I completed the game Final Fantasy XIII two weeks ago and have been going over what I liked and disliked about the game. Prior to this games release, I was very hesitant about whether or not I wanted to purchase it. I have been a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series all my life and have regarded it as one of my favorite video game series of all time. However, after Final Fantasy X I have not enjoyed the series very much and have felt that the series was going downhill fast. So what I decided to do was rent Final Fantasy XIII, test it out, and decide whether or not it was worth the purchase.
A few hours after starting the game I was very bored with most everything about the game. The combat system seemed simple, it was incredibly linear, and I just wanted to get into something exciting. So I drudged on through the game and around 8 hours in, everything started to really pick up. I was introduced to the Paradigm system which allowed me a lot more control over what happened during battle. Each character was given three "jobs" they could perform. These jobs allowed you to customize how you wanted your party to interact with each other and choose what approach you wanted to take towards defeating your enemies. The battle system quickly became more strategic and I was very happy with it. It retained a similar structure to prior Final Fantasy games and was a lot more fun than I had expected. Also, this battle system created a very fast paced battle atmosphere and kept the game exciting. One complaint that I did have with the combat system was that you were only able to control one character during battle. If this main character died, it was game over. While this was not a huge issue, I prefer to control my whole party directly. The next thing that I'd like to discuss is the character development. I thought the relationships built between the characters really added to the game. It took a while for me to become interested in them, but as I progressed through the game, the relationships between the characters strengthened and the party became more unified. Looking back on the characters as a group I was very satisfied. However, the characters individually were not incredibly memorable. I can't think back and say "I really enjoyed that character". So while the characters were well developed they just weren't my favorites. The graphics in Final Fantasy XIII were absolutely stunning. From the crystal clear cutscenes to the very realistic (for video games) in game graphics, everything about the game visually was very impressive. I have absolutely no complaints about the games visuals. Next up are the voice acting and music. Very often the voice acting in RPG's is poorly done. As you play a 40+ hour game, annoying voice actors can really put a strain on your level of enjoyment. This is not the case with Final Fantasy XIII. It had some of the best voice acting I have heard in any JRPG to date and it helped make the characters very enjoyable. The music was about on par with what I was expecting. I was very disappointed that the music was not done by composer Nobuo Uematsu, who had composed the music for many earlier Final Fantasy games. The music was enjoyable and fit the game fairly well but it just wasn't the same as Nobuo's classic Final Fantasy sound. I also was not particularly fond of the song chosen for the games conclusion. It just didn't seem to fit well with the game. I did very much enjoy the Chocobo remixes they added to the game and found myself listening to these songs over and over.
Now for my complaints...
The first major complaint that I had with Final Fantasy XIII is its story. Like I mentioned earlier, the game took a bit too long to start picking up. This was the case with the story as well. About 8 hours into the game, the story really picked up for me and I felt swept up by the games excitement and became very eager to continue playing. The characters were being developed well and the story was following a nice path. This continued for the next 15-20 hours and I thought the game was really quite good. Then, about 25 hours into the game the story seemed to fizzle out for me and I became far less attached and interested in it. I believe the main reason for this was the lack of a true villain. Typically, towards the end of an RPG there is a single villain I very much dislike and am very eager to defeat. In Final Fantasy XIII this villain just didn't exist. I felt no connection to any of the villains in the game and that really stole away from the games plot. I was very disappointed with the events leading up to the ending and felt the story really fell apart, creating a dismal story overall. I also did not like Final Fantasy XIII's linearity. The game was incredibly linear and gave the player only one area to explore and branch off of the main plot. While this was not a horrible issue with the game since your party is constantly on the run, it was still a disappointment to me. One thing I truly enjoy about RPG's is have the chance to explore, interact and feel like a part of the games world. Another problem with linearity came with the leveling system for your characters. As you defeated monsters throughout the game, you were rewarded with Crystarium Points (CP). These points were then used to choose how you would like to level your characters. Early on in the game, this was very exciting because I was able to determine what skills I wanted and which jobs I wanted to train my characters in. However, after playing the game for a while I began to realize that no matter how I chose to level my character, they were going to end up the same in the end. At the end of my game, my characters would be the same as characters at the end of your game and it was basically just the order you chose to build them. This linearity really took away from the feeling that I was creating and customizing my own characters and was another element I wasn't particularly fond of. This was not a deal breaking issue, but it was something that I did not enjoy. Overall, I think Final Fantasy XIII was a decent game. I had a lot of fun playing it but it also had some serious disappointments. I would definitely recommend this game to anyone who isn't a big fan of traditional RPG's because it does a lot to make the game fast paced, action packed, and less focused on managing items and level grinding. As a traditional RPG fan comparing this game to other Final Fantasy games (FFX and earlier), FFXIII is pretty disappointing. As a new approach to merge the RPG and action genre, it does a good job. So if you are thinking about purchasing this game, it will more than likely be worth your $60.