Because you can change these roles on the fly, it's important to use the roles together to get the most out of your attacks. When you're low on health it might be worth bringing in a couple of medic-class characters, while another character plays the Sentinel role (a defensive job where you take the brunt of the damage, leaving everybody else to heal and charge). Or maybe you would want to bring in a Synergist or Saboteur, two roles that involve the characters casting defensive and offensive magic to swing the fight in your favor.
Needless to say, because this is so new it's a little hard to explain in just a few paragraphs. The game seems to admit that it's complicated, as they walk you through each step until you grasp the nuances. Chances are you won't fully understand why this combat is so much fun until you play the game, and even then it may take several hours before you really grasp its true depth. When you've mastered these roles it's hard to put down the control, there's an addictive quality to the fighting. The combat is insanely fast, maybe even too fast for some people (you can slow it down in the options, in case you're one of those people). You may not be as hands on as you were before, but you're not going to complain when you're swapping out classes and dealing with your own turns.
Because so much of the story is spent away from the other characters, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to properly level up my characters. Thankfully Square Enix has managed to incorporate a leveling up system that is fair to everybody. No matter who you have in your party, everybody gets the experience points. That means that even if you don't use one of the characters until late in the game, that character will still have all of the experience points won over the course of the adventure. This allows you to easily swap in characters you normally don't use late in to the game without ever feeling like they are not going to be up for the fight.
Sense we're on the subject; it's worth mentioning that leveling up has been completely revamped for this installment. Instead of getting into battles and earning experience points, in Final Fantasy XIII you earn Crystarium points that can be used to upgrade very specific parts of your character. Each character has a few branches to develop their attributes, allowing you to choose whether you want to focus on giving each character additional hit points, magic points or strength points. In this mode you also get to purchase additional attacks, including magic, combos and the rest of the things you usually see in Final Fantasy games. It's a little complicated at first, but I like that you have some control over the improvements of your character.
While I can get behind most of the changes made to the game, I'm a little frustrated by Final Fantasy XIII's erratic pacing. Early on the game pushes you constantly forward, giving you plenty of enemies to kill (or avoid) along the way. It's easy to breeze through the first half of the game without dying once. In fact, I don't believe I let my party leader die even once before I hit the 20 hour mark. But then, out of absolutely nowhere, the game shifts gears and becomes insanely difficult. Suddenly the game is throwing huge boss battles one after another. Even some of the regular enemies turn out to be incredibly tough fights that are no less grueling than a regular boss battle.
And it's not just the difficulty the ramps up, it's also the confusing storyline. I won't say the story is bad, but it's clear that the narrative jumps off track towards the end. It's not that there are a ton of twists and turns, but rather that the story just begins to make less and less sense. By the end of the game I honestly had no idea what was going on and why I was fighting some of these bosses. It feels like the writers had a great set-up that they didn't know how to end. It ultimately ends in a whimper, leaving me feeling a little cold when the final credits hit the screen.
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