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Final Fantasy XIII - Early Impressions

Played quite a bit of Final Fantasy XIII recently. Here are my first impressions of the game:

There are times when I like the game, like when cutscenes play or when in a good boss fight. The cutscenes are really beautifully rendered and are quite enjoyable to watch. The voice acting is okay, generally speaking; it's within the level of most other video games (re: don't expect Oscar-award winning acting, but it's bearable).

There are times when I really hate the game, when it gives you these long dungeons with repeating enemies that seemingly have incredible amounts of HP; some regular enemies seem to take 30 minutes or more to take down.

I hate how the game overuses the theme song that was in the E3 trailer. The music is very repetitive and Square didn't bother to make music suited for each character or situation. Some boss fights use the exact same music as battles with regular enemies, which reduces the overall impact of some scenes.

There are also moments when the music absolutely doesn't fit the moment being shown on screen. One area had music that sounded like it belonged in Starbucks (yes, the coffee place; and no, coffee was not being served during that level of the game). Another area had really sad, tragic music, which completely didn't fit because your characters were fighting all these monsters, and it's not as if anyone had died yet.

The music does improve slightly when you get past the first 10 hours or so....but it doesn't give a good first impression that it took that long for the game to get 'better'.

I like how they developed the Active Time Battle system (ATB) and somehow made it even faster and more strategic. The game doesn't do a good job of demonstrating this until much later in the game; so the effect of this is that battles earlier on will really feel tedious. If you keep on playing, eventually there will be moments when the ATB system will really show its merits.

I do dislike it that you can't control the other characters in your party during combat. You're stuck with controlling whomever is designated as the 'LEADER'. Later on you can switch things around and choose your own 'LEADER' but there are times during combat that I wish I could micromanage what each character in the party is doing during a fight.

I like the designs and the artwork throughout the game; obviously a lot of thought and work went into it. Compared to other JRPGs (even Sakaguchi's Lost Odyssey), the art in FF13 is really unique and well crafted. FF13 really does feel like a proper 'Final Fantasy' game, not like the previous game, FF12, which took so many liberties with the franchise.

Overall, there's a big chunk of the game that could have been better, perhaps if Square-Enix had done more play-testing. The amount of HP in ordinary enemies is really a bit much (yes, I know you can stagger them to do a lot more damage, but still....it really feels like extensive grind just to get anywhere). I get the impression that the developers used this 'tactic' to artificially stretch the number of hours of gameplay in the game, to make the game feel like a 'LONG' game. I can't recall any other JRPG in this generation that took this much GRIND to play through.

FF13 really isn't perfect. I'm pretty much what you'd call a hardcore player; I can't imagine a less dedicated player having the endurance to go through some of the regular battles that repeat over and over in this game.

So, it's a game that is hard to recommend to someone who is not familiar with Final Fantasy already.....for hardcore players who 'know the drill', the game is very good. Just be prepared for a whole lot of grind, and remind yourself that the cutscenes at the end of each ordeal are worth watching.

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