Final Fantasy XIII PS3 Review

Traditionally every Final Fantasy game is very different to the last in one way or another and, because of this, not everyone is going to agree with every single aspect of the series. This was particularly the case with FFXII – a game that changed so much that fans were familiar with that many were left disenchanted with it, though others felt that the overhaul removed much that they had considered to be caveats of the series.

Final Fantasy XIII polarises opinion in a similar way. You don’t get the chance to level up until a good few hours in, which gives the earlier stages of the game more of an action than an RPG feel, and much of the first 25 hours or so are spent walking through linear areas with little scope for the grand exploration of earlier epics, whilst the combat system doesn’t reveal its true depths until a substantial amount of hours have been sunk into the game. All of this has the potential to leave a fair number of series and RPG devotees disgruntled at the initial lack of RPG and freedom featured in the game.

The story of Final Fantasy XIII will appease those who felt that the twelfth iteration was lacking in overblown nonsense, as there’s plenty of that here. It’s initially set on the floating island of Cocoon, a world in constant fear of invasion from the lower world of Pulse, the denizens of which are said to be cursed; both Cocoon and Pulse are home to Fal Cie, godly robot like beings, who have organic servants, La Cie, that are tasked with completing tasks, as failure to do so will transform them into hideous monsters, with the problem being that each La Cie must discover just what these tasks are for themselves. The voice actors do a respectable job at breathing life into the characters and the music really plays its role in complementing dramatic and poignant scenes.

As for the characters, it’s an ensemble cast, so there’s not really a cut-and-dried lead protagonist: Lightning is the moody ex soldier, reminiscent of FFVII’s Cloud Strife, Snow is brash and heroic, Sazh is a comedy character with an afro that is home to a Chocobo chick, Vanille is upbeat and, the seemingly requisite, slightly annoying character, Hope is seeking revenge for the death of his mother, and Fang is mysterious and is not exactly always unassuming with her words.

in the first half of the game, there are large chunks dedicated to particular characters, which works effectively at allowing you to better become acquainted with their colourful personalities: At least on those occasions, they’re a well developed cast of characters, but later on they become a less interesting bunch in favour of a story that, whilst not without its memorable moments, is quite frankly nonsense and not always in a likeable way, as was the case with many of the previous entries in the series. A glossary that documents narrative events that you have witnessed is welcome, though less so if you find yourself having to refer to it with increasing frequency as progression is made.

With menu based combat returning, the battle mechanics are reminiscent of the pre FFXII games. The active time battle system has too been reinstated in yet another form and the results are excellent. The lightning fast pace brings to mind another love it or hate it game in FFX-2. Characters this time around can queue up and unleash multiple attacks within a single turn, each of which are divided into individual time bar segments. But if you so desire, attacks can be triggered strategically, allowing you to forgo longer string of attacks, in favour of quicker but less powerful commands.

Another important strategy of combat is staggering your enemy by filling their chain gauge. This is achieved through repeated attacks and creeping up on unaware enemies. Staggered enemies will be more susceptible to damage and, in some cases, will even be left unable to attack. There are some enemies that are near invulnerable to your attacks until you stagger them, only then can the satisfying obliterating commence.

Summons fight alongside the summoner and can shift to the flashy Gestalt mode of which has them transforming, with the summoner riding on the back of them and at the same time ditching the time bars and changing the control scheme, instead giving you points of which you spend on manoveoures triggered by pushing the left stick in certain directions along with any of the four face buttons.

During combat, you only ever are in direct control of a single character at a time and once that character dies, it’s game over for you – harsh, but checkpoints are mercifully generous. The accompanying two characters are AI controlled, though you still have a lot of say of the roles they play in a fight. This brings me to the Paradigm system. It’s somewhat like a less complex version of the Gambits featured in FFXII. There are multiple character classes and having certain combinations of these will create Paradigms, for example a commando and two ravagers (magic users) will create the Relentless Assault Paradigm, whilst a synergist (has the important role of buffing up the party), a saboteur (equally important, inflicts enemies with negative statuses) and a commando will result in the Bully Paradigm. Outside of battle you can create up to 6 – out of many possible combinations – of these, of which can be switched between at will whenever the situation demands it during a fight.

Victory in combat doesn’t earn you traditional exp and old fashioned levelling up is out, though thankfully much of the similar geeky compulsion of ascending through levels has been retained with the Crystogen Points, which similarly to exp is gained through victory in a fight, but it’s then left entirely up to you of what you want to spend these points on.

Crystogen Points are spent in the Crystarium, which is essentially a less complex variation of FFX’s sphere grid and consequently slightly less satisfying, where stat increases and new abilities can be purchased. Each of the six classes has their own board and whilst bought abilities remain exclusive to the classes, stat increases, however, are available to all classes regardless of what board you buy them from.

Additional party enhancement comes with an equipment upgrade system, which allows you to strengthen weapons and accessories with loot, which is obtained regularly from defeating enemies and found lying about, as well as simply purchased. Each item has an experience value, which will grant the chosen equipment exp and whilst some don’t offer much exp, they do however have another benefit, granting an exp bonus to equipment that can potentially double or triple the amount that future items will grant to them. Once a weapon or accessory amasses so much exp, the gear will level up and as a result become more effective. Another thing to consider is that once you max out its level, you have the option of transforming it into a new item, of which is sometimes worse than the old, but through enough upgrading will ultimately become more proficient than it.

All this upgrading is carried out at save points, as is your shopping. Traditional shops are not a part of the game and towns are a rarity. Exploring towns and chatting to the locals, gathering information, both essential and inane, will be missed by many genre fans and leaves the world feeling a little less rich than it otherwise would have. It doesn’t help matters that a fair chunk of the game has you traipsing through areas that are about as complex as your average garden path.

However, at the 25 hour mark, Final Fantasy XIII begins to open up, offering you a vast area to explore filled to the brim with optional quests. When you first witness this beautiful but harsh land stretching before you, tantalizing you with its breadth, it feels as though you were previously a caged animal who is only now learning the wonders of freedom, it’s a cliché but it couldn’t be more fitting in this particular instance. It’s made all the more better with the fact that you get the chance to ride around on Chocobo’s, those lovable giant yellow birds, made complete with that accompanying memorable, chirpy theme tune.

The Crystal tools engine does a wonderful job of conveying to your TV both vast and smaller locations, needless to say, as is always the case for the mainline series, Final Fantasy XIII is one of the best graphical delights of the generation. All the flash and spectacle that has come to be expected is in there, with extraordinary character detail and sumptuous, chaotic, effect laden battles that gives the feeling that this is the big budget RPG main event (which it is so for many people), and the FMV sequences that Square were once famous for are extraordinary. The musical score also features plenty of strong pieces, though it’s not quite on the same level of Nobuo Uematsu’s finest work.

Final Fantasy XIII’s story, whilst solid and occasionally brilliant, hasn’t managed to meet the expectations set by previous iterations, though it does contain a memorable cast of characters. The battle system is sublime however, and even though traditional level raising is missed, the alternate growth methods are a worthy substitute. Whether people can overlook its flaws in favour of these strengths is another matter entirely.

As its mixed reviews show, Final Fantasy XIII is a more divisive game than ever before. Some series fans will feel that its lost too much that makes the series and the genre as a whole, and some Final Fantasy XII supporters will see it as a regressive successor, but for those that are new to both Final Fantasy and JRPG’s in general and are seeking an accessible and streamlined entry point, Final Fantasy XIII with its alluring production values and ease of play comes as an inviting prospect.

CES Favorite Picks

As one of over 140,000 attendees at CES, I sometimes felt as if I were a lemming going along with the flow from one exhibit to another mostly in awe at the whole extravaganza. If there was any cohesive theme it had to be centered on the concept of digital integration. It was evident in the inter-connectivity of devices in lifestyle and environments for the workplace, home, and automobile.

Microsoft’s impressive exhibit illustrated the concept of interconnectivity the best with on-going presentations and exhibits illustrating the integration of their software and services.

HP and other booths illustrated how digital technology can be used in every room of the house for convenience, comfort, productivity, security, and entertainment. Many exhibitors addressed only some aspects of the integration possibilities. For instance there were many booths devoted to home security and the remote control of other home applications such as sprinklers, garage door, heating/cooling, hot tub/pool, lighting, video cameras and more. Some of the systems even integrated the use of a Windows Mobile device as a remote controller.

One entire hall was devoted to HD TV, video applications, furniture, sound, gaming, and mounting systems. With the advent of widescreen HDTV, a whole new style of furniture and interior design has emerged along with the home theater with special seating, sound systems, mounting, and connectivity considerations.

By the way, I think I’d put my money on Blu-Ray as the winner of the HD format war. Unless, by the time the dust settles, there is an entirely new format available.

There were games galore with special controllers and furniture. Judging from the cacophony coming out of some booths, the air guitars seemed to be the most popular, but that’s wandering astray from the handheld computing world–well, actually not. Hands-On Mobile of San Diego, CA, currently offers Guitar Hero Mobile.

The automobile is certainly a new focus and profit center for the integration of digital technology. Ford and Microsoft have teamed up to offer voice recognition, Bluetooth connectivity, and GPS. For several years Ford has offered Sirius satellite radio, but now it will combine MSN features such as emergency road service, live traffic and road conditions, gas prices, routing and rerouting.

The President of General Motors gave a keynote presentation indicating that GM has a few tricks up its sleeve as well. The rest of the automotive world will not be far behind.
What amuses me, however, is that all these “new” features have been part of my automobile environment for years, thanks to my trusty Windows Mobile devices with a few peripherals. But, I suppose the average person would prefer a more simple integration approach with everything already built-in.

Mobile Computing Devices

While I tried to take in everything, I’m sure I missed some nifty stuff because it was all just so overwhelming. However, I did try to focus on two things: new Windows Mobile devices and UMPCs.
I found several new WM6 devices, which I will review thoroughly as soon as I receive the evaluation units from Asus, Samsung, HP, Motorola, and Verizon. I was surprised at how few new devices were announced or released for the show. I’m not sure what HTC is doing and was never able to catch up with them, but they are getting more closed mouth now that they are working with carriers and marketing under their own name. Definite picks for best new releases include the Motorola Q9h, the Samsung shi760, and a new powerhouse iPaq Windows Mobile 6 classic release.

Since my article on UMPCs when they first emerged a couple of years ago, I have been watching to see if they would survive. While they have not and will not replace the Pocket PC, they have certainly established a respectable niche in the market. I was delighted to see several new models available.

I will be receiving units from Samsung and Asus for review and will share my findings soon. Suffice it to say for now that both companies have listened to user input and responded accordingly. You can look forward to many improvements and innovations in this evolving platform.

Apart from the big name brands such as Sony, Panasonic, and so forth, there were hundreds of booths in the Hilton and Sands venues with smaller manufacturer wannabees exhibiting some treasures, but you have to dig for them. Accordingly, I found a couple of manufacturers of great Windows Mobile devices and some really innovative UMPCs, which I hope to receive for review as well.

As for peripherals for our beloved pocket pals, I found a few gems that I will make part of my permanent pack.

Hands-Free Driving and Music

I’m always on the lookout for a good Bluetooth headset and headphones. I found both at the Jabra booth. My favorite is the Jabra BT8030 Bluetooth speaker and headphones. This is a first-time combination that is unique of the market. You can remove the headphones, fold them out, and they become speakers that broadcast your sound with Ziree Power Bass for a surprisingly full, rich sound environment. These are a must have in my mobile pack.

My only criticism of this otherwise brilliant product is that you cannot charge it via a USB connection. However, you can expect up to 32 hours listening time on a single charge and up to 600 hours standby time. They weigh just under 11 ounces. The suggested retail price is $250, but shop around and you can probably do better.

I’m always on the lookout for a comfortable BT headset that won’t fall out of my ear that is lightweight and not too ugly. Jabra came to the rescue again with its new JX20 Pura, an elegantly crafted tiny titanium headset designed by Jacob Jensen the renowned Danish designer. It weighs less than a bird’s beak so that you don’t even know it’s there. You can listen to music with it too when you’re not talking on the phone.

Its charging cradle is a work of art that will grace your desktop too. You can expect up to six hours talk time, and it can be charged in your car or via USB as well as AC. The sound quality is superb, and there is an automatic volume control.

This classy device will set you back as much as $179, which is a bit steep considering that you can buy a Bluetooth headset now for as little as $30, but you get what you pay for.

Mobile Video Just Got Better

One of my all-time favorite applications is getting better and better. I can’t imagine life without my Slingbox and SlingPlayer for my Windows Mobile devices which allows me to view my favorite live and recorded TV shows anywhere in the world with no monthly fees.

The reason I say it just got better is that with the newly released Pro-HD; you can watch full HD streaming and access multiple video sources. You can use it to stream HD video around your house to a desktop or laptop too. SlingCatcher will be coming soon, and it will make it possible to access your home video output from any video site on the Internet.

SlingPlayer 2.0 now comes with Clip+Sling, an application that allows you to record and send snips of videos, which is fun and extremely useful. Congratulations to SlingMedia for being one of the truly innovative companies in the digital universe.

Video Eyewear

I have a another pick for CES favorite-MyVu.com, which is a video viewing solution for portable devices. While this company seems hung up on iPods, it also offers a universal viewer that is supposed to work with all video output portable devices. What you get for $199 is a pair of glasses that projects video output as if you were viewing it on a 27 inch screen. It’s a wonderful concept, but I’m not certain yet just what you can project. It was such pandemonium in the booth that I couldn’t get any satisfactory answers.

My viewing experience was that the image seemed small, isolated, non-involving, and low resolution. It could be that the game I was watching was not up to par as far as output is concerned, but what I saw left something to be desired.

Now, if you could view the output screen of your Windows Mobile device and anything that it displays in the same resolution that appears in the palm of your hand, this would be a worthwhile gadget indeed.

My.Vu offers the Crystal 701, which is an elegant hand-free viewing eyeware device with earbuds and VGA resolution and a USB rechargeable battery with up to 4 hours viewing time.
There is also the shades 301 model with sunshades and up to 10 hours viewing time. You can also get the Edge301, which is a more compact design for hands-free viewing with earbuds and a 4 hour rechargeable battery. Check it out at www. myvu.com.

As I progressed through the show, I noticed that there were other similar devices. In fact, there are many competitors in this market, but none as established as MyVu. Another competitor that seemed a good solution is Vuzix, a company that produces consumer video eyewear, medical devices, and tactical display-ware for the military.

The VR920 device simulates a 62″ viewing screen but costs $399.95. The ultimate model costs $999.00. What a great way to enhance the mini screen on your handheld device. Clearly, this is a wining application that extends the limitations of Windows Mobile device small screens.

Mobile Scanning and Printing

I recently submitted an article to Smartphone and Pocket PC magazine on some of the tools I recommend for mobile productivity. I mentioned a portable scanner and printer that I try to avoid toting unless I know for certain I will need them. That was before CES and my discovery of an incredible pair of products from PlanOn with its DocuPen and petite printer.

I almost passed this booth as I had my eye on a fancy robot down the aisle when an attractive woman asked me if I had ever heard of a DocuPen. She was waving what might be a high-tech wand at me that Harry Potter would be proud to possess. It looked like a somewhat oversized ball point pen.

The demonstration blew me away, for all you have to do is wave it over any document or graphic, and it will record it in black and white, grayscale, or 24-bit full color.

It comes with PaperPort scanning software, weighs 1.75 ounces, runs on rechargeable lithium Ion batteries and features a micro-SD expansion card for additional storage. A Universal Mobile Charger accessory is good for up to 55 charges when a power source is not available.

Pair the DocuPen with the PS900 Printstik via Bluetooth, and you have a powerful mobile solution. Of course you can also transmit a scanned image to your Windows Mobile device if you wish to use it in a PowerPoint presentation or email it. Of course, you can print images already in your mobile device too.

The PrintStick is a mere 1″ x 1.9″ x 11″ and weighs 1.9 pounds including the thermal paper and cartridge. It prints up to 3 pages per minute on 8.5″ wide sheets. A cartridge will print 20 8.5 x 11 inches pages. Power options include AC 120-240, DC 12/24V, and rechargeable Lithium-ion battery.
The suggested retail price is $299 for each unit. Accessories are extra. In any case, this winning combination could be worth its weight in gold on the road in emergency situations. I’m glad that lady waived her wand at me and that I didn’t turn into a pumpkin. Check it out at http://www.planon.com.

MagicJack

I have one more amazing little device to share with you that impressed me even though it is not exactly in the handheld realm. It’s the MagicJack, a unique VoIP solution. We’ve all heard of Vonage and Skype no doubt, but along comes MagicJack with a totally new approach to VoIP. Imagine a little box about the size of a pack of strike anywhere matches with a USB male plug extending from it.

Just plug it into any PC USB jack, plug a regular analog phone into the other end, and start talking. Local and long distance calls are free. This phone system has all the bells and whistles you would expect from an expensive landline account such as voice mail, call waiting, and caller ID. It even has call forwarding so that you can forward calls to your mobile phone, which justifies its inclusion in this article, I suppose.

The only cost involved is to buy the device for $39.95, which includes the first year’s service. With each account, you get an actual phone number that people can call in the normal fashion with any phone from anywhere. Thereafter, it’s $19.95 per year, not per month, per year. Never pay the phone company again!

Keep connected

The Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift, a Watch

Why do watches make the perfect Valentine’s Day choice? Well, for one reason, women love them, and they don’t have to be terribly expensive. Depending on the style and maker, you could pick up a new timepiece for your lady at a really affordable price. Michael Kors watches are a famous designer brand that are fairly inexpensive, yet come in many luxurious looks. If you’re looking to get your sweetie a new timepiece this year, let’s take a look at which styles she might be most attracted to:

• Michael Kors and many others produce wristwatches crafted from a variety of different materials. Since women generally own a couple of timepieces, she might be interested in one made from an exotic material like tortoise shell or even wood. These models might not blend with everything in her wardrobe, but it will become a nice addition to her collection. These watch types will fall under designer watches and will probably be more on the casual side.

• If she has an edgy timepiece already, she might need a dress piece. These luxury timepieces are great for a night out on the town, when your everyday wristwatch won’t cut it. These may be encrusted with sparkling crystals or offer some other luxurious detailing. You can find many of these pieces at Michele watches. They offer fun and feminine timepieces that most women can’t resist.

Even if she already owns a perfectly good timepiece, she will love adding another version to her collection and if you shop early through Watches on Net, you will receive a free gift with your purchase.

Handbags, Teeth Whitening, and Designer Shoes

Many manufacturing companies are in business to re-create designer names and styles at lower costs and sometimes improved quality!

This pretty much goes with everything related to fashion and accessories as there is such a demand amongst women mainly to have the latest look.

After spending a lot of time and money on your wardrobe then it is time to look after your hair, skin, body, weight management and teeth. This is also a huge growth industry and is heavily targeting the men as they also getting on the beauty train with treatments like teeth whitening and hair restoration to name a few.

We all want to look good and feel great and Many UK retailers are doing a great job of creating good quality fashion clothing and handbags at low costs. Just look on Amazon or eBay and you will find plenty. Companies like Primark, Asda, Asos and New Look to name a few are helping customers find good quality items at lower prices.

In fact the cost of many clothes, shoes and handbags are cheaper today that ten years ago because of additional competition on the high street and with manufacturing occurring in places like China then prices are dropped to facilitate the growing fashion savvy consumer who wants cheap bargains and high quality.

If you shop around then you will get the look of the catwalks but within your budget and this includes clothing, shoes, handbags and even sunglasses.

Check out customer reviews and websites which offer reviews on selected products.

Great Deals on Watches For Mother’s Day, Shop the Sales

Are you considering a different type of gift for your Mother this year? If you are burnt out on the standard flowers and candy…look at watches. A luxury timepiece makes a fantastic Mother’s Day gift and on-line there are so many to choose from, but don’t overspend, always shop for watches on sale. Don’t be fooled into believing that only a high priced timepiece can be of high quality. Many Swiss quality brands offer reasonably priced collections even when they aren’t discounted, but when you find a high quality timepiece on sale you get a really great deal and can save a lot of money.

I’m one of those people who always heads to the back of any retail store first, to rummage through the sales rack and when I’m searching for products on-line I apply the same principle. Just because a watch is on sale don’t assume that anything is wrong with it. In fact, many on-line retailers will discount their products due to overstocking or a plethora of other reasons. A watch on sale just means that you are getting the best price you can, but there are a few guidelines you should follow when shopping on the web and we will outline them for you:

  • First things first; find a reputable dealer. How do you know if an on-line vendor is reputable? You check them out. You can read customer reviews and you can examine their website for any red flags. You’ll want to make sure they are easy to contact either by phone or e-mail. They should offer safe and secure transactions, and you should be able to return or exchange the watch in the event that it isn’t exactly what you expected.
  • Shop for a well respected brand; Watches are precision instruments, not just fashion accessories…so choose a brand name that you can trust for quality and durability.
  • Know you prices; The truth of the matter is that unless you know what the standard retail price of a particular piece is…you won’t be able to recognize a great deal when you come across it.

This year buy your Mom a fantastic luxury watch for Mother’s Day. Shop on-line and save a bundle by choosing one of the watches on sale. You will walk away happy and she will have the best Mother’s Day ever with you to thank, so go for it.