Let’s get this out there now. Final Fantasy XIII was a pretty awful Final Fantasy game. I wrote a bloody essay on why it’s bad before. There’s just few good things to say about it. Sure, the graphics look nice and the soundtrack is great, but … that’s it. The game was extremely linear, had a pretty poor character progression mechanic, the battles were overly long and had interaction, there were no settlements and there was a lack of things to do.
Now, we’re not here to debate my opinion of Final Fantasy XIII. I’m not even here to justify it. Instead, we’ll leave that topic for another time and focus on it’s sequel. Released just a year after Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was an apology from Square-Enix. The purpose was to fix everything that was wrong with the previous game. Square-Enix acknowledged their mistake. But does Final Fantasy XIII-2 make everything okay again? Or should it really be the Final Fantasy?
To resolve the issue of linearity, Final Fantasy XIII-2 (FFXIII-2) is not set in a specific location or time. Instead, the characters use time travel to get from place to place, time to time. This is actually an important element of the plot. Spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII ahoy!
After defeating the corrupt Fal’Cie (alien overlords who power the satellite named Cocoon in which the humans live), Lightning’s sister, and Snow’s fiancée, Serah returns from being transformed into crystal, as does Sazh’s son Dajh. This is when XIII ends; however, in XIII-2 the events transpire differently as Lightning vanishes. The humans settle on the planet named Pulse, in which Cocoon hovers above. Snow leaves on a journey to find Lightning for Serah, which leaves Serah alone for three years.
In 3AF, the village of New Bodhum in which Serah lives is attacked by monsters as a result of a time paradox. Noel, a boy from a future where he is the last human alive, comes to her rescue claiming that he was sent by Lightning, and so the two travel through time on adventure to find Lightning in the land of Valhalla – where time does not exist.
What is initially a light hearted journey, exploring the unique world of Final Fantasy XIII, the tone of FFXIII-2 becomes significantly darker towards the end of the game. So much so that this has been a relatively controversial element of the game. With consideration towards the theme of the game, and the sheer fact that the protagonists are playing with time, I actually judge the tone to be appropriate. I believe that the fun, adventurous experience of the earlier half blends very well with the intense, darker tone during the game’s conclusion. What we’re left with is a game with an intriguing plot that compels the player to persist with the main plot to uncover what happens to the cast; furthermore, the tone during the conclusion has left a massive impact on many players. Whilst many feel discontent with the conclusion, I can safely say that they will not be forgetting it any time soon. The ending is very shocking, and yet foreshadowing occurs through-out.
|The Historia Crux, which is used to get from location to location.|
Tone is captured fairly well in this title. A particular moment of sheer brilliance is when the player get’s to see the world in which Noel hails from. The graphics style appears different as a nice yet melancholic track is integrated with the empty and desolate world. And then you have the city of Academia, which portrays a believable and fascinating futuristic city, both in it’s darkest hour and in it’s glory. Similarly, the level designs through-out the game are well thought out and implemented. The only real disappointment is that – while there are many due to the different time zones – ultimately there exists only nine different maps. The maps themselves are a mix of slightly linear and expansive layouts. The whole nature of the game, hopping freely between different times no matter what occurs, is far less restricting than the previous game. Players can explore. There are hidden items and monsters to find. There quests dotted around the multiple maps and times. Certainly, the player can’t really complain about linearity in this title. No, instead the player could possibly complain about the quests.
Quests can be repetitive, usually amounting to fetch quests or hunting a mini-boss. This isn’t too much of an issue thanks to being able to do them at any time, but it did at one point or another become tedious. If the player leaves the quests until after they beat the game, or focuses on all available quests before continuing the story, I can see this becoming quite a boring task.
As for the characters, Serah and Noel have far more personality than the previous cast. Both protagonists have multiple layers; although Noel makes for a more interesting character. In general, the cast is far more likeable than before. Unfortunately, it feels like some of the previous protagonists have digressed in their character development from the previous outing – as shallow as the developments were. Similarly, much as there are holes in some of the previous characters, there also exists a number of plot holes in the game. I suspect this is a result of early planning of DLC. Perhaps as a result of the short one year development cycle? Or maybe they’re holding out for explanations in succeeding titles? Regardless of the case, these plot holes would have been relatively major if it weren’t for plot holes being a natural by-product of a time travel storyline. Sure enough, Square-Enix could have taken more care as to not fall into this trap.
Speaking of character development, the character progression mechanic is a far better attempt than FFXIII. The player purchases character upgrades in a network of nodes which appears similar to their weapon type. Each node of this “constellation” can be attributed to one of the six classes in the game. Every time a node is activated for a class, that class levels up and the character may obtain a new ability should they be at a specific level. They will also increase their strength, magic and/or health. Should the node be a large one, a bonus is also applied based on the class (for example, Commando gives a Strength bonus). This actually adds a nice level of control and customisation to character progression, as well as allowing the player to exert a bit of strategy into what they focus their points on. Players may also capture and raise monsters for battle in a similar fashion.
Much like any of the other numbered Final Fantasy titles, FFXIII-2 is menu driven in it’s combat. Players chain together different abilities based upon their currently selected class in an effort to “stagger” the enemy. When an enemy is staggered, they are left pretty defenceless and take a ton of extra damage. Whilst there are many different tactics that could be employed with the Paradigm Shift mechanic – in which players can fluently swap between each class which has a specific function in battle (Medic to heal, Synergist to enhance the player character attributes) – the combat focuses heavily on staggering enemies. This is an inherited issue from FFXIII. Fortunately, Square-Enix let up a bit on the focus. The result of this is that enemies no longer have ridiculous levels of health. Instead, enemies are far more balanced and are genuinely sometimes a challenge, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of thoughtless battles I participated in FFXIII.
|The party – a monster included – fight a mini-boss as they build up his
Previously, I had an issue with the battle system being so overly simplified that there was little need to use anything more than auto-battle. In fact, in some battles when haste was used, it was actually often required. Of course, you could get away without using it, but that only costs you time – and time is important in this particular battle system. FFXIII-2 seems to somewhat resolve this by refining the classes more than the previous title. In all honesty, it feels like I’m selecting my ability when I shift classes, rather than when I’m actually in the class, but that works far better in this game. I’ve noticed some classes actually removed some abilities. In particular, I’ve noticed haste is no longer an ability the two protagonists can use.
I found myself using Paradigm Shift far more frequently than I did in Final Fantasy XIII, so it’s fairly evident there’s more challenge. It also means that the battles were that little bit more interactive. To ensure user interactivity, though, Square-Enix through in Quick-Time Event segments during battle. They’re unnecessary, but they can be fun to watch. Nevertheless, as a player I couldn’t help but feel that they were shallow game elements in a check list that were thrown into the game just to say, “yes, the game is more interactive now” – much like the quests themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any more thought than that reason for the QTEs, as they have little impact on the gameplay.
Much like FFXIII, the game is absolutely gorgeous. The scenery is amazing, and the FMV sequences are breathtaking. Likewise, the soundtrack complements the visuals incredibly well, although I have a few nitpicks with specific song choices here and there. Furthermore, voice acting is handled and directed very well with the title.
Personally, I found the game addictive and incredibly fun. It’s simplicity makes for an enjoyable adventure, and the plot is intriguing. Many would consider Final Fantasy XIII-2 to be a relatively “casual” game. In fact, I reckon this is one of the most prominent complaints that Final Fantasy XIII had. However, while I agree that the game isn’t very “hardcore”, I stand firm that this is a good thing. It’s nice to have a breathe of fresh air, and it’s also nice to relax.
Video games are entertainment. They’re meant to be fun first and fore-most, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 delivered. Unfortunately, the plot holes ruin what could have been an excellent story. The battles, while fun and engaging in their simplicity, strip away so much user choice that you’re simply left with “will I attack, will I build up stagger, or will I heal?” Quests are repetitive and, if not tackled correctly by the player, can be quite boring. There are times in the game where I even recall that the game had a one year development cycle, in which the impact becomes apparent.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is far from a perfect game. But, for what it’s worth, I found myself surprisingly hooked to the game. It has potential to be more, but amounts to nothing more than a game designed by a check list to resolve the previous game’s problems. Would I look forward to Final Fantasy XIII-3? I certainly would, if they announce it. This title restored my faith in Square-Enix’ Final Fantasy franchise, which FFXIII recently destroyed. Furthermore, nowadays, the game can be found at a heavily discounted price. If you’ve been a fan of any of the older games, or you’re looking for something casual to grind through, I do suggest that you give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a chance. You might, possibly, be surprised.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 scores a 7/10. It was completed on the highest difficulty (normal) and the author achieved 100% completion in the game. The title was played in its vanilla version, therefore it did not contain any of the downloadable content available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
This review is entirely subjective and should not be considered fact. This review is the author’s opinion and nothing more. Feel free to discuss the review in the comments below, but try to keep it civil. You are also entitled to an opinion that differs from the author, and don’t forget it!