Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fight

Controversial though they may be, Final Fantasy XIII has made some sweeping changes to Square Enix's classic franchise, and the results are nothing short of spectacular.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 4, 2010
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Final Fantasy XIII offers a rather interesting dichotomy: the story is almost pedantically fixated on the idea of choice, destiny and what defines free will, yet over the course of the more than 60 hours of game that it'll offer before you've "finished" that story, almost 30 of those hours are spent without you being able to so much as sidetrack from the main path of the game. I mean that in as literal a sense as I can; you're given more or less one path and have to simply make your way down that stream with only the odd nub off the main line that holds a treasure chest.

The linearity of Squenix's latest outing has been well documented at this point. I'm well aware that this review is arriving nearly a month after the game did, and though I could blame an influx of huge games or the Game Developers Conference or any number of personal commitments that cropped up, the truth is just that I wanted to savor the experience that Final Fantasy XIII offers. That 60 hour figure isn't an exaggeration; that's how long it took me to finish the main game, and there's probably another 20 hours of stuff to do -- and I will which is saying something. I never go back to games, but even as I sit here writing this, all I want to do is play more.

There are plenty of reasons for this, but the biggest is simply that I loved what was done to the familiar FF formula. Sure, one could rightly argue that the game is simply too corridor-based, too restrictive and too tutorial-laden to actually allow anyone any semblance of freedom. While things are absolutely held rigid for the first half or so of your adventure throughout the world of Cocoon, when they finally do open up, the sense of awe and "wait... I can go anywhere now!" wonder has finally equaled that of the world reveal in Final Fantasy VII upon leaving Midgar. I got literal goosebumps upon landing in the "true" world that takes up FFXIII's second half, and sat there for a few minutes just watching flying critters go swooping overhead, their bodies cutting lengthy shadows in the otherwise thick, milky light pouring down into the canyon where I'd come to rest.

Yes, Final Fantasy XIII is pretty. In fact, it's the most gorgeous game I've ever seen. Sure, a few have better textures or lighting or framerates or senses of scale, but none of them have all those factors in the same place with the same level of visual sophistication that this one has. There's a sense that all those years spent making this game weren't wasted; not a single pixel seems out of place, so every rock crag, every little smirk, every shaft of light spills out with such confidence that you can't help but be amazed. For generations now, Square has been the example of Japanese development prowess, and this game simply confirms that the move to next-gen hardware, while a little slow in fully taking hold, has been accomplished with aplomb.

There are a million examples I could paste in here that I took while playing (the word count on the simple descriptions alone is almost 500 words), but I honestly don't want to spoil them for you. Every rock, every pebble, every cup or crate or plant or hill or cliff is so meticulously placed and then presented -- without resorting to things like fade-in or level-of-detail model swaps that you can't help but be gripped by just how accomplished it all is. When the world finally does open up and you pull up the in-game map to scroll to where you're supposed to go, it takes seconds to actually reach that blip out in the middle of nowhere, and when you drink in the vast, sprawling fields rife with creatures that don't fade out as they near the horizon or sit there statically, they fight with each other, swoop around one another, they're alive and from the first hour to the last, the game's sense of confidence from futuristic cityscape to nature preserve alike shows a mind-boggling amount of detail and finesse.
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