Final Fantasy XIII-2 has stepped into the spotlight with its sophomore entry into the story line. With an amazing engine, models, and memorable scenery to pull from, could the effort be focused on aspects of the previous game that players critiqued were missing? This was where I was determined to make a final judgement on the future of Final Fantasy and the developer, Square Enix as a whole.
Make no mistake about it. I was not a fan of Final Fantasy XIII. I've gone back and forth with a few readers about my qualms with the entry, so I'll save you from reading it again. Would this highly anticipated follow-up hit the same stumbling blocks as its predecessor? Would Hiroko find love in Final Fantasy once again? Or, would I go to bed angry, dreaming of Zanarkand?
Final Fantasy XIII-2 for PS3 & Xbox 360 (PS3 Version reviewed)
Final Fantasy games have always highlighted one major thing for me over many other RPGs. The focus on friendship, and all the dirt betrayal, and love that comes with it. In my opinion, the previous title completely lacked that chemistry. Besides the Snow, Lightning, and Serah triangle, the relationships felt empty. Yes, even the Vanille and Fang relationship. Instantly there's a chemistry between Serah and Noel, even though they are complete strangers. Meetings with old friends even feel less rushed and more developed. I think I don;t hate Hope as much as I used to. I'm feeling some love here guys.
The game itself has an exciting mix of episodic content divided up by time gates. There are some plusses and minuses to this set up. Since you're hopping around time, your actions can feel like they have less consequence, due to the way many places can be visited in any sequence. The good part is it feels like you can just hop in from time to time in the game, and it gives you a nice place save your game and go to bed every night. I'm constantly reviewing material, and I admit I often will forget what's happened in a game so far, or mix different games up in my head. The game will actually tell you what's happened in the story so far if you like, and helps the aging gaming folks like me.
The title strangely has just as much resemblance to a Kingdom Hearts title as it does to it's Final Fantasy namesake. In fact, if you took Serah out of the game, make each world a bit more whimsical, and told me me that Noel was Sora. I would totally buy it. Mix in some Shin Megami monster collection and a couple episode of Dr Who ( along with Medusa Cascade scenes), and you would have the game's aesthetics. Now I don't mean this in any kind of negative manner either. In fact, I would say Square is paying attention to things that work in modern RPPGS and are keeping pace.
The star of the show is still definitely the combat. There will be no surprises in the Paradigm Shift system for players of the first game, but the action it self is slightly more fined. If I had any small complaint about the battle, it's actually the lack of the ability to cast "haste." It may be my impatience, but once I'm deep in a Final Fantasy title, I don't feel buffed unless my characters move around like they just snorted an 8 ball of cocaine. The trade off is that on map collisions with monsters is not random, it's dictated by you attacking or being attacked on the map. Whoever initiates the the strike first will give you a bate advantage, haste. Much liken Persona 3 and 4. Once that haste wears off, I feel like I'm watching molasses drip. This is just a minor annoyance and I accepted the pace a few hours into the game.
Like I alluded to earlier. I found a compassion and interest in the story and character's that I just didn't get in the previous game. I felt like I knew more about the characters in the first hour of XIII-2 than I did in all of Xiii. By the time the credits were rolling in XIII I still couldn't tell you who was La-cie, Fal-cie, who was from Pulse, and who was from Cocoon. I'm assuming most people didn't have those same troubles, but that whole thing was cleared up for me quickly in this game.
The in cinematic quicktime actions were a bit of dud for me. They definitely add a bit of suspense and fun to the old sit back and watch cutscene way of playing. I have to say that I do like my cut-scenes straight out. I'm from the old school where the cut scene was your payoff. Expensive beautiful CG that you enjoyed as a result of a hard fought battle. That's my payment! Let me just swim around in it. The graphics themselves look incredible. I was glad to see a lot more variety in locations in this game, some of the city levels just look jaw dropping.
I don't miss the flawed summonsing system at all. I'm a self admitted a summon-whore. Summons were my go to in boss battles in previous titles. I didn't miss it one bit. The monster collecting feature is fun and cute, although I don't think I ever mastered it completely. I finished the game using some of the first monsters I picked up, and just grew emotionally attached to them, So I just never changed them out. The equipment and material system was a but of a mystery as well, but I'm also terrible at looking these things up. Not having mastery of them didn't cause any issue.
The Crystarium is very simple now, you level up the same way, except there are no path choices. You just keep leveling up. In FFXIII your characters would get different skills even with the same job, now the skill trees are the same, making the process a bit less fun. You just kind of max out and move forward.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 really won me back to the franchise. I went into the game a hardcore skeptic and came out excited for the next title in the series. The game represented more than that to me though. The game showed some willingness of Square to study the RPG market a bit, listen to their fans, and in my opinion, come out ahead. Most of all, I had a lot of of fun.
8.5 – Great. 8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
Want another opinion? Make sure to check out Elliot's First Impression.
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