After 5 years or so of development time, Final Fantasy XIII was finally released this month. It has been easily one of the most anticipated titles this year among both Final Fantasy and RPG fans, and I managed to purchase my copy of the game yesterday. The first thing I noticed about the game as I popped the disk in were the awe-inspiring graphics--they are incredible! I cannot emphasize enough how beautiful this game is. The first time any gamer plays FF13, the work and budget put into the game will immediately become clear. However, graphics alone don't make a game.
Any fan of Role-Playing Games will place story as high (sometimes higher) than gameplay. From the little I've seen, the plot in FF13 will not disappoint. On the contrary, it will be the main source hooking the gamer in. And note, I'm only saying that because I REALLY feel like playing the game as we speak! However, I admit I was confused about what was going on in the game when I first started playing. Everything became clear once I took the time to read about the plot while playing. Yes, anything concerning unique terminologies, backgrounds, and ongoing events can be read in the game's menu screen. This is a very convenient feature for individuals who don't have the time to consistently play the game, and need to be reminded where they left off. Unfortunately, this also serves to show how broken the story is, and how developers felt a need to write down important information instead of elaborating on it through good story-telling. But I don't necessarily have high standards for a video game story to nitpick.
To summarize the plot (from what I've seen) without spoiling anything, the game takes place in Cocoon--a utopia in the sky--which was created by benevolent Fal'Cie (godlike beings), but ruled by Sanctum, Cocoon's government, which is composed of humans. Below Cocoon exists the Pulse, an underworld feared by the humans of Cocoon. One day, a Pulse Fal'Cie appears in Bodhum, a city in Cocoon. Pulse Fal'Cie are capable of cursing humans by turning them into L'Cie. As L'Cie, individuals gain magical abilities, but must accomplish a "Focus." If they don't, they become Cie'th--zombie-like creatures. Needless to say, the L'Cie are seen as contaminated humans and feared for making contact with Fal'Cie from the Pulse. The story begins when the Sanctum decides to Purge (exile) all the citizens from Bodhum to the Pulse after learning of the Pulse Fal'Cie's existence in the city. This leads to a great revolt, as well as the deaths of many innocent civilians.
Initially, the player experiences the revolt in Bodhum through the perspective of several different characters before their stories overlap and they join forces. I personally enjoyed experiencing the game through the point of view of different characters with deviating backgrounds and goals. The only two characters I do not like so far are Lightning and Vanille--the only girls in the game! Now, I'm not sexist, but Lightning seems like a generic "badass" protagonist, and her attitude has irritated me so far. Also, for a main protagonist, her side of the story doesn't seem very interesting at all. Of course, her ambiguity will likely diminish later on--I'm only 4 hours in! Conversely, Snow, the leader of NORA, a paramilitary organization that patrols Bodhum for trouble, seems more like the main protagonist than she does. As for Vanille, her creepy optimism during a time where thousands are being exiled and executed around her make me want to punch her in the face. Luckily, I'm sure the characters will develop as I progress, so I cannot judge them entirely just yet, and won't bother to discuss each of them.
Now for the most important aspect of a game: the gameplay. Unfortunately, there's not much for me to say about it as of now; during the beginning of FF13, the player isn't given much options when fighting enemies. All you do is press attack until the fight is over. By Chapter 3, the battle system becomes significantly more complex and strategy-based, but not enough for it to be deemed amazing. During this chapter, the characters can finally use magic, as well as a Paradigm system to organize the actions of other party members during battle. From what I've seen, the player can only control one party member while fighting, which is disappointing. Final Fantasy XIII does not have a conventional level up system either. Rather than simply earning experience points in battle and automatically leveling up, the characters earn Crystogen Points. These points are used in the Crystarium menu option, and allow the player to power up a character's individual stats or abilities, making the level up system much more customizable than in a traditional RPG.
As for overworld gameplay, the game has been pretty linear from what I've played, with no real exploration value. During my 4 hours of gameplay, I have only followed straight paths (split only when there are items to collect), fought enemies (which are, thankfully, visible and avoidable outside of battle), and watched cutscenes. Quite frankly, I've felt like I've been watching an interactive movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, traditional exploration and cities/towns to goof around in would be nice too.
Finally, the music has been okay. Nothing I'll listen to on an iPod, but soothing enough to keep the environments interesting.