The Best and Worst of Final Fantasy XIII

With the Japanese release now a distant blip on the horizon and the Western launch so close that we’ve had our review code of both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game in the office, it’s the perfect time for us to recap the best and worst of Square Enix’s latest so people know what to expect when the game launches in the west in two weeks.

Final Fantasy XIII is a fantastic piece of work, and if you want our full-detailed impressions on just how good it is we suggest you check out our Import Review. If you want to know how it plays, we have specific articles about the Battle System and the Character Growth system through the links.

For this piece I’ve picked out the very best and the very worst parts of the game – just two pieces. Here they are.

The Best: Narrative Presentation
Take a look at the storyline of Final Fantasy XIII from afar and you will find that it sounds just like another, traditional, simple Final Fantasy plotline. You have a party of plucky young heroes fighting adversity in an attempt to save the world and themselves, battling the government, monsters, gods and demons alike on the way.

It’s the execution is what makes FF13 shine compared to the rest of the series and elevates this relatively simplistic plot to a whole new level and makes it all the more interesting and gripping.

FF13 does away with the idea of a lead character in a way, just as Final Fantasy VI and IX did. While Terra and Zidane were clearly the ‘leads’ in those games, the game as a whole was more of an ensemble piece, and the same is true of FF13 here. Lightning is the lead character, but the game constantly switches perspective and changes the leader of the party, and you’ll find yourself without Lightning frequently early on and later in the game using her is not a requisite as leads were in previous games.


This constant perspective switching is reminiscent of FF6 and FF9, both of which made a strong effort to split the party up and see what the different members were up to in different locations, and in FF13 they do this but take it further by exploring the character relationships in a much more real way when characters are alone together.

You’ll see Vanille and Sazh fight and joke together like an unlikely, odd couple, whilst the usually cold Lightning becomes something of a big sister to confused Hope, and that’s just very early in the game.

These scenes are one of the reasons we called out FF13 as having one of the best main casts in the series, as they do far more to develop character than clichéd monologues about saving the world. It is a shame that one member of the cast – Snow – appears to be that cliché personified for much of the game.

The star of the show in FF13 is the way the narrative is fashioned and the way the story weaves from one group of characters to another. The story itself may be pretty standard for a JRPG, but the way is presented be it the movie-like direction of cutscenes or strong focus on character development truly makes it shine.

The Worst: The Opening Hours
It’s really sad that the worst thing about Final Fantasy XIII is its opening, as you never get a second chance at a first impression, and the early parts of FF13 may leave a bad taste in the mouths of many players.

The story has a great opening – kicking off with a big bang that’s reminiscent of the famed Bombing Mission from Final Fantasy VII with guns, explosions, and plenty of fighting... but there’s the problem.

As we noted in our article on how FF13 was Built for the West, the game has been constructed in such a way that even somebody who has never played an RPG before can enjoy the experience, and one way Square Enix has ensured this is by introducing even the most rudimentary of elements bit by bit. You won’t even level up for a while in this game – that system is introduced a little way into the game.

The problem that’s caused by this is that for anyone even remotely familiar with RPGs the opening chapters of the game are incredibly boring. You’ll find yourself playing as Lightning, Snow and Vanille, and Lightning and Snow only have two abilities – the Attack command, and a second command which can hit multiple enemies. Vanille annoyingly only has one ability at this stage, the Attack command!


You can still use potions and phoenix downs, but other than that you have literally nothing to do in the many early battles in the game. You’re encouraged to hit ‘Auto Battle’ over and over again and watch the battles play out. While this might be  a solid introduction to the menus and style of Final Fantasy for those new to it, it drags on for far too long and is mind-numbingly boring for players with even a modicum of experience.

I found myself doing the same in the Import and both versions of the final release – jabbing at the X or A button through battles, pummelling it to get myself through to the next cutscene as fast as possible in order to get to the point of the game that unlocks actual character progression, more abilities and actual strategy in combat.

The fact that you’re not gaining any Crystarium Points (essentially experience) for these battles only serves to make them feel even more boring and pointless.

It’s a great shame as these boring opening battles might give RPG fans that the battle system of FF13 is a shallow, auto-battle heavy mess – and it really isn’t. For me, the pacing and design of the gameplay in those opening hours of FF13 are disastrous, and definitely the worst aspect of the game.

We’ll be bringing you more details about the Western Release as we play it, with full impressions of both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions in English and of course a final review of both versions when the review embargo is over. 

If you can't wait for that, feel free to check out our Xbox 360 Version Hands-On Impressions. If you haven't ordered the game yet, Amazon has the Xbox 360 version here and the Playstation 3 version here.Here's the link to preorder the Limited Edition Xbox 360 bundle, too.

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