Final Fantasy XIII was a game considered to be a hit or miss for fans of the series. Some loved the new take on gameplay, story line, and characters while others hated the linearity and lack of side quests. Final Fantasy XIII-2 keeps true to the orginal game mechanics (which many disliked) while at the same time further smoothing out the rough edges to perfect what others loved. Final Fantasy XIII-2 took me by surprise; from the time that Noel and Serah first take the screen, the game is engaging, fun, and overall a worthwhile experience.
Review conducted on the Playstation 3 version of the game.
The graphics in this game are much like those in the first game, and this is definitely a good thing. The scenery of the different worlds is stunning and the characters look quite realistic. Square did a superb job of conveying the sense that none of the worlds felt reused or overdone. While the player does encounter the same world more than once, each one is completely separate in their look and feel. For example, a place such Academia has the feel of a big city like New York or Tokyo; in contrast, running through the fields of the Archytle Steppe the player literally feels as if they are in a completely different part of the world. As far as the character design, while the expected (however unusual) clothing and hairstyles are present, the characters still look as vibrant as ever with their emotions carrying through their facial expressions. The story itself is extremely compelling. Although it does involve some of the same concepts and ideas that XIII did, it varies enough to keep the player coming back for more until they discover the fates of Noel, Serah, and Lightning. The time travel concept is something that has not really been done by Square since the likes of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross and once again proves that Square can take this concept and incorporate it into their games with ease.
Never does the time traveling feel like a chore; it feels like it is necessary to reach Serah and Noel’s end goal and the game would be missing something without it. From beginning to end, the story never left me feeling I was ready for it to be over. As far as the incorporation of the mini-games and towns go, I am glad to see them back. The mini-games are the expected, “go to kill this monster” or “go find this item for me” but the locales and targets that need to be found are varied enough that this does not feel overdone either. Another interesting addition to the story line was the ability to close the time gates and restart an area. For example, when the player first makes their way to Bresha Ruins they can choose to make Atlas weaker in order to beat him. This new feature allows the player to go back later, close the portal and reopen it in order to see if they are able to beat Atlas at full strength. This ability unlocks some fragments and allows the player to challenge themselves with some of the harder bosses the game has to offer.
Moving on to the music and sound effects of the game, quality is certainly not lacking. As far as the sound effects are concerned swords clang as they should when striking an object or surface, and waves gently washing on the shore actually sound like you are at the beach. The music, however, has something different to offer. Unlike previous Final Fantasy games, XIII-2 has quite a bit more music that involves vocals. The results are definitely positive. Each area has a different songs with unique lyrics, usually the lyrics coincide with the current events of game play, in the few instances where this is not the case the music is still beautiful to listen to. In addition, the voice acting is also superb. Laura Bailey (voice of Serah who has also voiced characters such as Catherine from Catherine and Lust in Full Metal Alchemist) and Jason Marsden (voice of Noel who has also voiced Haku in Spirited Away among others) give the characters life.
The gameplay in the newest installment in the series improves on the battle system introduced by XIII. Unlike the previous game, there are only two characters to fight with while the third slot is filled by various monsters. Noel and Serah are now able to randomly capture the crystallized essence of monsters in battle and from that point, they are incorporated into the party. The player has the ability to choose third different monsters to put into their Paradigm Pack. Each different monster type possess a pre-set character role (Medic, Commando, Ravager, etc.) and cannot vary from the role they have been given. They also grow using the Crystarium by giving them certain Monster Materials based on their level. Personally, the most fun part of using the monsters were the adornments the player chooses for their monsters. Such things like what sort of design, hat, accessory etc. their monster is going to be wearing while in battle. Another less obvious but very welcome change to the battle system was the quickening of the Paradigm Shift. One thing that really bothered me and MANY other players about the first game was that when the characters did shift paradigms, it would take a good minute or so before the shift was complete on account of the accompanying animation. However, XIII-2 makes it so that the shift is seamless in battle and no longer feels like it takes half the battle to complete. The more open-ending exploration, as mentioned earlier, also contributes to both the flow of gameplay and to the story. Some of the side quests also add more to the story while others just add more fun to the experience. Having to figure out when or where to find a flower that only grows in winter, a plant that only grows in the dark, or where to find a monster that is randomly attacking people keep the game interesting and provide a non-linear feeling. Another gameplay option that I both loved and hated were the Anomalies. Figuring out how to run across the bridge and get the crystals or how to complete a picture was exciting and somewhat challenging. For the most part, the Anomalies were fun to figure out. However, one of the puzzles was so maddening that the complaints many players have voiced often had something to do with frustratingly throwing things.
Of course, I am speaking specifically of the dreaded clock puzzle. Now, there are undoubtedly people out there who loved this puzzle due to the challenge it presented. On the other hand though, to most this puzzle was nothing short of crazy. A few sparse instances of doing this puzzle could have been tolerated, but when this puzzle is used at least 8-10 times, it starts to get extremely annoying and ultimately becomes a cause of frustration. That being said though, the game does a good job of varying the gameplay enough for it to still seem fairly fresh.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 improves upon many aspects of XIII. The gameplay is faster, more fluid, and the world is a lot less linear. The story is compelling and the music evokes a good deal of emotion with the inclusion of the vocals. By the sum of its parts, does an exceptional job of bringing back aspects that some fans of the series missed, while still keeping and improving upon the newer aspects that others enjoyed. Everything about this game makes it enjoyable to fans and newcomers alike. While XIII-2 is not the most unique or mind blowing gaming experience, it is still a completely fun and compelling addition to the long running Final Fantasy series.
FINAL SCORE: 12/15
– Megan Highwind has left the party