Alright, so, It’s kind of hard to believe, but Final Fantasy XIII is out. I should say that I was a pretty big Final Fantasy Fanboy back around the release of Final Fantasy XII on the PlayStation 2. Final Fantasy XII didn’t do much to “Wow” me, and having spent some time playing Western RPGs, my interest in Final Fantasy XIII had been dwindling. It never got to a point where I thought I wouldn’t play the game, but, I kind of fell off the hype train for it. Then, March 9, 2010 rolled around and I went out to pick the game up for my PlayStation 3. I couldn’t find it in my area, which in and of itself is shocking, as I haven’t had problems buying a game on release day since… well… ever. So, I purchased it a day late (kept my dollar though), and popped it into my PS3 at around 10:00Pm last night. Even though I only played for about an hour (game clock was at 1:01:xx),  I thought I would share my opinion on the game thus far with you, so here goes.

(Spoilers for the first hour of the game start here)

First off, the graphics in this game are spectacular. The one environment I have been in seems to go on forever, with tons of futuristic machinery and an ominous glow, which really helps to make you feel like you are a small part in this greater story, which is very cool. The opening CG movie that plays before you reach the game menu introduces you to some of the areas of the world you will likely encounter, as well as gives you a bit of an idea of whats going on. I personally loved this video.  The intro to the game was equally compelling, though, much more focused on Lightning and Sazh. The character models for the playable characters are excellent, though, the non-playable characters look like they could use a bit of work, but, that seems to be the case in most Final Fantasy games in the past ten years. All and all, I love the look of the game, and the way it presents the action in the cutscenes is excellent.

The characters that I’ve run into thus far are as follows: Lightning, Sazh, Snow, Obera Dia Vanille and Hope. The only ones who have been fleshed out in any way thus far are Lightning, Sazh and Snow. Lightning is a typical badass girl, who goes headstrong into battle and shows little emotion. Lightning’s character design and weapon are absolutely spectacular looking. Sazh is a charming but clichéd character. He has a chocobo who lives in his afro, and he acts like he would be played by Eddie Griffin if there were a Final Fantasy XIII movie, also, at one point he mutters the ridiculously overused line of “I’m getting too old for this.” I chuckled. His relationship with his chocobo is unsettling; I’m sure it might be one of those things that gets lost in translation, but a man having a conversation with a tiny bird who lives in his hair just bothers me. I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Snow is your typical upbeat hero character, who seems kind of like a non-whiny version of Tidus from Final Fantasy X. He spits the occasional one liner, but he is a strong dude with even stronger convictions.

The music in the game so far has been decent. It hasn’t wowed me yet, but, it’s been an hour. It uses a variety of elements to craft a damning theme, while keeping it upbeat, if that makes any sense. I haven’t had much of a chance to hear anything outside of the battle music and the area music, but I’m looking forward to hearing more.

I guess I forgot about how characters in a Final Fantasy game interact. I think a lot of things get lost in the translation from Japanese to English. Make no mistake about it, this is a Japanese game. Sometimes characters will say something that just seems so ridiculous in the English language, like when snow tells a teenager (with blue hair, I might add) that “Heroes don’t run from fights” or when Hope’s Mom says, not once but twice that “Moms are tough.” What? These lines seem terrible to me nowadays. Characters also have odd mannerisms, like in previous Final Fantasy games. For example, while Snow is delivering his speech to the aforementioned blue headed teenager, he does an impromptu arm pump. I believe he finishes the conversation off by rubbing the kids hair. It reminds me of the end of Final Fantasy X, when it showed Besaid, and all the citizens of the village were pumping their arms in the air in unison. Maybe I have grown out of this series or something, but these things really stand out to me and I wish they weren’t in there.

On a gameplay level, Final Fantasy XIII really seems to offer an easy out for people who are not into the whole turn-based combat thing called Auto-battle. Auto-battle is exactly what it sounds like: the game fights for you by interpreting the situation at hand and adjusting what it does accordingly. Auto-battle is actually turned on by default, so, the first option that shows up in your menu is “Auto-battle.” Of course, you don’t have to use this (and I didn’t) but, it seems like a good option to have.

I’m not sure why, but things that never used to bother me about the Final Fantasy series, and JRPGs in general, seem to be bothering me now. Most notably, battle transitions. Why does this have to happen? It totally ruins any sort of momentum that is set up before a fight. For example, this enemy was barreling towards me, and it seemed super exhilarating, then it froze frame, which could have still been cool if he then hit me in the face or something afterwards, but no, it’s the battle transition. Now he’s twenty feet away from me and standing still. While this is annoying, I must say, the battles in Final Fantasy XIII certainly look a lot more exciting than they have in any other Final Fantasy game to date. Another thing that’s a little weird is the battle scoring system they have implemented. Basically, after every battle, you are scored on your performance. Now, I’ve only played for an hour so this could change, but what is the point of a scoring system when you always easily get the best score (five stars)? One final thing I want to comment about gameplay is the camera. It’s a modern 3d game, so you have control of the camera using the right analog stick. This is fine, but the camera control feels a little wonky, since they also have a cinematic approach to their camera angles, sometimes your camera seems to rapidly jump from one viewpoint to another, though, this is not too hard to overlook, just kind of annoying. Also, I’m sure I’ll get used to it later on.

One last comment about the whole thing, what is with the lack of presentational values? I pop the disc in my PS3, and highlight the disc from my Games listing, and there’s no music, or background image or anything, just the Final Fantasy XIII logo instead of an icon of the disc. The loading screens are generic as all hell, and the menu varies from “awful” (Unicorn Mart OMG WTF) to “looks like a website from 2001” (Character Equipment screens). The menus share a kind of generic feel as well, and that’s really too bad, because they could have done a lot with them.

All in all, the game has me interested and I look forward to playing it more. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a console-based Final Fantasy game, so I’m excited to see how it all turns out. I hope that as the game progresses I can get used to the issues I have, but even if I don’t, they are not major enough to keep me away from enjoying what is sure to be a truly epic experience.