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Video Game of the Week – Final Fantasy XIII

The video gaming genre known as "role-playing" covers an enormous range of possibilities. There is everything from massively multi-player online games like World of Warcraft, where players undertake grand quests and fantastic adventures, to The Sims series, where you create down-to-earth characters with regular jobs, families, and hometown neighborhoods.

Whatever the setting for the role-playing activity, the secret for success is to draw the player in with great plot lines and well-defined characters. Perhaps nobody has done this better over the last 20 years than Square Enix with its critically acclaimed Final Fantasy series.

Although most Final Fantasy installments are independent stories with different settings and characters, they feature common elements that define the franchise. Most of the plots center on a diverse group of heroes battling a great evil, while also fighting internal struggles and dealing with complex group relationships.

The latest installment – Final Fantasy XIII – follows the well-proven formula precisely, delivering a gaming experience that is both exciting and emotionally rewarding.

The story begins in the tranquil world of Cocoon – "a utopia in the sky". Of course, the peace and prosperity don't last. After the people of Cocoon, known as fal'Cie, discover a hostile in their midst, the ruling Sanctum begins a purge of citizens, which pits them against the fal'Cie of Pulse, a dark and dangerous world that Cocoon has battled before.

A group of rebels led by a spiritual leader called Snow attempts to halt the purge. Snow is joined by five other playable characters, including Lightning, a strong-willed beauty, Sazh, a good-hearted former pilot, and Vanille, a slightly irritating high-pitched waif.

At the heart of the game is the much-improved and menu-driven Active Time Battle system. The system allows you to pull together different attacking combinations – called paradigms – which you call on as different battleground situations arise.  

To describe the graphics as outstanding doesn't do them justice. The game has a cinematic quality, with every facial expression, every plant and every creature beautifully crafted and defined. Not a single detail seems out of place as you move between two vastly different worlds.

As in previous FF games, all the main characters are easy to root for.  You find yourself forming a strange emotional attachment, caring deeply about their safety and hoping that they can defeat their inner demons as well as the monsters and other strange creatures they encounter along the way.

Existing Final Fantasy fans will be thrilled with this latest installment in the series, while Snow, Lightning and the gang will have no trouble winning over the hearts and minds of newcomers!  

Final Fantasy XIII is rated "Teen" for ages 13 and older. The ESRB descriptor cites mild language, suggestive themes, and violence.

Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Genre:     Role-playing
RRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: "Teen" – appropriate for ages 13 and older

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