I’ve always been a Final Fantasy Fanatic (or F^3), however even I had a hard time forcing myself to play through the mess that was the first iteration of Final Fantasy XIII. There was just so much wrong with it, that it bordered on absurd rather than a serious attempt at a new direction for the franchise. There were protagonists that I wished would either die, or become suddenly mute for the duration of the game. There was the poor combat mechanic that gave you for all intents and purposes no choice of what your party members did – at least other than switching their roles in combat. There was the linearity that made the first 75% of the game feel as though it was “on rails”, and then don’t even get me started on the story. Final Fantasy X had a story about a dead kid’s dream where his father turned into a giant blob in the sky to kill people, and that made infinitely more sense than the story of Final Fantasy XIII. At least with that “out there” story, it never felt like it didn’t know where it was supposed to be going. I was seriously concerned about reviewing Final Fantasy XIII-2 then, because I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be more of the same near unplayable garbage from the first game, or did Square-Enix realize the error of their ways?
While Final Fantasy XIII-2 might not have fixed every issue with XIII proper, I have to say that they sure as hell tried. Rather than being so boringly linear that you could fall asleep while moving, XIII-2 is so non-linear that at times it becomes hard to wrap your head around. Warping through time at every turn, you have to actually work to keep up with what’s going on or be lost, and while that may sound somewhat brutal on the senses – it’s actually a welcome change from the prior “game”. There are also towns to explore – something decidedly missing from the last iteration. Oh and there are shops as well! Rather than do everything through a stupid little ball, there are bona fide merchants to take your hard earned money this time around. There are also plenty of other tropes that gamers have come to expect from the Final Fantasy series (and truly, from most RPG games anymore). Things like side quests, optional crazy hard bosses, and having the ability to engineer some brutally damaging equipment all make an appearance in XIII-2. All of these things might make more gamers go so far as to just casually forget that XIII was even a thing – maybe IT was just a dream of something stupid coming to make people not want to play Final Fantasy games anymore.
There are some things from the prior game that make an appearance here that do get irritating. The obnoxious terms of Fal’Cie and L’Cie are back, but the only problem with that is they are presented with almost no background (the same can be said of Cocoon and Gran Pulse) that if you didn’t suffer through XIII you could easily have no clue what’s going on. If you’re one of the many that never made it through the first game, you’ll probably end up saving yourself many headaches by just going and doing some research on a Wiki. Learn who the characters were, what the locations were, and basically what all happened. That way when the game presents you a character with no explanation at all of who they are and why they’re important, you’ll be ready for it. It actually probably wouldn’t hurt those that did make it to the end of the other game to go and get a quick refresher as well, I know that throughout my play time I have to constantly consult the internet because all the time jumping made me question my own answers.
I’ve seen people criticize the game as having too much music, but Final Fantasy games have always been known for their orchestral scores, and XIII-2 is no different. Yes, there are times that it can take you out of the moment, and there are times when the music gets louder than the person talking, but for the most part I didn’t have a problem with it. I had subtitles on for the cut scenes like I usually do because my house can get noisy, but I can see how the music would be an issue for someone that never turns subtitles on in a game. Speaking of cut scenes, while they’re not as plentiful as they were in XIII-1, there are still a healthy number of cut scened monologues in the game. Thankfully everything can be skipped now (in case you die and don’t want to hear it ALL again), by just pausing and selecting skip.
The combat mechanics are for the most part unchanged, which means dealing with the stupid Paradigm Shift system yet again – thankfully they did make some modifications to make it all better though. For starters, you only have to ever worry about controlling two characters directly: Serah or Noel. It makes it much easier to remember who does what when, because you don’t have a slew of characters to remember. They also decided to break up the monotony of some battles by inserting quick time events into them, which makes it much easier to actually watch a battle rather than constantly clicking on “auto battle” while reading the newspaper. You can bring monsters into your party as well, which is a lot of fun in and of itself – but I don’t want to spoil any of how that happens for you ;).
The characters are actually likeable this go around, and I never had the urge to try to make Noel stab Serah (or vice versa) like I wanted anyone to murder Hope or Vanille – so that’s a plus right there. The story, while bouncing all over the place in time, is also much more coherent than the last. It’s a strange thing to behold – here’s a story that’s completely disjointed because of the aggressive time shifting (seriously, it would make Dr. Who’s head hurt), but it all works somehow. Much better than before.
The Bottom Line: Think of Final Fantasy XIII-2 as an apology letter from Square Enix because of how bad the last game blew. It might not be perfect, but it is at least a giant step towards being an exceptionally good Final Fantasy game – and hey, if you liked the combat of the last one, then your own score will probably end up higher than mine.
- Characters are actually likeable this time around
- The story here makes a lot more sense than the last one
- Almost all the things you expect in a Final Fantasy game are back
- Paradigm Shift system still sucks – I want to CONTROL my team
- No good explanation on what things are for newcomers
- The constant time shifting can be brutal to follow at times
I played this review copy on the PlayStation 3 console, but FInal Fantasy XIII-2 is available on the XBOX 360 as well from Amazon for $59.99