Review by Iyamtebist
"Story may not make much sense but it's still a lot of fun to play"
Despite me being the avid JRPG nut that I am, I have surprisingly not played every game in the Final Fantasy series. The only mainline entries I have beaten were Final Fantasy one through seven, and the rest up to thirteen I am only familiar with due to watching let's plays of them on Youtube. Despite this, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to check out the direct sequel to the series' thirteenth entry, which also happened to be the most polarizing entry since the last game in the series. The result was an enjoyable game that is not necessarily as good as the classic games in terms of story, but is more fun in terms of game play and still entertaining in its own right.
When you change the future you what?
The story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is often considered to be its weakest aspect and was a common complaint from most critics due to a variety of reasons. While there are some of these that I can agree with, there are also some that make no sense. I will get the examples of the latter out of the way first. One of the most common complaints with Final Fantasy XIII-2 was the fact that it did not feature characters from the previous game. What I do not understand about this complaint is why the game's previous characters are suddenly missed when most people did not seem to like the first game's characters to begin with. I can understand this complaint from the point of view from die hard fans of the first game, but I cannot help but feel that some other people are just never satisfied.
As for my own opinion on XIII-2's characters, I would consider XIII-2's cast to be superior if it were not for the fact that you only have two human party members. These two characters are Sarah, the sister of the main protagonist of the previous game, and Noel, a character that is new to Final Fantasy XIII-2. Sarah's character I did not particularly care for. Technically there was nothing about her that particularly annoyed me, but that was only because her character was so bland and unmemorable to begin with. Noel ,on the other hand, I think is an excellent protagonist and a serious improvement over the characters from the first game, and is definitely a breath of fresh air from the incompetent morons that were the main characters of Final Fantasy X and XII. Unlike said characters, Noel is a smart and competent leader who knows what he is doing yet is still likable and cares about his allies, unlike some other Final Fantasy protagonists (that would be you Squall).
When it comes to the rest of the game's story, I am inclined to agree with the general consensus on it. Final Fantasy XIII-2's story line is an absolute mess. The main concept of the story is that Lightning mysteriously disappears right after the ending credits of the first game due to some unknown time paradox, and no one knows why. For some reason, the only two that seem concerned about this are Sarah and her fiance Snow. Snow tries to look for Lightning and, as a result, disappears himself. Only a few hours later into the game Noel is introduced and it is revealed that he came from the future where he was the last human being alive and he also knows where Lightning is. The rest of the game involves them traveling through time to find Lightning.
First of all, one of the biggest problems with this game's story line is how convoluted this game's explanation of time travel is. While I could go into detail about why this is the case, I think that the explanation for this could be best summed up with the quote, when you change the future, you change the past. Technically that could be true as time travel is not exactly something that has been scientifically tested, but the problem is that is that no one cares about how it really is. The game's story would be a lot easier to wrap your head around if it just had a more simple explanation of time travel.
The next issue with the story in this game is how there is nothing in the first game that foreshadowed XIII-2's events and every new plot event was pulled completely out of thin air. Final Fantasy XIII was previously a complete story without any loose ends, but with the addition of XIII-2, all that is added are more questions. If that on its own was not enough, the game ends with a to be continued message and is not even a complete story to begin with. That basically means that, unless every single loose end is tied up in Lightning Returns, there is reason for the game to exist story wise and even then XIII-2 would have no purpose other than to build up to Lightning Returns.
If I am to give credit where credit is due however, I will give it points that it is at least not boring. While the story is technically all style over substance, it is at least interesting to see what is going on and there is a pretty nice atmosphere that it provides. Ultimately though, the story concept of Final Fantasy XIII-2 would have been much more appropriate for a new standalone game and not tacked on to the end of a previous one.
Dude where's the Tube?
From a graphical standpoint, XIII-2 is of slightly lower quality than the first game, but that is likely due to the obvious reasoning that the game's levels are no longer made up of linear corridors and are more wide open. Without the game's world being a linear set piece, it is obviously more difficult to reach the same graphical quality as the previous game. Regardless, the production values are still what you would expect from a triple a title such as this, glorious HD and all. The aesthetical design is rather effective as well giving each area and time period a distinctive feel and atmosphere. Some people may not like that there still is no over world map like the classics, but what we are given is definitely effective on its own.
You are given access to a map listing a bunch of locations and time periods in an area known as the Historia crux. Aside from outright confirming that the game's premise was lifted directly from Atlus's Radiant Historia, this is an effective form of presentation. A very nice touch is that you can return to the Historia crux whenever you want and you will still be in the exact same spot when you return to that area regardless of what you did elsewhere. This shows some really great attention to detail that adds a nice touch of believability to the game. Also what really adds to the game's atmosphere is the fact that you can choose to replay the story events of a time period and come across alternate endings by doing certain things differently than in the main story. Granted these are mostly in the form of hopelessly difficult boss battle that you cannot hope to beat until the post game, but there was always a part of me that wondered how the story would change in certain games if you won a scripted battle. In Final Fantasy XIII-2, you get to see this first hand if you decide to go for the post game content.
Breaking the Limits
The music in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is more or less similar to that of the first game's except with a few different musical styles added. In addition to the normal orchestral music, there are also elements of J-Pop, rap, metal included as well. An example would be the game's normal boss theme, Breaking the Limits (which was appropriately renamed Limit Break in the international release as a reference to Final Fantasy VII). Instead of the traditional orchestral style that the Final Fantasy series has used since Nobuo Uematsu left, this song is a death metal song that one would expect more from Devil May Cry than Final Fantasy. The game also tends to have a lot of vocal songs, but a lot of them tend to feel like a normal game music with English lyrics randomly added. The orchestral songs are great as well and really help out the atmosphere, as well as just being cool songs in general. XIII-2's soundtrack is an improvement over the first game in terms of the variety of different styles it covers, and in terms of the amount of good songs in general. Predictably though, the score still does not match the style or quality of the games that Uematsu composed for.
Final Fantasy Rareware Addition
A lot of complaints that the haters make regarding the first game seems to be summed up with the phrase press X to win, a phrase that is used to mock the game's battle mechanics for supposedly being too simple and allowing the player little input. There are certain problems that I have with accepting this as a legitimate complaint however. While there are some battles that are easy enough to win by just using the auto battle feature, it really is not that much different from most JRPGs where you can kill most enemies by simply brute forcing your way through them. In fact, the older Final Fantasy games did not involve all that much strategy themselves. The main set up for just about every boss battle in Final Fantasy IV-IX was simply attack and heal as needed.
The irony of this complaint is that the battle mechanics for Final Fantasy XIII-2, and likely the first game as well, actually require a lot more strategy despite you technically only controlling one character during battle. Battles in XIII-2 take place in real time with an active time bar that fills up as time passes, not unlike that of Final Fantasy IV-IX and X-2. What is different with XIII-2 is that the actions that can be taken in battle are not limited to when the ATB bar is full. The ATB bar in XIII-2 is divided into multiple sections and each action takes up a certain portion of the bar. This is important in XIII-2 because, in addition to dealing raw damage, they also contribute to another important aspect of XIII-2's battle system. This is to hit an enemy rapidly enough that their chain gauge fills up and they enter a stagger state where attacks deal up to 999% of their normal damage. After it is inflicted, the gauge starts to decrease and the enemy will return to a normal state. Naturally the stagger state is needed to defeat most bosses in an efficient manner and is even necessary even for some normal enemies as well.
Despite only controlling one character, there is still quite a bit to pay attention to during Final Fantasy XIII-2's battles. The battle system is something that this game actually does much better than the older Final Fantasy games. Battles in XIII-2 are very hectic and intense, yet also require the appropriate strategy to dispose of enemies quickly. Now these elements were basically what the first game's battle system was made up of as far as I know, so I think it is safe to assume that XIII-2's is mostly unchanged. There are a few things that XIII-2 does add, but most of these really do not change much.
There were a few complaints regarding the first game that were answered in XIII-2 that make things more convenient. First of all the character you are controlling getting killed no longer means an instant game over. Instead of that, control will be switched over to your other party member who could give you the chance to possibly salvage the situation. Secondly the lengthy animation during paradigm shifts no longer occurs in XIII-2, which makes means you do not need to sit through that animation every time you change paradigms.
The biggest change to XIII-2's battle mechanics is the inclusion of a Pokemon style monster recruitment system where you have a captured monster as your third party member instead of a story line character. While the inclusion of this system was rather unnecessary, it was thankfully executed well and does not hinder the game play. Basically the way that monsters work in battle is that, unlike Sarah and Noel who have preset roles in each paradigm, each monster's role in battle is fixed and cannot be altered. The way the game compensates for this is that you can use a different monster in separate paradigms, meaning that you are not just using the same monster in battle.
Another way that the monsters function differently from a game play perspective is that you upgrade their stats using random item drops as opposed to the CP used for the main characters. Depending on the monster, they could either have their stats grow more for each upgrade but reach their level cap faster, or they could go the other way around where they have a higher level cap but lower stat growth. One nice feature regarding the monster customization is that you can fuse one monster into the other in order to make them inherit abilities that they might otherwise not have access to. This can also be taken advantage of by taking leftover low level stat increasing items that no longer work for your current monster, and using them on a weaker monster which you can then infuse onto your current monster in order to gain even more abilities. This gives a nice amount of customization to XIII-2 battle system that did not exist in the first game.
What is ultimately the most entertaining aspect of Final Fantasy XIII-2 are its side quests. In most RPGs, side quests either consist of the typical collect or kill twenty of blank style quests, or they are based around a mini-game that takes up a third of the game and is not nearly as fun as the main game. Thankfully XIII-2 manages to avert these types of quests for the most part. Instead I would compare them more so to Nintendo 64 era platformers made by Rare than any other JRPG. I say this because these side quests involve you collecting fragments, which are given to you for a variety of different tasks. Collecting each fragment feels like its own distinctive task unlike most RPGs where side quests tend to all feel the same. What is also nice is that they also make good use of the time travel mechanics that were previously mentioned, and that newer areas are unlocked by completing the side quests and gives you a lot more to do in the game than simply moving on with the plot. This is easily a huge step up from the first game's lack of any side quests besides hunts, and it is easy to tell that Square Enix definitely took the complaints regarding the first game's linearity to heart while developing Final Fantasy XIII-2.
So the question regarding Final Fantasy XIII-2 is how does this game compare to the other Final Fantasy games? By now I would think that people would stop trying to compare the older games to the newer ones seeing as how they seem to have a completely different style, which itself is likely due to Square Enix being made up of different staff. While I did illustrate before that Final Fantasy XIII-2's story is a complete mess, the story is not going to be the reason you will find yourself playing this game. In terms of game play, XIII-2 was a blast to play. If you managed to enjoy Final Fantasy XIII for its battle mechanics alone despite the linearity and large amount of cutscenes, than this game will make XIII feel like a prototype. If you were mainly drawn to Final Fantasy XIII because of its story than you will be disappointed by XIII-2's poor attempt to follow it up. If you hated everything about Final Fantasy XIII then you will likely not change your stance about the battle system and the lack of linearity will not be enough to save the game for you. If you are simply looking for a good JRPG than Final Fantasy XIII-2 will easily be enough to satisfy you.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 09/05/13, Updated 09/06/13
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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