomly and without warning. You can choose to avoid a scuffle if you wish, although sometimes it’s impossible to completely shun conflict.
Once you’re in a combat situation you’ll notice that Square Enix has made some sweeping changes here, too. The famed “Active Time Battle” system has undergone a massive overhaul and as a result these contests feel much more alive and thrilling; you can pre-select your character’s actions by placing them in slots. Once the time gauge is full your character will automatically execute all of the commands. Being able to jam your slots with loads of different actions keeps things busy and while there’s still a turn-based element in play, quick reactions do make a difference.
Our biggest gripe with Final Fantasy 13 is that the actual gameplay is rather limited; exploring each location is mostly uneventful because there’s so little to discover outside of bonus items. To keep the story moving forward you’re funnelled down a linear path and, for the vast majority of the game, deviation from that path isn’t possible. As a result if you don’t buy into the storyline then you’re going to end up monumentally bored.
Thankfully the narrative is riveting and contains its fair share of twists and turns; it’s not quite up there with the plot of Final Fantasy 7 but then few games are, if we’re honest.
Like its predecessors, Final Fantasy 13 presents players with a huge gameplay proposition; if you really wished to fully explore every aspect of this epic title then you’ll easily surpass fifty hours of play time. The trouble is that maintaining a player’s interest for that amount of time is no mean feat, and Final Fantasy 13 stumbles more than once in its quest for such grand entertainment.
Action-hungry gamers who have been raised on a seemingly never-ending diet of first person shooters are definitely going to struggle with Final Fantasy 13’s often overblown plot, and mildly annoying cast of melodramatic characters.
That said, long-time followers of the series are less likely to find fault; while the first HD interpretation of gaming’s most illustrious RPG franchise doesn’t match Final Fantasy 7 for sheer impact, it remains a gorgeously crafted piece of entertainment, and the myriad amendments made to the battle system show that it’s moving in the right direction.