Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RE: Final Fantasy XIII-2

/* Long Post Ahead */ 
It had been awhile since I've played any sort of JRPG, and FFXIII-2 (yes, you read that right) came out semi-recently in the US. Before I start getting into the sequel, I'll go ahead and say it - I was one of those people who didn't really dig XIII (13) because of its awkwardly slow pace and linearity. Sure, the story was interesting, and I really enjoyed the Paradigm battle system, but I don't care how how great it gets towards end-game... One should never have to run down a hallway for 30 hours before a game gets good. That said, once XIII opened up, I found myself actually getting into it, thus becoming less bitchy about it.  So that ended, and I can honestly say while it wasn't the worst experience, I had definitely played better in the series (and no, I'm not just referencing VII (7)). Nostlagia wasn't keeping me from enjoying it. It was the entire presentation.

Initially, when SE announced that they'd be making a sequel titled XIII-2, it immediately made me think of when they did that with X (10). FFX-2 was like Final Fantasy meets Charlie's Angels. I played it, I beat it, and I'm over it. It was really out of the ordinary, even for a Final Fantasy game, where suspension of disbelief and getting into the story are more commonplace. I was skeptical of how XIII-2 would turn out. All in all, I was wrong for doubting it right off the cuff. I enjoyed playing the sequel of XIII more than I did the original. And I'm still playing it (as of the time I'm writing this). I haven't 100% it, or gotten the whole variety of alternate endings, but I'm getting there. 

So why am I bothering to write this? Well, a few reasons...
First, I feel like I need to, because XIII-2 might otherwise be ignored by those who tried XIII and didn't like it solely because of its constant tunnel-like state. The sequel tries hard right out of the gates to rectify its predecessor's mistakes. From the get-go, the game feels instantly more open and gives the player some room to breathe without forcing you to go somewhere you may not want to go yet. Second, a friend of mine posted a video review of the game, so I figured I'd make somewhat of a response. I agree with some bits of this, some not, and there are also a few other things that weren't mentioned that I'd like to touch on, just because I happen to have seemingly infinite writing space here. So watch his video (if you want), and then read on... (below the fold)

My overall impression, after having beaten it, is quite positive. I enjoyed FFXIII-2 way more than the first, and I'm generally pretty pleased that I picked it up. SE seems to have done whatever they could to fix the gripes that a majority of the fanbase had for XIII. Some things changed for the better, some not, but the negatives don't make the game unplayable, broken, or bad... I'll break it out by category.

Story & Character Development
The story is quite interesting, though it takes a lot of liberties. Almost everything can be explained with "a time paradox did it." The whole concept of XIII-2 revolves around being able to travel to different aspects of time, through various maps, and resolving paradoxes in each area to get closer to your end goal of finding Lightning (main chick from XIII). While trying to remain spoiler-free, I would like to just say that the ending of XIII-2 really surprised me. I can't remember a Final Fantasy where at story's end, everything wasn't happy as can be. So on to the characters... As mentioned in the video, you only get to control 2 main characters and a captured monster character. Serah (Lightning's sister) and Noel are really the only people you have to focus on. Mostly gone (except through brief appearances) are that annoying prick Snow and the whiny momma's boy Hope. Replace those annoying characters with Mog, whose every sentence ends in the word "kupo." Cute at first, but after about 30 hours in, it grates on me. I had no bones to pick with Noel and Serah, though - Square had more time to better flesh out their characters, since they're the main ones. So now lets talk bad-guys. This iteration of Final Fantasy wins major points in my book for actually introducing a villain you can identify and hate, all the while going, "Hey, that guy's a tool, but at least he's a cool bad guy." Caius-fucking-Ballad. In my opinion, Caius is one of the better villains to come out of Final Fantasy since 7 or 8. You can actually identify who it is. The past few FFs have either had a pansy villain (lookin' at you 9), a group or sect rather than one person, or just someone that you either couldn't directly identify or care about fighting in the first place (wtf 10). Dare I say, Caius is the new Sephiroth. Yes, he's very purple-ish. But he's a hoss. He's climbin through your timeline, fuckin people up...

Gameplay & Combat
 XIII-2 does a good job at keeping the same feel that XIII had in play, interaction, and combat. The Paradigm system keeps me involved and doesn't allow me to completely let my guard down. Something feels missing though... things feel easier. Sure, I could go out and train for hours on the randomly spawning creature-combat... but I never really felt pressed to. Even when using different Paradigm sets in combat, I never really felt the dire need to switch to some of the more exotic ones. Even in the final battle, I got by with the good ol' melee and magic aggression. With the exception of healing, I rarely switched Paradigms mid-combat. The depth is there... I just never felt compelled to dig into it (for the majority of the story, at least). As mentioned earlier, the gameplay feels much more open and relaxed. Sure, it's still linear in a way, but at least they give you the choice to roam around as you please, even though you're just visiting the same areas over and over again in different time zones. But trust me, that's not as boring as it sounds - it was actually kinda cool. While not feeling as deep as XIII, I still had more fun with XIII-2.

Music in Final Fantasy holds a special place in my skull. Final Fantasy in general is known for having very memorable tracks for roaming and battle alike. XIII-2 feels hit or miss for me. The combat music and Caius's theme are totally legit. One thing I got tired of eventually was the very pop-type feel the music had when just walking around. I swear, if I hear one more song about "time and space" I'm going to kill something. And what the hell Square?! What did you do to the Chocobo theme?! You leave lyrics out of that! Some good points here, some bad. Mostly bad. With the exception of Caius's theme, I don't think you'll catch me listening to any of the music from XIII-2 a few years down the road.

Conclusion (Finally)
If you've made it this far into my review, congratulations. You're at the end. I don't really want to rank FFXIII-2 in any way. I think if you even moderately enjoyed the original, you should give this one a shot. Don't knock it just because the prequel didn't live up to your expectations. In my opinion, Square Enix still has a very enjoyable series in its hands. They just need to straighten some things out for the next iteration.


  1. Yeah, Caius is a'ight in my book. Certainly better than BOTH of 10's villains.

    I think part of the problem is everybody's expectations. There's so many "it needs THIS" situations, that if they ever try anything new, they piss people off.

    If every game doesn't have: crystals, moogles, chocobos, cactuars, tonberrys, human playable characters, non-human playable characters, black mages, white mages, red mages, a pretty-boy evil villain, a pretty-boy main character, a world map, mini-games, epic music with opera vocals, etc. etc. etc. then people throw a fit. People have been throwing said fit since FF8 (where people complained about the battle system and how it's too "future-y"). Each game's different, get over it.

    I'll be the first to admit that XIII had problems. I liked it overall - in fact I'd rate it towards the top of my favorite FF games (above 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, and barely 12, but below 7 and Tactics), but I liked Snow, which I guess helps. I don't see why everyone hates him so much... he's like the anti-emo. Oh, right, people like emo main characters... look at Squall and Cloud. >.>

  2. Oh, and yes, the ending. I loooooooved the ending. In my review, like half of my "Story" section was hinting at that. I understand why some people don't care for it - it's sort of a "non-ending" - but not me. I thought it was awesome.

    1. I'd be totally fine with leaving out moogles and crystals and the pretty-boy stuff. Some of the creatures though, like cactuar and tonberry, are iconic. It's a staple of Final Fantasy. It's cool to stick to your roots on certain things like that. I commend them for trying new things, definitely, but sometimes it doesn't work. On point though, I actually like how combat is different per game. 8 was one of my favorites.
      As for the emo character thing... no one's saying they have to be mopey. Snow's character wasn't just positive and outgoing, but annoying to me. There's a balance. More characters need to be like Noel. Not necessarily emo, but not annoyingly so "bro" about everything either.