Date: January 30th, 2012 Author: Ethan
News Category: Final Fantasy XIII-2
Tags: Final Fantasy XIII-2, Review
As most of you know, a few months ago I was flown out to L.A. by Square Enix and got to give FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 a preliminary spin. I’ll be honest, prior to attending this event, I was skeptical about XIII-2. Granted, I was excited for the game, the announcement trailer looked quite promising, as did the subsequent trailer featuring gameplay. Even so, after FINAL FANTASY XIII, I was unsure about a sequel. Don’t get me wrong, I liked XIII, a lot actually, I find I’m one of the bigger fans of the game. Criticism notwithstanding, I still felt wary about a XIII-2. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I finally got my hands on it, and almost instantly felt a lot better. It was clear right from the get go that Square Enix took XIII’s criticism to heart and worked hard to improve on things in XIII-2.
Now Square has thankfully given us a full review copy of the PS3 version, here is my final impressions of their attempts to win back some of the pessimists.
Lightning has been transported to Valhalla, a realm untouched by time, watching over the land and battling a mysterious and powerful enemy named Caius Ballad. In the midst of their battle a young man named Noel suddenly finds himself in Valhalla in an attempt to go back in time and save the world from its grim fate, a world where humanity is facing its last days. Lightning tasks him with finding and protecting her sister, Serah. After meeting Noel, Serah agrees to accompany him on a quest jumping through space and time to find Lightning.
As with most stories involving time travel, things can get a little wonky at times. Since you’re given a lot of freedom, some specific parts of the plot don’t add up right away. There’s no set order to complete accessible areas, so I completed some tasks earlier or later than the story’s timeline assumed. However, this minor issue dissipated as the game went on. Overall I actually found everything really cohesive and easy enough to understand. Even now when people talk about XIII I wonder, “When was that touched upon?” to which people respond “It was in the datalog.” Thankfully you’ll find less instances of that. While there is plenty of info to read in the datalog it didn’t feel all that integral, or rather it was purely more supplementary to the story.
Over the course of the game, Serah and Noel’s quest to find Lightning develops into an epic journey to save the world (doesn’t it always?) As you progress, Serah and Noel learn more about the state of things and how exactly things come to be in Noel’s future. It’s interesting to watch Serah develop from this naive, seemingly little girl to quite a strong heroine herself, not as strong as Lightning of course, but strong certainly in her own right. Even the enemy, Caius ends up being one of the most memorable, and dynamic villains in FF history. Props definitely go to Square on this one.
Now, onto the gameplay side of things. Environments are pretty much the same as in XIII, not to say that they aren’t varied or that there aren’t new environments to explore. There are plenty of new ones and some make a return, albeit with a twist here and there. Also, one of the first things that I noticed as I made my way through the world, jumping through time, was that the maps are much more intricate as opposed to the so described “hallways” of XIII. Heck, I even got lost on occasion. It was much more interesting traversing through areas this time around. Another aspect of exploration that’s more interesting in XIII-2 is the fact that you can jump on your own now with the O button. The environment concepts are the same as XIII though, so it’s not as if we suddenly have a platformer, or even platform elements thanks to this, but, in some cases, it makes traversal a little easier and of course it makes you feel as if you’ve got a little more control as you make your way around.
Exploring is also made a little bit more interesting thanks to your new partner; Mog. I didn’t know what to think of him at first, but after just a little while I started to really love the little guy and I think he’s adorable. While exploring, you’ll encounter your typical chests and some that are invisible. Mog’s main job on the field is to help you uncover these hidden objects. You can also throw him to chests out of your reach and have him grab the contents for you. It’s an enjoyable experience and works perfectly in the world, it also made me think to look around a little more.
The battle system remains mostly untouched at its core, which I thought was fine, as I never had a problem with it. A typical Active Time Battle system accompanying fast paced battles as you jam Auto-Battle and change paradigms accordingly. It continues to focus on shifting roles as a strategy rather than selecting abilities. You can of course choose which abilities exactly to use whenever you need to. The small changes to the system, while not entirely necessary, make everything feel smoother. Faster Paradigm Shifts and the cinematic quick times added during boss battles are enough to make it feel fresh without breaking what worked in the first game.
The newest and most major addition to this system however, is in the form of Paradigm Packs. Serah and Noel are accompanied by a monster you’ve managed to catch while battling. You place up to 3 monsters into your pack and use them in your customized paradigms accordingly. The monsters switch in and out automatically during battle when you switch to the Paradigm with them in it. The system seemed so-so at first but once you really get going with catching the monsters and leveling them up with their own Crystarium (you can receive certain items as spoils from battle that you use in the monster’s Crystarium in lieu of points) it starts becoming rather fun. It was cool to try and get the most out of my monsters whenever I could, grinding for components in order to heighten their abilities, or trying to catch a new, strong looking monster. I’ve ended up spending a lot more time on them than I thought I would be. Rather than just seeming like a Pokemon-esque after thought, they end up being an interesting and integral part of battle. The ability to name them and place adornments onto them was a cool touch.
Of course, the Crystarium is back for Serah and Noel, that being said, it’s been overhauled a bit. No longer does each role have it’s own Crystarium. Instead Noel and Serah are given one Crystarium in the shape of their respective weapons (or in the case of monsters, their Crystarium is shaped like them). Serah and Noel’s Crystarium contain nodes and the choice is up to you as to what role you want to pick for each node. Essentially the path is a set one, however there is an illusion of freedom that was very welcome as it caused me to put a little more thought into the abilites and bonuses that I wanted next as opposed to choosing a role and holding down X, as it tended to be for me at least, in the first game. Once you make an entire round, the Crystrarium expands and you’re given the choice of a decent bonus, a boost to a role you have, unlock a new role, increasing your max accessory capacity or gain another ATB segment.
Whenever I felt the need to want to stop progressing in the story or if I just wanted to take a break and just play around with things, I felt that I could. One of the best things about this game is that you aren’t confined to any one space for too long and there is just so much to do. There are over 150 objects to collect called “fragments”. You can get them by finding them on the field or as rewards for completing various side missions offered throughout the entirety of the game. There’s even a casino called Serendipity that has Slots, Chocobo Racing, and more (to be added with DLC). Now that Gil is much easier to obtain, you can blow it all on coins for the casino. Win coins and you can exchange them for prizes and exclusive adornments for your monster. You can even talk to an NPC there who will give you various new abilities if you’ve found lots of fragments, a decent incentive to go searching for them.
Overall, I was quite impressed with XIII-2. There were some nostalgic FF aspects about it mixed with newer things of course and the combination just seems to work. Even if some facets of the story seemed a little goofy or out of place, I found everything forgiven when I saw the big picture. I’d go so far as to say almost everything has been improved from FINAL FANTASY XIII although I’d love to stop comparing the two. I thought this when I first played XIII-2 back in October but this game definitely feels like a true FF. If you have any doubts about it, whether they are because of XIII or from what you’ve seen so far, cast them aside, go out, buy the game at launch, or at least eventually. You will enjoy it!Related posts: