Review: Final Fantasy XIII

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I am slowly but surely reaching the end of my Final Fantasy playthroughs! As much as I hoped to be finished with the entire series by the end of this year, it seems I may miss that goal by just a hair. Regardless, I present to you my review of Final Fantasy XIII.

FFXIII is an interesting game. It’s one of the most popular, yet also most controversial entries in the series to date. It is the first title in the mini “Fabula Nova Crystallis” series (a subset of Final Fantasy Games – much like the “Ivalice Alliance” of FFXII-related titles). It was the first “modern generation” entry in the series. Meaning, it was released on platforms that are still available today: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. As a result, here we have one of the most beautiful entries in the series so far. But we before we get too far into the particulars, let’s touch on the story,

Final Fantasy XIII, like all other titles in the series has a deeply rich storyline. The world of XIII is a planet called Gran Pulse, but the game actually begins on an artificial moon of sorts that floats above the planet called: Cocoon. Cocoon is ruled by a theocracy known as The Sanctum. The leaders of Sanctum are strange godlike beings called fal’Cie. Occasionally, these fal’Cie will select people for a specific task (or Focus)- these individuals are then (literally) branded as l’Cie. If a l’Cie does not manage to complete their focus within the allotted time, they are cursed to become mindless monsters. While those that do, are supposedly blessed with eternal life. – Wow. That’s a lot of funny names.

When the game begins, we learn that to the people of Cocoon, Gran Pulse is somewhat of an anathema. People on Cocoon are taught that Pulse is filled with monsters and anything related to the word below should be shunned. Just prior to the events of the game, we learn that an unfortunate individual has come into contact with a fal’Cie from the world of Gran Pulse.  As a result, the Sanctum is currently undertaking a “Purge” – forcefully sending those involved away to live on Gran Pulse. A fate supposedly worse than death. The main hero in the game is the character known as Lightning. Lightning is actually in service to Sanctum, when she learns about the Purge taking place in her hometown. As the game progresses, Lightning meets a number of other characters and over time begins to piece together the secrets surrounding both the fal’Cie and the truth about Cocoon.

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While the summary above may seem a bit confusing, the game itself does a fantastic job of explaining the lore behind the title as well as giving each main character a proper introduction and backstory. Each character in the game has their own overall role, but characters can be customized greatly as one would expect. In Final Fantasy XIII, character customization is handled by something call the Cystarium. This very similar in many ways to the Sphere Grid concept of Final Fantasy X, but with a slightly different twist. In FFXIII, there are no pre-determined character “classes” instead, there are various roles or “Paradigms”.  Any character can take on any Paradigm at almost any time in the game. So when leveling up, you can choose to spend your Cystarium points on different skills in different paradigm trees. When engaged in actual combat, characters can execute actions that they have unlocked from the role they are currently assigned to.

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It may seem confusing at first, but the game does an excellent job of explaining and coaching you through these concepts early on.  For the most part, combat in Final Fantasy XIII takes place with three characters at a time. During combat, you only have direct control over the main character. The other two are AI controlled, but will function in accordance with the role they are currently assigned. Mastering the Paradigm system is really the key to the entire game. Knowing when to shift your character from one Paradigm (aka: swapping roles) to another makes all the difference between success and failure. FFXIII makes it easy to gauge your skills in this area as well, as your performance in every single fight is rated. The higher your rating, the better rewards you may yield when defeating your enemy.

You see, in Final Fantasy XIII monsters will often drop material that can used to enhance your current weapons. So it’s important to collect as many materials as you can. You never know when you may need a certain item so you can get that perfect weapon.

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Final Fantasy XIII is often criticized by many for being very linear, or as some have labelled it “on rails”. To an extent, critics have a valid point. Especially, in the early parts of the game exploration is very limited. Players are very restrained in where they can go and what they can do. But as the game unfolds, these restrictions are lifted one by one. By the end of the game, your characters will pretty much have access to the entire game world. And as expected with a Final Fantasy title, there are plenty of areas and activities to explore that are not part of the main storyline of the game.

I’ve often been quoted as saying; to me, Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t start until you beat it. My favorite activity in the game ended up not being that main scenario progression but rather participating in Marks (bounty hunting) – a throw back to a side quest from Final Fantasy XII. This series of optional objectives (known a Cie’th Stone Missions) are both challenging and rewarding. Most of the optional bosses found in FFXIII are available through this series of quests. As usual, I made it my goal to ferret out and defeat every one.

All in all, Final Fantasy XIII is a very unique entry in the series. Personally, I don’t understand the huge backlash the game experienced on release. Yes, it is very different from what most would expect from a game bearing the Final Fantasy title. But I also found it to be quite refreshing. The game is beautiful, the graphics in this title are the best the series has given so far. The music in the game is outstanding. The combat and game mechanics are fast paced, interesting and unlike anything we’ve seen yet. Personally, I think XIII is a notable entry in the series. I enjoyed it when it was released back in 2010, and even now, revisiting it again five years later – I found the game to be a pleasure.

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Difficulty: Medium –  For the most part, Final Fantasy XIII is fairly middle of the road in terms of difficulty. Some boss battles can end up being a bit tough compared to the rest of the game. However, taking the time to learn the Paradigm system is the key to success. Like most FF games, the biggest challenges are optional bosses and side quests. Achievement/trophy hunters will not have an easy time.

Story: The scenario presented in XIII is very unique. The concept of Cocoon and “lost world” below really struck me as interesting. With XIII, Square was not at all afraid to introduce a rich and original storyline filled with lore and the game really benefits from it.

Originality: In many ways, XIII feels like XII – done right. The combat seems to hit that sweet spot of automated yet still controlled. The character customization, while reminiscent of X is unique enough to stand on its own. SE always has a tough time balancing the need to keep the series from getting stale while pleasing their hardcore fans. But in the case of XIII, I feel they managed this masterfully.

Soundtrack: The score in XIII is very different that what we’ve seen in any other Final Fantasy title so far. I don’t think there’s a single original Uematsu track in the game. But despite this, I love the music here. Its catchy, fitting and all around good stuff. Music aside, the voice acting in the game is very well done as well. (Even if Snow sounds like Keanu Reeves on downers).

Fun: I personally enjoyed this game A LOT. XIII gets a lot of hate for being very non-traditional when compared to other FF games, but I just don’t see it. The main scenario is entertaining and the optional content is fun and engaging.

Graphics: Breathtaking. The best in the series so far. PS3 players have a slight edge here over 360 users,  but not by much. The game looks amazing on either system, truth be told.

Playcontrol: It seems that every time I play 3rd person game, the camera controls feel foreign for a while. But after an hour or so this goes away and begins to feel natural. Everything else in the game seems to just click. No real issues to report in regards to playcontrol.

Mature Content: Minor language, skimpy outfits.

Value:  To me, this game is worth the purchase. I bought it on day one at full price and never regretted it. These days, it can often be found on sale or at a reduced price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I’m the weirdo who thinks Final Fantasy XIII is a top-tier title. Many others may disagree with me, so feel free to seek out the opinion of others. But if you ask me, XIII is certainly worth your time and money. The series has matured over the years and with maturity comes change. I welcome it.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Main Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VI – VII – VIII – IX – X – X2 – XI – XII – XIII – XIII 2 – XIII Lightning Returns – XIV – XV 

IV: After Years – VII: Dirge of Cerberus – VII: Crisis Core – VII: Advent Children (Movie) – XII: Revenant Wings – Type-0 – XV: A King’s Tale – XV: Brotherhood (Anime) – XV: Kingsglaive (Movie)

Misc Titles:

World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light 

Tactics:

Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2

Dissidia:

Dissidia – Dissidia 012 – Dissidia NT

Crystal Chronicles:

Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers

Mobile Titles:

Dimensions – Dimensions 2 – Record Keeper – Brave Exvius – Mobius Final Fantasy  – Justice Monsters V – King’s Knight  – Dissida Final Fantasy Opera Omnia

Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin

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In March of 2013, Final Fantasy XI saw what would end up being it’s final full expansion ever: Seekers of Adoulin. Announced at a time when players had accepted the expectation that their beloved game had been all but abandoned, the news that XI would be a getting a new expansion came as quite a shock. SoA was more than players could have ever asked for. But it’s release was not without controversy. First off, this new scenario saw a number of big changes to the game. First, this expansion was the first in the west not to be available on PlayStation 2. SoA is only available on PC and Xbox 360 for US players. While this may seem trival due to the small number of US PS2 players, it is a still a big reversal from SE’s previous stance regarding PS2 support.

This expansion adds access to a whole new continent. The land of Ulbuka is located across the ocean to the west. It is a bit of a “new world” much like the Americas of Earth. In fact, one of the main focuses of the new storyline is participating in the pioneering of the undiscovered country. Players are able to participate in activities such a “rieves” and coalition assignments that explore the untamed wilds of the new land. Included in this expansion are two new jobs: The Geomancer and the Rune Fencer. These are somewhat trivial in their addition, but the new options are certainly welcome.

When it comes to content, Seeker’s is an expansion almost exclusively aimed at endgame players. SoA has adopted a new “item level” system much like that found in FFXIV to help players gauges the value of new level 99 equipment. Some older pieces can be upgraded to higher items levels, but most of the new gear is obtainable through participation in SoA-exclusive content, such a Delve. Delve is a new super-challenging battle system that focuses on notorious monster battles. It’s extremely difficult, but the rewards are well worth it.

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Aside from the usual expansion-type content, Seekers of Adoulin also ushered in a wave of core-game changes that would forever alter the way Final Fantasy XI was played. The Mog Garden was introduced. This features a small little private island where players can gather and cultivate materials. Players can now farm and gather from one simply location instead of scouring the landscape looking for places and competing with other players. The expansion included a new “waypoint” system that allowed players to warp around certain areas of the game world. This concept was later extended to existing homepoints. Players can now warp to any homepoint in the game that they’ve previously visited. This removed a giant pain-point for players and has really helped to modernize Final Fantasy XI. On top that, a whole new system called “Records of Eminence” has been added to the game. This is a sort of  sub-system of in-game achievements and rewards. Players are rewarded points and experience for completing certain in-game objectives. The points can be redeemed for almost anything; gear, skill ups, etc. This is very helpful considering the scarcity of items on the auction house these day. Not to mention, the experience points granted by completing objectives is great indeed. Making leveling now even faster than ever.

Shortly after the release of SoA, the ability to summon and party with NPC “alter egos” was also added. This is called the “Trust System”. Now players are able to form their own parties with NPCs instead of spending hours recruiting other members for content. While this is a welcome change, in a way it saddens me. It, along with the Records of Eminence system mentioned above, is a silent indication that the game’s population has become low enough to be addressed by the development team.

All in all, Seekers is a very welcome additional to XI. It added plenty of new areas for players to explore, as well as provided challenging and fresh activities for the game’s aging playerbase. Over the course of this last month, I reactivated my subscription and actually spent quite a bit of time exploring the post-Seekers world of Vana’diel. I participated in the new Trust initiative, reconnected with some old friends, conquered some old content on my to-do list and really got a taste for the way the game has changed.

As I mentioned earlier, Seekers of Adoulin is officially the final full expansion for Final Fantasy XI, so my little nostalgia trip will soon be coming to a close. I’ll be making one more post regarding the game itself by the end of the year upon the completion of the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel add-on that is being released for free. This new content is being rolled out between now and November. Until that time, I will leave my subscription active and continue to enjoy the experience that is Final Fantasy XI – quite possibly the greatest video game I have ever played. I don’t make that claim lightly.

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 ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

 

 

Review: Sleeping Dogs

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After spending a bit of time with some retro classics, I figured I would change direction and give a new game a try. I knew i wanted to try something completely different, so when I saw a flash sale for Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs on Steam, I jumped on the opportunity. Normally, this is the type of game that I would prefer playing on a console. However, due the good price I went with the PC version and played it using a standard Xbox 360 controller.

As I said, Sleeping Dogs is not my typical type of game. But I found myself hooked within the first few minutes of play. It is one of the first very mature titles I have ever experienced. Fair warning, this game is filled with bad language, so it’s not one to play with kids around! I’ve been told that the game is on-par with mature titles like Grand Theft Auto.

At its heart, Sleeping Dogs is  a story-driven open world action/exploration game. You play the role of a Hong Kong undercover cop; Wei Shen. His mission is to infiltrate a wing of the Chinese Triad mafia. The game features a very in-depth cinema style story that really sucked me in.

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The storyline of the game progresses as your complete various missions. Missions are completed at your own pace so you have plenty of time to explore Hong Kong and undertake side quests and other activities.

As you progress through the main scenario, Wei earns experience points with either the police department or the triad. Each branch unlocks new abilities and martial arts techniques. Additional fighting abilities can also be unlocked through side quests. Throughout the game, Wei also acquires various vehicles and weapons. And at a certain point, you unlock the ability to participate in illegal street races.

Combat in the game is fun but takes a little getting used to. Aside from the classic attack and block moves one might expect, there are combo moves and counter attacks. Experience points are increased by using a variety of attacks and also by integrating the environment into combat. In nearly all areas of the game are objects that can be interacted with during battle. Fish tanks, toilets, and phone booths all make for nice things to break apart with your enemy’s head.

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Playing this title was a real eye opener for me. The game is beautiful. The atmosphere and attention to detail really blew me away. It’s not at all what I expected and it really opened me to trying some more modern titles. The PC version also feature an optional High Resolution Texture pack which really makes the visuals in the game even more breathtaking.

Once of my favorite aspects in Sleeping Dogs is the atmosphere. This game really makes you feel like you’re in the middle of Hong Kong. The sound of the streets, the dynamic weather, etc. It’s very immersive.  I even have my favorite Hong Kong radio station on the dial whenever I’m cruising the streets.

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Like I said, I’m a bit behind the curve on when it comes to modern games. I tend to stick with my comfort zones so I was really blown away by the experience Sleeping Dogs offered. This game also introduced me to the world of downloadable content. Sure I’ve played some games with DLC before, but most of the time I never felt the need to really go hog wild with all the options. For some reason, this title really knew how to get my wallet. Most of the DLC offered are fluff pieces, various costumes that offer minor stat boosts, etc. But there are several that unlock new police missions or street races.

There’s also two story add-ons available, with a third on the way in the near future. The first downloadable add-on is called Nightmare at North Point. It’s a secondary mode of play that is not integrated into the the main game, but completing it unlocks a vanity costume for the main scenario. It was released in time for Halloween 2012, and features classic B-movie Chinese vampires, and a zombie apocalypse scenario.  In the end you’re led to believe that it’s nothing more than a dream.

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The second add-on Zodiac Tournament is actually integrated into the main scenario and unlocks a new area. Here, Wei can enter a “karate island” style death-tournament. Upon activation, the game takes on the look of a bad grindhouse kung-fu movie, complete with film grain and mono 70’s soundtrack. It’s a fun nod to classic kung-fu cinema. Again, completing the DLC unlocks some helpful items for the main scenario.

An upcoming storyline expansion called Chinese New Year is planned for the near future. Reports state that will extend the original storyline of the game.

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Difficulty: Medium – I found the game to be somewhat easier than I expected. Most of the main scenario was completed on my first or second attempt. Several of the races were quite difficult. I’ve read online that several people find the later part of the game to be quite a challenge. So maybe I just got lucky, but compared to many of the old school NES games I’ve tackled over the years, this game was a walk in the park.

Story: The game features an amazing story. It’s like watching a good Asian cop movie, but one that you can actually interact with. I loved it and I can’t wait for the new DLC to see what comes next.

Originality: It’s my understanding that a lot of what’s found in this game has been done before. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Yakuza have covered this ground in the past. Despite that, I find Sleeping Dogs to be quite unique and refreshing. Players who have experienced similar titles may not find very many new concepts here, but there’s enough new spice added to the formula to really make this game stand out.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack to the game is quite a gem. For the most part, music in the game is restricted the radio you hear when driving or entering dance clubs and participating in the karaoke video game. All the musical selections are appropriate for the setting, and there’s some really good tunes to be found on the radio. My favorite stations in game were H-Klub and Softly radio.

Fun: I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It never got old. Even after completing the main story, I found myself firing up the game to complete some races, or search for lockboxes. The game really stirred that sense of nostalgia from my time living in Asia.

Graphics: Excellent graphics. Even though I played on the PC with the High-Rez textures, I’ve seen both video and screenshots from the console ports and the game is beautiful all the way around. The game played smooth at 1680×1050 with hi-res and most settings on high.

Playcontrol: I played this game using a standard Xbox 360 controller and the game detected the hardware and adjusted the default controls and in-game tutorial accordingly. At first, the camera controls felt a bit foreign to me, but after about an hour it became second nature. Standard playing is smooth. Sometimes the car races seem to feel a bit loose, but this seems to vary depending on vehicle, so I think this is by design.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Top notch game. I was pleasantly surprised by this game and I’ve decided as a result to spend some more time with modern games in the near future. This game was such a good experience that I’m also rethinking my preference for console gaming. This title proved how good of a time I have with a non-mmo game on my PC. Sleeping Dogs is a title that recommend to anyone who enjoys a good story and a very interactive environment.

Available on: PC, Xbox 360 and PS3