Review by Bkstunt_31
"The story leaves something to be desired, but it's a fun journey nonetheless."
Well here we are. You, me, and a review of Final Fantasy 13-2. Being a sequel of Final Fantasy 13, chances are you want to know how GOOD this game is (this is a review after all), but if you've played Final Fantasy 13 you already have a pretty good idea of what to expect. So with that audience in mind, I'll not only tell you what to expect out of Final Fantasy 13-2, but I'll point out the major differences between 13-2 and 13 along the way.
I should warn you: Final Fantasy 13-2 ASSUMES you know the story of Final Fantasy 13. It DOES offer you a primer in the beginning to bring you up to speed story-wise, but it is still ideal to play 13 BEFORE you play 13-2.
First of all, 13-2 starts up right after 13 ends (being a sequel and all). The game itself stars Serah and Noel. Serah is, of course, Lightning's sister and the main motivation behind Lightning and Snow's actions in 13, so returning fans will already be familiar with her. Noel is presented as a mysterious young man who claims to be from the future, and has been sent to the past to lead Serah back to Lightning.
That last sentence may have some of you startled, and rightfully so. Yes, this game is about time travel. And not just time travel, but more specifically the paradoxes that occur WHEN you time travel. During the opening scenes we learn that Serah is living on Pulse in a city named New Bodhum. Cocoon is nearby and being held up by the crystal pillar that Vanille and Fang created with their sacrifice, but here's the thing: EVERYONE believes that Lightning is inside the pillar as well (despite what you saw at the ending of 13). Everyone but Serah that is, who is convinced that her sister is alive and fighting somewhere. She believes this so much that Snow has left to search for Lightning. So when Noel shows up claiming he has been sent to the past to lead Serah back to Lightning, Serah starts off on the journey that is 13-2.
After beating the game, I found myself conflicted about what I thought about the story. I DON'T really like the premise, as the developers basically take a TOLD story (13) and change it to fit what they want to turn 13-2 into. It just seems a bit lazy to me. And then I found that there are SEVERAL parts of the main story where "It must be a paradox!" became the catch-all phrase for making events make sense, which is about as creative as saying "A wizard must have done it!" whenever something doesn't make sense to somebody. I mean, they throw in SPECIFIC AREAS where timelines intersect JUST SO they can make some story come together. I have no real issue with time-traveling stories but 13-2 just seems to become convoluted for the sake of being convoluted...
On the other hand, I really enjoyed other parts of the story. The story is heavily intertwined with the lives of a woman named Yeul, who can SEE the future, and a man named Caius who guards her. Their story in the context of time-travel is quite good, and Caius may well be the best Final Fantasy villain (or best villain period) that you've seen since Sephiroth, so that's saying something! There are also a SIGNIFICANT number of side-quests in this game, which is undoubtedly a result of fans telling SquareEnix that 13 was far too linear, so you actually have a reason to TALK to people in this game.
In the end though, I was utterly disgusted by how they choose to end the game. And I don't even mean how the story ends, but HOW they choose to end the game, which is quite literally a slap in the face to gamers everywhere (I cannot just flat-out tell you what they did, but trust me it is in bad taste). NO Final Fantasy game has ever done what 13-2 did, and I fear that the ending we were given is a result of our down-loadable content generation combined with the developer wanting to squeeze out even more money from a fan-base that they know will pay it. In the end I must say: SHAME on you, SquareEnix!
Game Play: 8/10
Ok, my story rant is over, I promise. Onto the game play! I'll be honest: I wasn't a fan of the game play in 13. To quickly sum it up, 13 and 13-2 feature the "Paradigm System" of battle in which you assign roles (or jobs if you will) to party members, such as "Commando" (Fighter), "Ravager" (Magician) and "Sentinel" (Paladin/Tank) to name a few. The entire paradigm system and only having direct control over a single party member seems like SE's attempt to streamline the fighting system of Final Fantasy. Perhaps to make it more accessible to casual fans? Who knows. In the end, you will create up to six different sets of paradigms and switch between them to fight. So with 6 jobs to choose from and 3 party member slots to assign, there is actually quite a few different paradigm combinations you can come up with. The ATB system also returns where a battle meter will fill up automatically over time and you can select certain actions to perform. Stronger actions take up more of the meter than weaker actions, but selecting your own actions is also completely optional as you could just AUTO ATTACK and let the AI battle for you...
You'll notice that I said you have 3 party members earlier. You already know about Serah and Noel, so who's the third? Well, for the first beginning chunk of the game, you'll only have Serah and Noel, but as the game opens up you will be able to obtain and use MONSTERS to fight with you! As you defeat monsters you will have a small chance (5-10%) to obtain them, and once you obtain them you can use them in battle. Each monster has its own set role that you cannot change, but there are SO many different monsters to find and use in the game that it really doesn't matter. This monster-catching aspect of the game play is the biggest difference from 13. Encountering enemies in the field is quite different though. Whereas 13 had all enemies VISIBLE in the field, 13-2 returned to enemies randomly appearing. However, instead of getting in a fight right away, the enemies will appear nearby and then you can choose to either attack them or try and run away to avoid the battle.
Leveling up in the game is done by spending CP (crystal points) in the Crystarium, which returns from 13, however it does not LIMIT how much leveling you can do (another big complaint from 13). Instead, you have ONE Crystarium board per character filled with several nodes. You can then choose which role to level up, gaining new abilities in the desired role as you go along with upgrades to your HP, strength, and magic stats. Monsters have their own Crystarium boards as well, but instead of collecting CP to spend, you will have to spend different levels of monster material. However, the monster's leveling doesn't stop there. You can actually customize monsters in the game by infusing other monsters into them and passing on passive and active abilities to GREATLY enhance their usefulness. Making the perfect monster and upgrading them as you play is a level of customization that was sadly missing from 13, and adds much more depth to 13-2.
The other welcome change over 13 was how OPEN the game was. No more running through pretty hallways. Each world is pretty open with multiple places to explore and side-quests to pursue, but the real openness of the game comes with Historia Crux, a series of locations and times that you can visit. As you play through the game you can unlock several optional areas to explore and pick HOW you proceed through the timeline, as well as find several optional "paradox endings".
13-2 still eschews the Final Fantasy tradition of having defense, or anything related to armor for that matter, be non-existent. All you can buy are weapons and accessories! At least 13-2 has a shop this time around in the form of Chocolina, a weird human/chocobo hybrid that manages to time-travel with you to fulfill all of your shopping needs. Weapons are no longer upgraded in 13-2 either. Instead, there are a lot more weapon-types to choose from, some of which can only be made by acquiring specific components and then having Chocolina make it for you. The accessories you can equip each have a number/value on them as well, with better accessories having a bigger value. They do this to limit the number of accessories you can wear, which feels needless and tacked-on to me. Why not just limit the number of accessory slots? 13-2 also includes a casino area called Serendipity which you can visit anytime after unlocking it half-way through the story and either gamble at the slots or race chocobos (yes, chocobo racing is back!)
In the end, 13-2 makes significant upgrades to the game play of 13, with more side-quests, more open areas, and more strategy involved with its monster collection and infusion options. The paradigm system as a whole, I feel, still makes the game play too easy what with it automatically healing you after every fight and taking away the need to plan ahead for longer journeys, but it is what it is.
Just like 13, 13-2 is indeed quite beautiful. The destinations you visit are designed well (much better than 13) and fun to explore. Character designs are excellent throughout the game and the battle animations are top-notch (watching Noel in action is quite fun). Cinematic cut-scenes combine with timed, on-screen button presses only add to the experience. Enemy designs are more or less the same as 13, and they even continue to have a number of palette-swapped enemies appear (some even in the same area, nonetheless, which seems like sheer laziness to me). However, the biggest strike against the graphics is how they re-use entire areas. Being a time-traveling game I can see re-using certain areas but the amount of times they do so is a little excessive. Add on top of that the fact that a few of these areas were made and previously traveled through in 13 and it seems even lazier. Pulse is a HUGE WORLD! Why not make use of it.
And, as of the time that I wrote this, you can now go and purchase additional costumes for Noel and Serah off of the PSN store. Cool, right? I would agree if not for the fact that they cost $3 apiece for a COSTUME that does nothing for you. That is, frankly, highway robbery akin to the "Horse Armor" of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, so please people think before whipping out the credit cards, OK?
Like 13, 13-2 has a LOT of music. The sound track has four disks! Thankfully, the game has a ton of good and memorable tracks to it. Some of the great symphonic tracks include "Overture", "Wish", "Beautiful Heroes", and "Knight of the Goddess". The sound track also has a lot of lyric-filled tracks in it as well, more than any other Final Fantasy game that's come before it, and the vast majority of them are quite good as well. "Noel's Theme", "A Song for Time" and "Plains of Eternity" are masterfully done. There's some tracks that feel VERY out of place too though. The "Crazy Chocobo" track is just... well, shouldn't have been done. Then there's the "World's Collide" track used in boss battles that isn't bad, but reminds me of the Devil May Cry series. However the most annoying track HAS to be the Historia Crux track, where a segment of it just repeats the words "Time and Space" over and over and over.
The voice acting is well done throughout the game. Well done in the sense that I didn't hate any of the voices. Noel's voice actor was quite good and I liked Caius as well. Sound effects are well done, especially during battles. Just try to tune out the repetitive "Time and Space" lyrics in the Historia Crux and you'll be OK.
Now you CAN just blaze through the game if you wish, and do it in a pretty fast time as well if you really tried (1-2 days), but you'd be doing yourself a dis-service. The game is jam-packed with optional side-quests and areas to explore, and don't forget about the Serendipity chocobo-racing and slots (the racing is MUCH funner than the slots). Granted, a lot of the new areas you will unlock are re-hashes of previously visited areas, just in a different time zone, and some of the side-quests are VERY short, but there ARE a lot of side-quests to do and multiple endings to find. One thing that I did dis-like was how abilities are handled in the game. In essence, you get all of your role's abilities by level 30-40. Sometimes level 50. But then you can level that role up to level 99, leading to 40-50 levels of looking forward to... nothing.
In the end though, 13-2 has quite a bit of extra content packed in and undoubtedly has more down-loadable content on the way (just stay away from over-priced costumes!).
Despite the poor story (which is the most important thing in a RPG, if you ask me), Final Fantasy 13-2 is better than Final Fantasy 13 in my opinion. There's more strategy, better game play, better music, and more to do. It's a HARD call on whether to recommend a rental or a purchase. I would say that if you LOVED Final Fantasy 13 it's worth a purchase, but those on the fence should likely go out and rent it first. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/20/12
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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