Written by: Lee Clifford
Yeah, that is an unnecessarily long title for a game.
So, another Final Fantasy has been made available to put in our consoles and computers, readying fanboys of the old and new games for yet another likely flame war between their preferred titles. Final Fantasy XIII got blasted by gamers and reviewers alike for its linear gameplay at game mechanics that, to some, seemed weak. At the end of my Final Fantasy XIII review, I stated that I wasn’t in favour of the linear gameplay, but the mechanics were something I truly enjoyed and were something I felt was putting Final Fantasy back on track, in my opinion, since I personally haven’t truly enjoyed a Final Fantasy experience since FFVI (and let the flame wars begin).
Direct sequels to Final Fantasy titles are always a toss-up, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and Complete Collection were brilliant in my mind, arguably because it was a revisiting and expansion of one of my all-time favourite games, while Final Fantasy X-2 was complete tripe and just a horrible sequel to what was, again MY opinion, a horrible game to begin with.
So how does Final Fantasy XIII-2 fare? Well once I get done taking 15 minutes just to say the title, let’s find out.
So, the story picks up after XIII, so if you haven’t beaten that game yet and don’t want to have any spoilers, I advise you stop reading now, if you dont care then read on.
Lightning, the main character of XIII, is in a distant plain at the edge of time called Valhalla, and while she fights her secret war to save time itself, those left in her time all assume that she’s dead thanks to the events at the end of XIII. She happens across a time-travelling warrior from the future named Noel, whose only goal is to change the future he comes from, a future where he is the last human left, leaving mankind all but extinct; think Kyle Reese in crazy anime form.
Noel joins Lightning as she’s in a heated battle, with the odds not in her favour. As the hopeless battle draws to its close, Lightning sends Noel to the past to find her sister, Serah, the damsel in distress from XIII, and change his future from ever happening. From there, Serah and Noel set out on an adventure through alternate times and realities in an attempt to save mankind’s future.
It’s like Terminator meets Chrono Trigger, which is pretty awesome. The downside is that the story-telling isn’t as good as it could be, which could be a result of lazy translation from the original Japanese narration this game was made with, but despite the lazy execution that players will notice in the main story, it’s still a drama that’s interesting to watch unfold.
If Square-Enix does anything well anymore, it’s graphics. The characters look very sharp, even if they do all look like they’ve stepped out of a weird, over-the-top Japanime. Faces express a decent level of emotion and nuances that real people would have, it’s hardly flawless, but the soulless faces found in most RPGs are tough to find in this one.
Environments are well done with a lot of varieties to both their scenery, presentation and colour palettes. Run-down cities have an air of hopelessness about them, while lush regions full of life are vibrant and have a very warm feel to them. The contrasting worlds are extremely well executed, as seaside towns honestly give the player a sense that they’re in a warm, tropical climate, while dark, underground caverns do have a looming sense of danger and isolation.
Like any Final Fantasy, sound is a key element of the presentation, and nothing was left overlooked this time around. The voice acting is well done, even if it is a little stock at times with some minor characters. The primary characters convey the emotions of their situations well without being too overdone or melodramatic, a tradition that has been a plague of the last several FF titles.
The music. Oh the music. In my Final Fantasy XIII review I gushed about the beauty that is Final Fantasy’s consistently wonderful music, and the same holds true here. The game has taken a few instances of the rough, growly death metal that made its FF debut in FFX is still found in the occasional key battle, but the game’s score still consists mainly of beautiful melodic pieces, whether it be a triumphant orchestra, a looming song of lament, or just simple ambience music, the wonder of the worlds you explore in this game are made only stronger by the terrific musical genious of this game.
Gameplay mechanics are very similar to FFXIII, with characters designated to specific duties, similar to the jobs system created in FFII and then perfected in FFV. A lot of gamers and reviewers griped about this, but I enjoyed it a lot and am glad it returned in the sequel; it provides an element of strategy and makes the battles fast-paced and exciting. I did very much love the old turn-based style of the original Final Fantasy games, which I’m sure most of you have figured out I prefer to the more recent outings, but I very much enjoy the paradigm system that the battles work with in FFXIII and it’s a welcome returning mechanic in XIII-2.
New elements implemented into XIII-2 are moments of quicktime events that put a big cinematic spin on large-scale battles. Most gamers hate quicktime events, and at times I’m one of them, but it’s very well executed in XIII-2. Correct button and stick movements during huge battles take the player outside of the standard attack, wait, attack pattern and put them into grandios moments that will remind players of epic battles from God of War or Shadow of the Colossus.
Another new feature that I’m haing a lot of fun with is the actual ability to hire monsters into your party. This adds a new level of customization to your combat, as the player no longer has to worry about multiple roles with one character. Adding a monster to my party that’s a consistent healer or “tank” class has opened up my playable characters to effective methods of combat.
Outside of combat, gameplay is standard Final Fantasy fare, with a few simple platforming elements utilizing jumps. A new mehcanic in the overworld is a “Live mode” which allows you to select how characters respond to certain instances or questions, but the outcomes don’t vary much despite whatever answer given.
What I like
In my review of XIII I said I liked the characters, as there was a solid mixture of emotions and personalities. It harkened back to the older FF games before everyone was a whining git (yes, that is a direct shot at pretty much every character in FFVII and VIII) but XIII balanced it out with sad characters, optimistic characters, angry ones, sad ones, there was blanace. So now XIII-2 has two focal characters in Serah and Noel, and it still works. Noel is a confident and focus-driven young man who knows the importance of his task, but instead of snivelling and whining, he’s strong and determined, but not in a one-dimensional way as he still is vulnerable to negative emotions, but unlike previous FF characters he’s not dominated by them. Serah, the damsel in distress of XIII, has to take the lead role in this outing, and she develops from fightened girl to bold young woman in a very well-paced narrative that doesn’t develop her too quickly, but doesn’t make her a useless tit throughout most of the game. She definitely is plagued by more negative emotions than Noel, but she learns to face them as she matures into the hero of this game; plus it just adds to the strength of Noel’s character that he can remain strong despite what he’s experienced.
The linear gameplay of XIII has been taken down quite a bit, there’s still a rail that the story travels on, but the player is free to travel more at their pace and allow themselves to get sidetracked a bit.
What I’d change
Minor characters are still rather weak when it comes to personality, as many of the flip-flop around with no rhyme or reason for it.
The story is misused quite a bit, this could have been one of the most memorable narratives in this generation of RPGs, but a lack of complete development just leaves the story feel like it could have reached a greater level instead of reaching a plateau at “good enough”.
Serah: eat a damn sandwich. You’ll see what I mean once you play.
I said XIII was a step in the right direction for the FF franchise and I still stand by that claim, and XIII-2 has taken it a few steps further by improving the elements that made XIII a decent title and repaired elements that had weakened it. Is it the greatest FF game to date? Far from it, I’ve already gushed enough about how IV, V and VI were the best in my opinion and it won’t be easy to change that, but comparing it to the newer generation of games, I’ll play this one over VII, VIII and X any day.
Let the flame wars commence.