If you’re a regular here (and if you’re not, WHY NOT??) you’ll know I posted a first impressions review of Final Fantasy XIII back in March. One and a half months and 69 save hours later, I’ve decided to write up a full review, while looking back to see if my first impressions were correct. So then, lets jump straight in, shall we?

“As I’m sure you can imagine, if you’ve seen any of the pre-release trailers, the intro is stunning. The attention to detail is unbelievably thorough. But! – graphics alone don’t a good game make. Let’s get down to how it plays and feels.”

Graphics really are the least important thing in a game to me, but SWEET MOTHER OF GOD this game is stunning! Each new area I actually had to stop and swing the camera around to take in the stunning landscape. This was especially true one you get to explore Pulse, though I think one of the most stunning cut scenes I’ve ever seen – in any game – was the Eidolon Parade in Chapter 8.

Feel
Another thing that everyone’s been banging on about – the lack of world map and free roaming. It’s not a big deal – seriously. Think FFX. Everything else about the game more than makes up for the loss.”

^What she said. Seriously, the game didn’t lose any of it’s Final Fantasy feel. Yes, the first part of the game is linear and even when you get to Pulse and are able to explore more, you’re still pretty much on a set path. I really, really don’t see the problem with the lack of world map.

Another popular gripe is that there are populated villages or cities to explore – no people to talk to. I didn’t miss them. The story doesn’t call for it so it doesn’t feel awkward.

Story
I spent the first few hours trying to figure out what was going on. Lots of information is thrown at you over a very short period of time and it’s quite easy to become lost (or maybe that’s just me?). This isn’t helped by the fact that you’re given all the history in the form of data files that you can locate in your menu and read at your leisure. A nice idea but I want to get on and play the bloody game, not read pages of history that led up to this point.”

Ah, the story. For me, the story was the game’s biggest downfall – or rather, the way it was delivered. The story itself was intriguing enough. Once I’d gotten through those first initial hours of trying to figure out what was going on, the story did pull me in. BUT, I seemed to spend most of the game feeling like I’d missed something significant and so would stop to scan through the datalog files – and would find nothing new. By the time the final battle arrived, even though I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what was going on, there was still that niggling doubt in the back of my head.

And then the final boss battles (all three of them) and the accompanying cutscenes happened.

Just, wtf? What was a stunning ending that I thought should feel quite emotional was completely ruined by the fact that I DIDN’T HAVE A CLUE WHAT WAS GOING ON!! The final cutscene when I could’ve mustered up some emotion was spent with me sat there, metaphorically scratching my head, trying to figure out what had just happened.

After nearly 70 hours, it was more than a little disappointing.

“Characters
Like previous games, FFXIII’s characters are intriguing, though you have your typical mix; the moody one, the macho one, the comedic one, the annoying (as hell) one and the misguided one. Despite the stereotypes, and once you get over the initial confusion of what’s going on, you come to care about these characters a lot.”

I really did enjoy the characters. Even Vanille (the annoying as hell one) grew on me. Lightning mellowed out sufficiently to become very likable and Snow took his shirt off. What more do I need to say? :P

“Controls/Battle System
I’d heard that the battle system was very similar to FFX-2 – this is true. Like X-2, at the beginning, I found that the battles had little to do with skill and more to do with just pressing “X” because there was too much going on at once to really know what I was doing. This does get better with the introduction of Paradigms. They are essentially FFXIII’s version of classes or jobs. Each character has a number of Paradigms that they can switch to during battle, each having their own set of unique abilities.”

Not really much I can add here, though one thing I failed to mention in my first review was that you only ever have control of one character during battle. The other two in your team are controlled by AI and will perform moves according to what Paradigm they are using and what the enemy’s weakness is.

If anything, the battle system is over simplified. I think I constantly used the “Auto-battle” option during most fights, the only exceptions being boss battles where my character needed to cast something specific like protect or haste. If left to there own devices in a supporting role, characters have a tendency to throw a lot of useless buffs your way before they get to the good stuff. Aside from those situations though, Final Fantasy XIII can get a bit repetitive. But then, so can most FFs, so it’s all good. ;)

“Verdict
Final Fantasy fans will not be disappointed. If Final Fantasy XII was a letdown (though I personally loved it) then XIII will restore your faith in the series. Don’t let the first couple of hours put you off – it took about 4 hours of game play to really get me hooked and now, in typical Final Fantasy style, I’m not getting to sleep until 4am and I haven’t showered or eaten since Tuesday (I jest!).”

Final Fantasy XIII was fun and addictive. While I found the delivery of the story to be a problem, I know others didn’t. I would definitely recommend it to any gamer, die-hard FF fan or otherwise.

[rating:4.5]

Final Fantasy XIII is available now on Playstation 3, Xbox 360.