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5. ) A New Battle System
The Final Fantasy battle system remained virtually the same until the twelfth installment, and true, FFXII changed things up, but it simply changed the controls, not the battles. The same attack, steal, spell micromanagement system was in place, but everything ran just a little bit slower.
Final Fantasy XIII changes things up bigtime. Sure, your characters still attack and cast spells, but you don't have to pick them. Instead, for the most part, the battle takes place in a way that's more like a real time strategy game than a traditional RPG. You tell your character what role they play, and they go to it.
You'd think the whole 'auto battle' option would make things easy, but you'd be wrong. Boss battles are tough of course, but even normal fights can get rough. You need to pay attention in most fights, and use some strategy. If you don't, you could easily die in even the simplest encounter.
Fights happen fast, and speed is encouraged. You get better loot for fighting faster, so the game is constantly encouraging you to find the best combinations, and giving you a reason to do so.
Final Fantasy XIII's battle system is by far the most inventive and most satisfying of any Final Fantasy so far.
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4.) No Towns - No Overhead Map
Final Fantasy XIII is streamlined like crazy. They've trimmed out the fat in the battle system, but one of the most exciting changes is the slimming down of the world. In older Final Fantasy games, there were towns all over the place, and an overhead map for travelling between towns. In FFXIII, there's nothing of the sort.
Sure, you might miss the cute town music, but honestly, think about how you treat a Final Fantasy town. You go in, loot people's houses, find the shops, and leave. If you're a masochist, you may spend some time talking to townspeople, but there's no real reason to do so. Really, the town is just the place you went for your new weapons, materia, spells and items before moving on with the story.
If that wasn't bad enough, you had to contend with the overhead map. You'd tackle a seemingly endless amount of random battles before reaching the next town or dungeon. But what's the point of an overhead map other than to get you a little bit of XP and Gil before moving to the next area? It doesn't help the story, and it's not fun.
So now there's no overhead map and no towns. You go from plot-point to plot-point. You can still buy items regularly at save points, and new shops are added based on your progress through the game. The story is more focused, the game is more level appropriate since there's no chance of being leveled too high or too low, and there's no immersion-breaking freedom.
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3.) No Waiting for the Story
Let's talk about Final Fantasy XII. The game starts with a really dramatic cutscene and you get some great story involving Reks and Basch. There's intrigue, there's excitement, and then... Well, then you get put in charge of a kid killing rats. That dramatic storyline you got all excited about? You're not going to get back to that until you run some errands. Say what you will about the game, those first few hours are tedious.
How about some of the games held up as the best of the series? Final Fantasy IV starts with a seemingly normal mission that goes in a completely unexpected derection. Final Fantasy VI starts you in some Magitek armor and then right into a resistance fighting against a dictator.
They start to get duller from there. The beginning of FFVIII starts with you getting to take tests and play card games. Final Fantasy VII starts with a bombing run, sure, but then you've got to talk to Aeris and Tifa for what seems like forever.
Breaking the slow start trend is one of the best things that Final Fantasy XIII does. The game starts fast, and it's full of action from beginning to end. The only slow downs are the cutscenes, which generally last five minutes or less.
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Maybe it's because the voice actors have gotten better, maybe it's the writing, or a combination of both. Whatever the reason, the characters in this game have well defined personalities that I can actually relate to.
It helps, of course, that Sazh is in the game. He is, without question, my favorite character in the entire Final Fantasy series. He's funny, but he's got heart too. The pairing of Sazh and Vanilla, for example, reveals that though he comes off a bit goofy early on, he's tough when he's fighting for something important.
The most important thing about Sazh is that he's believable. Sure, he's a little bit Han Solo some of the time, but he just seems like a dad trying to make the best of a situation. He seems real in an unreal world, and he says what we're thinking, keeping the story grounded when it could so easily get out of hand.
Compare that to the characters from the much lauded Final Fantasy VII. Take away the cool swords and hair and there's not much left to Sephiroth and Cloud but dull one-dimensional stereotypes.
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1.) Multi-platform Sales
Never before has a Final Fantasy game appeared on more than one console at release. Final Fantasy XI got ported to Xbox eventually, and a few of the games had PC versions, but FFXIII is the first newly released game in the series to hit two systems at once.
The move is great for players. Whether you own an Xbox 360 or a PS3, you can pick up Final Fantasy 13. There are some minor differences - the PS3 version comes on one disc, for example - but the game experience is exactly the same. Xbox 360 owners and PS3 owners can play the same game, and share their excitement with one another.
Other franchises are opening up a bit too. If you want to play Metal Gear Solid 4, you still need a PS3, but Metal Gear Solid Rising is hitting the 360.
When games go multi-platform, gamers get to choose the system they want, rather than get stuck with what the developer chose. If you prefer the Xbox 360 and it's ergonomic controller that you can actually change the battery in, get the 360. If you prefer the PS3 for its Blu-ray capabilities and free online play, get the PS3. Final Fantasy XIII is on both systems, so there's no need to worry.
It's an amazing setup for Squaresoft too. Rather than bet all their money on one system, they're able to maximize their profits by selling the game to a much wider group of players. More money for Squaresoft means better funded games, or more of them. Either way, the consumer wins out again.
This move also opens up the series to those who haven't played a Final Fantasy game in the past. Some people only own the Xbox 360 for shooters and never gave RPGs much thought. Putting the biggest RPG franchise ever on their system is bound to turn some of them into JRPG fans.
The characters, the story, the battle system and the streamlined nature can't compare to the importance of this game going multi-platform. Exclusives will never die, but for now, it looks like Squaresoft won't be making them.