This review is based on over 40 hours of gameplay with the English-language PlayStation 3 version of Final Fantasy XIII.
MANILA, Philippines - Before anything else, consider this scenario:
You fell in love with someone from your childhood years. He loved you back, and you had a great time with each other. After a few years, he said he had to leave.
You waited for years for him to come back to you. By the time he returned, however, you realized that he was a completely different person. He has improved a lot -- looks, personality and career-wise -- but he wasn't the person you initially fell in love with.
Eventually, you got to accept him for who he is, not for the person he used to be. Although painful, you managed to live with the fact that you can never see your childhood sweetheart again.
Cheesy, right? That's exactly how I (and most gamers I know) felt when I first played Final Fantasy XIII, the latest installment in the world's most popular line of role-playing games (RPG).
An avid fan of the Final Fantasy series, I waited for 4 whole years for this game -- in fact, it was the sole reason why I got a PlayStation 3 console.
I had my hands on a copy of the game the day it was released here in the Philippines. And boy, it did not disappoint -- the visuals were stunning and the battles were so intense that you'll never get tired of them. If you ask me, it's one of the best games I've ever played.
Something feels weird, however. No matter how beautiful it is, the new game seems so alien to the Final Fantasy tradition.
I understand how each numbered Final Fantasy game is different in its own way. In 1997, for instance, the sci-fi/cyberpunk Final Fantasy VII created a huge buzz in the gaming world for deviating from its "king and country," medieval-themed predecessors.
Despite the major changes, however, FFVII remained true to the basics of any Final Fantasy game -- an epic plot centered on a group of kids who want to save the world by increasing their stats until they're powerful enough to kill God; hidden chests and dungeons; and secret characters and optional bosses.
The fresh twist combined with the good old formula made FFVII one of the most popular RPGs of all time -- and is actually a personal favorite. It was such a hit that it paved the way for several spinoff games in different consoles, a short story, and even a full-length animated film.
The case of FFXIII, however, is quite different. It may have familiar elements such as chocobos and potions, but the overall feeling of tradition was long gone.
I understand that the makers of FFXIII want something that can change the landscape of RPGs, being the first in the series to be played on the high-tech PS3 console.
The game's fast-paced battles and stunning visuals certainly elevated the series to new heights, but this came at the expense of Final Fantasy's tried and tested elements.
FFXIII revolves around 2 worlds -- a paradise known as Cocoon, and a lowerworld called Pulse. It involves humans and godlike mechanical beings called Fal'Cie -- both created by an otherworldly being known only as the Maker.
Through some twist of fate, our 6 heroes get marked by a Fal'Cie with some magical STD, turning them into l'Cie -- humans that have the ability to use magic and summon beings called Eidolons (the game's version of a Guardian Force in FFVIII, an Aeon in FFX, and an Esper in FFXII). To people in Cocoon, l'Cie are threats to their security that need to be disposed of instantly.
From ordinary beings with their personal goals and issues, they are now asked by the Fal'Cie to destroy Cocoon. With the rest of Cocoon against them, our heroes struggle with the pains of being a l'Cie while trying to save the world they grew up with.
The story of FFXIII is divided into 13 chapters, which mostly involves fighting your way through militarymen, robots, monsters, or a combination of the three. Unlike most Final Fantasy games which allow players to wander off and explore bits of the world at any given time, the series' latest installment is so linear, it's literally a straight line.
|FFXIII's characters: cool, annoying, forgettable
The main characters of Final Fantasy XIII can be classified under three categories -- the cool, the annoying and the forgettable.
The antagonist of FFXIII would not be revealed here, however, since it would mean spoiling the entire game. more
|Too fast, too furious: Battles at FFXIII
A battle in FFXIII starts when a leader (the character you're controlling) comes in contact with the enemy.
Unlike most RPGs where enemies just pop out of nowhere, opponents in this game can be seen roaming around the dungeons and forests, which means you can literally escape battles if you don't get noticed.
The game even provides shrouds, or aerosols which can help you scout an area undetected by enemies or boost your stats before battles. more
It's not necessarily a bad thing, though. In my opinion, this aspect of the game made it more realistic -- if you're a l'Cie and everyone in the world is out there to get you, you can't just take a walk in the park, right? You have to keep moving forward.
Fortunately for those who are itching to see a large expanse of land teeming with wildlife, FFXIII gives it to you after 30 hours or so of gameplay. Most people would say it came too late, but for me, the timing was spot-on -- it's as if makers of FFXIII made sure its players were well-trained first before they charge into the real battle ahead.
I could go on and on, and I'd have nothing but praises for the creators of FFXIII -- they made a game that's just so beautiful, it really hurts. Their only fault, if there is one, is that they named it "Final Fantasy XIII."
Because if I didn't see the title on my television screen, I would never have guessed that what I'm playing is a numbered Final Fantasy game -- but I would still enjoy playing it anyway.
For comments and suggestions, email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.