Title: Final Fantasy XIII-2
Developed By: Square Enix
Published By: Square Enix (Japan, North America and Europe), Namco Bandai Partners (Australia and New Zealand)
Based on: Sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, Part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis collection of Final Fantasy titles
Console: Playstation 3 and XBox360
Classification: This game has been classified M for Mature Themes and Violence
Review Conditions: This review was done on an Australian XBox360 version of the game. With the exception of an exclusive DLC item for the XBox360 version, there should be no content difference between the two as of this post.
Special Thanks: Namco Bandai Partners for providing me with a sample of this game.
If there was one major complaint when it came to Final Fantasy XIII, the first game in the Final Fantasy series to make use of current-gen consoles it would be that it was overly linear, involving a storyline that took characters mostly through corridors almost as linear as a ruler and didn’t really offer anything in regards to replayability or gameplay. But it turns out that the game must have sold very well as we have now been graced with the release of Final Fantasy XIII-2, which is supposed to be a sequel to XIII similar to how X-2 was a sequel to X. Final Fantasy X-2 was a game that welcomed me to RPG’s but is one that most people groan about when it comes up in conversation – so does XIII-2 fare any better? Read on to find out in my review of Final Fantasy XIII-2!
With her friends beside her, Lightning defeated the false gods who had ruled for centuries. Now she cannot be found at all. When a meteorite strikes, bloodthirsty monsters appear from strange distortions and threaten to destroy a short lived peace. Admist the chaos, a stranger from the future appears , bearing the knowledge that Lightining is waiting… Serah embarks on a new quest to find Lightning and reshape fate. It is no longer about facing your destiny, create your future and change the world!
I wouldn’t consider the writing of Final Fantasy XIII bad in any way, complex in a way that it might not be appealing to everyone… perhaps but if you looked past the linearity of the game you had the workings of a more mature Final Fantasy plot that retained the whole “Saving the World” while offering its own unique band of characters and plot devices. With the last “-2” game, most of the series main characters became what you could barely call secondary characters and the main plot was only occasionally referenced and with Final Fantasy XIII-2 this became the case as well. The series surrounds two characters – Serah Farron (Who was not playable in XIII however had an important role to the overall plot) and Noel Kreiss (A newcomer to the series hailing from 700 years into the future and calls himself “The Last Person”), leaving the six main characters from the previous game all to take secondary roles – some more prominent than others… but more on them later.
The story starts off simple and while including some complex elements to it, should be much easier to pick up upon than the previous installment. The story implies that the ending one say upon the completion of the first game was rewritten, with nobody other than Serah remembering that Lightning was there with them, with Vanille and Fang having formed a crystallized pillar in order to hold Cocoon from falling into Gran Pulse effectively wiping the entire population out – that she may have become Ragnarok with them. Three years later, Serah is still the only person who remembers and now lives on New Bodhum with the members of NORA when a meteor crashes into the ground and brings with it monsters and a mysterious boy named Noel who claims he was sent by her sister Lightning to bring her to Valhalla, a land of death and chaos which stands at the end of time where she is fighting the series antagonist Caius Ballad. The two of them set off on their journey across time, in a quest to meet her, while also working to save the world from its grim fate many centuries in the future.
They provide quite a few interesting ideas when it comes to their storyline and at least at some points they do use the time hopping to their advantage, but after a relatively detailed plot in XIII I couldn’t help but feel disappointed when it came to the overall implementation of these ideas. For example, they give you brief glimpses at what Lightning is doing, even making her the first character you control in the game but despite she gets her image on the front box her relevance to the storyline is slim at best, while other popular characters such as Snow and Sazh do make considerably important appearances at some point within the game, Hope is the only character that has carried over and been given a role suitable to his past endeavors.
The new playable characters I felt had some good character development especially in the later chapters where their feelings and emotions really do come out into the open, but in the earlier chapters beat around the bush a little bit too much in lieu of developing a more detailed and rewarding storyline – perhaps giving more purpose to visiting a number of the more minor areas in the game. Noel was a standout winner in terms of backstory and had more of a driving force than searching for ones lost sister, hunting for the only two people he considered friends at the end of days, while realizing that there was more to the two of them than what they were letting on. In terms of interactions, the dialogue between Noel, Serah and their companion Moggle was serious and vague at some points, but a lot more light hearted than most Final Fantasy games, often mixing some laughable and heart-warming moments in with the plot (For example, you could occasionally ask Mog for their opinion over the opinion of someone who could help… or just throw them into a monster and hope for the best).
The game does however make use of the time jumps and paradoxes to its advantages when it came to replayability of the game. The game has a main ending as well as an extended one that can be unlocked by essentially finishing the game 100% but for those who like to dig around areas and time periods previously played (You can reset them) along with taking the not-so correct path, the game features a number of paradox endings which provide alternate endings which while not providing much, was a nice touch. Shown in the first image above, you are also faced with occasional Live Triggers which allow you to alter the characters interactions which helps stray away from the feeling of linearity and at times altering how the game progresses (In one point can turn a battle against one boss into four battles against the same boss). The game also kindly provides recaps of each chapter in Final Fantasy XIII, which was a nice touch considering they do touch upon the key elements of the plot frequently and thus those who have not played the game or haven’t in a while should consider reading them before beginning.
In the end, Square Enix responded to user complaints about the linearity of the previous game and delivered what could be conceived as one of their most non-linear releases yet. But while this may have benefited the gameplay a great deal I do not feel the same way about the storyline, which came off as a jumble of time jumps, ideas that felt only half fulfilled and no real closure to any characters that I would have loved to have seen in this game. By all means it wasn’t terrible and was pulled off to an extent in the later chapters, you really had to wait out the first couple of chapters for anything to really happen.
While I wouldn’t say that the designs are better than that of the original release of Final Fantasy XIII, it is still one of the releases best elements, aided by the fact the worlds are now more open leaving you with more of an opportunity to appreciate them over the original where a great environment design might be used once in a single corridor. While I am not that big a fan of either games battle system which makes use of an action gauge and auto-battle system, it is hard to deny that the battles look visually appealing and filled with action, as no longer are you permitted to spend 20 minutes deciding whether to use Fire or Fira, but instead are delivered with a constant stream of activity, improved by a few new animation tweaks and additions.
Unfortunately, quite possibly due to the shorter development time, the enemies you face against remain fairly limited in number (Only a couple per each area) and are nothing all too unique from what was shown already in Final Fantasy XIII – a bit disappointing considering they are usually pretty creative with their enemy designs. However, they do improve upon them due to the monster recruitment system, which allows you to add monsters to your party which Serah and Noel to battle alongside a number of the enemies they face in battle. The character designs for the main characters however were modelled very well and still retained that FF-esque style, along with improvements to animation. As you may have guessed, a number of the characters from Final Fantasy XIII have also donned new character models, most noticeably Hope who loses that childish appearance for a more serious one suited to his role in the story and Lightning who also obtains a more knight-light wardrobe. They do however reuse the same limited number of designs for NPC’s that stroll around towns and cities which while populating the towns could have used a greater diversity.
Environment locales are more open given Square Enix’s non-linear approach which worked in their favor and gave them the opportunity to deliver bigger and more creative landscapes while getting the chance to showcase how they age through time as well as how they are altered through the events that transpire through paradoxes and time travel. While I would have preferred a wider variety of levels in order for them to showcase the talents they evidently had during Final Fantasy XIII, I was pleased in this regard. They did cut down on the number of CGI sequences that they included in the game, which I assume is part of the reason that the game was only one disc on the XBox360 version, however they did include a couple of them here and there but the in-game cutscenes that replaced them still worked just as well.
Overall, while I do not feel that the game received as much polish as its predecessor did, I was more than happy with the visuals and capabilities that they showed me within this release and was eager to take advantage of their non-linear stance and enjoy the environments of every area that was presented to me.
As with most Final Fantasy games, the music is used well and is of a consistently high standard. The most noticeable addition is in the number of lyrical tracks that are used throughout the game, which do not impede the instrumental components but add that extra something that makes listening to them pleasant and heightens the mood as they are more frequently used as background music to areas you visit. Another major improvement is the inclusion of a proper normal battle theme: while the one in XIII was enjoyable to listen to by itself, the one in this game jumped right into the normal battle track element instead of having a soft 30 second prelude that did not improve the mood of the battles. The rest of the music was enjoyable and consisted of a mix of old, new and remixed.
The voice cast behind Serah and Noel was of a high standard, with both Laura Bailey (Raspberyl – Disgaea 3, Rise Kujikawa – Persona 4) and Jason Marsden (Haku – Spirited Away, Pater – Resonance of Fate) both doing their respective characters justice in terms of their personalities and emotions. Other notable new voice cast inclusions are Ariel Winter as Mog (Marlene – Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children) and Kim Mai Guest as Alyssa Zaidelle (Mei-Ling – Metal Gear Solid) both of who also are well suited to their role. With the good voice cast from the previous game returning, I think the voice acting in this game was pretty good and matched well with the lip-syncing.
The core gameplay elements from Final Fantasy XIII have been retained, namely in terms of the battle system… however some improvements have been made subject to demand. The games previous Command Synergy Battle system is back, meaning that they take place in real time and provide you with limited time to think up of a strategy and respond, but also come equipped with an Auto system which attacks your enemies based on the information you know about the enemy. I have always felt this cheapened the system however it is back and somewhat more bearable. One of the more heavily promoted elements of the improved battle system was the Cinematic Actions, which at points in certain battles require you to press certain buttons in order to perform attacks – a system that may be considered “Quick Time Events with Button Presses” but it was a nice thing to implement on a visual level and given the time limits on some of them, actually posed a little bit of a challenge. Unfortunately I felt that the Auto system was a bit temperamental, particularly in the Medic role where the characters would often opt for weaker and less healing spells then would be required – so while you can play through most of the game on auto, there are moments when you have to dive into the games easy to pick up manual attack system.
The Paradigm Shift system also returns and brings with it the same six roles (Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist and Medic) but as well comes with an added difference. In the original game, you had six party members which each had three initial roles and could eventually pick up basic skills in the other three. In this game, you have only two primary party members therefore can master all six if you so wish through the Crystarium System which has also received an overhaul. With each character having access to three roles (Commando, Ravenger and Sentinel) at the start, you can use points in order to expand the Crystarium and unlock additional classes, skills or ATB gauge segments up to five.
It was a much more streamlined system which allowed for a bit more leniency with mistakes – however I found at about the half-way point that much grinding and just performing normal battles, that I was very overpowered and had unlocked every skill for several roles. This in the end detracted from the overall challenge of the game which was overall very easy (The only Final Fantasy game I could call easier was Final Fantasy X-2…. with the Cat Nip accessory attached to a character). However, the system does give you complete control over the two characters skills and allows you to respond to anything the battle throws at you provided you set the correct combinations (You are allowed six combinations in total). There was one infuriating bug that I did happen to have which while I will not deduct points for was tedious to say the least – that 70-80% of the time where I staggered an enemy, the controller would disconnect itself for no reason and ask me to reconnect it.
But perhaps just fighting with two characters isn’t enough for you? The game also includes their own little Pokemon system where randomly after every battle, you may be able to acquire the enemies you fought as party members. The paradigm system allows you to have three in your party at any time, and of course you are able to shift between them as you would usually do when shifting between character roles. I found it personally awesome to finally be able to have a Chocobo as a party member, and as each monster has its own class, you can mix and match to provide the optimal party member… then upgrade through the Crystarium system and specific monster upgrade items. (A Handy Hint: Try and get a Chocobo in your party as soon as possible, it unlocks a bonus minigame where you can race it!). While not every enemy can be recruited to your ranks, a sizable portion of them are and it does open the possibility for DLC characters to join – including the recently released Lightning and Amodar Coliseum pack.
With all of this, you might be wondering a bit about how battles initiated. Until the release of Final Fantasy XII, most games had a Random Encounter system which was later replaced by having monsters appear in the world in one form or another. In Final Fantasy XIII-2, it merges the two with the new Mog Clock system. Making use of a random encounter system, you will randomly come across enemies who then (Making use of the XIII system) begin to chase you leaving you with the option to either attack or attempt to escape. Attacking the enemy with your sword will result in a preemptive strike, running or being hit by the enemy results in no advantage during battle and attempting to escape BUT failing will result in no advantage and the retry option being blanked out – meaning Game Over to those who fail in the battle. While it was only a minor change, I felt it was about time they merged the systems as it encouraged you to take part in battles and just made things more challenging in my opinion.. However as mentioned above, for the most part the battle system was the same as XIII with improvements.
Moving away from this, the game comes with a nice set of other content that is pretty enjoyable. The game comes equipped with a Casino where you can take part in Chocobo Racing and slot machines, a set of time puzzles where you can help clear paradoxes and 160 “fragments” which you can collect through the plot via side quests, the story itself and other means are great ways to collect special skills and to get some replayability out of the game. The game also comes attached with an improved quest system that has you hunting for items, killing monsters and a bunch of other things both in the same area and jumping through time which is a nice addition, however the plot does rely on heavily on the “item hunting” aspect, where several times you have to wander around the worlds you have previously visited and search for vague transparent objects – not all that fun if you ask me.
Unfortunately, the game could have done with more time periods and areas within it, I thought upon beginning this game that I would see a healthy mix of going into the past and future from the stance of Final Fantasy XIII however a majority of it dealt around going through the same handful of areas at different times in the future in order to progress the plot and help save the people of the world. This might have been for plot reasons but I would have loved to hear some more about events that occurred before the series took place in the world before any of this happened. Talking about jumping worlds, it is not so much a gameplay element as it is a little fun addition, but as they cannot just include a town in every time period and era they have added a time travelling Chocobo-cosplaying merchant named Chocolina who sells you wares wherever you are from 3AD to 700AD.
While there were a number of elements which to be honest could have used some more refining or otherwise showed great potential but did not meet the mark of other Final Fantasy games, I could not help but really get drawn into playing this game as while it didn’t not provide that level of challenge I usually find in a Final Fantasy game (I defeated the final boss on the first attempt), it was more more enjoyable than its predecessor to sit down and play, much in the same regards as Final Fantasy X-2 was. As the game leaves its door open to a sequel or at least DLC chapters (Heres hoping for Final Fantasy XIII-3 as I am sure most will not appreciate buying a game then having to pay more for a conclusion), I look forward to seeing where they will take the characters and world they have developed over the last two games in the future. Of course, I would much prefer to be sitting here reviewing Final Fantasy Versus XIII before then. They say that “Third time is the charm” and while this game took many great steps at improving the concept, I hope they take gamer feedback into account if they decide to develop XIII-3 and ensure that it is something we could consider the “perfect” XIII game.
Storyline/Character Development: C
Music/Voice Acting: A
Personal Opinion: B+
Overall Score: B