Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review
North American Release Date: 1/31/2012
European Release Date: 2/3/2012
Trophies: Yes, 1 | 6 | 6 | 19
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a new chapter in the New Crystal Tale from Square Enix. It's a JRPG that picks up where Final Fantasy XIII left off, but with some new enhancement and a non-linear, open world story and environment. Much like previous "direct sequels" attempted by Square Enix, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is more of a casual title with a sense of humor that promises to bring a new style to the original.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an enhancement of the original Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay. At its core FF13-2 uses the same Paradigm system whereby your characters are assigned roles in combat, identical to the job system of previous titles, and these roles dictate abilities, stats, and bonuses. There are 6 main roles: Sentinel (Tank), Medic (Healer), Ravager (Mage), Commando (Warrior), Synergist (Support), and Saboteur (Debuff).
The key to battle is to create a portfolio of balanced Paradigms, which can be changed in battle on the fly, to allow for your party to account for changing conditions during battle. There may be periods of time where you need defensive paradigms that have a tank and healers, there may be periods of time where you have to have offensive focused paradigms with damage dealers, and there may be times where you need to focus on a balance. As with the previous entry, the primary focus of combat is to get the enemies into a "Stagger" state, where you can stack damage multipliers to increase your damage up to 10x. Most of the paradigm system is based on timing and balancing your classes to survive while maintaining stagger states.
Combat itself is real-time, turn-based. Turns exist on an "active-time battle" gauge most Final Fantasy fans should be familiar with, but for those unfamiliar, each character has a bar that must recharge between attacks. The bar has a rate at which it re-charges, which can be affected by buffs/debuffs. Attacks are stacked up as chains along this bar, which has multiple levels to allow you to execute more attacks in a chain, or you can choose to execute smaller chains by only charging the bar partway.
The gameplay is a good evolution of typical JRPG style
Leveling is very similar as well, focusing on the Crystarium, which is where experience points are spent to unlock nodes. The key difference here over the previous title is that the entire game features only two playable characters: Noel and Serah, and these two are more balanced in regards to their capabilities with each class. Unlike last time where a character like Snow just didn't make a good Medic no matter what you did, here Noel and Serah's capabilities depend on how you level them. This is handled by the other main change to the system, and that is each role doesn't have its own tree. Instead there are several crystarium levels and you can place whichever nodes you want for each character on each level. If you want Noel to be a Commando/Sentinel focused character, you can place those nodes down first and level that up faster, all while taking advantage of the stats that leveling those up provide you. Leveling Sentinel, for example, provides HP bonuses to all roles.
The combat system is ultimately not a two member party though, and that is where a really cool feature has been introduced. FF13-2 brings back the monster system from FFX, except instead of hunting the monsters to fight in an arena, you hunt the monsters for the purpose of taming them to fight at your side. Early on in the game you unlock the ability to put monsters in your paradigm deck, each monster has its own dedicated Crystarium and can only take on a single, preset role, but they make up for this in the fact that each monster has special abilities. The Cloudburst monster, as an example, has an ability which buffs the entire party.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes place in the aftermath of Final Fantasy XIII in an alternative timeline where Lightning disappears after the fall of Cocoon. Her sister, Serah, the reason for Snow's trials in XIII is the only person who remembers her in the original timeline. After a few years a mysterious man, Noel, drops in from the future after seeing Lightning in Valhalla to bring Serah on a quest to restore the timeline and save Lightning. When all is said and done Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a mixed bag in the story department, it's a good mix of rights and wrongs... Mostly wrongs.
On the good side the story does a good job handling Serah, Noel, and their respective arcs. If you dig deep to the core of the story they flow well together and connect to the overall plot in a very well-executed manner. They also balance each-other well, Serah provides the standard motivation you need to keep a plot moving forward with her singular goal of rescuing her sister and her fiancee, Snow. Noel provides the mystery and intrigue that keeps you guessing as his character arc brings in the time-travel element and is integral to the purpose of the villain, Caius, and the mysterious girl following him, Yeul. This does a good job of keeping the story interesting despite its shortcomings.
Apparently saying "kupo" at the end of every sentence is acceptable
Most of this is ruined by the endings, of which there are technically multiple, but its really just that there isn't any true closure in how Final Fantasy XIII-2 ends; there isn't any sense of climax to most of the endings from a story standpoint. On a few fronts this is good, such as when Serah chooses some path that results in failure, but ultimately this disappointing.
The larger problems the story has are introduced through execution. They derive from two main factors: The first is that time-travel stories are just difficult to do, and this story is no Primer or Back to the Future. Overall the way the story moves doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you are actually moving through it, bits and pieces only start coming together at the end. Its made worse by the fact that solving paradoxes, what this game calls the errors in time Serah and Noel are trying to fix to bring Lightning back, changes the past and future for some reason that is never explained to my satisfaction. In other words, while the character's individual arcs are handled well, you shouldn't turn your brain on during the plot because none of it makes any real sense.
This first problem is exacerbated by the fact that this game opens up very early on and brings in alot of side content quickly. It creates a situation where the lack of focus on the story muddles it up, every area has 2 or 3 side-quests that are their own, self-contained stories that have nothing to do with Noel, Serah, or their character arcs, and they don't feed into the overall plot except to provide you more interesting things to do in the game. The end result of all this is a story that feels like it takes a backseat to the gameplay and the rest of the game as a whole.
Its also worth noting that the dialogue in this game has its issues. There are periods in time where it becomes disconnected and almost alien. For example, when you first encounter Sazh, he just starts talking out of nowhere. Its not until about a minute later that you realize you are listening to an echo of him from another time, a letter of sorts. Since this isn't explained before the cut-scene, it's a shock that brings you right out of the story. Instances like this are littered over the campaign, along with several cut-scenes that feature dialogue that just aren't how people really talk. It prevents you from truly falling into the story like you should.
Some of the above I have to forgive because its how Final Fantasy has always been, its always had periods of exposition where characters say or relate something that doesn't sound right. It bothers me here because of its frequency and severity. The entire opening, for example, is just incoherent.
As with most Final Fantasies, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is what I call a "high art" game. The visuals are very striking in their own realm, a realm free from the grit that tends to come with games that go for a more realistic look. The color palette used is vibrant and diverse, and the presentation is much less realistic and much more representative of what is trying to be conveyed by the overall environment. In this regard Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a phenomenal achievement, the environments are varied, interesting, and immersive, with a sense of personality all their own. Environments are very detailed as are character models, weapons, etc. Everything about the visuals in this game is stellar, in a class above the average title.
Much of the imagery is downright breathtaking
My only real complaints in this game vary from minor to average, the first is the general absence of the pre-rendered cutscenes that have become a staple of Final Fantasy. Now at a certain point in time this may stop meaning anything, but this game is missing the types of cutscenes that have made previous Final Fantasies so popular. These scenes that are spectacles in their own right, very flashy with high emotions or action. Final Fantasy XIII-2 has a few, but they are no where near the same number as previous titles.
The larger issue is the soundtrack, which doesn't have the same sense of purpose as previous titles. This may be due to the lighthearted nature of this title, and while it's not all bad, there are periods where I feel like the soundtrack doesn't quite fit; Sometimes its the fact that there is singing in the background while characters are chatting, or other-times areas have songs that don't fit the tone of the environment. As an example, Square used the same song for a lush beach as it does for a snow-covered ruin. The voice-acting makes up for this a bit, as it is among the best in the industry. Voice actors deliver their lines, however corny, with the appropriate emotion and enthusiasm and every voice fits the character.
As with many games like this, the platinum is not for the casual trophy hunter. The platinum for this game is no where near as involved as the previous entry in the series thanks to the ability to reset areas back to their default state after completing them and your ability to move through the story non-linearly, but it still will take time nonetheless. Tasks such as collecting all fragments will take several hours of playtime and potentially multiple playthroughs of an area.
When all is said and done, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a pretty good JRPG, but doesn't stretch beyond its bounds. It feels like a "Me Too!" game in every sense of that phrase. The game is full of content, and most of it is fun, but it comes at a detriment to the story. The characters have some mildly interesting arcs, but the overall plot is pretty stupid. The visuals are great, but the soundtrack is weird. This game comes recommended from me, but a tepid one because I ultimately feel this is a step nowhere. A game steeped in reaction to satisfy a fan-base, an attempt that results in a game which is ultimately JPRG by the numbers.
If you like the gameplay, this game will offer enough to make it worth a play.
- The gameplay system is very deep for an RPG and the addition of the monster-hunting mechanic brings about a new strategy element.
- The story is a mixed bag. A good set of character arcs is offset by a lack of focus and the general problems of a time travel plot. Atleast Square got what they wanted in the side content.
- Another stellar example of Final Fantasy visuals, even if the soundtrack doesn't fit as well.
Overall: 7/10 Good
FF13-2 is one of those titles that’s exactly the same as it’s prequel in some areas and the complete opposite in others. The gameplay is somewhat similar, with the battle system containing 6 roles, ATB bars and micromanaging your own spells and abilities. This time around though you have the opinion to change your party leader, even in the midst of a major battle. You can also “tame” your former enemies, getting them to fight at your side in battle. There’s nothing better than working with a chocobo to slain a monster 100 times bigger than you.
The trouble with the game though lies within the story. There’s a lot going on with time, paradoxes, seeing the future and in short what’s happening around you. It’s a well done tale with a lot of twists along the way, but you’ll be confused for the most part for where exactly you want or need to go. You’ll be given multiple time gates that allow you to travel back and forth – like using the ship in the old FFs in a way – and doing this over and over again gets confusing to say the least. Not to worry though, it’s as fun as ever.
The technical side the game has dramatically suffered with Square deciding to squeeze the game onto a single disc for the 360 unlike for the last game. The graphics aren’t quite as crisp as they were previously, and there’s a lot less of those stunning CGI cut-scenes to gawk at. The soundtrack also suffers. A strange blend of metal, techno and party music does little to suit the atmosphere in some cases. Even small quirks like enemies becoming one with the battlefield and popping up randomly is a sign of a drop in quality. However, the gameplay is more enjoyable and complex in battle. You’ll have a blast, and with the linear aspect completely gone FF13-2 has an extremely enjoyable, albeit a short, single player experience.
FF13-2 doesn’t quite match up to FF13, even though the gameplay has improved and the linear aspect done away with. It’s still a fantastic title however that is well worth your time.
Overall: 8.5/10 Great