I’m pretty sure that everyone who played Final Fantasy XIII at launch did not expect Square Enix to make a sequel for it, even those who managed to look past a plethora of problems and enjoy the game. The ending was very cut and dry, and the reception quickly lost its warmth after the hype died down. So it was surprising when not only did Square Enix choose to continue the story, they chose to take the already confusing plot of XIII and insert time travel into it, which almost sounds like a joke.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Developers: Square Enix and Tri-Ace
Publisher: Square Enix
The crux of the story in XIII-2 revolves around a temporal anomaly wrecking havoc to the timeline, sending Claire “Lightning” Farron into the mystical realm of Valhalla, where she must battle for all eternity. In order to free herself, and fix the busted timeline that sent her here, Claire has her plot device of a sister, Serah, go on a time travelling journey along with the last man alive, Noel, and a deformed moogle who can turn into a sword. From there, it is up to the duo to discover and resolve paradoxes scattered throughout the timeline in order to create a better future, while stopping a bad man who wants to destroy everything because reasons.
Despite my description sounding like an adlib, the story’s foundation is pretty solid, and certainly a lot more sensible than the one that came before it. Now the greater question is whether or not the story holds up and can support itself when looking at the big picture. The answer is no. The story is still confusing, many things are not clear, actions are not always sensible, and the mythology can be poorly explained. Your Datalog is far less insightful, devoid of as many defined terms, plot summaries of any real variety, and a lot of information that is hidden away in the form of quest rewards. The actions that drive the story are haphazardly handled or not always sensible, and despite the cast of main characters being dwindled down to two, neither of them have much personality, and I struggle to come up with terms that would accurately define them.
I truly have next to no idea how any of the time travel is suppose to work from a narrative perspective, let alone this baffling idea that changing the future somehow changes the past, or why the characters only ever travel to certain points and locations in the future. I don’t understand the mindset and mentality behind the human society as a whole, as their actions can be pretty nonsensical, along with their adoration of Hope, who previously displayed no talents other than misunderstanding and whining. I simply do not understand the goals and intentions for the storyline as a whole, at least beyond making use of the assets left over from XIII.
I will give this story this however, its tone is kept fairly upbeat and hopeful throughout the story,l with opportunities for stupid lines, bad jokes, goofy designs, comic relief, and general levity. At points it can be a decently light hearted JRPG adventure, and it’s actually quite enjoyable when you toss aside the bloated aspects of the story and focus on a more mindless adventure throughout time with a moogle who can turn into a sword, a walking pile of pudding as your monster friend, and some super cheesy music playing in the background. It does little to excuse the missteps and confusion that come with the story, but it helps the experience as a whole, and is largely the reason why I came away from this game with a better outlook than I did after playing XIII.
With that said, there are a plethora of things that annoy me about this game, most of them actually being additions to add depth and complexity to the game. For example, there are a series of optional dialog events, dubbed Live Triggers, where you can choose what a character’s reaction will be. Even though there are no real story based role playing opportunities or meaningful narrative decisions present in XIII-2. You can throw your moogle or have him scan for hidden items, but the mechanic could simply be replaced with most items placed around areas. Then there is Chocobo racing, where you find the best Chocobo hidden in a box in an endgame area, and then win because your numbers are large enough. So many mechanics introduced have little purpose and do little to help the game as a whole. I appreciate the effort, but they do little to enhance was is still a flawed game, and worsen it in some regards.
There is an entire gameplay system built around raising your third party member, that or a recruited monster who you put a silly hat on. You fight monsters, have a certain chance of recruiting them, and can either raise them or transfer some of their abilities and passive traits to a new one. It’s interesting, almost like a simplified Shin Megami Tensei, but actually raising monsters’ levels requires the use of materials dropped from enemies, which naturally leads to grinding. You grind to get monsters, scouring the area for the rarest ones that spontaneously materialize right before your eyes, and you grind to get what you need to level them up. You can get by most of the game with ‘Early Peakers’ who reach max level sooner, have worse long term stats, and cost the least to level, along with a decent healer, such as a Green Chocobo that I spent an hour hunting for.
Enemies are also not found meandering through the game world, like in XIII, and instead they spontaneously phase into the game world, giving you the choice of trying to fight them after swinging your shoddy sword at them, or run away before the encounter began. The game chugs whenever this happens, framerate drops, and you are often so disoriented that you cannot react to enemies fast enough, especially when you are given half a second to do so. Thankfully, most enemies become trivial after the first few hours, due to the grinding and side quests present in the game, which makes combat pretty trivial.
You switch between your six roles, set into six customized loadouts for your three characters, and then press A 80% of the time, and select your own commands when the game gives you a group of bad actions for the one character you have direct control of. It is simple, monotonous, and your individual actions often have no substantial impact, which is why you eventually get to use up to five every turn. Keep your characters healed, buffed, and deal damage when needed, a typical JRPG setup, except you do not need to think about most of the actions done by your party. The most substantial improvement here is that your chosen character’s death does not mean the end of the battle. Beyond that, it is largely the same, and is largely easier despite the main characters being statistically worse.
Serah and Noel are pretty limited as characters, despite having access to every role early on. Serah is only good as a mage and debuffer, while Noel is your melee fighter, buffer, and healer, even though he has a far lower magic stat than Serah. There is nothing that can be done about this, and your leveling system lacks much variety. You do have choices, you can constantly choose what role you want to level up and where along a line you want to do it, but you also need to accommodate for stat bonuses, rewards, and it all becomes so nebulous and confusing that I used a leveling guide to make the most out of the two main characters. I complained about the Crystarium of XIII for being boring and pointless, and this is much the same, but with a level of confusion added for good measure.
Once more comparing the XIII-2 to XIII, which I feel completely justified in doing, there was also an attempt to address the linearity of the first game by giving you a brevity of side quests and optional areas to explore at your leisure throughout the game. I did most of this, unlocking every major area and getting every ‘fragment’ I could, and most of them revolve around going to point X to defeat monster Y or obtain item Z with a short story attached. The story is often not very interesting, then you get a chunk of lore and a few leveling points for your troubles. Sometimes you need to solve puzzles instead, which border between easy and obnoxiously difficult. Seriously, I have no idea who thought those randomized clock puzzles were a good idea.
While I unfortunately struggle to say much positive about the proper gameplay, it is very likely that some of my bitterness towards the lot of it comes from this PC port. Despite having a computer well above the recommended specifications, the game still often dropped beneath 60 frames per second, reaching 25 at some points, but it is worse than that. The actual speed of the game is not tied to the framerate, at least I don’t think it is, but it fluctuated wildly in certain areas, turning to a crawl or potentially running faster than normal.
Sometimes it is because of a lot of NPCs, it is because of nothing from what I could tell, or it is because I either have the minimap on or off. Turning on the minimap can lower the framerate by 5 to 10, but the game speed will increase to faster than it should be. The performance alone warrants a negative review of this version of the game, as it ran horrendously on a PC with approximately the recommended specifications (Radeon 7770 and FX-8320), and still struggles on a computer far beyond those standards (Radeon R9 390 and i7-4790).
Despite boasting a rather impressive level of visual fidelity, I found the art style of XIII to be a bit inconsistent, overly complex, and garish at points. XIII-2 is made largely from table scraps of XIII, using unused or unfinished areas to create its world, while implementing a good amount of newly original assets to hide that fact away. It is still rather pretty, even though I fail to notice visual fidelity when the performance is subpar, and I actually feel a lot more positive towards its art style this time around. Time is warped and monsters are hopping around time, so it narratively makes more sense why there are bat-potato-imps casting summoning bipedal behemoths with buzzsaw blades they pull from their backs.
However, recycling has its limited, and you can go through the same areas several times, with the only change being an aesthetic one, and even that may just apply to lighting. The number of records makes it hard to always identify enemies, and some of the designs are still pretty stupid. Why are goblins on rollerblades, why do they have bowling balls for hands, and why did you put four different kinds in one area? Oh, and I should mention how gaudy the UI can be while in combat, with an unappealing color scheme and a class between the simple and sleek UI of XIII and this edgier UI that perpetually had a pointless and overly detailed circle on it. I know this is petty, but it constantly bothered me throughout my 45 hours with the game
The soundtrack of XIII-2 is one of the more mixed things to me, as a lot of the tracks are very ambience heavy and focus on building up the mood of a given area, which grows rather tedious, but there are roughly twelve, twenty if you count other versions, that employ vocals, giving the soundtrack a certain mood and energy that I positively adored. Unfortunately, they are only a small fraction, about a fourth of the overall soundtrack. I feel that a comparison can be made between the soundtrack and the game in that way, as there are a few moments and a couple of scantily included elements in this adventure that I actually enjoyed. Some side quests are nifty, there are some funny moments, and certain points in the game are brimming with a sense of adventure.
Despite my efforts to do otherwise, I really could not find myself to recommend or even consider XIII-2 to be an alright game. It is fundamentally flawed in regards to its confusing story and bloated gameplay, and while there are some key points in the journey that I enjoyed, it really wasn’t worth the time and patience I invested into it. I left with more questions than I had answers, a mechanic I found too frustrating to explore, and general irritation from the game’s occasionally terrible performance. It is an upsetting feeling to have, certainly, and I just hope that I can end this haphazardly handled trilogy on a brighter note.