Lightning – the former Guardian Corps soldier
Snow – the fist-pounding, cocky NORA member
Szah – the one with a Chocobo chick as a pet
Vanille – the ditzy blonde with a dark secret
Hope – the whiny kid
Serah – the crystallised corpse
Fang – the Xena act-a-like
This is my very first Final Fantasy game that I’ve played. A total newcomer to the JRPG genre views this review, so there will obviously be no references to the other games in this series. I completed the storyline in 80hrs50mins with 16 missions and level grinding. This is also an extensive review.
In short, the gameplay is like a quicker version of a turn-based battle system. You only control the party leader, who performs various actions in turn from the other members at the time. Once the party leader ‘dies’, its ‘game over’ and you either elect the ‘retry’ or ‘quit’. When the other members die, you can revive them by using a Phoenix Down, Raise ability when a medic, or the Renew technique.
Each member is assigned up to six specific roles. These are Commando, Ravager, Synergist, Medic, Sentinel, and Saboteur. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Some characters can unlock certain abilities for the same role earlier than others. This makes an important decision as to who are put in your team, when you’re able to choose. The first 10 chapters, the game chooses the team members, but near the end of chapter 9, you can only choose your team members, not the party leader. When you start chapter 11, you can choose any member of your team (this is done via the Battle Team option under Paradigm).
The roles are set in what is referred to as Paradigms. By pressing the triangle button, and choosing Paradigms, you can see what role each party member are assigned as and what paradigm combination(s) are available. You can create custom ones, but a maximum of six different paradigms can be set. This is an important reference when dealing with ‘bosses’ and other enemies.
Each character’s roles are upgraded by a multi-layered structure called a Crystarium. After battles, you gain CP points, which are used for this. You only need to press ‘X’ and move the d-pad button to move from each exp crystal to the next – such as health, magic & strength. You also unlock various abilities in each role, as you gain more CP points. Each level ends with a ‘Role Model’, and you can progress to the next stage. This is only after completing major ‘end bosses’ in the first 10 chapters. In Chapter 11, you can get to ‘Role Model’ status before encountering ‘end bosses’, but cannot continue levelling up. When each level opens up, the amount of CP points to advance increases. This works very well, but can be daunting to figure out which ability and other crystals to unlock first, when you have three main and three secondary roles assigned to a character.
As you get to assign three out of six characters in a team, the other three can be put as ‘super specialists’. This refers to advancing abilities on one specific role that the character is much better at than the rest. You need to find out what that is. It looks good on paper, but when you actually do that and switch Paradigms, these characters become ineffective. Eg. If a character is poor as a medic, and you switch paradigm that they are as one, they are totally useless.
Each character has a summoned creature called an Eidolon. These need to be challenged and won first before assigned to a certain character. Once its assigned, it can be summoned at any time that character is used, but need three TP points. When summoned, it replaces all other members in your party, and if you time to summon right for really tough opponents, it can win the battle. It’s a shame, that you can only summon the Eidolon belonging to the party leader. If you only use the same character as the party leader always, you only use their Eidolon always. You cannot summon any Eidolons from the other two members; they need to be assigned as the party leader.
Battles can be managed in two ways. The first is the ‘Auto-Battle’ function, which the game’s AI makes the most appropriate choice of actions to inflict on enemies. The second is the ‘Abilities’ function. This is where the player manually chooses actions to inflict the most damage on enemies, according to what the player has unlocked in the character’s Crystarium.
Auto-Hinder and Auto-Heal are two other auto functions available, when your character is a Medic or Saboteur.
The Auto function can be helpful when dealing with tricky opponents, or when trying to deal with multiple actions that can be difficult to do manually. It can also be helpful as a guide, to choose similar commands via the ‘Abilities’ function.
The ‘Abilities’ button is used to manually put in commands. By pressing the right D-pad button, you can repeat the previous command.
You have Libra (under techniques) and Librascope (under items) to scan enemies for strengths / weaknesses. Quake to create a huge earthquake to stagger enemies.
You see an ATB gauge that fills up and a list of actions that each gauge is assigned with. You start off with one, and end up with six. The more gauges you get, the more time it takes to fill all. You can choose to attack earlier when at least one or two gauges are filled. This can be useful when an enemy is about to be defeated, or when an enemy is ‘launched’ and to keep them in the air.
The key to win battles is to ‘stagger’ each enemy and then finish them off. You just need to find out what method gives the best outcome. This is where strategy comes in. At the end of each battle you are given your rating based on the time you reached from the time limit, and this is given out as zero to five stars.
By pressing L1 before encountering enemies, you have access to Shrouds that allow you to sneak up on enemies, or buff your party so it increases their protection, or make the ATB gauge move faster. It is a shame that you can access these only before battles, as uses the same L1 button as Paradigm Shifts. Why Square Enix didn’t assign Shrouds to the R1, L2, or R2 buttons instead?
Saving the game are done at save stations scattered throughout each levels. They appear frequently, especially just after cutscenes or before major boss battles.
The save stations are also used for buying and selling items, components, weapons, etc. Getting store cards only accesses these. You can also upgrade your weapons and accessories here.
Buying and selling items and weapons are done by twelve different ‘stores’. Each are specialised in one type. One shop for weapons, one for electronic components, one for minerals, etc.
Upgrading weapons and accessories takes quite a bit figuring out. To me, it’s very complicated and non user-friendly. Need to work out what items/components to upgrade with and how many. Each weapon/accessory ranges from lvl1 to lvl*. Each one has different exp points to reach lvl*. I’ve upgraded only the weapons for the main characters to lvl*, but I still don’t know how it supposed to work. If only it’s put in a much less complicated way, like given what items you have, this is how much of a certain item(s) to use. This should show exactly on the screen.
The game switches characters, so every main character gets to be a ‘party leader’. There are times that there is one character, but mostly it’s two or three. This is the case in the first ten chapters. After that, you can pick which character to have, but can be only three. From Chapter 11 onwards, it’s always three – with the exception of the last Eidolon fight when it’s back to two.
The game is structured in thirteen Chapters. Every chapter except 11 for the most part, are extremely linear and the first six are set as a tutorial. When I refer to linear, you only are set a specific path from point A to B. When you think you can walk down a path or go swim in a lake or beach, an invisible wall blocks you. This is very odd for an RPG, and makes it more like an adventure game with RPG elements. I’ve played linear RPGs like Mass Effect, Dragon Age Origins, and Fable 2, but at least these games you can explore from the start.
In the final chapter of the storyline, you fight a series of enemies, and when you get to certain warp-points, you are taken into an arena to fight ‘mini-bosses’. This is a technique used in various other games, which Darksiders is the most recent example.
The tutorial is helpful for newcomers to this series – like me. It introduces the gameplay style, rather than getting the player to figure out what to do.
The only interaction with NPCs are when you walk up to them and hear some lines, or whenever you see ‘talk’ show up, you get a more detailed account (which repeats after a while).
Chocobos, the large chicken/emu type creatures, can only be ridden on in Chapter 11, and only after completing a certain mission. Also, they are only available in Archylte Steppe. Trying to ride them in other areas doesn’t work; they throw you off and disappear. Riding them is simple, and they can jump across ponds and high ledges if there are yellow rings. They are necessary for treasure hunting as they are used to dig things up. When they get close to other creatures, they loose ‘morale’ and one or all feather icons.
In Chapter 11, you see statues referred to as Cie’th Stones. They give you missions to complete by killing the ‘marks’ that they couldn’t do. Completing each mission, opens up other Cie’th Stones, Waypoints (teleportation), and areas closed off. Missions start from grade D to A. You can redo the same missions as much as you like.
There are no towns, villages, shops, hotels, bars, etc. You don’t stop to buy, look at stuff, sleep, drink or eat. It’s a wonder how the main characters manage to go around without drinking, eating, or sleeping. They never act lethargic, or suffer from sleep deprivation. They do not become dehydrated, or emancipated by not eating. They don’t even shower. After running around, the characters would ‘smell’. It’s a wonder that the NPCs don’t comment on that, even the enemies (running away, saying P’weh).
There is no day/night cycle in a similar sense to what Elder Scrolls 4 and Fallout 3 uses. In some chapters, it is night-time, but most of the time it’s day. The weather only changes from sunny to rain by activating certain glowing spheres or stones, in some chapters.
The camera is a bit troublesome at times. When trying to sneak past enemies, you cannot ‘lock on’ them and rotate the camera so you can see if the enemy spots you or not. You cannot rotate the camera 360˙ with ease, especially when walking down narrow paths and stairs. In some areas, the camera goes into an ‘overhead’ view.
As it centres around six individual characters, it is heavily story-driven. With use of CGI cutscenes, you see how each character develops as the game progresses.
Flashbacks are shown when concentrating on individual characters, in the form of Day One to Thirteen. It is put in the Datalog for reference.
Basically, it is along the line that the main characters are turned into l’Cie and given a common Focus (shown as snippets in black and white). They need to first workout what their Focus is, and then complete it. If they successfully complete it, they turn into crystal. If they do not, then they become Cie’th (mutated zombie-like l’Cie).
The story takes place in two locations – Cocoon and Gran Pulse. Gran Pulse is a separate planet that’s inhabitated by various creatures and plantlife, and only available at Chapter 11, and after ending the main storyline.
Used to store info on just about everything you have come across, unlocked, used, and picked up.
Is used to record the story progression of each chapter you have completed, as well as the flashback info. Which is handy, if you don’t quite understand what’s going on from the cutscenes alone.
Location info is recorded as each one is ‘opened up’. After certain cutscenes, there are history and myths, which gives background info of what happened.
Enemy Intel is also put in here. List each enemy in their certain classes with their strengths / weaknesses. This is good, but trying to find a particular enemy is difficult, especially when you’re uncertain of its name and class it’s in. Eidolon info is also found here.
Highly detailed character models. The cutscenes look spectacular. Outdoor environments looks very good. You see insects swarming around. Individual blades of grass and flowers.
There are some dull indoor levels, especially in one Chapter you go through the same areas constantly and facing different enemies in each.
Overall, I find the music compositions great. When you slot the disc in, and goes into an opening sequence, the music there is excellent.
The battle music is great, and also in many levels. On Gran Pulse, the music changes when you enter and exit certain areas, but they are all excellent compositions.
There are some exceptions. The electronic piece, and that horrid J-Pop (Chapter 4, I think).
Sound effects are excellent, although when walking the foot stomping is too prominent.
Great battle system
Great character-driven storyline
Great graphics, music, sound effects
Highly accessible to newcomers to FF and JRPGs
Way too linear for most of the game (for an RPG)
What no towns, shops, etc.
Shopping, upgrading done at save stations
Upgrading too complicated
Camera user unfriendly at times
No exploration (unless you consider Chocobo treasure hunting exploration)
So, is this Final Fantastic? No.
Is this Final ‘not so fantastic’? No
Despite it’s high linearity, complicated upgrading system, fiddly camera, and doing everything at save stations. This game has an excellent battle system that makes it fast-paced. It is also recommended to newcomers to FF, as it eases players into its game play type.