During January, Console Monster was invited to check out the first showing Final Fantasy XIII in English. I’ve been keeping quiet for a while now about what I saw, but now the embargo has lifted and can finally reveal how the 360 and PS3 English versions fair and what to expect from one of the biggest names in RPGs.
After months of seeing how the PS3 version looked and played in videos, I am sure everyone was interested in checking out the 360 version of the game. There has been heavily speculation that the 360 port wouldn’t even compare to the PS3 version, on which the game was originally an exclusive for Sony.
After a good hour or two with each version of the game, I can honestly say that the in game graphics look just as beautiful on 360 as they do on the PS3 version. The only major noticeable difference that let down the 360 copy is the noticeable compression on the FMVs, which Final Fantasy is famous for. While most of the FMVs seem to run smoothly, there were one or two movies in the earlier section of the game where the compression was really apparent. While most will overlook this fact, those lucky enough to be running the game off of larger HDTVs will notice the difference in quality.
There seems to be no obvious slow down or frame rate issue in the Xbox 360 port of the game, even during hectic battles. The character models look just as impressive during the in-game engine cut scenes and the animations are beautifully smooth. So much detail seems to have gone into the creation of both versions and it feels promising that we are not getting a lazy port shoved onto the 360 console.
It is difficult to recommend a version specifically for those who own multiple consoles. Final Fantasy has been a Sony property for a long time, so if you want the full Final Fantasy XIII experience then pick up the PS3 copy of the game. Why? Well, I am certain that when Final Fantasy XIII Versus finally rears its head, there will be save data sharing between the two games. If you just want the Final Fantasy XIII experience, then don’t fret about buying the 360. It didn’t feel like a dumbed-down version and the quality and experience are still there. Sure you will be expected to disc swap but haven’t we done that with Lost Odyssey already? Why are we still complaining about this? It is only 3 discs anyway.
While playing the game, I only had two major issues; one of which was the English voice cast. Without getting into the usual rant about how no one seems to be able to get a decent English voice cast for a Japanese RPG, it all seemed overly clichéd. The bad ass soldier girl to cutesy Vanille; all are played with obvious typecasts in mind. Their speech was somewhat predictable and while this has always been a major complaint with Japanese RPGs, I had thought Final Fantasy XIII would have matured enough, at least in terms of character development. With the huge budget it received, I assumed more notable voice actors would have been used. No Nolan North this time around.
Along with a rather shallow voiced cast, the opening start of the game (and from what I’ve heard of the released Japanese version) is all too linear. Sure you are to learn the basics but most RPGs pop you into a little town very close to the start where you can walk around, talk to the natives and learn about the history without really being forced too. This was how two very different audiences could enjoy the game, the hardcore talking to everyone and getting all the richness of the lore, side quests and early items, while the casual could pump through the main cut scenes, battles and enjoy a simpler RPG.
The Battle system is dramatically different this time around, getting rid of controlling the whole team to a 3 person party where you only control one character for the whole battle. I found for most of the early section of the game I was selecting ‘Auto-Attack’, which decides which attacks would do best and execute them for you in one easy command. Seeing that you only have two moves with Lightening (the game’s main protagonist) at the start of the game there was no need to play around with the menus in the battle mode.
The system is not that simple later on however. After building more of a team and levelling up, you start to gain Paradigms which are classes with specific abilities, like a Black Mage or a Healer for example. Each Paradigm concentrates on a play type. You can have ones that concentrate on dealing magical damage, another which causes the player to try taking the majority of the damage and also one that deals a lot of physical damage.
To change class mid battle you go through a Paradigm Shift and you can select one of three different Paradigm setups for your party. These are designated via the menus prior to battles and each character must learn the class before they are able to use it. You also level the Paradigms rather than your characters and each Paradigm has a levelling grid to work with. This grid, dubbed the Cystarium, is very similar to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. Instead of gaining experience points at the end of the battle, you gain Crystal Points which are spent on the Cystarium grid. You unlock attacks and abilities and stat upgrades such as health points and defence. This is where the heart and soul of Final Fantasy XIII seems to lie and where the veteran can really sink their teeth into.
Alongside various Paradigms, the battle system also supports unique summon creatures that help you in battle. The summon creatures this time around are called Eidolons, just like in FFIV and FFXI, and are also character specific. This means Vanille can’t roll out with Lightening’s Odin for example. When an Eidolon enters the battle all members, apart from the summoner, leave the battle ground. The control system changes and you take control of the creature with a certain amount of move points to spend. The Eidolon will auto attack the enemy and you carry on usual attacks with your remaining character. You can also go into Gestalt mode, a driving mode where you mount the Eidolon and various moves are executed by tapping in specific combos on the screen and then you pull out the best move last. This looks amazing and it is pretty surprising that all of the animations taking place are not rendered prior but are executed via the in game engine.
Final Fantasy XIII is one of the best looking JRPGs out this year and one of the best looking games out this year. It even gives Uncharted 2 a run for its money! The game drops in on European shores mid-March. Sure the story is linear but so far the battle system and customisation means there is much more reward to be gained from the game if you put the time effort in, as the Final Fantasy rule.