Review by theofficefan99
Reviewed: 05/14/12 | Updated: 07/30/12
Attempts to fix XIII's problems, but only makes many new ones in the process
Final Fantasy XIII- a new chapter in the long-running Final Fantasy series, released on 2010, received a lukewarm reception due to its extreme linearity and massively bold changes to the already-skimp Final Fantasy formula. Personally, I loved Final Fantasy XIII. I managed to fall in love with the game's excellent battle system, the mostly wonderful story, its well-developed characters, the incredible soundtrack, and the insanely gorgeous visuals. The linearity was annoying, but nothing game-breaking to me.
Square Enix took the criticism to heart, and decided to make Final Fantasy XIII-2 in hopes of winning over the hearts of many that had qualms with Final Fantasy XIII. Upon hearing about XIII-2, I had mixed feelings, as X-2 ruined the feel of X, and I was worried this would be the same case. Unfortunately, for the most part, it is.
STORYLINE AND CHARACTERS
We start off three years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII. We find Lightning in a place called Valhalla in a shining suit of armor fighting for the Goddess Etro against a lone man named Caius. After 15 minutes of flashy CGI, fixed fights and QTE's, Etro's gate, previously seen during the ending of XIII, shines and a man known as Noel Kreiss, who wished for a miracle to save him, falls, and Lightning rescues him. She finds out that Noel knows Caius, but there's too little time for chat, as Caius is destroying Valhalla and Noel must go and bring Lightning's sister, Serah, along with his new-found good-luck charm Mog, to Valhalla. He goes into the time gate just in time.
We jump to New Bodhum. Serah wakes up after seeing visions of Lightning fighting with Caius, and her village is being attacked by creatures seen in the prologue. Noel Kreiss comes in to save her, and then explains to him and his people that he's from the future, and he was sent here by Lightning to bring you to her. Though it takes a few hours to convince them, once they find a time gate, Noel is trusted and they whisk off to fix the timeline, ridden with paradoxes, and to find Lightning.
Now, for those who have played Final Fantasy XIII, this jump makes little to no sense. Luckily, all of this is explained near the end of the game, and the game does have an exciting finale, but the other 95% of the plot is terrible.
For most of the game, you are fixing paradoxes while in pursuit of Caius, a man who is travelling with the Seeress Yeul, who aims to destroy the world for an unknown reason. While the background story between Caius and Noel is interesting, everything else seems like an ass-pull from the writers, with zero continuity from the first game.
The game's plot is riddled with holes, the paradoxes are nonsensical, and the mythology of XIII is ruined with these new plot points that are barely established. It's very easy to notice how the writers missed explaining so many plot points, and when they do, they come up with horrible explanations. For instance, if no one is a l'Cie, how can they use magic? The answer that the game provides? "Through the crystal within." In short, the plot is underwhelming, unsatisfying, and insulting.
The game also utilizes the time-travel theory of "if you change the future, you change the past." This is somewhat difficult for the average person to wrap their head around, and the game absolutely fails to flesh this out correctly.
The characters fare better. Noel and Serah, while somewhat bland, make for a nice duo, and Mog provides the group with some comic relief. Neither are annoying or unlikable, but they're inoffensive in their execution. There's nothing interesting that happens between them (and I don't mean in the romantic sense, either) and they come across as rather forgettable. To those who have played XIII, you'll be missing at least one person from the old cast. Unfortunately, they have all been reduced to cameos.
Overall, the story is very weak and one of the worst in the franchise, if not the absolute worst. The premise itself was ridiculous and they somehow managed to screw it up even worse than I expected. Everything established in XIII that was great: the plot, the mythology, and the characters, were all ruined by this game's lackluster plot.
Now onto the good part of the game. Final Fantasy XIII was bashed to hell and back because of its extreme linearity. Though I personally loved the gameplay, I can't blame them- the game was a corridor for a good 80% of the game, and some people cannot handle that.
Square Enix took notes on this and the majority of their focus was put into the gameplay outside of battles. There is not one linear location in sight; all areas are filled with hidden paths, room to run around, and many ways to interact with the environment. As you progress through the game, you gain Fragments, and with Fragments, you gain Fragment Skills, which provides you with good rewards, such as an extended jump.
"Did he just say jump?" Yes, yes I did. Final Fantasy XIII-2 marks the first game in the franchise to allow the player to jump, and boy, does it feel good to jump in this game. Along with that, you can ride chocobos in nearly every location (and you can jump with them, too!), you can throw Mog to find treasures, and when you engage an enemy, you can strike them with your sword to have a pre-emptive strike. These all serve as major positive changes and they make the game really fun.
One very cool thing about the game that I enjoyed was that you can play through story sequences in a non-linear order. It's possible to jump from Episode 1 to Episode 3, or Episode 2 to Episode 4.
QTE's and "Live Triggers" have also been implemented. Live Triggers are dialogue options that show up a whole bunch throughout the first half of the game and almost never during the second half, as if they forgot about it. It shows up a little too often during cutscenes sometimes, but it provides the player with some hilarious and interesting options. Best of all, if you would like to try other dialogue options, you can replay any story event in the game to try the rest, and this is indeed better than New Game+. QTE's, at first, are executed in an excellent fashion: during the opening fight between Lightning and Caius, you can choose between certain attacks. This was something I found to be very cool. Lamentably, this never occurs again. The other 6 or so QTE's in the game are simple, easy button presses. While they were fun to complete, nothing beat the wonderful use of QTE's in the prologue. QTE's are also used during "Feral Links" in battle to increase the chance of capturing a monster.
Speaking of battles, the annoying Paradigm Shift animation is now gone, and you can even change your leader mid-battle! These serve as excellent changes that should've been in the original XIII in the first place. Aside from that, though, I feel as if battles are worse. Final Fantasy XIII provided the player with six party members to utilize; Final Fantasy XIII-2 provides the player with two for the entirety of the adventure, and the third slot is reserved for monsters that you gain from defeating them in battle. While this is somewhat neat at first, after a while, once I realized that these monsters restrict my Paradigm Set-Ups, I began to miss my party members. The flashy and useful Eidolons from XIII are completely removed. What else? Well, the useful Haste and Water spells are gone, too.
These ejections of features slightly hinder the battles, but the number one offender is the difficulty: it's a joke. It's insanely easy to over-level in the game, and it takes 35-40 hours to completely max out your levels. Not once did I die from a story line boss fight, not even the final boss. The DLC fights and the optional fragments dish out some challenging battles, but a majority of fights are painfully effortless. Despite some good changes to the battle system, as a whole, it felt worse.
Final Fantasy XIII was also bashed for its lack of content. Sure, the game had 60 optional hunts, but that's all it was- fighting MORE monsters. XIII-2 aimed to rectify this with its fragments. Some are fun to collect, and others are annoying, vouching for you to gamble for hours, guess on unfair quizzes, fight every monster in the game, or to find obscure, invisible objects. This hurts the game somewhat, as the optional content feels lazy, rushed and tacked-on, with no real effort put into them. Some of the puzzles, such as the infamous Hands of Time, are completely ridiculous and absolutely require some sort of guide unless you want to sit there and guess for hours.
"Well, it's side content," you must be thinking. This is true, but the main story route is so short that if you don't bother with the sidequests, it's not unreasonable to believe that someone beat the game on their first playthrough in less than 20 hours.
Outside of battles, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is much better than Final Fantasy XIII in terms of gameplay.
I appreciated the Mog Clock, the jumping, and basically the variety, but the lack of effort put into a majority of the side content, the lack of difficulty, party members and Eidolons really puts a damper on the experience.
Final Fantasy XIII provided the player with an excellent soundtrack and voice acting. For the most part, it doesn't disappoint. The voice acting, Noel's in particular (James Marsden), is fantastic despite the crummy dialogue and weak plot. Serah's (Laura Bailey) and Caius' (Laim O'Brien) performance can be a little overwrought and melodramatic at times, but the voice acting as a whole is much stronger than 99% of JRPG's out there.
The soundtrack is strange at first. Rap, hip-hop, pop, jazz, rock, metal in a Final Fantasy? Some tracks work, such as Limit Break and Worlds Collide, but others, most notably Crazy Chocobo, are horrible and are actually induce the ejection of blood from the players' ears. The orchestrated and vocal tracks work very well, and the finale in particular is filled to the brim with endless memorable and well-done tracks.
It's not as strong as XIII in this department, but it's still great.
It's worse than XIII. That immediately comes to mind once you start it up. Not one in-game cutscene goes by without its fair share of texture pop-ins, slow-down, jaggies and clipping issues. Square Enix still implemented Final Fantasy's famous CGI cutscenes from Visual Works, but they're very few in number this time around, and none are as well-done as the ones found in the original Final Fantasy XIII.
However, the game is still beautiful, and some environments, such as the final dungeon and Valhalla, are the most strikingly picturesque locations in recent memory. Characters still animate well and impress, but the game is much uglier than the original.
My biggest gripe with the game is the copy-pasted environments and assets. Every single monster and NPC from XIII is re-used here, some environments such as Sunleth Waterscape looked much more visually appealing in the original, and some locations such as Oerba are entirely re-used. I wouldn't mind if the game had many new enemies, but it doesn't. There are less than a handful of new enemy types and there are around a dozen locations that somehow only made minimal seasonal changes within hundreds of years. It just comes off as lazy.
While nothing ugly, it's a major step down from the art that was the visuals of XIII.
While I did definitely enjoy my time with the game, I didn't feel like it ever came close to the quality of XIII. It made many amazing changes to the gameplay outside of battles, but everything else feels like either a slight step-down (Audio) or a major step-down (Story) from the original. If your number one gripe with Final Fantasy XIII was the gameplay, then this is something you'll enjoy. If you loved Final Fantasy XIII, you'll find a lot of new aspects that will displease you.
-Visuals are still good
-Battles are still fun
-Soundtrack is mostly great
-Voice acting is strong
-Substantial amount of optional content
-You can throw Mog!
-Chocobo riding in nearly every area!
-You can replay any story event
-QTE's during the prologue are excellent
-The final few hours are very exciting
-Lags, texture pop-ins, jaggies, clipping issues
-Where are my party members?
-Where are my Eidolons?
-Where are my Haste and Water spells?
-Crazy Chocobo is the most terrible track in FF history
-What little CGI that is in the game is worse than what is found in XIII
-Story is absolutely abysmal and insulting
-Serah and Noel receive nearly zero development and are rather bland
-Tons of re-used assets and enemies
-Most of the optional content is very lazy
-Game is completely lacking in terms of challenge
-Lots of bad dialogue
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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