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Latest edition of ‘Final Fantasy’ looks great but falls short

As someone who has played (but not finished) almost every version of this series and its many spinoffs, to say I was looking forward to playing this game would be an understatement.

"Final Fantasy XIII," a T-rated game by Square Enix adds another beautiful, yet imperfect, chapter to this highly popular role-playing series as it debuts on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

The game follows a group of six characters led by tight-lipped heroine Lightning, a former soldier from the city of Cocoon, as they set out to save their city from its former protectors, the fal’Cie.

Square Enix has definitely set the new standard for digital animation with this game. Over the years, this series has earned its reputation for being one of the leaders in visual design. The game does not disappoint and takes full advantage of the added power provided by "next generation" systems. The level of visual superiority is made abundantly clear with the game’s intricately detailed cinematic scenes. Each strand of hair and teardrop stands out on the screen. There will be moments you’ll forget you’re playing a game and think you’re watching an animated movie.

The game features a really fun and intuitive active-time battle system, which focuses heavily on timing and strategy. Although it took some getting used to, this new battle system was a large part of what worked for this game. It is far better than the attack and be attacked system of past games and shows how much the system has evolved over the course of many games.

The series further evolves its custom-tailoring options for its characters. You can still decide what gear to equip them with and how you want develop them — as a Ravager (wielder of magic), commando, medic and many other roles.

Although there is a lot to like about "Final Fantasy XIII," there also are plenty of things not to. First off, the game follows a very linear story. In games past, players were allowed to veer off the primary storyline and explore the world of the game and play optional side games and take alternate quests. This was always a strength in the series because it helped open up the world of the game and broke up the monotony of fighting battle after battle with only cinematic scenes between. Not having this option was very disappointing. And it didn’t help that the game is based on a less-than-compelling plot and that many of the characters are annoying.

Because the game relies so heavily on its cinematic scenes, I assumed a greater focus would be put on the storyline, characters and the dialogue. But in the 25-plus hours (yikes) I played the game, I found my assumption to be wrong.

The game isn’t a total bust, and it’s still worth giving it a whirl. But if it had a better story and more freedom to break from its linear plot, "Final Fantasy XIII" could have been the best in the series and possibly one of the best games of the year. Sadly, it falls short.

Platforms: PlayStation 3 (tested), Xbox 360

On the Web:www.finalfantasyxiii.com

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