Reviews: Final Fantasy XIII 2
Fun and engaging.
Final Fantasy XIII was an interesting attempt to shake up a JRPG, and while it did some things right, it had a lot of issues. Final Fantasy XIII-2, however, managed to fix most of the issues XIII suffered from, and adds a few twists to shake up the formula. Gameplay wise, the FFXIII battle system has been sharpened up greatly. Gone are the Water and Earth elements, the party leader death rule, multi-million HP counts, and Techniques; in are tamable monsters. Monster catching was far and away my favorite part of the game, and while I wish there were more ways to improve your chance of obtaining a monster crystal, I got the hang of catching fairly quickly. The only real downside of monster catching is the item farming for the Rare Candy you feed monsters to power them up, and even then, I mostly used it as an opportunity to test out new monsters. It's also a welcome relief to learn that the game is extremely open-ended, with many optional time periods to explore and sidequests to do. Those who found FFXIII stiflingly linear will be at home here. The story, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. While I love video games about time travel, I was hoping for more involved time-related mechanics. I also found the main villain, Caius Ballad, to be a little hard to take seriously and rather absurdly overpowered. On the bright side, I did enjoy the character of Noel, and while I initially found Serah annoying, she ended up growing on me. Mog was the only major character I really disliked, and even then, being able to chunk him off a cliff every now and then kept me from really hating him. I also enjoyed the 'Temporal Rift' puzzle sections, although 'The Hands of Time' was pretty fucking awful. Honestly, if you thought FFXIII had some interesting ideas marred by bad execution, then this is the game for you. Definitely worth a look.
Not a masterpiece, but still worth my time
When I bought FFXIII-2, I'd already read quite a few of the reviews from players before me, and, honestly, I was expecting to be disappointed. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the game as a whole once I started playing it and delved deeper into its systems and storyline. True, there were a few things it could've done better, especially concerning the ending, the way the paradoxes/time gates were done, and how it brought up more questions about the FFXIII universe than answered them, but overall I think it was an improvement over XIII. It wasn't nearly as linear - which I see as being both a strength and a weakness concerning game play and completion, respectively - and didn't under-develop more than 50% of its characters like XIII did (though I wish that Noel was something more than an obvious and kind of shallow expy of Fang.) Also, the music, voice acting, graphics, and battle system definitely met my approval - in fact, they MADE the game for me, going above and beyond its storyline (which, unfortunately, can be seen as something of a disappointment.) In conclusion, FFXIII-2's developers may have tried too hard to please the fanbase, either overdoing or making underwhelming some of the variables that could have been magnificent. However, despite its flaws, FFXIII-2 was a satisfying play for me and one I would recommend to other FF fans. And now that I've beaten the entire game, going through all the side content and earning all 160 fragments, I re-read some of the reviews that lowered my expectations before and can't help but come to the conclusion that most of the people behind them were solely focused on all of its imperfections and didn't give a shred of thought to what is done well. It's saddening and more than a little irritating, but that's life, I suppose. Hopefully, if Square Enix decides to make a sequel, it will build on XIII-2's strengths and resolve its failings, but until then, FFXIII-2 is a good game for what it has and I hope others will come to agree with me.
Unlikeable characters, a dumbed-down Crystarium, stupid puzzles, and general nonsense combine to make this FF less appealing than FFXIII. First we have Caius, some oversworded pretty-boy who looks like some retard's OC. Seriously, he has all of the flaws of particularly bad original characters: a big purple sword with big purple powers for no good reason, inexplicable summons, strange emo motivations, and he feels like a cheap ripoff of FF 7's and 9's main villains. The FFXIII universe has plenty of potential Big Bad candidates in the fal'Cie. Instead, we get this loser. About five seconds after Noel dropped in out of nowhere, I silently prayed that please, please, please not let me see too much more of him. He's one of the main characters. Why, God, why? He's like FF 9's Zidane, but without any of the wit or whimsy. At least he doesn't go full-bird emo. Serah is the girliest girl who ever girled girl, and why she's running around with this crackhead instead of, well, Snow? There are handfuls of intelligent dialogue in this game as someone had the wisdom to project common sense upon the cipher that is Noel (if the player has the brains to select the right dialogue choices), but they're overshadowed by the nonsensical plot, which is hopefully just an artifact of strange translation and cultural misunderstandings. You go forward into the future to solve "paradoxes" (they do not think this word means what I think it means), which, in turn, alter the past. Why couldn't they have just gone with something more like Chrono Trigger? No, instead we get FF 8's Time Compression and FF 10's world map (or lack thereof)... Basically, Square Enix said "We're sorry for FFXIII, so here, have a combination of every 3D FF game we've ever made." Yes, FFXIII was linear, but at least it had a plot that was at least somewhat logical in FF terms and its characters were reasonable. There's a part in this game where we get an incoherent lecture on how changing the future is bad from the main boss, who stops to fight you and then runs away (what was the point of that?), and he's trying to do what again? This is after we put a familiar place back together again, with "puzzles" that wouldn't challenge a five year old with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Sorry, Square Enix. You fixed the problems with FFXIII, but you added plenty of new ones.
Forgets it's own strengths
Despite being in many ways very similar to Final Fantasy XIII, this game's problems are general the exact opposite of it's predecessor. This is probably the worst in terms of the story; while XIII preferring to focus on it's characters instead of it's fascinating world was somewhat annoying, it didn't rob the narrative of strength. Here, the story is fundamentally about the characters (in contrast to XIII's characters having little to do with the plot), but most of the story is spent explaining the bizarre and arbitrary rules of Time Travel, resulting in events having little impact. Similarly, game structure: XIII was hyper-linear, XIII-2 is 70% optional. The end result is that a) you basically need a guide, b) there's not much main story, c) the game is filled with backtracking, and d) overleveling is very easy. Speaking of optional content, a depressingly large number of sidequests have you hunting down an item that's hidden somewhere. Very rarely are you asked to do something interesting. While XIII was basically all combat all the time, XIII-2 makes efforts to keep doing other things. The problem being that while XIII could get monotonous at times, combat was something that it did quite well. XIII-2 does introduce some effective set pieces, but also a number of puzzles that are more annoying than anything else. Somewhat related to the above is that they managed to screw up combat. In what I assume was an effort to speed things up, most enemies have fairly low HP, though they tend to come in packs. The battle system is based on fighting single opponents with high HP. Combined with the worthlessness of most synergists and the ease of over levelling, combat tend to be resolved by keeping everyone as a commando until the enemies die. Bosses and super-enemies remain fun, though. The game has a focus on 'exploration'. In quotes because the maps are fairly small, and you aren't exploring so much a looking for treasure chests that are hard to see. Despite the number of complaints here, this is not to say that I dislike the game. I have some positive things to say:
- The set pieces mentioned above really are quite effective.
- The voice acting is quite good, with the exception of Caius (all ham and no nuance).
- The music is fantastic.
- The story is interesting when not dealing directly with paradox.
Spoilers are below, including the ending. You are forewarned. My opinion of FF XIII-2 mirrors my opinion of the FF XIII: A good but flawed game. Which, for me, is okay. I don't demand perfection from my games. If I have a good time playing them, that's enough for me. Like most time travel stories (and if I'm honest, like most Squeenix stories)FF XIII-2 makes you work a little bit to understand what is going on. Or was going on. Or will be going on. To me this is a plus. I like stories that make me work for them. But your mileage may definitely vary on that. A lot of people seem confused to how the future can change the past, but with the explanation of how paradoxes work in the game this actually makes sense. A paradox is caused by the future and the past overlapping onto one another. If you solve the paradox in the future, then the paradox affect never happened in the past, retroactively changing the past. Trippy to say the least. But what really got me interested in this game was a concept that I don't see explored a lot in other time travel stories but has always bothered me. Every time you change the future, even if it's for the "better" there is collateral damage in the shape of people wiped from the timeline. Is that okay? Should we even be messing with this stuff when the consequences are so high? It really made me stop after a couple encounters with Caius. Who was the bad guy here, me or him? The revelation that Etro releasing the party from crystal at the end of XIII started the whole Time Crash to begin with just made this worse. The Downer Ending: Caught me slightly off-guard. I could feel it coming. Things were way too perky. But the extent of it blew me away. Serah just didn't die, you broke the universe. Wow. Nice job breaking it hero. I should've hated it (and lots of people did), but I think I like it. Nothing in this game foreshadowed a happy ending. To see them actually follow through on the warning that battling Caius was a BAD thing was neat. As for gameplay, battle is like XIII which I enjoyed because of its strategic nature. The mon system is new and you could spend a game's worth of time just leveling creatures. In short: the story, while confusing at times, had some interesting concepts. The gameplay was so-so to good depending on your feelings on XIII's battle system.
A welcome improvement
The story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is interesting, but also somewhat silly and convoluted, as is expected when dealing with time-travel. Around halfway through the game, however, it starts to get pretty good. It's not the best in the series, the writing is bad and they rely too heavily on the "time paradox" plot device, but it's not as bad as people make it out to be. Noel is a rather bland protagonist, though once the details of his past come into view he does get a few sympathy votes. Serah too, starts off uninteresting, but in the end she winds up becoming my favorite out of the primary cast. Seeing her go from a weak-willed girl who can barely do anything on her own to an altruistic and, quite frankly, bad-ass heroine helped me to look past her origins as a walking JRPG stereotype. Serah, I feel, is probably a better protagonist than her sister. Caius is an okay villain, though like everything else about the story it's only around the halfway mark where he becomes interesting and even sympathetic. The gameplay is where XIII-2 truly shines over its predecessor. The game is not truly non-linear, but most Final Fantasies aren't. The game does place a high value on exploration, discovery, and player interaction, which is a welcome change from XIII's claustrophobic tubes. There are some questionable inclusions, such as a very obnoxious platforming segment toward the end of the game, but overall the different gameplay features blend well together. Quests are not terribly exciting; a bit more creativity could have gone a long way here. The monster component works well, and the character growth system is the second-best in the series (just behind the Sphere Grid). The game is a bit short: it took me about 35 hours to beat the story with 110/160 fragments, and it will likely take just as long to 100% complete it. The music was one thing I thought would work against the game, but the OST actually works well with it. Even Crazy Chocobo manages to work, and I have found myself on more than one occasion humming some tunes from the game, which is something I haven't done in a while with the series. It's too bad I'm limited to 400 words, because I have so much more to say! It's a great game, though not GOTY material or anything. It might not make believers out of people who hated XIII, but XIII-2 is a step in the right direction.