Final Fantasy XIII – Unlucky for some?
The Final Fantasy series has always been a genre leader, the pinnacle of JRPG goodness. Whilst not always perfect, the games have always offered the fans what they wanted, games that are instantly recognisable as Final Fantasy. So, with the release of each new game in the series, the fans would all head out to buy the latest instalment. Fans of the games certainly do not care what critics have to say about their beloved series, but in order to grow, new fans must be gathered into the fold. Final Fantasy XIII looks to have taken a new path, away from the standard JRPG experience of the older games, in an attempt to interest new gamers. Will these changes attract new blood to this long standing series, or just rip the heart from the game in the eyes of the fans?
Firstly, it is important to note that Final Fantasy XIII still looks like a FF game. From inserting the first disc, that warm feeling of familiarity sets in. The sumptuous graphics are still there in all of their glory, along with the wondrously cinematic cut scenes. No changes have been made here, and certainly no corners have been cut.
Beginning in the floating world of Cocoon, the population live in fear of attack from the world below, Pulse. Our heroes find themselves on the run after being labelled as enemies of Cocoon, and being hunted by the military. The heroes will have to get through their own personal problems and work together if they are ever to clear their names.
One of the first changes that I want to address is the main characters. Unlike previous FF games, this time around the whole world seems to be built around the heroes. Gone are the NPC’s that bring life to the world. The entire story is focused on our characters and the world seems to come to life around them. This results in possibly the deepest characters ever to be found in an RPG, Japanese or otherwise. As they progress through the story, new facets to their personality are constantly revealed and one cannot help but feel a bond with these hapless heroes. Will Lightning, Hope or any of the others ever be as popular as past characters such as Cloud or Sephiroth? Only time will tell.
Time is something that the player will need to get the most from this game. Aside form the possible 120 hours of gameplay, players will need to certainly put the hours in simply to break free of the tutorial style first ten chapters. This is where players will find the biggest change to the game.
In an attempt, I guess, to increase Final Fantasy XIII’s universal appeal, it was decided to make the first 10 chapters as accessible as possible. No towns, no NPCs, no freedom. Following a totally linear path, the players must trudge through these chapters, moving from combat to cut scene to combat. Fans of the series will find this the most difficult alteration to forgive. It really is like a massive tutorial, lasting around 20 hours. Don’t get me wrong, it gives the perfect opportunity to develop the characters and build the story, and there are certainly some difficult concepts to grasp within the combat mechanics. But surely this vast amount of time spent hand holding is unnecessary?
During this period, everything seems slightly stunted. There is no massive open world to explore and players will have to be content to wander along a predefined path. There is no choice in party members, instead leaving the player to control whoever the story is currently focusing on. Perseverance will see the player rewarded with more freedom, eventually.
Another attempt to make the game more accessible, and easier, is evident in the character development. Rather than the standard leveling up that can be found in most RPGs, FFXIII uses a system based around Crystarium. Crystarium is dropped by defeated enemies and can then be used by the characters to progress through a reasonably simple skill tree. New skills and statistical bonuses can be “purchased”, along with the chance to level up the characters roles.
Roles are another major new feature. During combat, the player controls only the lead character, with all of the other characters being operated by the AI. How these characters act on the battlefield is dictated by their role, or class. Rather than pinning each hero down to a particular function, they each have a selection of different roles that they can fulfil, such as healer, tank or elementalist.
As each character has a variety of roles, players are able to create “Paradigms”, a pre-selected collection of roles. During combat, players can change from one paradigm to another, allowing for a quick change of roles. This allows players to manipulate the actions of the AI controlled characters. For example, the player has chosen a paradigm that centres on attacking the enemy with all of the characters. One of the characters has taken a serious amount of damage. Change the paradigm to one that sets an AI character as healer, and then that character will heal the injured one. A fairly simple method that actually allows for a decent amount of tactics.
Combat has been spruced up with the new ATB system (Active Time Battle). Put quite simply, the ATB bar slowly fills up, during which the player can queue up their actions. Then, once the bar is full, the actions are carried out, each using a portion of the bar. The bar then fills up again. This system actually works really well and, whilst some people may still be yearning for the turn based battles of yore, keeps the combat moving at an exciting pace.
As mentioned before, the player only has the chance to control the lead character in combat. Sorry, it was not a typo. It is true. I am sure that a lot of people are currently holding their heads in their hands and crying at this decision. Fear not though, stalwart FF gamers, as the new system actually works really well. With the Paradigm system allowing for loose control over the other members of your team, and a really good AI that, for the most part, does what you would do anyway, the game really doesn’t feel as though it has lost much. An added bonus is a less complex game for newcomers to get into.
Final Fantasy XIII has clearly been targeted to the newcomer and I can’t help but feel that the long-time fans of the series have lost out. In comparison to previous Final Fantasy outings, XIII seems to have been overly simplified. This is not to say that FFXIII is a bad game, but it needs to be viewed as a single game, not part of a series. Using the title “Final Fantasy” on a game makes players expect a certain something, and that certain something is missing here. So, just for fun, letâ€™s call this game something else and finish by saying that it really is a great game, if given the chance.