Final Fantasy XIII-2
PS3 - Xbox 360
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: January 31st, 2012
- Visuals and voicework remain as polished as ever
- Monster collecting is an addictive addition
- Combat remains fast paced, and easy to pick up
- Plenty of side content to add to the life of the game
- Crystarium leveling system has been dulled down
- Mog Clock random encounters feels like a step back
- Sense of direction is skewed with multiple paths and odd pacing
- Ending is an abrupt stop
Final Fantasy XIII was one of those love it or hate it games. Open worlds were traded for linear corridors and combat was altered to become more fast paced with control over only one character. Some fans embraced the change and others revolted. The announcement that the next installment would be a direct sequel kept people on edge, since the story and overall interest in the characters was not nearly as huge as previous sequels. XIII-2 does address many issues with the previous installment, but takes one step forward and two steps back.
Journey Through Time
Final Fantasy XIII-2 picks up three years after the previous game's ending; Cocoon's collision with Grand Pulse was prevented by Vanille and Fang, the heroes are freed from being l'Cie, and Orphan has been defeated. Everything seems normal, except for the absence of Lightning. Only her sister Serah seems to notice her disappearance, while others claimed that she died in preventing Cocoon's collision. It is only with the appearance of Noel, that it is revealed that Lightning is alive and he can take her to where she is doing battle with a mysterious new enemy. The two set off through time and space to set things right.
There is an option to view a quick summary of the previous events of FFXIII, but the sheer scope of characters and terms is a lot to absorb in a limited time. Mixing in elements associated with time travel further complicates things, and you have to learn to accept things and move on to enjoy the basic story. Most of the time it seems as if the game asks a genuine question, only to get a response of "it just is" before moving on. The characters of Serah and Noel bring little to the table, but the antagonist Caius proves to be the most intriguing addition as the bad guy with sound reason for being a bad guy. There is also the addition of the new companion "Mog" whose constant cries of "Kupo" make for one annoying sidekick.
One aspect that remains unscathed with Final Fantasy is a stunning presentation. Visuals are as sharp as ever, with character animations syncing seamlessly with returning performances of the previous voice cast. Cinematic scenes are always entertaining, complete with over the top action sequences the series is known for. While the look and feel is great, there are some aspects that seem out of whack. Square Enix brought on three separate composers for the soundtrack, resulting in what sounds like a child changing the radio station; there are a few gems off the soundtrack, but the rest feels so out of place it actually detracts from the game.
XIII-2 ditches the linear, closed off corridors to a certain extent, giving the game a more open feel. While you still are not in an airship flying over the world, you jump between time gates and gather artifacts in each world to jump further; think Mario's overworld with branching pathways. The trouble with this is you have no idea if you are going in the right direction, resulting in occasional backtracking upon stumbling into a situation out of your league. The general story progression has a few snags along the way, including an attempt at platforming near the close of the game and one world where every two steps you enter into a fight, but beyond that the game is set at a standard difficulty with little issue.
Encounters in the game have changed, with a new "Mog Clock" encounter system. Monsters now randomly appear, and a clock counts down for you to engage in combat. If you strike first, you gain a boost in combat and attack right off the bat. If the enemy runs into you, it's even ground. If you do not escape the combat zone after a set time, you will engage in a fight or die situation in which death takes you back to the last save point. This makes latter fights much more intense. Though an interesting system, the random encounters feel like a step back in the series; as seeing the giant beasts in XIII roaming the corridors were much more intimidating and gave life to the worlds, rather than simply having them pop out of thin air.
While there are "villages" in the game these amount to nothing more than a few people walking around, uttering terrible and unimportant lines of dialogue. NPCs are available to issue sidequests, but these evolve into nothing more than simple fetch quests or battles. Shops are limited to one soul source, a traveler named Chocolina. She sells the standard amenities of potions, weaponry, and accessories which can be purchased much more easily thanks to the fact that you actually gain money from battles again.
I Choose You!
The fast-paced combat of XIII was a redeeming factor for the game, and it carries over well in the sequel. Limited to a party of three, you assign each member a role to follow. These range from support, to attack, to buffers and dispellers. These "paradigms" can be shifted mid-battle to adapt to the situation as it occurs; such as switching to a defensive roster when a boss is counting down a big move or attacking roster when he opens himself up.
It's the constant switch and adaptation to each situation that makes the battle system so great. One second you are boosting a boss's Stagger gauge to make him more susceptible to attacks, and the next you can be on the defensive trying to stack a few heals before resuming your assault. Each area is different, and each encounter warrants diverse tactics. This will constantly have you switching roles and paradigms to overcome a challenge, and makes brute force useless in most situations.
Following the popular trend, FFXIII-2 has also added a few typical features to mix things up a bit further. Cinematic Action sequences will occur during bigger battles that can give you an upper hand in battle if performed correctly. There is also the inclusion of dialogue trees in conversation, that add a small sense of choice in a predestined game. The ideas are nice, but nothing that hasn't been done better in other titles.
Unlike previous games, your party only consists of two main characters. The third slot is filled with monsters that you tame in the wild. Practically all monsters are up for grabs as you progress through the game, each coming equipped with a set role like a healer or magic user. You then use items found in the wild or purchased to level these monsters up. The addictive feel of getting, training, and using these monsters in battle is reminiscent of Pokemon; adding another addictive collecting task.You can even customize your monster with an accessory, because putting a backpack on a Chocobo...it's just awesome. The monster taming helps establish the game as a sequel and not just an expansion, and ends up being the highlight of the game.
To Be Continued
Though the primary quest is relatively short (about 20 hours), but there is plenty of side content offered to keep you busy well after the game's abrupt end. The side content is very collector based, and will have you straying from the established path to collect every last item in a world.
One particular portal takes you to 'Serendipity', which is basically a time traveler's casino....can't make this up. Once there you can tackle the slot machine in an attempt to rake cash in quickly for exclusive items not found or dropped by enemies. There is even the return of Chocobo races in which you can race your own tamed Chocobo or bet on existing ones.
Though you do not need to collect every fragment in the game to complete it, there are 160 total fragments scattered throughout the worlds that can offer ultimate rewards once a set is collected. These range from jumping farther when platforming to instantly killing weak enemies upon their encounter. Fragments are sometimes hidden throughout the world, obtained from completing sidequests, or rewards from various mini games.
While Final Fantasy XIII-2 addresses many of the issues of its predecessor, it brings up its fair share of new ones. Odd pacing, an odder soundtrack, and a dumbed down leveling system are just a few issues that hold the game back from redeeming XIII's downfalls. It's not a terrible RPG, and if you are a fan of Final Fantasy XIII then the game is exactly what you would expect. For those who missed the train that was XIII and are looking for a new RPG, XIII-2 may not be your ideal experience...but, you can put a hat on a Cactuar....so...so there's that.