Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review
Written : Sunday, February 12, 2012
By: Lee Abrahams
Final Fantasy XIII was a pretty terrible RPG, which is to say that while it had beautiful graphics, a decent story and some interesting set pieces, it came up lacking in the sense of exploration, subtlety and invention that previous titles in the series have become known for. Players were presented with a lush world, a myriad of races and a brooding storyline, but then merely tasked with running from beginning to end, without being able to stop and take a look around once in a while. Final Fantasy XIII-2 therefore aims to build upon its predecessor and introduce a few of the features that fans were clamoring for.
The aspects that Square Enix do so well, they do really well, and the world of Cocoon and Gran Pulse are once again brought to life in a beautiful manner. Cutscenes are truly epic, with the opening cinematic between Lightning and bad boy (with big hair) Caius being truly spectacular. Throughout the game you will revisit familiar areas and stray into new ones, but each location has been given a loving overhaul to give you a sense of awe and wonder. As world builders there are few better, and things are spot on as you begin your journey through the eddies of time to be by Lightning’s side. In a way though, the opening cinematic is also a highlight of what went so wrong with the series, with a sense of grandeur that the rest of the game almost fails to live up to.
"Whiny dialogue exchanges... Final Fantasy style."
Indeed, despite watching Lightning kick all kinds of ass you are tasked with shepherding her younger, and much whinier, sister Serah and her newfound sidekick Noel to the game's denouement. Despite the odd moment of levity or touching backstory, they are both pretty much devoid of charisma and charm. Whereas the first game had the kooky offerings of Vanille, the coolness of Sazh and the steel of Lightning and Fang, here you just have two bland, almost back-up characters that are pretty much forced upon you. Sure they do have their moments but at no time will you develop the kind of emotional attachment that occurred in past games.
Your overriding quest is to help out these two wannabes battle their way to Lightning’s side, while overcoming the obstacles and temporal distortions that are put in their way. To be more exact, you take part in an RPG-style Quantum Leap and aim to put right what once went wrong: via the medium of active time battling. Each area you leap to has its own set of problems, monsters and side quests and it’s up to you whether or not you want to explore and help out as much as you can, or merely push onward through the main story. Snagging artifacts and fragments along the way will help you unlock new gates and areas to hop into, some of which are integral to the story and some are just there for a bit of sightseeing and monster bashing. Cleverly you can access each area through the central Historia Crux hub and back out at almost any juncture to save your progress. Thus you can flit between various locales - assuming you have unlocked them - and then pop back to unfinished locations whenever you please.
While it is nice to be able to step off the beaten path now and then, things never quite click like you would expect. Missions are usually pretty well signposted and most of them revolve around simple fetch quests or beating up a certain monster, and it's nice to have the odd puzzle thrown into the mix now and again as well, but they are too few and far between. The sense of freedom that comes with the time travel mechanic could have been used to provide a lot more in terms of clever puzzles and missions, so while it does feel like a step in the right direction it also feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
The meat and drink of the game obviously revolves around the battle sequences and people that hated the toned down ATB system in FFXIII will be disappointed to see it return. While you could theoretically beat most enemies just by pushing one button over and over again, that would kind of miss the point. Battles can be mixed up by switching paradigms so team members alter their skill set-ups, plus you can introduce a roster of tameable monsters to add their skills to your party. Monsters can be caught and leveled up to earn new skills and add an extra dimension to proceedings with their Feral Link abilities acting as Limit Breaks of a sort. Certain battles also throw in the dreaded quick time event that usually takes place during a cinematic and offers you the chance for enhanced damage should you succeed. Overall then, things are as complex or simple as you want them to be, but it's fair to say that we still miss the added control of managing your troops on an individual basis.
The crystarium leveling system also returns, with players spending points earned in battles to unlock new nodes and abilities. Though the waters are muddied further this time around thanks to the fact you can now progress any unlocked class at any time, on the same grid. Throw in the fact that different nodes offer different bonuses for different skills, plus the fact you may get varying stat boosts because you are on an odd or even level, and things seem overly complex. To be honest, the system in the last game was a pretty solid one and the new one seems confusing at best and limiting at worst. Unless you plan ahead with almost surgical precision then you are unlikely to reap the best rewards and the game offers little in the way of help. A definite swing and a miss.
" Yeah, give it up, Caius!"
For those ready and willing to max out the FFXIII-2's Gamerscore, you will pretty much have to be prepared to explore every nook and cranny in a bid to snag every last fragment and beat all the toughest monsters. The story can be taken down in a lot less time and, yet again, post-story play is pretty much mandatory to get the most out of your adventure. Still the rewards are decent enough with a bunch of paradox endings on offer and points to snag. Though it has to be said that the achievement list is fairly bland and uninspired, plus it has the inclusion of odd numbered points allocations, which is neither hip or clever.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 does a lot of things right, but the basic storyline holds the whole thing back from being a world beater. There is still plenty to see and do here, and this is certainly a fun game to play with a number of standout moments along the way, but you never quite get drawn into the world in the same way as past Final Fantasy games. While it is nice to revisit Cocoon and Pulse one more time, it would be better if the next game had the same kind of fun and invention from the get go rather than having to rely on fans letting the developers know what was missing. Still as time hopping quests to save the world go, this one will hold your attention for some……..time. Sorry.
An eclectic score and some bright and breezy voice-work help to keep things interesting, though things can get overly cheesy at times.
Some brilliant cutscenes, as you would expect, and a plethora of locales and characters to interact with that bring a familiar world to life. Things can get a little rough around the edges at times, and some of the backdrops stray a little too far into bland generic territory, but on the whole this is sitting pretty.
The battle system returns in all of its controversial glory, which means combat is as easy or hard as you want to make it – depending on your tinkering. A roster of beasts to flesh out your team is an interesting touch, and the ability to stray from the beaten path is more than welcome.
A much more open, interesting and entertaining RPG than its forebear but the story is still lacking and the two leads are hardly chock full of charisma. Still you can't help but admire the deft touches that make plenty of little moments stand out.
Certainly not as much grinding required this time around, which can only be a good thing, but having to track down every fragment and fell the mightiest of beasts may be too much of an ask for the casual gamer. Plus, odd numbered achievement points. Really?.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 isn't a full blown return to the classic Final Fantasy games many people know and love, but it is certainly a step in the right direction and offers a great deal more invention, exploration and good, old fashioned fun than its predecessor. The story and characters are a little weak in places but it is hard not to get swept along by the charm of it all.