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Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review

Posted by Peter Nickless On Wednesday 15 February 20127 COMMENTS

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!”

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  1. Harli says:

    I don’t know why the final fantasy series insists on have the equivalent of the Vanille character in every one of these games. Kudos to you for dealing with her little annoyances for so long! Hilarious review.

  2. Ryan says:

    I had the complete opposite experience to Peter, I found the game to be as good as the amount of effort you want to put in to it. Huge improvements from FFXIII, the battle system is much cleaner and faster, enemies are a lot harder and diverse forcing you to really change up your paradigm packs, levelling and monster levelling were a lot better, you had far more free play, and the story came together nicely.

    If you weren’t prepared to take your time to explore things, read thing, and use everything a your disposal, you are obviously not a final fantasy fan and are not going to experience the full richness the game has to offer. It’s fine not to like a game because it is not to your taste, but you should at least be objective enough as a reviewer to give credit where credit is due.

  3. Peter says:

    Thanks for your comments Ryan. You got me thinking as to why I had such a negative impression of the game, that honestly, goes against many of the others reviews I have since read. All I can say is that I found this much, much easier than XIII (probably because I understand the paradigms better) and the challenging and tense battles that I had thoroughly enjoyed from XIII (such as bosses casting doom) were sorely missed. I played for 30 hours in Part-2 (compared to 70 for XIII) and found little richness to enthrall me. I can see how some of my comments would seem like cheap shots to a fan of the series, but I never choose to review a game to express an agenda. I enjoy gaming too much to completely tear down somebody’s efforts to make entertainment. Let us know how you do with Part-3 when it comes out.

  4. Stephen Foote says:

    I agree with you here Peter, I haven’t enjoyed a Final Fantasy game in a long time. I feel the series has gone downhill on number of occasions. I must admit, I’m somewhat of an oddity amongst Final Fantasy fans given my favourite titles in the series are 8 and 12, not known to be the most popular, whereas 6, 9 and 10 didn’t overly impress me. I gave up on 13 part way through, simply because to me there are so many better JRPG’s out there for fans of the genre to spend time with. Level 5 and Atlas have trounced Square-Enix in my eyes well and truly, and WPRG’s give me more cinematic ‘epicness’ than Final Fantasy has done in years.

  5. Peter says:

    Thanks for the support Stephen. I wondered whether I was a lone (and harsh) voice in the wildnerss or whether other JRPG fans had abandoned the FF titles for more original games. I like that they change up the world and characters for each new number in the series, but the overall mechanic feels so dated and limiting next to how WRPGs have developed in the last 5-10 years. While Japanese gaming hits the spot for shooters and survival horror I struggle to find newer JRPGs that I want to play for the hours they usually need.

  6. Stephen Foote says:

    My main queation is why JRPG’s these days feel the need to continue the old trick of using the battling system as a way to stretch the content out. It’s quite simply boring, and usually interferes with the story anyway. How many times through countless JRPG’s has an interesting development in a plotline been hampered by that WHOOSH! sound as the screen distorts to herald enemies your character couldn’t apparently see right in front of them. These mechanics are outdated, were a weakness of the hardware and aren’t acceptable in 2012, no matter what Motomu Toriyama says. The inconsistency of mechanics between titles has given me a very love/hate relationship with Final Fantasy, with 7,8 and 12 providing me with what I thought were the best battling/magic systems in the series. Of course, plenty of other fans will disagree with me on that point. I love Dragon Quest for it’s consistency between titles, which again is something other player’s loathe it for. At the end of the day, the only question I can ask someone is has their enjoyment of the Final Fantasy series increased or decreased as it has continued to release main series entries, remakes, sequels and spinoff’s without respite? My answer is a firm no and my suggestion to anybody else feeling this way is to invest that time in one of the huge range of JRPG’s you’ve let slip past simply out of brand loyalty.

  7. Peter says:

    You’ve raised some huge and important points here. So many of the best games are able to bring in something new and change the established way of doing things. A clever game will respect for what has come before but branch out and take a risk. Slightly tweaking a battle system or a menu screen only scratches the surface and just won’t cut it any more. I worry the JRPG’s that get released here have a dwindling audience as opposed to WRPGs that are going through a resurgence right now. Kudos to Harli, Ryan and Stephen for joining the discussion.

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