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FF13 kisses levels goodbye - what does this mean for gameplay?

November 1, 2009

Leveling up is so 1990s - and with Final Fantasy XIII striving to be as modern as RPGs come, Lightning and co are to ditch the old leveling mechanic in favor of a new system, revealed in Japanese magazines earlier this week. Here's our detailed explanation about just what this means for Square's upcoming blockbuster.

You heard us right - Final Fantasy XIII will have no levels and no experience points at all. Shounen Jump revealed its replacement this week, the Crystalium System.

Rather than EXP, players will earn CP - Crystal Points - for vanquishing enemies in battle. Each character earns their own unique CP, which can then be spent on upgrading their battle skills.

It's all very similar to Final Fantasy X and XII, with a circular board showing you all the various skills in the game. Your path through the board will be determined by the skills you buy - deeper, more powerful skills are unlocked by buying lower, related skills. Buying 'Fire' early on will pave the way to grab 'Firaga' later, for example.

In FF13 however even character growth will be tied to your CP. If you want more HP, you'll have to spend CP to get it. All the traditional FF parameters - apart from MP, which is absent in FF13 completely - will be upgradable this way.

The Crystalium System also links nicely into the Optima System previously detailed. The Optima System is all about different 'roles' for different characters in battle. A character with an 'Attacker' Optima is likely to concentrate on physically bombarding the enemy, while a Defender will cast healing spells.

The skill unlock board where you spend CP is laid out in such a way to encourage players to level up each character in a specific optima role - therefore leading to the more traditional FF roles of White Mage, Black Mage, Warrior and so on - or at least something equating to them.

Lightning ponders the lack of Levels?

So what does this all mean for the gameplay?

For hardcore RPG fans this shouldn't be too much of a change - this kind of feature has cropped up in RPGs all over including Final Fantasy X and XII several times before. For casual players who only pick up the occasional RPG and have jumped on the FF hype train this could end up being a little disorienting, which could prove to be a problem when review time rolls around.

In terms of the in-game consequences, systems like this traditionally allow players much more freedom. While in FFX Lulu was naturally designed to be a Black Mage, careful spending in that game's Sphere Grid allowed her to break out of her specialty and dish out some impressive damage in other areas.

Because of this you can fully expect to see a naturally physical fighter like Snow be turned into a serviceable spell caster, and visa versa. However, unlike FF12 characters are locked to their weapons - you'll never see Snow brandish a sword or Lightning use a staff. This helps to limit your options in some way, at least.

It's believed that summons are locked to characters, too - so chances are players will find that whatever they do with the CP system they will have to obey some of the game's basic character guidelines thanks to Summon and Weapon restriction.

Players will be able to build characters into multiple roles for the Optima System, though. The Optima Change events in battle are actually there for changing the 'stance' of party members from one Optima stance to another - and there'd be no point in changing if each character was only good at once thing.

Final Fantasy has been moving in the direction of more flexible characters for a long time, with the most notable examples being Final Fantasy VIII, X and XII. Now XIII joins that group, offering players a lot more choice over what combat roles their characters take than many other RPGs offer with their set classes.

While doing away with leveling up is potentially a bit alien to many FF and RPG fans, it goes a long way to push Final Fantasy XIII towards its goal of being a more Western-friendly, Action-oriented RPG alongside its super fast-paced battle gameplay.

It's too early for us to say if this system will work well, but you can check out our sister site's Hands-On TGS Preview if you want an idea of what we thought of the game back at this year's Tokyo Game Show. Here's a hint: It's good!

The region-free Japanese release of Final Fantasy XIII is available for Import Preorder and releases next month. Stick with us via our RSS Feed and Twitter for all the latest FF News.