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A Game Completed! Final Fantasy XIII

103:48:54 and I have played Final Fantasy XIII through, beated most of the marks and upgraded a pile of weapons and listened some unbelievable dialogue. Now I'm done with it (for now, 100% is still calling for me and 200h of my free time), and some gametalk shall follow...

How would it feel like to be hunted by everyone and to have no safe harbor on the world? No one really wants to know, but someone might have to.  

The world of FFXIII consist of two planets. The story starts off with Cocoon, the smaller planet that hangs on the sky of Gran Pulse. Cocoon has a high technology culture and Gran Pulse is filled with wilderness. The people of Cocoon and the people of Gran Pulse have been in war since forever, both fearing and hating them others blindly. The worlds are ruled, not by humans, but by huge beings called Fal'Cies. These Fal'Cies keep Cocoon running; they take care of electrical things and without them Cocoon would fall from the sky.
As one of the Gran Pulse's fal'Cies is found close to one of Cocoon's cities, the things are set to move.
Driven by their own accounts -to save a sister or a love or a child, or have revenge, or to find a friend-, the main characters come together and become marked by one of the Pulse's hated fal'Cies, which makes them l'Cie, enemies of Cocoon. While being chased by the citizens of Cocoon, they are also chased by their mission which they wish to avoid, but if they ignore it they will be turned to mindless beasts by fal'Cie's curse. With nowhere to go, how will they change their unevitable destiny? And save everything on the way, as Snow keeps reminding everyone.

The world of Cocoon is what we get to see when starting the game, bustling cities, amusement parks, rain foresty areas and so on. Down at the Gran Pulse there are monumental ruins, old cities and wilderness. All of these have a wonderful look and without the doupt FFXIII is one of the most beautiful looking games made so far. The colors are rich, the areas sharp and wide; you can easily spend good amount of time with just staring at the world around you. Also the charatcers and their desing lives up to the rest of the looks.
The main team consists of six different characters. The leading character is Lightning, a female ex-soldier who likes to keep to her self (they say that her character was made to liking of Cloud of FF7), then there is the hero man Snow, the cotton candy girl Vanille, I'm-gonna-be-strong Hope, glumsy but fatherly Sazh and cool and slightly tormented Fang. All of them were easy to cathegorize and as you might figure, some of them were left a bit light from the personality side. But this group worked rather well together, the thing that killed the mood was the awfully clitchéish dialogue all the way. (And personally Vanille's constant no-brain-gilggling was driving me mad.)
On the NPC side, it's pretty silent. Few nice NPC make appearance briefly once or twice, but are then gone. The big evil guy appears almost immediately and pretty much states what he wants too, so no mystery there. He is an old geezer who talks a lot, and well, nothing cool there. The transformations of the final boss are very cool though, but let's not speak more of that. The beast characters come with awesome variety and there must be at least hundred different. Their design is one of the coolest things in the game -and not that many are loaned from the earlier parts either.

The characters ain't developing with the old level up style. This time you gather points from battles and use them in a crystarium, that is a space where you will connect HP+50 sphere with FIRAGA sphere, and gain the attributes you have passed by. That sounds pretty abstract, eh? Well, it's sort of like Final Fantasy X, if that makes more sense. Another important way of making your charaters stronger is to upgrade their weapons with the stuff that the enemies drop after battles. This can be done at the save points.
The battles are triggered by visible enemies that hang around the areas. To fight the battle you are transferred to a separate fighting screen, where the battle menus become available. After your attack gauge fills, you can execute an action. Sounds familiar? Yup, looks like the same thing, but that's not exactly how it goes. You have the long menus with different techniques and magics, but what you will very likely be using for the majority of the game is the 'auto-attack'. That let's the game to choose the tricks to be executed. This works really well in all the regular battles, but it also makes them into quite monotonic x-hitting-party. And if you have a plan of not using the auto-option.. well, it's very likely not going to work. Both sides execute attacks in such a speed, that selecting things manually is just doomed. More than selecting your actions, you will be concentrating into changing what they call paradigms.

Paradigms are combinations of character classes. (There are six different ones from medics to boosters. In the character developing system the classes have their own sphere path through which to learn things.) You can have max three characters in the battle team at the same time, so the paradigms are a combination of three classes, which you can choose freely. Changing the paradigm to right ones at the right time is the strategical part of the battle -and essential. In the heath of a battle you might need to change from offence to defence/healing rather fast.
The difficulty level is quite well balanced: if you go shaking your fist to something obviously bigger than you without doing some grinding you will get butchered. But you can survive most of them easily, if you find out their weaknesses (makes everything faster and less painful) or if your party is extremely stong (which isn't that easy to achieve, since the crystarium will grow with the story, and building the weaponary is slow). Only the hardest marks -the huntable special things- are ridiculously hard. Oh and the camera follows the battles perfectly, which is rare but always a wonderful thing.
The huge summons with flashy videos have been a big part of the series for quite a while. This time they are called Eidolons, the beasts that come to get the l'Cie out of their misery, in a way or another. Their styling is really nice, and from their actual beast form they shift into a mechanical thing; like the Shiva twins turning into a motorcycle. Their effect in battle is the same as before: in a thight place they might save you, but you can also play the whole game without using them. This time there is only one per character, but in the end, that's quite enough.

The game is very stright forward, almost a tunnel. The only extra stuff to do is to build up your weapons and to hunt down the marks (big beasts running wild). There is also an arena kind of place.. where you can face a pile of big beasts. Yay. Riding with chocobos is very limited as well, and mini games.. ... there really isn't any. The world is very beautiful, and the makers have tried to incorporate different areas, like underground, snow and city view. But unlike in previous parts of FF, most of the places you run though once and won't be able to return later to, which is a big shame. The free travelling has been one of the greatest things in the FF, so to have it as limited as it is in XIII makes the whole game feel much smaller, and well, tunnelous.
On the sound side everything was just fine from the voice actors to music. No forever living musical pieces this time though: all of it blended to the game so that one can't recall any of it. But it supported the gaming experience very well nevertheless.

So it's the prettiest tunnel-run made, but a small let down to FF fans. But if you stop being a critical arse, you will still find a pile of good enjoyable things in the game, which make it above average. If you manage to bear though the face-palmable talking parts.