Final Fantasy XIII has had an extremely conflicted reception between the praise of critics and the mixed opinions of fans, but the recent Steam release isn’t doing any favors for its long-term reputation. The best word to summarize the issues with the port is ‘inconsistencies’. There are reports on the Steam forums of strange hardware and driver conflicts such as the game being locked at 30fps on AMD GPUs. My experience in the case of this port is limited to the Nvidia side of the fence, but, should Final Fantasy XIII-2 have these same issues, I’ll make sure to run the game for a bit on a secondary computer with an AMD GPU. As I have played Final Fantasy XIII previously, my time spent with the game on Steam focused more heavily on the quality of the port job (though the content of the game itself will still be covered in this review).
Normally, I would be against modding a game for review on the basis of that presenting inaccurate representation of a title. At the same time, the mod only serves to enhance the work that Square Enix has already made. GeDoSaTo modding is how the game will be forward compatible in the absence of official resolution updates. In order to present the game in the best possible light, screenshots from my own playthrough with mods on my personal gaming rig will be provided within this review. I maxed everything where possible for the best 60fps experience possible, yet that is no guarantee of consistent results on any other system. This is direct disclosure to avoid any possible confusion. Without any further ado, it is time to ride the lightning.
The Game Itself
Final Fantasy XIII is the fifth major title in the Final Fantasy series to be ported to Steam in an overall cautious effort from Square Enix to release JRPGs onto the service. That is commendable since Steam may be the perfect market for Dragon Quest X in the West. Whimsical thinking aside, XIII suffers from attempting to attract the largest audience possible while simultaneously making the game incredibly enigmatic for newcomers and series veterans. No direct gil drops from fallen enemies, the upgrade system in general, limits to character development [grinding], hand-holding tutorials until the twentieth hour of gameplay and no free travel to locations prior to Pulse are but a small sample of bizarre decisions made by the creative team. After finishing the game, the player just runs around Pulse grinding, getting ultimate weapons and doing more missions until they choose to stop playing. The final dungeon can be played through repeatedly with superior stats for the bragging rights that come with stating that you five-starred a fight with ‘Orphan’. Apart from that, there really isn’t much else to do other than attempt to achieve absolutely perfect stats and weapons through the inefficient component upgrading system. If the purpose was to make a Final Fantasy title the average mobile gamer could enjoy, then the complexity of the upgrading system alone would probably scare them away. For the curious, the PC port doesn’t include any additional post-game content or tweaks to separate it from the console version. Further, it presents itself as a downgrade in one respect, as the consoles natively have a 1080p resolution filter for their versions of the title, something the PC version lacks.
The ‘Command Synergy Battle’ battle system limits player control to a ‘leader’ character in a predetermined role with the potential to shift roles through what are called ‘paradigm shifts’. The ability to choose which characters to have as your ‘battle team’ does not become available until roughly twelve hours into the game, and even then one is still limited to a group of three out of a pool of six characters. Paradigms, the pre-determined sets of roles to be distributed among the selected characters, need to be assigned in advance. This accentuates a major flaw in the complete inability to control other characters beyond setting their general ‘behavior’. A number of the fights later in the game rely on one member reliably acting as a sentinel to attract attention from aggressive enemies, and this doesn’t even begin to cover the problems that present themselves once enemies who can cast ‘death’ become involved. This is further exacerbated by the fact that if the leader is knocked out, the whole party is considered defeated regardless of their status; rendering the status of the player character of much higher import than the rest of the characters. Final Fantasy XIII-2 fixed these problems through allowing for the player to freely swap between Serah and Noel in battle. Applying these changes retroactively to XIII’s battle system could have made all the difference in the world.
If you haven’t already read my editorial about PC ports alluding to the ‘locked 720p’ on the stock version of this game, you can read it here. It has been over two weeks since release with the only update from Square Enix being that the XIII team is working on a fix for the ‘ESC’ instant-quit command and swapped two buttons for the Asian territories release of the game. I’ve played the game without mods enabled for a total of about three hours to compare with the console and mod experience. The game is a huge 58.0 GB mess that struggles to perform on hardware well beyond the recommended specifications. It’s basically just Final Fantasy XIII with Steam Achievements in place of Xbox Achievements/PSN Trophies, 60fps with noticeable drops and functionality with Shadowplay/FRAPs.
In its current state, it is very hard to recommend Final Fantasy XIII on Steam without at least mentioning the likelihood of encountering technical issues, regardless of your PC specs and configuration. Nothing is a guarantee with this port and that is exactly the problem. Unless you plan to mod the game or don’t have access to a seventh generation console, there is no reason to buy the game on Steam before there is a sale. At that point, the gamble depends on what you are willing to pay.
The difficulty in reviewing Final Fantasy XIII on Steam is the question of how to address the mod that is making the rounds without artificially inflating the score of the port and simultaneously not punishing it for the lack of graphic and resolution options. Final Fantasy XIII on Steam and the quality of the Final Fantasy XIII mods through GeDoSaTo will be scored separately because it is the only appropriate thing to do. The level of scrutiny on the mod will be just as harsh as if it were an official patch. [http://blog.metaclassofnil.com/?page_id=582] The official site includes a how-to guide for those interested in installing the modding utility that functions with games like Halo 2, Dark Souls, and Grand Theft Auto IV among others. GeDoSaTo operates as its own executable program that allows for tweaking options for each individual title until the proper adjustment is made. There were no problems I had involving Steam compatibility that could be attributed to GeDoSaTo during my time using the program.
What the mod does is make the game render at up to 4480x2520 and then downsamples it to fit your monitor in addition to giving shadow resolution and anti-aliasing options. These options use numeric values of 2 [performance], 4, 6, and 8[extreme], which gives them a range to work with as they fine tune to their system. Additionally, the mod enables the user to alter the game’s refresh rate if so desired. This is the answer some have adopted to fix incompatibilities with older hardware.
It’s key to draw a distinction between what the mod can enhance and what it can’t, as evidenced by the following screenshots:
Environment exploration -
Pre-rendered cutscene -
The pre-rendered cutscenes do not benefit from the mod as they exist as video files rather than running in the graphics engine. It’s actually rather funny that the ‘visual spectacle’ meant to amaze on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 just a few years ago could be considered a PC graphics bottleneck now. Considering how much storage bloat the sequels cut with the decision to render cutscenes through the in-game engine, don’t be surprised if there is someday a Final Fantasy XIII remake with completely redone cinematics. Otherwise these 720p cutscenes will continue to be an issue for subsequent rereleases of the title until the point where the Final Fantasy series has finally run its course. Of course one cannot blame a mod for not upscaling video quality, when that was not what it was designed for.
The one issue I had with the mod was that it appeared to have an abnormally high amount of game crashes with at least two incidents happening a day. A game crash in this situation will be defined as the game stopping and the all too familiar ‘__.exe has stopped working’ Windows error message. There was a known error with alt tabbing, which is why I played in bursts to minimize my chances of game crashing. Despite this, the crashes almost seemed to have happened randomly. Stability has greatly improved with updates through the GeDoSaTo program, but it isn’t entirely perfect just yet. The best advice for those interested in the port just for the modding potential is to wait just a little longer before biting.