The first announcement came back in 2006, and now 4 years later it’s finally here. Well, maybe not here here, but it is … here. Released in japan right before christmas, I’ve played the import now for about 22 hours.  There are good and bad,  highs and lows. It definitely won’t change anyone’s opinion on jRPGs, but what it aims to do it does well.

Let’s get this out-of-the-way first: yes, it’s extremely linear. Is that necessarily a bad thing though? I don’t think it’s as black and white as that. The games main focus is its story and characters and it doesn’t let you stray from that. You move forward through an area fighting enemies along the way, get to a cut scene, keep moving some more, get to another cut scene, then a boss.  This is the basic structure for the whole game thus far. The reason for this is how the plot unfolds. It throws you into the thick of action right from the get-go, and it hasn’t taken me out of it yet. It is constantly pushing you forward, there are no lulls in the story. Moments in prior games where you might be wandering aimlessly around a town buying weapons, pursuing tedious side quests, and engaging in riveting conversation with townsfolk, are replaced with tense dramatic moments, and over the top battles. The linearity hasn’t been a drawback for me, theres always something urgent to take care of.  You just want to keep going and see what happens next, why would you want to do anything other than that anyway?

Now, the most important part of any RPG: the battle system. They’ve taken the best elements of X-2, and XII and combined them into a system that is fast, furious and fluid. Firstly, enemies are seen roaming the field and you engage them by running towards them. It returns to the battle transition screen that XII had done away with, but transfer to the battlefield is instant. (This is something that might kill some older games for me, something like Lost Odyssey comes to mind.) They’ve done away with MP, and in its wake is a system where every action, including casting magic costs ATB bars, or simply time. Your ATB bar is broken into thirds and each third represents 1 action point. Different actions cost different amount of points, and you can queue up to 3 actions at a time. Your characters move around the battlefield dynamically as they attack and can interrupt and be interrupted by the enemy during their attack if you get attacked in the process. This base for the system makes for battles that are much more action-oriented and fast paced than previous entries.

On top of the fast-paced action is the ability to change party members jobs instantly during battle, called Optimas. This adds an extra layer of depth and strategy to the battle system. Each character has 3 jobs they are able to switch between. You can set up to 4 optimas from the menus, and you determine which job you want each character to be in each optima.  Setting up and using a variety of different job combination optimas is more often than not the difference between complete slaughter and overwhelming victory.

Each of your characters jobs are upgraded using crystal points. These are gained after each battle, much like experience points, and they are spent in a system similar to the sphere grid. This time however, you don’t choose a track for your character to follow to fill a specific role, you instead have 3 different grid systems, one for each of the characters jobs. You can choose to focus on one job, but you’ll never leave the other 2 too far behind as you can only progress to a certain point on each job until it is unlocked by progressing through the game.

Now with the technical stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the easy stuff. The game is gorgeous. The character

Delicious armpit. You must lick it.

models, the textures, the environments and areas, all of it, beautiful. Far and away the best looking game to date on consoles.Not much more needs to be said here, you can see however that most of these past 4 years have been spent on polishing and tweaking the engine.

The soundtrack is just as amazing as the visuals. I’ve already heard just as many memorable tracks as a typical Uematsu OST in the first half of the game alone.  It seems Masashi Hamauzu, the games main composer, might have taken a page out of Shoji Meguro’s book of Persona fame and used vocals in some of the BGM. This works wonderfully and doesn’t distract from the experience at all. The battle theme, which you’ll be hearing a lot of, is great with a sweeping string segment that just doesn’t seem to get old. Overall the soundtrack has range and diversity and has more than lived up to the series standards.

I can’t speak to the quality of the story thus far, as the finer details of the plot are lost on me, but I can say it is very involved and gripping. Even without knowing a lick of japanese, I can still follow the gist of the plot, and the fact that after each chapter you get a trophy with a brief summary of what just happened in english helps. Expect something as attached and emotionally gripping as X.

If you’re looking for a re-invention of the genre, look elsewhere. Otherwise, look no further for the best jRPG of the generation.

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