Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Final Fantasy XIII-2

I'm no stranger to the Final Fantasy series. I've played almost every single entry in the main numbered series, as well as a few of the spinoffs. I've even played Final Fantasy X-2, the follow up to what might be my favorite game in the series (and perhaps a to DON'T list for sequel making). I love the story in every game, and I love how over the fifty or so hours, you can become totally absorbed in a fantastical world that is completely brought to life by the amazing and diverse characters, and the grand plots that guide you from start to finish.

Spira from FFX

Gaia from FFVII

World of Balance from FFVI

The Worlds of Balance and Ruin in FF6, Midgar and Gaia in FF7, Spira in FFX, are all vast worlds that take many hours to fully explore, but beyond that, for those who are willing to spend a little extra time and dig, there is so much to learn about each of these worlds by just exploring them. The worlds in Final Fantasy XIII are no different. The first game introduced the worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse, as well as the conflict between the denizens of each area.

A typical map from the first section of FFXIII

The game was controversial, dividing fans more so than any other entry in the series. People criticized the map design, calling the beginning of the game "the 20 hour hallway", as well as the fact that the game limits your potential battle-wise for the majority of the first 20 or so hours as well. The world of Coccoon was interesting, and the game did a good job introducing the Fal'cie, L'cie, and all the other fantasy terms that would be nearly impossible to explain if it were left in the hands of lesser developers. The story was far more personal than prior installments however, with a greater emphasis on the party itself, and their struggle to battle their own destinies. At least for me, the game lacked some of the grandiose themes that exist in so many of the other installments. There was no villain to content with Kefka, Sephiroth, or Seymour, which led to a sort of ambiguous goal moving forward through much of the game.

Who would you put here for XIII?

The game opened up greatly though when the party reached Gran Pulse, and the more traditional exploration elements of the series returned, though not completely. There weren't really towns to visit, a staple of most RPG's, and there were very few characters to meet once on the firmament.

You'll get here eventually, how does Chapter 11 sound?

The ending of FFXIII was much more focused however, and it brought the game a satisfying conclusion. Now I did say satisfying, not great. I just didn't quite have the same feeling after completing FFXIII that I usually had after investing 50+ hours into a Final Fantasy game.

Enter Final Fantasy XIII-2, the second numbered sequel in the Final Fantasy main numbered series. The developers knew there was more to this world than they took advantage of in the original game, so they set out to create another story so that fans could visit the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse once again. The fans were understandably reluctant however, seeing as the only other direct sequel had been Final Fantasy X-2, which completely threw the original game out the window, replaced it with a weird tweeny-bop soundtrack, and sprinkled some weird hot springs scenes throughout (you'll know exactly what I'm talking about if you've played it). The game was a mess overall, and not at all what fans of FFX were hoping for.

We were supposed to take this seriously?

 The game wasn't all bad though. The job system was a ton of fun, the game was non-linear, there was more variety, and eventually (after many grueling hours) the story actually became quite good. Despite the positives, fan didn't want to see another desecration along the lines of FFX-2, and especially worrisome was how quickly the game came out (the other two members of the originally planned Fabula Nova Crystallis series haven't even been released yet!).

I'm pleased to report that FFXIII-2 is a much better game than FFX-2, and probably even FFXIII.

So I hear you wanted a few more testicles in this sequel?

The story of FFXIII-2 is shorter than the original, but it feels more epic. Square-Enix has definitely been listening to much of the criticism leveled at the first game, and they addressed most (but not all) of these concerns.

The two pictures above are more typical map styles in FFXIII-2, an obvious improvement on the hallway like maps in the original.

The cast was the smallest in any FF game to date, as well as the largest at the same time. You control Serah (Lightning's sister from the first game) and Noel for the entire game. You do run into some old faces, but the emphasis has definitely been placed on these two character's quest to find out what happened to Lightning following the events of FFXIII.

While some might use this tiny cast as a criticism, I don't feel it really affected the game too much overall. The third party member slot is completely customisable, and can be filled with any of of 150+ monsters you can tame in the game (trying to cash in a little on the pokemon hype?). Catching monsters for your party was fun overall, but with a little internet sleuthing, it is really easy to determine the best party members, catch them early on, and ignore many of the other monsters you capture in the second half of the game.

All I need is you, Chichu.

The combat has been touched very little since FFXIII, and the Paradigm System is still just as fun as it was. This might just be the most exciting battle system ever implemented in a Final Fantasy game, so I'm actually glad they brought it back. The game starts off at a much quicker pace battle wise, and I feel like the developers assumed that you played the original game, because there is little to no tutorial this time around (while there was a 20 hour tutorial to familiarize you with the system in FFXIII). I found myself changing paradigms far more frequently in the early chapters than I ever did in the first game. Once you reach chapter 3 and the world opens up though, patient gamers will have an opportunity to begin the levelin up process, and essentially break the game if they choose to do so.

Even though I played the majority of the game with 3 commandos (after maxing out Chichu pictured above), there were certainly still parts where I had to utilize a fair amount of strategy to prevail. For the average gamer, the game will most likely be a perfect challenge throughout.

Battles are as flashy as ever.

The biggest new feature in this sequel though is not the monster taming, but the time-travel elements. Without spoiling too much of the plot, eventually Serah and Noel receive the ability to begin traveling through time in an attempt to piece together what is happening in the story. With the recent success of Chrono Trigger on virtual console, Square-Enix was smart to include a feature like this. It made the game feel a little more like the classic JRPG's that we all loved and grew up on. While the game doesn't make full use of the system's potential, there are some actions you can take in a certain time period that will change others. The system is a blast, and there is no shortage of areas to explore or quests to complete.

You can eventually visit all the gray circles above.

The most important element of any Final Fantasy game, whether a sequel or not, is the story though. How does this installment measure up to the classics? Favorably I would say, though I wouldn't claim that this was the strongest story in the series. I was interested in the story throughout, thanks large in part to the events taking place in the background that remain a mystery to the player for much of the game.

Caius (Left) Lightning (Right)

While Lightning remains in a mysterious place known as Valhalla for much of the game, the party bumps into Caius on multiple occasions, reminding me of the older games where you saw say, Kefka, multiple times throughout the story. Caius was probably the most interesting character in the game, and his motivations make him a sympathetic character.

While many of the sub-plots you will go through are fairly bland (such as time traveling to defeat a giant tomato monster), there are others that are more exciting. All of these sub-plots are less interesting than the main story though, and once you reach a certain point, the last 5 or so areas are visited in quick succession, driving you straight through to the end of the game, reducing the distractions players might otherwise pursue.

I was especially pleased with the last few chapters of the game, and as I learned about Noel's past (future?), the relationship between him and Yeul, and even Caius's relationship with Yeul, I couldn't wait to get to the end. I'm very glad I spent the majority of the middle of the game performing side-quests, and leveling up, because I was able to steamroll through the biggest storyline moments of the game.

The ending cutscene is a bit of a punch to the face, and I was honestly surprised with what happened. Of course, just like in FFX-2, there is a special ending for those who complete the game completely (in this case gathering all 160 fragments). I can't comment yet on this special ending, as I'm in the process of collecting the last 15 or so fragments, but if the additional scene is anything like the scene unlocked for fully completing FFX-2, the ending of XIII-2 has the potential to be something truly special.

Truly Epic

Now the quest for all 160 fragments will add a significant number of hours to your game, but for gamers who keep up with the process throughout the first run through the main story, you'll find it very doable to obtain them all. There are some that are more annoying to obtain than others (such as completing the games various rift puzzles over, and over, and over, and slaying every monster in the game), and a few of the games areas begin to really wear on you after a while, such as a platforming section near the end of the game that involves flipping switches, rotating blocks, and dozens of pitfalls to impede your process.

I need to come through here how many times?

These are but minor annoyances in an overall great game however, and should hold no substantial bearing on any final verdict on the game. Now I'm going to do something new, and attach a score to the end of my review. Some people work better with numbers afterall, so I'll try to give an accurate, fair score.

Whereas I would have likely given FFXIII a score of 7.5/10 upon beating it, I'm going to have to give the sequel the edge here, with a score of 8.5.

Final Score:   8.5/10

Thanks for reading my first video game review, I hope you all found something useful in there. I'll definitely be reviewing more games as I beat them. Look for either Mass Effect 3 or Silent Hill Downpour next, depending on which one I finish first.

   -Chris (a.k.a. the Chronosavior) 

No comments:

Post a Comment