Feb 16, 2012

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Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review

Final Fantasy XIII was a bit of a dud to some fans thanks to the game’s linear maps and crazy, confusing story. Square Enix hoped to quell the fans’ fury by releasing a sequel designed to improve on its predecessor’s downfalls. Does Square succeed, or does XIII-2 fail just as badly as the original?

The game starts off three years after the events of XIII. Lightning is now serving the goddess Etro in the land of Valhalla. After a major tutorial battle against a mysterious purple-haired man, another man appears out of a portal and is whisked into another portal by Lightning to find Serah, Lightning’s sister, to help restore the timeline to what it’s supposed to be. Immediately after the first game, time has shifted to where everyone thinks Lightning is holding Cocoon up with Fang and Vanille. Only Serah knows the truth about what happened, and once she meets the man sent by Lightning, who introduces himself as Noel Kreiss, set out on their time-traveling adventure. As simple as it sounds here, the story actually gets really complex. Not as complex as XIII’s story, but still pretty confusing.

During the story, Serah and Noel discuss how certain “paradoxes” have messed up the timeline. For a couple of young adults who are supposed to be amazed and new to the whole time-traveling thing, they sure know a lot about timelines and paradoxes. This happens almost as soon as the two meet, making it seem as if the two had read Time Travel for Dummies before the game started. The story starts to make sense near the end, but by that time I only cared about where Lightning was and what was up with this Caius guy and his connection to Noel. Everything else was filler to me. To make things worse for the story, the ending is terrible. To avoid spoilers for those who still don’t know, the ending doesn’t give you closure at all. After the game is complete, you can keep playing to unlock special Paradox Endings, but none of the endings have anything to do with the main ending, meaning these endings are just for replayability factor only.

For people who loved the gameplay of the first game, there isn’t much difference in the sequel. Unlike other games in the Final Fantasy series, you only can control Serah and Noel. Other characters from the first game appear from time to time, but only Snow actually fights battles with you and even then you can’t control him. During battles, each character has a specific role they play. Commandos are attack-heavy characters, Ravagers are magic users, Sentinels provoke monsters to attack themselves instead of others in the party, Saboteurs debuff enemies, Synergists buff allies, and Medics heal allies. Unlike the first half of the first game, in XIII-2, both Serah and Noel can level up in all of the roles all the way up to level 99 and can switch roles in the much faster paradigm shift. Another new feature in XIII-2 is the ability to have monsters in your party. Every now and then when you defeat monsters, you will acquire their crystal, letting you use them in battle. You can collect them and even give them names and make them wear funny adornments like hats and ribbons. In the previous game, you could mash the Auto-Battle button and win battles easily. Now, the Auto-battle feature is less of a feature and more of a nuisance. It doesn’t give you the proper way to quickly dispose of enemies, which is bad if you want the five-star ratings after each battle, which nets you rare loot.

XIII-2 is way more open then XIII was. XIII-2 actually has full cities and populated areas for you to explore. The game even rewards you for exploring every map to its full hundred percent. Serah and Noel travel to many different areas in different time periods. Some areas may have a section blocked off by something, but if you visit the area in a different time, the section might be free of the blockage, allowing you to explore more. Side quests also make a comeback in full force. Almost every area in every time period has a sidequest. Each sidequest rewards you one of the game’s 160 fragments, which are pieces of time solidified into crystal. These sidequests go from a simple fetch quest to battling a fierce monster. I enjoyed how some sidequests actually had an interesting back story to them, but I disliked how they sometimes gave you a vague sense of what you’re supposed to find. The game also has a casino area called Serendipity that houses slots and Chocobo races. It’s a nice diversion from the confusing story, and the game even tells you to wait for them to add more to the casino with DLC.

XIII-2 also implements puzzles this time around. Some of them are story-driven, while the rest are optional for those completionists out there. These puzzles range from annoyingly easy to annoyingly difficult. At some times, I found myself thinking that some puzzles were impossible due to the crazy difficulty level. These puzzles are a nice option, but a little more instruction on how to solve these puzzles would be nice. The look of the game is spot-on, as usual, for Square Enix. The game has only a few pre-rendered cutscenes, but the rest of the game looks great.

One thing that surprised me most about XIII-2 was the music. Almost every track is some kind of vocal track, whether you’re riding a Chocobo or walking through a city. Caius even gets his own “Sephiroth” type music. It’s also interesting how the genre of music changes so suddenly. One second you’re in a whimsical field about to fight a boss battle, and then when you activate that boss battle, the game erupts into a death-metal song about time travel. The most bizarre track is the metal song for riding on a red Chocobo: “So you think you can ride this Chocobo?” Imagine that line screamed at you while you ride though a beautiful landscape. Overall, the music is nice, if not experimental. The soundtrack just has a few oddball tracks in it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is definitely a major improvement from the previous game. While it is better, it has its own set of problems that weigh it down. The story isn’t as focused, but is less confusing. The environments are a lot more open and fun to explore. The battle system is improved and doesn’t feel like a chore. With these positives, The game has a serious lack of closure, is a lot shorter (clocking in at a mere 30 hours for completing the main story), and the main characters are hard to connect with due to their vast knowledge of timespace. Don’t let these faults make you weary of a purchase, however. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is still a fun game to play through if you can look past its faults. It’s obvious that Square Enix plans to release some DLC for XIII-2, but paying additional money to learn the ending is a bit disappointing. All of that aside, if you were a fan of the first game, chances are you’ll like this game too, kupo.

Final Fantasy XIII-2
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed)
Genre: Role Playing Game
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
ESRB Rating: T
MSRP: $59.99