The remarkable thing about “Final Fantasy” games is that they’re all remarkable, and never in the same way.
The last game in the main series, “Final Fantasy XII,” was remarkable for how greatly it expanded the scope of the typical “Final Fantasy” adventure, offering an enormous world for players to explore with relatively few restrictions on where they could go or how their characters’ abilities could be developed.
“Final Fantasy XIII” does the opposite and as a result feels like a half-step back in the series. Rigidly structured as it is, however, the game play is excellent, and it’s one of the best-looking games ever made.
The game opens in Cocoon, a fantastical civilization within the hollowed-out shell of a moon. The Sanctum, Cocoon’s ruling body, has discovered a relic from Pulse, the world below, which contains a fal’Cie, a sort of demigod.
Cocoon has its own fal’Cie, but those from Pulse are hated and feared. The Sanctum decides to exile everyone who could have come in contact with the fal’Cie. Caught up in all this is the main cast.
There’s Lightning, a stern soldier trying to find her sister, Serah; Snow, the brash young brawler engaged to Serah; Sazh, a middle-aged father who’s pulled into Lightning’s search; Vanille, a perky girl who seems to harbor some secrets; and Hope, a young boy bent on revenge. The final character, Fang, shows up later.
For much of the game, players are locked into specific groups of two or three characters making their way through straight and narrow (but absolutely gorgeous) environments. There are no towns and hardly any interaction with other characters.
The game opens up more toward the end, but hours and hours are spent playing the way the game dictates. It even takes a couple of hours before any character can do more than basic attacks.
The bulk of the game is spent in combat, and the battle system is fast and fluid, using a variation of the “Final Fantasy” series’ oft-repeated job system.
Each character has several possible roles: Commandos attack physically, Ravagers attack magically, Sentinels defend, Medics heal, Synergists bolster the party and Saboteurs debilitate enemies with status effects. Players can create up to six combinations of roles, called paradigms, and switch among them at will during battle.
Characters are limited to what their current role can do, so most fights will depend on switching to different paradigms as needed. A Commando-Ravager-Ravager setup is good for offense, while a Sentinel-Synergist-Medic combo could be used to patch up and boost the party after taking damage.
The player directly controls only one character in each battle, with the others governed by the computer and their active roles.