Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the direct follow up to a game that divided fans with its extended introduction, abundance of cut scenes and lack of explorable areas. As readers of my review may recall, I eventually decided I liked the game, but only because I managed to build up a natural immunity to the things that annoyed me about it. Like Vanille. As I sat down to play the sequel, I had high hopes that it would retain what I appreciated about the first title while also addressing some of its flaws.
The new game had me controlling Serah in her search for her missing sister, Lightning, who actually spent the first game looking for Serah. See what they did there? This simple story took place within a potentially interesting framework. I had to visit the same locations in multiple timelines and fix paradoxes in one era in order to access parts of a level in another. Defeating paradoxes (which usually took the form of boss battles) rewarded me with crystals. I then used the crystals to unlock gates which allowed me to travel to new destinations or time periods. Progress involved a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ approach as I journeyed through time to assess the changes I had wrought and access new areas in old levels. In keeping with the first game in the XIII cycle, the characters just didn’t get it. Instead they spent multiple scenes bemoaning their lot and speculating at length about their relationship to each other. This was all well and good, but I just didn’t care anymore. I really didn’t.
The cut scenes were full of pompous twaddle. There were countless instances of characters rambling in self important tones about things that were important to them but ultimately meant little. I actually resorted to reading comics (I recommend Shaman’s Tears by Mike Grell) during these long and frequent interludes because it was too hard to just sit there and take it. Occasionally someone uttered something interesting or I was forced to press a button in a quick time event known as a ‘cinematic action’. Some conversations paused for a ‘live trigger’ so I could choose between four equally baffling and vague conversation lines. This affected the rewards I received for completing timelines. I will stress that the voice acting was uniformly excellent, particularly as the actors didn’t laugh while delivering their lines. “Wings of darkest night!” indeed.
The storytelling in Final Fantasy XIII-2 was awful. Characters often repeated insights that others had already covered. Worse yet, the entire cast appeared to be constantly on the edge of emotional crisis for reasons they couldn’t explain. Supposedly stunning events actually made the storyline worse as they didn’t link in with what had already been established. Where other RPGs have allowed me to see the effect of my actions, the events of this game felt entirely arbitrary. Things just happened because they did. I really came to hate my lack of interaction with the game. I felt like a passenger.
Combat was what I enjoyed most about the ‘original’ Final Fantasy XIII. The interesting Paradigm mechanic enabled me to swap between abilities, while the Active Time Battle system allowed me to choose my attacks in real time. While some aspects of this thrilling combat system were retained for the sequel, a number of questionable changes were made. I was now presented with a button for automatic attacks (the AI selected the optimal actions). This meant that almost all battles were incredibly easy. I won numerous clashes by repeatedly pressing a single button and I rarely died. This was compounded by the presence of a new difficulty setting that was even easier than the normal mode. Bizarre! Other changes included, inanely, a return to random enemy encounters! More original was the Feral Link feature that allowed me to recruit defeated adversaries to my party. Their abilities were upgradable and they filled a paradigm role. Best of all, they couldn’t talk!
I was actually challenged by the end boss battle as it ramped up the difficulty drastically. Whereas in Final Fantasy XIII I was fully prepared to go back and grind for another 10 hours to improve my stats, in this game I simply lowered the difficulty setting to ‘easy’, quickly killed the baddies and then watched the ending. I just wanted the whole thing to be over. The game finished on an appropriate note. The final cut scene had an Empire Strikes Back vibe and a “to be continued” message.
The first game in the XIII cycle used the Blu-Ray capacity well. All of the cinematics were pre-rendered in high definition and they provided an amazing spectacle. Graphically, the levels looked gorgeous and the monsters were diverse and dynamic. This instalment was far less interesting in both categories. Most of the enemies were repeated from the previous game and the levels were actually smaller, even if they weren’t necessarily as linear (and many actually were!). More surprisingly, most of the cut scenes were created using the in-game engine, so they naturally lost the wow factor I had enjoyed previously. Only the opening and closing sequences were high res. Unfortunately, these contained chaotic action that was hard to follow. Could this reflect a lower budget or a quicker than usual turnaround between titles for Square Enix? Either way, I wasn’t impressed.
This was the game that taught me to despise the series. I am done with it. It no longer exists for me. The reasons were very simple. I despised the gameplay because of how easy and repetitive almost all of the battles were. I despised the story because I had to listen to characters moan and pontificate about how emotionally important everything was. And I despised a Moogle that said “Kupo!”