28th February 2012 - It’s been almost two years since Final Fantasy XIII was released here in Oz. It was surrounded with some controversy when it launch internationally as it was the first cross platform Final Fantasy much to the chagrin of Playstation fanboys. I must admit I was a little disappointed but in the end what mattered was the possibilities of a fantastic high def game on new generation platforms. The game received mixed reviews. It was and continues to be one of the best looking games around, a variety of enemies to fight, upgrades galore and a different battle system. Its troubles though lay in the linear nature of the game, the shocking acting, and the battle system which split the community. On the one hand commands were simpler; battles happened at a faster paced and gave more action. On the other you often felt redundant and some battles especially with bosses seemed to last forever and become quite boring. When I reviewed the game back then I gave it a 9/10. In hindsight I was a little generous and I think nostalgia clouded my judgement. Final Fantasy XIII-2 now has an opportunity to rectify the problem critics had and give us the Final Fantasy we should’ve got.
Those who played XIII will feel right at home when you pick up the controller. As this is a sequel the world, some characters, locations and the battle system are very familiar.
If you didn’t play the first one (I doubt many people will play this that didn’t) you will have no idea what they are going on about. For what is a pretty shallow plot, to essentially find Lightning, there is an inordinate amount of storytelling and attempt to make links. The story has you jumping forwards and backwards in time at different locations which does make it less linear but I don’t think it works for the story though as it feels really broken up. The characters don’t help as they jibber jabber and whine and try to be too deep and serious without any connection to them being established. To be honest I think they dropped the ball once again in this department. The game is less linear in that you can choose different areas to go to but the maps are still so restrictive and it doesn’t have an open world feel that final fantasies of yonder used to have (why is Square so stubborn at remaking FFVII!).
Essentially the same battle system is back with a few tweaks which definitely enhance it. Briefly for the un-initiated you can assign a role to each character such as Commander, who does physical attacks, Ravager who does magical attacks etc and these roles can be changed mid battle depending on what make-up of specialist you need in that point in time. This is probably the most strategic component of battle because if you don’t have the right combination of roles at the right time you can become toast pretty quickly. Once you have chosen the role then you can just hit auto-ability when your time gauge is full and the character will perform whatever task it deems most appropriate, no thinking from you required. You can enter commands manually but with the pace of battle that becomes onerous to perform too many times. I won’t go on about that system more, some people like it some hate it. It does the job but It would be nice to have a system where a bit more of your cortex is involved.
An interesting and welcome addition is the ability to acquire monsters and use them to fight permanently in your party as the third member. There are lots to acquire each with different skill sets and passive abilities. What’s cool is you can upgrade them as you do your characters and even get them to merge with other monsters to absorb their abilities making an ever increasingly strong ally. You can even swap different monsters in and out mid battle which further adds to the strategy. Boss battles are mixed in with action packed cinematics and some quick time events which make them feel different to the regular fights.
The chain system remains in place where attacking an enemy does damage but also fills up the chain bar. When this is full you do 100s of percent more damage and destroy most things quickly. Personally I don’t feel like they got the balance right with this for some battles. Many enemies are just far too robust unless chained, and often to get them to chain takes too long. This can make frequently encountered enemies take far longer to fight than they should.
The battle system isn’t all bad though. When you have characters matched well to the enemies and you have your head around the paradigm system it is fun and fast paced. When the chaining is quick the battles are engaging and a thing to behold visually. Some tweaks to the resistance of chaining on common sword fodder would go a long way to fixing the problem. Finally the Crystarium upgrade system also returns but in a much more user friendly format that allows easier customization and build-up of your characters and monster allies abilities.
If there is one thing Final Fantasy XIII absolutely nailed without a second of a doubt, it was the graphics. The current consoles had the grunt to be able to pump out incredible colours, lighting and high resolution pictures. FFXIII-2 follows in those footsteps producing a graphical feast for the eyes. The world in which you explore and the characters themselves are richly created. The real show is during battles though. Every attack, explosion, electric bolt, fireball etc is a visual spectacle that can easily mesmerise you and make you forget you need to hit the x button again. So much happens on screen at once and it all looks so spectacular (with no slow down mind you) that in battle there are few games around that could compete for graphical prowess.
The music is fairly fast paced, a kind of light rock with Japanese influence (you’ll know what I mean by that when you hear it). I found it a bit fatiguing after a while as there isn’t enough pace change between exploring and battles and after several hours it became distracting rather than mood setting. The voice acting is pretty much what you expect from any Japanese RPG. Over the top, cheesy and wordy. I’m sure for some of you it just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t like that!
Sound effects in battle are another story. Big boomy explosions, nice effects with electricity, fire, weapon slashes etc it does a great job of complimenting the concurrent visual effect at the time.
There won’t be any problem with you clocking the game in one weekend and taking it back on Monday. True to every Final Fantasy before it the game will keep you occupied for many hours. There is the main story to complete but along the way there are fragments in different timelines to pursue and the usual grinding to build up and acquire goods. Once you complete it though it’s hard for me to see anyone coming back for another play through.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is very similar to its predecessor but with a few tweaks to the battle system, upgrades and nature of exploring. Where it has gained ground though it unfortunately lost it in other areas. The plot is weaker, you don’t really ever connect with the characters, exploring through the timelines feels bitsy and the battle system is improved but still sometimes takes way too long for simple fights. Graphically the game is a masterpiece, a delight to watch and behold and you will get plenty of gaming hours out of it. In the end though you’re getting pretty much the same experience as the first game and your left at the end wondering what did Square hope to achieve with this project and maybe more importantly can they return to making class leading RPGs.
AAG Score 7.5/10
+ Visually spectacular
+ Good tweaks to the battle and upgrade systems
+ Plenty of gaming hours
- Plot is weak with little connection to the characters
- Nature of exploring through the timelines gives a broken up, bitsy feeling to the game
- A lot of fights still take too long and can get boring
Reviewed and Written By Khye Davey