Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review
Written : Sunday, February 12, 2012
By: Lee Abrahams
Remember Final Fantasy X-2? It was the first direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game ever made and despite good reviews, some fans found the game had strayed too far from the familiar formula and had made things a little too twee. A few years later and we have yet another direct FF sequel, though for entirely different reasons. Whereas X-2 was a follow up to one of the most beloved adventures to date, XIII-2 is the exact opposite with the original adventure occupying a divisive void amongst fans that loved its focus on storytelling and those that hated the out and out linearity. Here is a chance to correct those mistakes for good, so Square Enix has stepped up to the plate.
From the get go it is apparent that the whole experience has been rebuilt from the ground up. Gone is the straight as an arrow style progression, to be replaced with multiple locations and time zones all accessible from the central Historia Crux hub. Now players can hop between unlocked locations to their hearts content, using newly discovered powers to unlock hidden secrets that they might have missed first time around. It’s a neat concept but, while it does go some way to bringing back the sense of freedom that XIII lacked, you never feel like the game reaches its full potential.
"...so now you know..."
For all the time-hopping shenanigans that go on, there are none of the subtle touches that made past Squeenix RPG titles like Chrono Trigger so compelling. While you're free to hop between time in the same locations, very few of your activities in the past, present or future have any tangible effect on the other locales. Sure you can solve paradoxes and advance the story but you never feel like your actions are all that vital. Still, that's only a minor niggle and the ability to hop in and out of each area while solving as many major or minor quests as you see fit is more than welcome. You also have a Moogle companion that not only serves as a weapon for Serah but also helps to discover hidden treasures, quests and sundry items that can help you on your journey. He also serves as your comic relief and says “kupo” a lot, which is nice.
Of course if you don’t want to wander from the beaten path you are more than welcome to just plough ahead with the story, as you guide Serah and Noel to their eventual meet and greet with former protagonist Lightning and her arch-nemesis, Caius. The problem here is that the story is far from substantial and our would-be heroes never seem to click with the player or each other for that matter. Instead they spend as much time having casual banter as they do making serious inroads into the occasionally bewildering plot. That’s not to say it's all bad, as some of the off the cuff moments are genuinely fun and the odd set piece and cutscene can certainly stand out, but on the whole things seem like a bit more style than substance.
"What's happening here? Answers on a postcard."
Other than exploring every location you are obviously going to spend a lot of your time beating the tar out of each and every monster that crosses your path. Sadly for some, the rather laid back active time battling system has made a return too. Most battles can be bested by using the same paradigm of people and simply pressing one button every now and then, the ability to control each and every action of your group is sadly lacking and while combat is more in-depth than it appears on the surface, the temptation is always there to take the easy way out. Considering the amount of time you will spend in combat it's a shame that things aren’t a bit more robust and in-depth, as there is something to be said for a system that takes some time and effort to master.
The few changes that have been made are superficial ones, with wounding attacks that lower your overall hit points and the ability to round out your party with a variety of creatures that you can capture. These beasts are the third wheel of your combat group and can fulfill a variety of roles as well as offering various Feral Link attacks. You can also level them up with relevant items as well as advancing your own team through the crystarium, though things are a lot more bewildering this time around thanks to the fact each ability can be leveled up at the same time with different rewards based on the node you reach or whether you are at an odd or even level. It makes getting the best out of your team a lot harder than it should be, which is a shame really.
"Don't ever diss Duran Duran!"
The trophies on offer are a touch boring if truth be told, with the ability to add to your cabinet through finding fragments, battling tough monsters and generally venturing into every single nook and cranny. While this is all well and good, it would have been nice to see a bit more invention, and maybe one or two tasks in keeping with the game's lighter tone in general. Instead you will have to grind out a bunch of battles, wander around on a chocobo and generally do all of the things you would have been likely to do anyway. Just for once it would be nice for a developer to go outside of their comfort zone and encourage players to have a bit of fun.
It's hard to dislike a game that never takes itself too seriously to begin with and, for all the limitations on offer, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is certainly a fun ride from beginning to end. It never quite hits the classic highs of previous entries in the series and the sense of wonder is diminished somewhat by the occasionally confusing chain of events and leveling mechanics. As a standalone RPG FFXIII-2 doesn’t really work unless you have played the previous game which means it is purely one for the fans, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get plenty of entertainment plus chocobos and moogles to boot, and that’s something we can all enjoy, right?
The score ranges from subtle to rock, with an interesting array of choices that seem to blend together perfectly. Some of the voice-work is a touch on the twee side, but at least that is fitting considering the game is never too serious.
A lush world that seems a little sharper, brighter and more vivid on the PS3. Some of the locales are a touch generic but most of the animations and cutscenes are typically beautiful creations.
The battle system has been fleshed out with the addition of monsters to your party, but combat can still revolve around making one button click per round. Thankfully the exploration and quests on offer help to make things interesting.
.A game that builds on its predecessor in every way, but strangely sticks with the dumb down battling. At least this returns to the scope of previous Final Fantasy games, with plenty of opportunities for players to be lured from the normal path.
If you want to see that platinum then you can expect to track down every fragment, beat every bad ass beastie and generally see all there is to see. That’s all well and good, but a little more invention would have been nice.
This sequel certainly outdoes the original, which is no great surprise, but Final Fantasy XIII-2 still has a few niggles that hold it back. The story and characters are still pretty bland, with only a few flashes of greatness, and the battle system is fairly one-dimensional. That aside this is certainly a game for fans, with plenty to see and do and a wealth of hidden nooks and crannies to explore. Saddle up your chocobo and go see the sights.