This is the first Initial Impressions post, but it certainly won’t be the last. These posts will serve to deliver some of my first thoughts while playing through the first handful of hours in a game. For this entry, I’ll be looking at Final Fantasy XIII. I’ve gotten about six hours into the game so I’ll briefly write about some of my immediate likes and dislikes about this portion of the game. This article may contain some minor spoilers.

My very first thought upon starting a new game was simply “Wow, this game looks great.” When Final Fantasy games get released, they’ve typically been some of the best looking games on their respective consoles. From high quality sprites, to full motion video, to the astounding graphics of today, Final Fantasy games have set the standards for pushing the available graphical quality of various consoles. The characters in XIII have some very subtle facial movements that convey a great deal of emotion. I thoroughly enjoy being able to understand what a character is feeling by the slightest movement of their facial features. It seems like a small detail, but thus far in the game, it’s a detail that has added a lot to the story for me. Another graphical issue that’s prevalent in a lot of other that I have yet to see in XIII is clipping. There’s been a kissing scene already in this game and it is astounding how much more well done it was portrayed in this game as opposed to another game I’ve recently completed, Heavy Rain. That sounds like an incredibly silly thing to be nitpicky about, but it was horribly done in Heavy Rain that I couldn’t help but notice how much better XIII handled this. I’m sure that as I continue playing, some graphical issues will show themselves, but so far, they seem to be held to a minimum and I truly appreciate that.

The next part of the game that was made obvious to me was the various characters. Many of them are introduced quickly and all seem to be quite unique. From the tough as nails female ex-soldier to the buff guy who’s really a big softie, to the older black guy that acts as comedic relief, and finally the young kids that seem to have been pulled into a conflict that’s much bigger than they could have thought. Each of these characters seems to have their own motivations for teaming up and going on this adventure, although these reasons haven’t been made clear to me at this point. I’ll admit, I haven’t been a huge fan of some of the dialogue (“I told you, Mom’s are tough”) but most of the cheesy lines are pretty typical for a JRPG. The main thing is, I find myself genuinely interested in learning about what brought my group to this point and how they resolve their many issues as the game progresses.

In most RPGs, battles are plentiful and the main way to increase your party’s strength and gain new abilities. This is certainly no different for this Final Fantasy. One of my biggest turnoffs in Final Fantasy XII was the battle system. I hated losing control of the other two members of my party and instead relying on certain conditional statements to be met in order for them to perform an action. I was used to thinking a few steps ahead in choosing my abilities where as I felt that my AI characters were always a couple of steps in XII. While my control over my other two party members is still gone in XIII, so far the AI has seemed much more competent. Once a weakness is known, the AI will cast that spell in order to do the most damage possible and it will avoid casting spells or using abilities that the enemy is strong against. This same AI is also used for the player-character’s Auto-battle function. I’ve found it to know when enemies are close together therefore causing it to use an area of effect ability as opposed to a single target attack. Sadly, it still doesn’t anticipate enemy movements like a human can, but with the pace of battle being so much faster, it’s not as noticeable or devastating as it was in XII. The quicker paced battle system is much better suited for a game that only allows for control over one playable character. I can’t wait to see how the battles change as I unlock more roles, learn more abilities, and generally become more proficient with the battle system.

Finally, I must admit I’ve enjoyed the leveling system pretty thoroughly thus far. It reminds me a lot of the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X except each character has their own separate areas and abilities to learn despite having some of the same classes. This makes each character feel more unique despite being the same class. For instance, Sazh and Hope each have the Synergist class, but Hope learns Protect and Shell defensive buffs whereas Sazh learns the Faith and Bravery offensive buffs. This will certainly make the decision tough when I have the option of switching out my party. I also only just recently gained the ability to upgrade my weapons and accessories. I haven’t had the chance to delve too far into this system yet, but I can see this being an incredibly addicting and deep aspect of the game. This is the game play mechanic I’m looking forward to explore much more thoroughly as I progress through the game.

All of these reasons together have made for an extremely enjoyable early experience with the newest Final Fantasy title. Despite the few instances of cheesy dialogue, the story and game play have me hooked and anxiously awaiting the chance to invest even more hours into this title.