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Tools of the Gods

July 1, 2010

Final Fantasy XII was one of my least favorite installments of the Final Fantasy series, for so many different reasons.  Misleading gameplay, a cliched plot, uninteresting characters, bland voice acting…  I could go on.  So needless to say, I was excited for Final Fantasy XIII.  The game looked like a return to the “second renaissance” of Final Fantasy, by which I mean Final Fantasy VII through X.  Plus, best of all, the main character was one of the most bad-ass women I’d ever seen.  So was interested.  The main plot is that there is this miniature world called Cocoon floating above the main world of Pulse.  Cocoon is hollow, and many humans live inside, guarded and cared for by the machine gods that built Cocoon, the fal’Cie.  However, Pulse has its own fal’Cie, and both groups of fal’Cie choose humans to become their l’Cie, their agents.  L’Cie are given focuses, or specific tasks to accomplish, but the visions that give their focuses are often more than just a tad vague.  The people of Cocoon are quite frightened of Pulse l’Cie, especially because of the infamous War of Transgression five hundred years ago, during which Pulse l’Cie nearly destroyed Cocoon.  When a Pulse fal’Cie is found inside Cocoon, the Sanctum, the government of Cocoon, calls a Purge, a removal of all those touched by the fal’Cie, to Pulse, in the hopes that potential l’Cie cannot harm Cocoon.  Lightning, the main character, has willingly joined the Purge to get to her sister, Serah Farron, who has been turned into a l’Cie by the Pulse fal’Cie and is inside of it.  Three other people, Sazh Katzroy, Oerba Dia Vanille, and Hope Estheim, are a part of the Purge, and Serah’s fiancee, Snow Villiers, leads a resistance group to stop the Purge and rescue Serah separately.  These five people, along with later, Vanille’s friend Oerba Yun Fang, all become l’Cie in some way or another, and they must try to fulfill their focuses while attempting to save Cocoon and Serah.  All the while, the fal’Cie of Cocoon have sinister plans in store for them…

Okay, so the basic plot is interesting.  These mechanical gods are manipulating humans, bending them to their will, and all for the sake of blowing stuff up for their own greed and selfishness.  And the main characters are torn between the need to fulfill their focuses (those who do not are turned into monsters, called Cie’th, and those who succeed are turned into crystal) and their own personal desires, like saving Serah for Lightning and Snow, and saving his son Dajh for Sazh.  And there’s the truth behind Vanille and Fang, who are definitely not just what they seem.  The plot doesn’t get quite as deep as you might expect it could, but it’s still interesting.  Unfortunately, although the characters are definitely a step above those of XII (some of whom had almost no actual relevance to the plot), they’re mostly pretty cliched.  Snow is an obnoxious hero type character, Hope is a whiny emo kid who eventually just becomes annoyingly hopeful (bad name choice), and Vanille is often way too perky.  Lightning is cool, but not quite as cool as her character design suggests sometimes, considering her own problems with Snow and Serrah, and neither is Fang, who’s really just Vanille’s mildly bad-ass big sister.  Sazh is the best of the main characters, considering the fact that he is destined to be his own son’s enemy, and he has to figure out how to save him.  Sazh is definitely one of the best characters to come along in Final Fantasy for a while.  Unfortunately, main villains Galenth Dysley/Barthandelus and Orphan are just too distant to really seem interesting.  Although Dysley involves himself a lot in the plot, his motivations are still a bit fuzzy, and he’s just not all that menacing, aside from his really long nails.

The gameplay is definitely a step up from the odd real-time/turn-based fusion of the last game.  Here, it’s back to the Active Time Bar, and actions use up certain chunks of the bar.  You string together attacks, and then your character goes in real time.  You can only control one character, but you can give general directions to other characters by changing their roles.  Roles define what the other characters do, and they cover general areas like healing, physical attacks, magical attacks, defense, support, and er… de-support.  Unfortunately, you can only use the abilities for each role when you’ve switched to that role.  That can be annoying, since changing roles for all your characters can take up precious time.  And for a lot of the game, just pressing auto will give you good enough attacks that you don’t have to actually check out what you’ve got.  The difficulty of the battles comes mostly from figuring out what elements/sapping and de-support moves the enemy is weak against and when to heal and when to attack.  That can be repetitive, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.  All the jumping around makes it exciting.  The summons are also really cool, though I wish you could use other characters’ summons, not just the one of the character you’re controlling.  The game is very linear, with a whole lot of tunnel vision, which can get boring.  I would have liked some villages and a bit more ability to go off the beaten track.  But Final Fantasy is often linear, and I think that people were overreacting with complaints about this.  The English voice acting was decent.  I actually did like the Australian accents for Vanille and Fang.  Sazh and Fang definitely had the best voices.  Ali Hillis was decent as Lightning, but not quite bad-ass enough.  Half of the annoyingness of Vanille, Snow, and Hope came from their voice actors.  But overall, non-playable characters included, the characters at least had more emotion than they did in XII.  The music was interesting, but nowhere near as memorable as previous Final Fantasies.  And as usual, the game was absolutely gorgeous.  You can never say that a Final Fantasy doesn’t look good.  So was this a return to the classics?  Sadly, it fell short of that with an exciting, yet unrevolutionary battle system, an at times shallow plot, and annoying characters.  But thank goodness we got away from everything that made XII bad.  Final Fantasy XIV is going to be another MMORPG, but maybe Final Fantasy XV will take what Square Enix learned from this game and be even better.

Story: 8.4      Gameplay: 8.8      Presentation: 9.2      Soundtrack: 8.0      Acting: 8.2      Overall: 8.8

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