Review: Final Fantasy XIII-2
- — 06 March, 2012 22:00
|Name||Japanese RPG: Final Fantasy XIII-2|
|Summary:||The first half is good. The second? Not so much.|
|Games Info:||Developer: Square Enix; Publisher: Square Enix|
|Platform:||Xbox 360, PS3|
|Test Platform:||Xbox 360|
Once upon a time, Square Enix - previously Squaresoft - was a name that resonated with gamers. The Final Fantasy series had, and admittedly still has, a massive, dedicated following. It also had consistently great games. Final Fantasy VIII was the first console RPG I ever played, and since then I've worked my way through nearly every game in the series. Every game, up to and including Final Fantasy X, was a fantastic experience.
A couple of years ago, Final Fantasy XIII was released. It wasn't a bad game, really, but previous editions had set a ridiculously high standard and it didn't live up to fans' expectations. They hated the linear gameplay, the automatic combat system, and the irritating character of Vanille. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is, in many ways, an apology for the significant disappointment that those fans felt.
While XIII's hero, Lightning, features prominently in XIII-2, the main characters are her sister, Serah, and new protagonist Noel. At the beginning of the game, Noel learns that he has to bring Serah into another time to get her assistance in preventing the oncoming apocalypse. Serah has other motives - she wants to bring her sister back from the dead and find her missing fiance. In order to reach the right time period, Serah and Noel have to hop through numerous 'time gates' and visit several different points in the future.
The major change from XIII is that Final Fantasy XIII-2 no longer has a straight-forward narrative. the world has opened up and there are times when you'll have to choose your own adventure. That doesn't mean you have a fully open world, like the FF games of old. XIII-2 has achieved a more open feel by letting the two main characters travel along a timeline. You can jump back and forth from world to world, era to era, and at some points the timeline splits so you have to choose which way to go first.
Each world, however, still has a relatively linear path. Sure, it will occasionally branch off, and sometimes you have to revisit areas you've already been to, but for the most part you just walk straight ahead, fight some monsters, and then keep on walking.
Despite the twisted timeline of the game, the story of XIII-2 is easy to understand compared to XIII. I didn't have to spend ages reading through datalogs, and I cared about what happened to Serah and Noel.
The battle system is, on the surface, very similar to XIII. You control only one character at a time, and the others fight automatically. Strategising relies on changing 'paradigms'. When you change paradigms, your characters switch classes. There's a medic class, an attack class, a magic class, and so on. Creating a good paradigm requires playing to a character's strengths - I leveled up Serah in magic, so she was the medic and magician. I leveled up Noel in strength, so he was the attacker and defender.
But if you look a little further, you'll notice some significant changes to the system. Rather than having a selection of characters to choose from and use, you're stuck with Serah and Noel for the whole game. Both of them can learn every battle style. My Serah was the medic, but Noel might be in your game. A third companion can be switched, but it's not human - Serah has the ability to control and battle with monsters. These monsters are the only ones who have a 'limit break', called 'feral link', and each monster only has access to one combat class.
Three-quarters of the way through the game, it was quite addictive and very enjoyable. Sure, some of the voice acting wasn't great - the major villain, Caius, was especially poor - and the dialogue was cheesy. The graphics were average at best by today's standards, aside from fantastic pre-rendered cinematics. But it was fun, and I wanted to know what happened next in the story.
Then came the final boss battle. Without going into too much detail and spoiling the game, let's just say that the final battle was, with my setup at least, unbearably long and repetitive. It relied more on quick button pressing than strategy - fighting paradigm, healing paradigm, fighting paradigm. Once, during the last part, my characters all died and I nearly gave up in frustration.
But I got to the end. Oh, the end. Let's just say that Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the perfect example of how a bad ending can ruin an otherwise good game. It's the Halo 2 of the Final Fantasy series, except worse. After possibly the most annoying final boss of any Final Fantasy game - and there have been some really annoying ones - you're also treated to the worst ending of the series.
The hardest thing to deal with is that XIII-2 is only a 20 hour game, and the FF games have always been much longer. The game feels like it should've come out a year later, rather than delivering a half-baked 'conclusion' with a setup for another sequel. Thanks for nothing, Square Enix - I think I'll skip FFXIII-3.