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Yes, I said it, Final Fantasy XIII is massively underrated!

I’m probably in the minority, but I honestly think Final Fantasy XIII is a great game. I’m not saying it didn’t sell enough, because I know it sold millions upon millions of copies. I’m talking about how all the Final Fantasy fans and many reviewers have said it’s a bad Final Fantasy game, if not one of the worst.

First, a little back story on me so you know where I’m coming from. I’m a huge Final Fantasy fan, but I’m not a fanboy, people often mix those two up. I had heard of Final Fantasy for some time, so I decided to start with Final Fantasy X. FF X-2 had just been released around the time, so I went with the most recent that wasn’t the sequel. I instantly fell in love with the series, so — like I do with all other series I love — I went back and played all the Final Fantasy games I could. I didn’t bother with all the side games since there were so many that didn’t seem too interesting (Crystal Chronicles). Instead, I went for all the games in the main series. I have now played Final Fantasy I-XIII, with the exception of XI since it was online only. I have XIII-2, but I haven’t had time to play it. When I do play it, I want to have a few weeks open so I can give it my full attention.

Now let me tell you why I think Final Fantasy XIII is underrated. Hold on to your butts, it may get Review-like in here.

First, let’s go with the obvious, the graphics. Final Fantasy XIII is easily the best looking Final Fantasy game created thus far. Not only does it look great in terms of Final Fantasy games, but it looks great when compared to many games on PS3 and the Xbox 360. The cut scenes look as great as Final Fantasy Advent Children’s blu ray, and the actual gameplay models aren’t too different. There is so much detail and natural movement in the clothes of each character, and their facial movement and mannerisms seem realistic. The actual movements of the characters may be a bit stiff while in game, but then again you don’t have much control over the characters while outside of battle. More on battle and the linear gameplay in a bit. What I found really awesome was the effort the development team put into the lip syncing. If you played Final Fantasy XII, you may notice how their lips don’t match with the English words, and the same goes for Final Fantasy Advent Children if you watch it in English. This is because the lips were matched up to the Japanese script and words. However, in Final Fantasy XIII, the lips are synced to Japanese in the Japanese version, and the lips are synced to English and the English version.

Since we’re talking about the character models, lets talk about the characters themselves. I don’t know exactly how long it took the development team to create all these characters and the world of Final Fantasy XIII, but I think it’s far from bad or even average. The characters had their own back stories that were intertwined, many in ways other than the present story. What’s so great about the characters in Final Fantasy XIII is that there isn’t one main character, it’s more of an ensemble cast. Some may say the same about other Final Fantasy games, but it was true for Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy XIII allows you, or maybe I should say forces you, to play with one character over another for a huge majority of the game. You weren’t able to select a character to play as until many hours into the game. Some people thought that was lame in terms of gameplay, but in terms of story and character development, it really was top-notch. However, some people don’t play games for story entertainment, even if it is an RPG.

The voice cast of Final Fantasy XIII definitely has its ups and downs. I’ve played both the Japanese and English versions of Final Fantasy XIII. I feel the male cast was great in the English version, but the female cast was a bit lacking. I was most annoyed with Vannile’s voice actor and acting in the English version. The opposite can be said for the Japanese version, however. I thought the strong male character (Snow) sounded a bit weak, the younger male character (Hope) sounded way too young, and the black character (Sazh) didn’t sound black in the least bit, unlike the English counterparts. When it came to emotional scenes in Final Fantasy XIII, I felt the voice acting was great for the most part, especially in Snow and Serah’s love story. Tie it all together with the music of FF XIII and it really captivated me.

Speaking of the music, I felt FF XIII’s music was only slightly underrated. I felt much of the game had variations of the main theme, but it was a strong main theme nonetheless. The timing and feel of the music usually felt right, and the battle theme was very unique. I found it odd how some music was altered from the Japanese version to the English version, though. Just listen to the main theme that can be found when you load out the game. Every time I start the game, I have to listen to the whole thing before pressing load game.

As for the world of Final Fantasy XIII, cocoon and grand pulse have been well designed in terms of looks and history. It’s not a simple storyline of one nation vs another either. The story brings in Fal’Cie, L’Cie, Focuses, and Eidolins into the mix to bring a purpose to the story that isn’t too confusing to the average player, nor is it dumbed down. I often hear people complaining about the reasoning behind Sephiroth’s actions in Final Fantasy VII. With the time and effort they put into the world, I’m not surprised they made four games set in it.

The battle system may be the most important part of the game to some. I believe Final Fantasy XIII’s battle system was very similar to Final Fantasy X-2’s system. It allowed the character to switch roles from one job to another. They could be an attacker (Commando) or switch to a mage (Ravager). There were six jobs in all, but each character could only use three of the jobs for most of the game. Later on, the other three jobs would become available to all characters. That wasn’t what really made the battle system awesome, but it did help. What was really cool about the system was how a huge percentage of the battles didn’t focus on strength. Instead, most of the battles focused on strategy. Some monsters were immune to magic over attacks, attacks over magic, or some just had great defenses. You had to use strategy to get through the defenses and take them out in some way or another. Chaining and the stagger system helped out quite a bit, but buffing (protect, faith, etc), debuffing (poison, slow, etc), using the perfect jobs, using the right items, and using the right attacks was what mattered most. Behind Final Fantasy XII, I’d say Final Fantasy XIII might have had the most strategy driven battle system in the entire series. You may not think so if you just ran through the main part of the game without really paying attention, but the boss battles, all the hunts, and a few of the monsters from the main linear path focused heavily on strategy over basic power. Yes, power did help during some battles, but it was definitely not the end all be all.

Okay now, lets finally talk about the elephant in the room, the linear game play in Final Fantasy XIII. Yes, Final Fantasy XIII had you traveling in one straight line for 90% of the game. There were no towns you could visit multiple times or awesome mini-games like many of the past Final Fantasy games. Even if I said that was it, that’s no reason to put down Final Fantasy XIII when there’s all these other awesome reasons for why it’s such a great game. Still, I won’t just leave it at that. You can still have an RPG game without having the characters travel to towns multiple times. The RPG genre is the pinnacle of story driven games, and Final Fantasy XIII goes head on when it comes to story. Not only is the story extremely thorough, but the battle system is superb. Compare FFXIII to one of the more popular genres out there – first person shooters. FPS games are notorious for extremely linear single players. Still, people play the single player of FPS games all the time. Either they play through the story without carrying about the linearity, or they play Multiplayer which focuses all on the FPS’s battle system. Final Fantasy XIII is a lot like that. But instead of having a stupid storyline like most shooters out there, they have an epic storyline with a top-notch battle system. There are multiple ways to take down many tough enemies, and these ways don’t always require level grinding like many of the past Final Fantasy games or JRPGs in general.

Is there still any doubt that Final Fantasy XIII is not underrated? Again, I mean underrated in terms of reviews and how the game has been received by many fans, especially old school Final Fantasy fans. I believe many older fans of any game franchise become frustrated with the changes or new additions, even if the changes are for the better. If a series keeps having the same old stuff, it will eventually die. And I’m so sick of people not caring about the stories in games, especially when it comes to RPGs. Any thoughts from my readers out there? Do you think Final Fantasy XIII is underrated, overrated, or just right?