Four Torches (Out of Five)
There are a few things everyone should do at least once in life: take a road trip in a convertible, get naked in a hot spring in the woods, and play a Japanese role-playing video game.
Japanese games are different from American-made ones, trust me.
The most famous JRPG may be Final Fantasy, the 13th installment of which was released in the U.S. just last month (it’s been available in Japan since December 2009).
Here’s my advice for those, like me, who aren’t familiar with the series: buy The Complete Official Guide to this particular game.
It’s not that it’s completely impossible to play the game without the guide. They do a pretty good job of making it “idiot-proof,” at least for the first chapters — and there is always a chance to make up for past mistakes, especially once you get past the ninth chapter.
It’s just that this game is so rich and complicated that if you don’t have the guide, you’ll probably get confused very often, and you’ll finish thinking, “Okay, not bad, but I don’t quite get what all the fuss is about.”
Let’s say this upfront: for those not familiar with JRGP, almost everything about the game-play is different. For example, the leveling system is not linear, but involves spending “Crystogen Points” to acquire abilities and upgrade your character.
The plot? Oh, Lord, I don’t know where to begin. Suffice to say that you’re defending the heavenly paradise of Cocoon, which is involved in a battle between two factions of beings called the fal’Cie. You play various human “l’Cie,” each of which has a Focus, or goal to fulfill, and figuring out what those are is part of the game.
Unlike a lot of American games, FF XIII’s story is relatively linear — you go where they want you to go — but that doesn’t mean it’s simplistic. What engages you is the many sub-plots involving all the characters, and — more than anything — the strategizing of the fights.
I thought this would get boring after while, but it never did. The game does an amazing job of varying the fights and their degrees of difficulty.
This is very much a thinking-person’s video game. If you enjoy the “thinking” aspect of gaming, you’ll be attracted to this one. On the other hand, if you’re a roam-around/shooter kind of player, this might not be the game for you.
And if the need to strategize ever gets to be too much, you can always choose to rely heavily on the game’s AI.
But as I said at the beginning of this review: everyone should at least try a game such as this. The graphics are astonishingly beautiful (slightly better on the Playstation, I’m told, although it looked fine to me on the Xbox).
Incidentally, for those who are hearing-impaired (or who multi-task, like me), it’s a little difficult to find the subtitles, but they are there. Explore the “options.”
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