Title: Final Fantasy XIII-2
Platform: PS3, 360
Release Date: Feburary 2nd, 2012
Genre: Role Playing Game
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
– A much larger environment to explore
– More locations, time lines and alternatives to complete
– Still one of the best looking games
– Amazing soundtrack
– Amazingly designed locations
– Weak and confusing plot
– Poorly written dialogue
– Framerate drops
Price as of Febuary 13th 2012
Reviewed by FrontalSpy
The Final Fantasy series is starting to slump; don’t get me wrong, I loved the heck of Final Fantasy XIII. But the decision to release a sequel- which only happened to Final Fantasy X- may have been the wrong decision. I was very curious about the game and was on the fence since its announcement with the many trailers about new characters, game mechanics and story. There were many new mechanics added that would try to please fans of the originals- that beckon for a remake of VII. While they sounded interesting, the exclusion of the main characters from the original was kind of a deal breaker since most players who finished XIII, grew attached to them. But, when I finally got my hands on XIII-2, I never wanted to let it go…
The story- somewhat a mess and filled with paradoxes- focuses on time travelling , not in a traditional sense but more on fixing paradoxes that change not only the future, but the entire timeline. Lightning, now a warrior stuck in a timeless world called Valhalla, battles an unknown man who is hell-bent on destruction and all sorts’ evil. With her foe undefeatable, a young man falls into Valhalla through a gate- which Lightning saw in a vision, and is entrusted with a great task by the warrior to find her sister Serah, and bring her to Valhalla to save the future. As a good luck charm to Serah, Mog the Moogle will serve as a useful ally and weapon. Lightning summons a time gate to let the man travel back in time to bring Serah back to her. Upon arriving, many strange things begin to occur such as monsters reappearing in large numbers from a time paradox. Somewhat trusting Noel’s word, they both travel through time and space to solve the many paradoxes, stop the unbeatable and save the future.
I tried to explain the plot and set up the story as best as possible, but it is definitely one of the weaker points of XIII-2. The original was very plot orientated hence that linear pathing at the beginning of the game. XIII-2 tries to use ideas about time travel and completely throw it out of proportion with a changeable past, multiple timelines and such. Despite being a sequel to XIII, you do not need to play a second of it to understand anything in XIII-2, since the story is very isolated and has no connection story-wise. But if you do want to know bits and pieces, you can find the entire plot of the game in chapters found in the main menu.
Supporting the weak, complex plot is the abnormal and bizarre dialogue that would only work in Japanese. The dialogue can get awkward and at times, not make an ounce of sense. Not only that it sounds weird, it feels weird as well. Sometimes you’ll hear Noel telling a crushing story about the fate of the future, only to have Serah reply with a warm-up speech- and then they somehow forget everything and begin harming giant flans. The dialogue is poorly written/translated and just feels very awkward to hear, since they do go over the top and would not be something that you would say. Some incidences have one player spontaneously agreeing to a devastating choice- without any thoughts or remorse. Sure, it may work back in Japan but in the west things are different- this is also another reason why we love JRPGs.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 banishes many of the main characters from the original and introduces many through the use of time travel. You won’t be able to control any of the characters but instead only Serah or Noel. Even though you built a relationship with Lightning, tolerated Fang’s and Vanille’s voices or just put up with Hope, you won’t be able to use any of them. They do make appearances throughout and since not much knowledge is required about the original game, they only appear for fan service- except for Hope, he’s much better and quite important.
Serah Farron is Lightning’s younger sister and was initially the goal in XIII which was to return her from a crystal. In XIII, we see that she is a young 18 year old woman who is engaged to Snow, and is relatively protected and afraid of the outside world. In XIII-2, she has toughened up since the disappearance of Lightning and the departure of Snow in order to restore the future to its former glory. Noel Kreiss is a man from the future- 700 years since the fall of Cacoon (the ending of XIII) in a world devoid of people, he is the last human. Noel lives in a world without cacoon, in an arid and barren landscape where he excels at hunting, to provide enough food for himself. Noel is very concerned about human life, since he was the last one and doesn’t dare to kill any human and protect the ones he loves dearly.
One staple of the Final Fantasy series is its beautiful and undeniable graphical achievement. XIII was a remarkable looking game with great breathtaking locations, well designed and life like characters, and varied unique monsters. XIII-2 expands on all of these terms by adding a more surreal tone to the mix and giving it a more futuristic style. Many of the locations you’ll be visiting are all in the future- even more so than the utopia Cacoon, so expect to see large floating platforms, colourful landscapes and flying cars whizzing about. On the contrary, due to the nature of a Mr Evil, a few locations are barren and dangerous due to the unexpected outcome of the future. Places like Oerba remain untouched for the duration of both games and filled with monstrosities.
Despite running on the same engine, XIII-2 has some random cough ups with major loss of FPS. It is quite unclear why the engine ran very smoothly in XIII, and yet with more use of it the game seems to have more technical problems. It does occur in many situations and is very noticeable. whether or not if the game has been rushed or has many problems with a smaller development team, it still looks fantastic.
The characters in XIII-2 are more varied, quite possibly due to time travel. Noel comes from the future and looks like a typical representation of a teenage anime character- spikey brown hair, his clothing is somewhat traditional. Serah gets a transformation as well, from her anime school clothes to traditional clothes similar to Noel. Many of the locations you visit, you’ll meet people from the academy- the organisation tasked with fighting monsters. Many of the academy’s soldiers look like past Psicom soldiers from XIII and many of the character models are reused. Despite this, the models themselves are of very high quality and so are the animations. Walking, running and fighting all have very smooth and lifelike animations that react to gravity- which is defied somewhat.
Many of the monsters are reused from XIII. While I see this as kind of lazy, they also include a few different monsters that look equally as amazing. There are more gigantic and fearsome beasts in XII-2 and all the monsters regardless of time and location have a futuristic feel to them. Many of the monsters come from past Final Fantasy games and are considered staples of the series, some include; the large wrecking Behemoth, the weird digimon Cactuar, the silent assassin Tonberry and the small caster Gremlin. Despite a rehash of models, XIII-2 still looks very amazing technically and graphically, even though it still runs on the same engine XIII did- which was used in 2010.
Now time to get past all the weak stuff and into the meat of the game, the gameplay. JRPGs are notorious for its grinding- spending hours upon hours to adequately level up your character just to past a boss- and XIII-2 is slightly different. Compared to XIII-where grinding was kind of non-existent, you need to travel back and forth through different times and locations to increase your level and gain better equipment and money-gil. Square has definitely tried to push you to grind, take as many side quests as possible and explore more areas by having you travel back and forth between gates during the main quest to collect items vital the main story. This is a grab to extend the playtime in many JRPGs, usually going past 50 hours of game time.
The method of time and location travel is called Historia Crux, a series of gates that lead to different time periods and locations. To get to new locations, it requires for a new time gate to be opened by using artefacts. There are two types: Wild and special. Wild artefacts can only open blue gates- which are much rarer, and special artefacts open golden gates- which are more prominent and part of the story. Once you active one of the time gates, a new location and time is unlocked and doesn’t require the reuse of the artefact. There you can access both places at any time in the game and return to at will. One neat feature of time travel and the Historia Crux is the ability to freeze everything in your location, and jump back into the crux and explore another area. This saves time on travelling back and forth from the beginning and avoiding monsters.
One mechanic that was in recent Final Fantasys that was removed was seeing monsters on the field of battle rather than random spontaneous battles that no one needs. Instead, monsters randomly but you can still see them to allow for a primitive strike. The monsters spawn around where you are in a small bubble and you have a certain time before they start attacking. This time is monitored by the Mog Clock. The clock has three indicators; green is when the monster won’t attack and the perfect moment for you to strike, yellow is when the monsters start to attack so be cautious, and red indicates mean times up and the battle starts without a retry option. Yep, you can retry every battle you have in XIII-2.
XIII-2 retains the trademark Active Time Battle system from Final Fantasy VI, which is a spin on the traditional turn based combat. Everything is about time, you cannot just use any moves whenever but wait after a certain amount of time. This is adjusted as the Active time bar which is divided into multiple sections which fill up in time. Attacks and moves require a set amount of sections, so more devastating moves require a longer time to initiate. XIII-2’s battle system is primarily the same as XII, with the only differences making it more intuitive and enjoyable. In XIII you can only control one person in battle and once he/she dies, it is game over. XIII-2 remedies that problem, with the ability to switch characters in battle and carrying over to the other character if one is defeated- so no quick game over unless both are incapacitated.
Quick time events are given a twirl in XIII-2, trying to keep the battle more engaging and giving you something to do during cutscenes. Quick time events are in the form of ‘cinematic actions’- like most mechanics of the game, everything has a special name- and are short and weird to initiate. Sometimes you are given the option to try different attacks during these cinematic actions. In battle, these are used in the feral link- the monster’s special attack- and do a good job of keeping the flow of battle. Also a new mechanic is called ‘Live Trigger’ which is basically different dialogue from the Bioware games. And unlike them, the trigger doesn’t have much of a impact to the story, rather than some new bits of information and maybe a fragment. Sometimes the options in a live trigger don’t really match the situation, and the obvious answer is still odd.
Replacing the third member in the party from XII, are monsters. Yep, monsters can fight with you against their own kind and they are obtained randomly from battles in the form of crystals. Each monster themselves have different paradigm roles to fill in the missing member. You can level up the monsters through the Crysterium as well like traditional party members but unlike proper members, you can cycle through any three monsters on the field as part of a paradigm pack. Possibly adding some more fun to the combat elements is the feral link, a limit-break system which when full will unleash a might of fury or helping depending on the monster. The feral link ability requires the use of Quick Time events to max out its synchronisation to enhance its effect. Gotta catch ‘em all.
The paradigm system is back in its full glory. In previous Final Fantasys characters were job restricted and had other means to gain other abilities and items. The paradigm system in XIII allowed you to customise each character into the role they were fit into; Commando- for dealing massive damage, Ravenger- dealing magic based damage and increasing the chain, Medic- healing and dispelling illnesses, Saboteur- inflicting negative statuses, Sentinel- able to take massive damage, and Synergist- buffing the party. You are allowed to set 5 paradigm packs and switch between them at will anytime in battle. This allows a more strategic battle with constant changing depending on the current situation.
When travelling back and forth, you will come across some items called fragments. There are 150 fragments all over the universe, and they give you Crysterium points when collected. Fragments are earned for completing side missions, puzzles or finding them scattered about. So there are about 150 side missions to complete, and many of them require some travelling. Despite a large number, most of the side missions are rather repetitive and bland and the puzzles are less strategic than hard. Most of the missions will require you to collect items from different times or defeat the designated monster.
There are only three types of puzzles and they are called anomalies; one involves collecting crystals, connecting similar crystals and some sort of clock puzzle. Collecting crystals requires you to collect all the crystals before reaching the end, but be careful since the platforms disappear once you go over them. Connecting crystals is quite similar to connect the dots, except you can only connect crystals of the same colour and do change colours if you take too long. The worse of the puzzles is the dreaded clock puzzle, a luck based puzzle that requires you to run around an analogue clock and change the time back to 12. This is the most frustrating puzzle and requires more on luck than some algorithm, and waste a lot of damn time.
The Crysterium is the fancy word for the levelling system in XIII-2 which was kept from the XIII. The system has a change here somewhat making it more linear. In the original, there were different Crysterium trees for each role, but in XIII-2 each role shares the same tree. It doesn’t mean that the abilities are at set point in the tree, but rather simplifying the process of levelling up. Each role will gain new abilities when the role hits a specific level, and everything in-between will increase your basic stats. To increase to new levels, you need Crysterium points which are gained from defeating enemies and completing fragments.
Another massive trademark of Final Fantasy is its amazing soundtrack. XIII had some amazing songs and XIII-2 remixes and adds in some more diversity to it. It basically is a rehash of the amazing soundtrack from XIII, with a couple of new metal and techno tracks which creates a lot of diversity for all sorts of players. The tracks are all beautifully designed and may stick into head for more than occasion. Voice acting in XIII-2 is stellar as well, even though the dialogue is atrocious, the voices still came through.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a welcome addition to the long franchise of spin-offs, and is the second to be a direct sequel. Although XIII-2 isn’t as good as the original, it still has a lot of great moments and one of the best battle systems in the entire franchise. XIII-2 improves on the linearity of XIII but sacrifices the good plot and pacing of the story to get it. It is a shame that Square can’t get both done correctly. Many may doubt the direction of the franchise, but with XIII-2 being a great sequel, I don’t think the Final Fantasy series is going anywhere soon.