Final Fantasy XIII has quickly become the game in the mainline FF series that fans love to hate. A cursory search can probably find you a lot of criticism about the game on various blogs and forums. One of my co-workers advises us to just skip it. Having now played some of it myself — clearly I’m bad at taking advice — I could easily write about all the things I dislike about it. But that wouldn’t be much of a challenge for my second blog post of November, would it?

Therefore, I’ve decided to write about all of the things I like about FFXII based on what I’ve seen so far.

It’s really, really pretty. Among all of the games I’ve played in the disc-based PS3 game library, FFXIII is by far one of the prettiest. It is truly a testament to the skilled graphics artists and programmers employed by Square-Enix. The details in hair (including facial hair), eyes, and clothing textures are excellently executed and the cutscenes lack the jarring transition between FMV and dynamically rendered scenes that previous Final Fantasy games have always suffered from. At this point, I’m not entirely convinced that FFXIII even has FMVs. For all I know, it could be being rendered entirely dynamically (which would be totally sick).

The voice acting is pretty decent. I wouldn’t rate FFXIII’s voice cast as better than FFXII’s, but they certainly aren’t as poor as the casts for FFX and FFX-2. But like many other PS3 games, FFXIII suffers from having way more lines of audio than are performed by the actually-talented members of the cast. The beginning of the game is dominated by second-rate voice acting, with brief bits of much better performances by the main cast.

The combat system is incredibly fast paced. This is both a good and a bad thing. Having to think quickly means you don’t get as much time to figure out your strategy and you may find yourself retrying a fight if you lose track of the HP of your party, particularly the party leader. FFXII tries to release some of the cognitive load using its Gambit system, which essentially allows you to “program” your party and issue manual overrides as necessary. FFXIII takes a slightly more hands-off approach with the Paradigm system, which assigns particular roles to particular party members to create different battle styles.

But the upside of this is that fights are over very quickly, which makes each of them slightly less annoying. Getting into yet another fight with a ghoul gets less old when you’re in and out in about 10 seconds. They also aren’t triggered randomly which means that, with some craftiness, you can avoid some of them if you really want to, though I hear the game becomes quite nasty later on if you’ve been skipping too many fights. There is still a battle transition, which I feel is a step slightly backward from FFXII, which plays more like an MMO where the other members of your (small) party are computer-controlled.

The standard “let’s get to know each other” character development lines don’t bring the game to a halt. FFXIII instead plays them as you’re exploring around. Sometimes this happens slightly too often and doesn’t quite match what you’re doing, but it’s still a lot better than stopping everything so that one character can say some other little quip that isn’t absolutely crucial to the plot but develops the character a bit more. Case in point, the party members I have right now introduced themselves while I was walking Lightning over the crystallized Lake Bresha. Much less tedious.

The camera controls don’t suck. I’ve had issues getting used to camera control in many other PS3 games that I’ve played, particularly since most of them also put your aim right in the center of the camera when you draw your guns. FFXIII’s camera just feels natural. Something about the way it swings and pans around in response to the slight presses on the right analog stick is aesthetically pleasing.

So those are some of the things I like about FFXIII. Perhaps I might be scraping the bottom of the barrel a little bit, but it certainly wasn’t an easy task. I could probably go on for hours about all the things that have irritated me in this game so far. And maybe I will…  tomorrow?