Gut Reactions -- Final Fantasy XIII

GameSpot editors give their early thoughts on the retail Japanese version of Final Fantasy XIII.

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The PlayStation 3 version of Final Fantasy XIII has already been released in Japan (North America has to wait for its version to hit the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in March). As such, a few of the GameSpot editors dove right into the import and played a little over an hour to get a quick taste of what the latest in the long-running role-playing game series has to offer.

Ricardo Torres | Editor in Chief

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After having seen the game teased for what feels like the past 20 years, I almost started to take the cinematics for granted. In some ways, it's easy to expect the CG visuals in a Final Fantasy to be shiny and slick. Square Enix's certainly been setting the standard for in-game cinematics since Final Fantasy VII first stunned everybody with its--at the time--amazing visuals on the original PlayStation. FFXIII feels like a new high benchmark for Square Enix; combining art direction with HD resolution is a really good fit and shows how far the FF team has come. The new secret sauce I'm a big fan of is the smooth transitioning between cinematics and gameplay.

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That particular bit of pacing has always been a challenge in the FF series because cinematics have figured more prominently in the gameplay experience. While the cinematics have always been gorgeous, there have certainly been times when the balance has been off enough to affect pacing. From what I've seen, XIII seems to be finding the right mix of dazzling cinematics that segue into gameplay smoothly. The only wish I have right now is a bit more variety in the storytelling because I'm starting to lose track of how many FF's start in progress with trains involved. I could also do with a touch less eccentricity. I know it's a hallmark, but I've always thought the FF mix of high drama and goofiness to be an awkward fit--really? A dude with a chocobo in his 'fro? But these are just minor gripes. It looks pretty cool to roam around in FFXIII's world.

Brian Ekberg | Senior Editor

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I'll leave matters of gameplay, story context, and character development to my esteemed fellow editors, who probably know much more about Final Fantasy XIII than me. Instead, let me focus on something else I have absolutely zero expertise in: the characters' hairstyles. We've all seen the crazy coifs of previous FF games--many of which have inspired cosplayers the world over--and it's clear that the character designers have pushed the follicular boundaries with FFXIII. Here are some highlights:

Lighting--First of all, I love the pink--nothing says ex-military like long, pink strands. Take that Cocoon appearance regulations! Plus, she might be all business once she busts out her blaze edge, but that asymmetrical mix of half-up, half-down suggests a playful minx once the bad guys are down.

Snow Villiers--With that black bandana pulled down low covering most of his long, blonde hair, Snow is a sharp departure from the typical Final Fantasy protagonists and their legendary need of hairspray. Looking at him, it's tough not to get a Triple H vibe off of Snow, as he smirks at the thought of another fight. The fact that he chooses to fight huge mechanical robo-monsters with only his gloved fists might also have something to do with it.

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Sazh Katzroy--This dude has a chocobo chick living in his hair. Get your ass to Supercuts!

Hope Estheim--You could forgive Hope for being a sour little brat. After all, his mom dies in the first hour of the game, he's got that big lug Snow bossing him around, and the world around him has been plunged in chaos. But it's that oh-so-1997-Cloud Strife 'do that's the real crime here. If this little punk is heading down the road to manhood, here's hoping the first step is a buzz cut and some push-ups.

Yes, I suppose there's more to Final Fantasy XIII than the hairstyles, but right now, I'm still wondering if Sazh has a special comb for putting up with all the chocobo crap.

Giancarlo Varanini | Editor-at-Large

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The one thing that immediately strikes me about Final Fantasy XIII is how the battle system--or just combat in general--is a mixture of old and new. First, it's nice that there don't appear to be any random battles in the traditional sense--all battles start when you run toward the enemies in front of you or if they spot and run toward you. When a battle does start, it transitions into a separate battle sequence not unlike the Final Fantasy games pre-Final Fantasy XII, which is a little jarring at first, but it's worth mentioning that the transition into the actual battle sequence is pretty short. Once in the battle, you see some familiar elements of previous games in the series. Namely, you'll see the active time battle system that blends real-time and turn-based elements together. In the first few battles, this doesn't seem like a particularly huge departure from older games in the series, but as you go further into the game, you start to see some of the more strategic elements involved, particularly the method of stacking attacks and using various combinations to take out a single enemy quickly. I'll be interested to see how much further it develops later on in the game and how the support roles of other characters in your party can change.

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As a side note, battles in FFXIII look excellent and the game does a really good job of making even the most mundane things seem lively. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you might assume that the battle portions of Final Fantasy XIII are from an action game as opposed to a turn-based role-playing game. This is due in large part to the tighter camera shots--there's always so much going on and so many little details.

Sophia Tong | Associate Editor

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It's finally out in Japan, and there's only three months left before I get a chance to play it from start to finish in English. After playing and watching the demo multiple times, it's nice to see the first hour (again in Japanese) but with fewer glitches, as well as more seamless transitions between combat and cutscenes. The demo was essentially the first part of the game, allowing you to play as Lightning and then Snow. Some tweaks have been made, such as easier combat this time around, and even characters have been added to further flush out the story. Everything looks fantastic so far, and even though I'm not entirely sure what's really going on yet, I'm excited to see what happens, as well as what kind of skills, combos, and summons you can use later in the game. It didn't seem like we could do much except attack and toss grenades at this point, but at least the characters looked good doing it.

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