Final Fantasy XIII PS3 / Xbox 360

Final Fantasy XIII PS3 / Xbox 360
Not many game franchises live long enough to make it to number 13, but having sold nearly a hundred million copies over the past quarter-century, legendary RPG series Final Fantasy has deeply embedded itself into the popcultural firmament. But as the first FF of the current console generation, a lot is still riding on this unlucky numeral.

That's why Square Enix has reformatted their franchise, paring down some RPG elements in order to make the largely liner game more palatable to newcomers. Not that newbies won't have their minds melted by the almost impenetrable plotting that begins with a genocide.

FFXIII opens amidst an explosive set-piece as the theocracy running the hi-tech (and literally named) enclosed city of Cocoon rounds up its citizenry, believed to have been corrupted by elements from the savage world of Pulse down below. These deportations are just a cover for mass executions and soon your band of inappropriately dressed rebels is leading a resistance against the corrupt government and trying to save the world. A lot.

There are two inevitable issues with JRPGs, both of which are rooted in differing Western and Eastern design philosophies. Turn-based fighting may be way more strategic than action-RPG button-mashing, but sorting through menus lessens the immersion and, you know, the role-playing. FFXIII's "Active Time Battle" system tries to split the difference between real-time and turn-based fighting, but Western consumers may be more impatient with the gameplay than their Japanese counterparts.

Also, they tend to be way too long. Or at least it takes too long, like 20 to 25 hours for FFXIII to shed its initial linearity for the open-world with side-quests that western RPG fans hunger for. Many may have given up by then, which is a shame because FF has plenty to offer gamers of all nationalities.

Final Fantasy XIII is a creative and technological marvel, a whirligig of mind-boggling digital animation, jaw-dropping art direction, sky-high production values, soaring music, complex combat, quirky eccentricities (hello, baby chick who lives in Sazh's afro!) and an ambitious subtext about freewill and determinism. But it would've been nice if Square Enix had given us a bit more freewill and done it a bit sooner. (Square-Enix)