Fantasy shines with stunning visuals and gameplay

When it comes to the history of Role-Playing Games (RPG), Hironobu Sakaguchi’s franchise had been no doubt one of the forefront pioneers of the genre. Since all the way back in 1987, every new release would come with it certain innovation and modifications that would slightly push the standards for RPG gaming.

The franchise’s ability to do this, all the while maintaining its strong traditions, helps transcend its timelessness and define its loyal fan base. Hence, it is well anticipated that Square Enix’s North America release of on March 9 would continue the franchise’s legacy.

One of the very first things about the game that players will notice upon starting will be the beautifully rendered graphics. Fully utilizing the potentials of the powerful PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the environments created by the designers are perfected to the finest details and will surely have players immediately engulfed into the fantastic, colorful and rich world.

takes place on a planet called Pulse, upon which a floating utopia was created and named Cocoon. Cocoon’s calm and technologically advanced presence is complimented by the savage and primal wilderness below, named Gran Pulse, which makes up the rest of the planet. Citizens of Cocoon are under constant fear that they will be attacked by enemies from below and trepidation of war is constantly on-going.

Fal’Cie, demigods with immense power and authority, rules and watches over these lands. L’Cie, Warriors marked and chosen by fal’Cie, are given a Focus, or a goal that is not revealed to them. Those who complete their Focus turn to crystal and gains eternal life. Ones who fail turn into monsters and then suffer in eternal regret.

The plot of is instigated by an event called the Purge, Cocoon’s mass expulsion of a town’s denizens due to the discovery of a Pulse fal’Cie. The heroes of the game, some victims of and some in pursuit to save their loved ones from the Purge, are turned in to Pulse l’Cie in the process and hunted by Cocoon in return. Resented by their kin and refuse to fulfill their Focus to destroy Cocoon, these characters takes part in an epic tale fixed on the defiance of man against the will of the Gods.

Overall, the story is a refreshing reinterpretation of Norse mythology concepts mixed in with new ideas. However, the lack of prior explanations and the difficulties that the game have in expressing these information makes the plot very hard to understand on a first try. Once understood however, the story is a fantastic story full of twists and turns.

The six heroes of the game; Lightning, Snow, Sazh, Hope, Fang and Vanille, each colorful in their own rights, somewhat remedy the situation by providing a wide variety of personalities, ranging from the utterly enthusiastic to the hopelessly pessimistic. Heroes, cowards, fathers, sisters, it is rather hard for anyone to find a personality with whom they cannot associate with. These characters create several memorable moments in the game that give it charisma and temperament outside the field of battle.

does not bring back the random encounter system so familiar to earlier installments of the franchise. Instead, enemies are incorporated into the world environment for the player to defeat. Each battle is transitioned into a separate battle screen, distinct from the main world.

The battle system itself is of a modified real-time command-based structure. In battles where a maxim of three characters can be used, the players will only be able to control the leader of their party and that person’s actions along. The leader’s Active Time Battle (ATB) gauge will starts to fill at the beginning of each fight and commands can be placed on the gauge for the characters to execute.

The concept may baffle newcomers at a first glance, but it is in reality very easy to pick up. The ATB gauge is an old idea with a new twist that makes the battles more dynamic and time oriented than they would be otherwise.

Another major part of the battle system in is the Roles and Paradigms concept. Each of the six playable characters in the game can be assigned a specific Role, or Class and the combination of the team member’s Roles is called a Paradigm. The six Roles available in the game varies in usefulness as some heal, while others can buff/debuff, tank incoming damage or deal them. However, not all the Role will be available to each character from the beginning so picking the right party members for certain specific fights is key.

Players can set up Roles and Paradigms before-hand and are able to switch between them in battle. This ultimately creates over 200 possible combinations of strategies for the players to attempt with. That together with the ATB gauges makes a rather unique strategic gaming experience.

However, that is not to say that there are no flaws within this system. One of the biggest problems in the game is that certain battles are more reliant on chance than strategy.

It is entirely possible, and this happens way too often, for a player to fail to defeat a horde of monsters, and then come back using the exact same strategy to five-star the fight. Also, although the individual battles don’t take very long, it is hard to progress very fast due to the amount of battles players will have to encounter. This makes not a game that one can easily pick up and put down. Time is a necessary factor that players will have to be willing to dedicate.

Another notable element from the game is the concept of the Crystarium. It is how the party of heroes grows. Reminiscent to ’s Sphere Grid, each character in XIII have their own Crystarium Tree, to which players can spend Crystarium points obtained through battle, similar to experience points in other RPGs, to upgrade the character’s power.

The Crystarium Tree is a much better representation of how characters improve in strength than the typical experience points where characters only get stronger after certain thresholds.

Likewise, the weapons in the games can also be upgraded with purchased goods or loots from battles. Each character has a selection of weapons associated with them, each providing benefits to specific Roles or strategy. The correct choice in weapon and upgrading it is both a vital and enjoyable part of the game.

Newcomers to the franchise will find that the game will be very easy to pick up although it may not look like it at first glance. Old fans will have a great time playing the game, all the while experiencing fond nostalgia with the appearance of Chocobos, the Summons (Shiva, Bahamut, etc.) and Cid, a name that should be very familiar to die-hard Final Fantasy fans. Even spells such as “Cura” and “Firaga” can bring certain people all the way back.

Overall, is a noteworthy installment to the franchise that continues to carry the legacy bound to its name. The drawbacks, such of the confusing plot and random battle outcomes, while frustrating, can be overlooked when compared to the excellence of other aspects. The game’s beautifully designed world and interfaces along with the unique artistic styles make the entire gaming experience a visual pleasure.