by Keaton Arksey
previewed on X360
With 13 main games, various re-releases, spin-offs, and even spin-offs of spin-offs, Final Fantasy has become one of the most popular series in gaming. When Square-Enix moved Final Fantasy VII from the Nintendo 64 to the Playstation One, it marked the beginning of the end for Nintendo's domination of the videogame market for several years while also establishing the PS1 as a strong console. The irony was palpable when the announcement came that Final Fantasy XIII, the first installment on a current-gen console, would also be coming to the Xbox 360. But that doesn't change the fact that Final Fantasy XIII is easily one of the most anticipated games of the year, PS3-exclusive or otherwise.
Final Fantasy XIII takes place on the world of Pulse, a land torn between nature and technology. The world itself is a dangerous place full of monsters willing to rip the poor people to shreds. Luckily for them, they have the Cocoon, a city in the sky where people live safe from the dangers below. Cocoon was built by Orphan, one of the fal'Cie – mechanical, God-like beings – some 1300 years before the events of the game. Some people, the l'Cie, are marked for some unknown greater purpose, also known as a Focus. These people don't know what exactly this Focus is, but can discover what it is by interpreting visions they may have. These l'Cie also have the ability to summon Eidolons who will fight with them. Should the l'Cie die before completing his or her Focus, fail to bond with his or her Eidolon, or fail to meet a time requirement placed on their Focus, they will become a Cie Corpse, a monstrous being. Should they complete their Focus, they are transformed into a crystal, so neither way is particularly rewarding.
Though Pulse is dangerous, it isn't uncommon for someone to go down there. When (or if) they return, they are quarantined and exiled by Sanctum, the government of Cocoon. Sanctum enforces its will through the military, PSICOM. Team Nora, a group of resistance fighters, rebels against the Sanctum’s control.
The main character of Final Fantasy XIII is Lightning, a former sergeant in PSICOM. Lighting traveled to Pulse seeking a fal'Cie in order to save the life of her sister who had become a l'Cie. Unsurprisingly, Lightning becomes an l'Cie herself. She wields Blaze Edge (a gun blade) and her Eidolon is Odin. There will be a variety of other party members, each with their own Eidolon (if they are l'Cie), fighting styles, and weapons.
Much like Final Fantasy XII, random battles are gone from Final Fantasy XIII. Monsters and other enemies will instead be a part of the game world, giving players the choice to either confront or avoid them. In battles three party members can be present, with only one directly controlled by the player. The player can give commands to the two AI partners, stacking the commands together to create combos. Even if a gauge runs out you can continue to place commands into the slots, where they will be performed once enough of the bar has been filled.
There are no Magic Points; instead, Cost Points determine how often a spell or attack can be used in a turn. Magic can't be used outside of battles, so HP is automatically regained after battles. Combos play a massive role in Final Fantasy XIII's battle system. An enemy breaks when it enters a state of non-retaliation. If a player uses a high combo move, the enemy will enter a break state where it will take massive damage over several turns. Another new feature is Paradigm Shifts. It allows a characters role to change (offensive to defensive for example) in the middle of a battle. Finally, Crystarium Points are collected after battles (instead of XP). These can be applied to new abilities or increase stats.
The Eidolons also play an important role in battles. Once summoned, other party members leave the battle for a short time. Gestalt Mode joins the summoner and Eidolon in various ways, most often giving the player control of the combination for powerful attacks. For example, Odin becomes a giant horse which Lightning can ride.
Along with an English voice cast, Final Fantasy X co-composer Masashi Hamauzu scored the game with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. “My Hands” by Leona Lewis has been chosen as the official theme for the European and North American release. Sadly due to the Xbox 360's limited disc space (most likely the game will be multiple discs on the 360), there will not be a Japanese voice track.
Back on the map
It's been four long years since Final Fantasy XIII was first announced. Over that time, the RPG has become a more diverse genre. Japanese RPGs however have remained fairly stagnant. To be fair, we have yet to see a major Square-Enix RPG on any console. Final Fantasy XIII looks to be the game to put JRPGs back on the map with some interesting new gameplay enhancements, beautiful graphics, and a brand new story. Here's hoping it's not the Final Fantasy.