As Final Fantasy 13 reviews rolled in over the last few weeks, critics kept employing a certain word to describe the game: crossroads. Reviewers used the term to encapsulate the game's development, the history of the role playing game genre, and the waning importance of Japan in the video game industry it created. But it's an ironic choice of words considering Final Fantasy 13 (already an oxymoronic title) is perhaps the most linear game in the series.
Gone are the hours of exploration found in Final Fantasy 12, the turn-based battle system of Final Fantasy 10, and the sprawling towns found in every Final Fantasy since the original. To hear more, let's turn it over to our review roundup.
The linear path
Final Fantasy 13 "approaches the concept of 'role-playing games' with ruthless pragmatism, lopping off hunks of RPG tradition like a doctor operating on a terminally gangrenous patient," writes 1UP in its glowing review. "Free-roaming exploration too difficult to implement properly? Chop -- there goes the nonlinearity. Micromanaging turn-based combat bogs down the pacing of battles? Snip -- let the AI handle it. On paper, these cuts make FFXIII sound awful: The total abandonment of everything that fans enjoy about the series.... It's unquestionably a huge departure for the series, but taken on its own merits, it works."
The combat system
Players "have to respect the intention: to toss out all the decades-old clutter of the JRPG form, distil the Final Fantasy experience to its very core, and then make that as relevant, approachable and slickly modern as possible," explains EuroGamer's 8/10 review. "Its all-new version of the series' Active Time Battle (ATB) system has been controversial, and initially seems worryingly basic." For the most part, players only control one character per battle, with two sidekicks that act automatically. Final Fantasy 13's challenge derives from picking roles or specialties for each fighter, and you can switch them up at any time. "[T]he fun is all in setting up Paradigms - permutations of two or three of the six roles - and swapping between these instantly and frequently to suit the situation."
"Once the game gets to this fully operational status, the battles become much more interesting," concedes Wired, whose reviewer did not particularly like the game. "But it takes around 20 hours, prior to which the game is boring.... Final Fantasy XIII ramps up achingly slowly, only giving you two characters at first, and limiting the roles and characters you can use. For much of the time, you’re just watching the game play itself."
The story and graphics
"Meanwhile you're kept gripped by a story that unfolds via well-written in-game dialogue (although at times obviously translated from Japanese) and undoubtably the highest quality CGI cutscenes in any videogame. Ever," gushes CVG. "It's truly enchanting stuff, with the lead characters, Lightening, Snow, Sazh, Vanille and Hope, unwittingly caught up in an unavoidable fate and a centuries old battle between two worlds - the peaceful utopia of Cocoon and the unknown yet much feared underworld of Pulse."
The console question
A number of websites compared the Xbox 360 version of the game to the PlayStation 3 edition. Square Enix designed Final Fantasy 13 for the latter system and retooled it for the Xbox. This means that the PS3 game is slightly better, but consensus held that the difference is negligible.
The prosecution's closing argument
"FFXIII is uncommonly beautiful, with a background fiction as rich as its story is poor, and at its beating heart is a battle system that stands among the genre’s finest," pans Edge in its 5/10 review. "Its structural changes are brave, but in minimising everything that happens outside of that main narrative the baby’s been thrown out with the bathwater, leaving a potentially interesting world that you just don’t care about saving."
The defense's closing argument
"The streamlined, focused structure eliminates potential tedium without dumbing anything down, and the battle system strikes an elegant balance between strategy and fast-paced action," concludes GamesRadar. "Stunningly beautiful graphics and a pervasively meticulous level of polish throughout only add to the experience." It gave Final Fantasy 13 a 10 out of 10.