We don’t usually do multiple reviews for the same game, but the interest in the differences between the two versions of Final Fantasy XIII has been so intense that we’re simply unable to ignore your demands – so here it is - an Xbox 360 specific review.
To be clear, this is not a full review of the game. Our full review of Final Fantasy XIII and all its content can be found here – all we’re going to look at here is the notable differences in the Xbox 360 version of the game. If you want a review of the actual gameplay, story, characters and all that stuff, head on over to our main review.
Allow me to preface this review with a simple statement: the Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII is by far and away the worse version of the game. While it’s an alright port with solid performance, the PS3 manages to outclass the 360 version in just about every area – but FF13 is still a fantastic game even with that considered.
We’ll start with the best thing about the Xbox 360 release of the game, and that is its performance. We’re not going to go into the gritty detail the tech gurus over at Digital Foundry did, but we’ll say quite happily that the Xbox 360 version of the game runs solidly, with fewer frame drops than the PS3 release and thus a smoother, more consistent frame-rate.
All the things that make the PS3 version of the game as speedy and smooth as it is in battle are present here, with that smooth frame-rate backed up by speedy near-seamless battle transitions and cleverly masked loading screens that often mean you won’t be seeing any loading screens.
If the few loading screens you see do bother you, one advantage the Xbox 360 version has over the PS3 release is the ability to install to the hard drive at a cost of around 6gb per disc, but the advantage here is going to be meagre, so our advice is not to bother.
Speaking of the discs, the manner of switching between them isn’t invasive and is actually pleasingly simplistic. Here FF13’s linearity plays in favour of the Xbox 360, allowing the game to progress in a fairly linear line with very different content on each disc of the game. The game is split into thirteen chapters, and each of the disc changes occur at the end of a chapter, a moment when even the PS3 version fades to black and asks you if you’d like to save. It works well.
While there was some confusion for a while, it is now clear that the Xbox 360 release of the game is indeed running at 576p compared to the PS3 version’s 720p. It seems in order to get the Crystal Tools engine running smoothly on the Xbox 360 and fast Square Enix needed to slice the resolution of the game.
The advantage is noted above – the 360 version runs with a smoother frame-rate – but the disadvantage is clear, with a jaggier, nastier picture on the Xbox 360. The 360 version performs especially badly in stills, as our screenshots will demonstrate, but in-motion battles in particular actually look pretty good.
Stills of the Xbox 360 version will definitely do it injustice, with edges and details that were sharp on the PS3 release becoming blurry, messy and nowhere near as clean as the PS3 release, but in motion many of those problems do appear to at least partially melt away unless you’re openly scanning for differences or playing on a gigantic TV.
Another casualty of the port is shadowing. Much of Final Fantasy XIII’s characters and environments self-shadow quite beautifully, but the Xbox 360 version seems to be majorly lacking in this department. Some shadows are weaker and thinner, somehow less defined, while other shadows for smaller things such as Snow’s necklace are gone completely. It’s baffling, as in the case of shadows it’s a truly mixed bag – sometimes the shadows are identical, sometimes they’re worse, and sometimes they’re absent entirely.
Aside from the resolution difference and the shadows, everything else is replicated fairly well. Surprisingly the textures seem to have escaped from the disc compression largely unscathed, and there were even a few moments where we performed side-by-side comparisons and saw the 360 version sporting sharper-looking textures.
Despite all that’s said above, actual gameplay isn’t that problematic, and when you’re sitting down and playing the game you’re likely to barely notice the resolution changes. I was playing both versions back to back and barely noticed – though perhaps that’s because my mind was preoccupied with the bigger problem in the Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII: The cutscenes.
The second type of cutscene is the pre-rendered in-engine cutscene. Put simply these look like they’re in-game but they’re actually pre-rendered videos pushing more pixels and effects than an Xbox 360 or PS3 could ever manage in real-time. If you see the game do something impressive graphically in a cutscene that then transfers seamlessly into gameplay, chances are it was one of these.
The final type of cutscene is the actual in-engine cutscene, produced and generated in real-time like gameplay is. These cutscenes look alright on the Xbox 360, only suffering from the same issues with shadowing and resolution mentioned above.
The other two types of cutscenes have suffered terribly. Being pre-rendered, they’re movies stored on the disc. On the PS3 version the cutscenes take up some thirty plus gigabytes of the disc – more than the entire game on Xbox 360 – and so Square have had to employ some considerably heavy-handed compression.
Good CGI movies aren’t impossible on Xbox 360. Microsoft’s own Halo Wars employed some really incredible looking CGI and Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey had plenty of CG that looked a damn sight better than Final Fantasy XIII’s, so you have to wonder what Square was playing at when you consider the end result.
It’s uneven, too. Some scenes will look incredible with the difference from the PS3 release difficult to spot, whilst others will look considerably worse with any hope of detail disappearing into a sea of muddiness. Even stranger, Square Enix saw fit to rerender the cutscenes at 576p despite the 720p video files already existing. As such, the videos are compressed and upscaled – not a handsome combination.
This is devastating chiefly because as we detailed in our full review of the actual game Final Fantasy XIII puts a lot of stock in its visual flair and proudly delivers stunning visions and machinations with an incredible clarity, and much of the most impressive stuff happens in CGI or pre-rendered sequences. What you get, then, are some of the best-looking scenes in the game made to look a lot worse – and that’s a great shame.
The game will still look alright – Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360 isn’t going to look like its being played through a standard definition TV, but the result is sufficient and tolerable – words that I think shouldn’t be associated with such a massive, big budget game. Merely ‘good enough’ is not good enough – this port should’ve been worked on so that it was something of excellence.
The port gets the job done, but everything about it screams that it was a shoddy, rushed job – designed to get the game running on the Xbox 360 as quickly, cheaply and easily as possible. It’s worked –the game runs and performs fine – but the sad trade-off is that much of a game that was obsessed with visual perfection is made imperfect.
This review is overwhelmingly negative because sadly the Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII is the inferior version in just about every way. However, the score isn’t quite going to match that text.
Final Fantasy XIII is an impressive game and something of an achievement in terms of its bold departure from long-held traditions, incredible visual design and absolute commitment to execute on its vision. The issues with this hasty, almost lazy port muddle that vision somewhat, but it still comes through loud and clear. The performance may be worse, but the core game is the same, and that core game is pretty damn good, as our main review testifies.
Final Fantasy XIII is still a fantastic game on the Xbox 360 – and that’s why it still has a score way above average. It rightfully scores less than its Playstation 3 counterpart, though. The lower resolution isn't quite as big a deal as many made it out to be, but the lower quality, heavily compressed cutscenes are.
Fifteen points may seem like an awful lot to dock for things that are essentially graphical issues, but Final Fantasy XIII puts so much importance in its story and visual presentation that the loss in quality here doesn't leave just a less crisp picture - it leaves a ripple of negativity that sullies a significant chunk of the experience.