Also on: Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
I’ll start off this review for Final Fantasy XIII-2 by saying that I find the sequel to be a lot more enjoyable than the original. It certainly shows that Square Enix took note from the numerous critical responses to different aspects of XIII, and tried their best to apply that feedback in a positive way to the sequel. Does it fix every single issue? No, and you’d probably have to dump the setting completely to do so, but overall it’s definitely an improvement.
To start with, combat feels quicker this time out, and certainly a far cry from some of the long, drawn out, laborious battles found in XIII’s story. Sure, the side quests of XIII-2 still have some tough fights, and a couple boss encounters in the story managed to throw me for a loop, but overall the game feels a little less “grindy” than the original. The Paradigm system returns, but switching between your Paradigm set-ups is quicker, and there’s less emphasis on staggering foes to defeat them.
The addition of monster collecting is a big plus, and far more addictive than I would have thought. Your main party is only composed of two characters, Serah and Noel. The third member of your party comes from your collection of monsters. The monsters come with defined roles, like Ravager, Commando, Sentinel and so on. They’re not quite as flexible as the actual cast, but there’s a fun component involved with their leveling system that involves combining different monsters to carry over passive skills, and using item drops to level them up.
If you’re going for a full roster, you’ll need a lot of free time on your hands. But I’ve found that it’s certainly worth the time spent if you plan on seeing everything the game has to offer, as you’ll need some fairly powerful companions to take on some of the optional battles outside of the story.
Also worth mentioning is that I found the plot of XIII-2 more interesting than its predecessor, but that’s not saying much. I didn’t care for XIII’s tale at all, I found all the factions and terms were difficult to keep track of, and constantly found myself losing interest in the overall plot. I also didn’t care for a number of characters, so pairing down the cast quite a bit in XIII-2 seems to have helped. I also find that Noel, a new addition, is actual a pretty solid leading male character, and the villain of the game is far more memorable than Orphan or whatever the hell the main bad guy from XIII was.
The time travel element that features heavily in XIII-2’s plot isn’t great, in that it never really explores the possibilities of time travel in a satisfying way. You do get to jump backwards and forwards in time, but the overall effect your actions have on the timeline always seems underwhelming. And there’s no satisfying take on alternate universe versions of characters. In fact, the only real character that undergoes any significant change is Hope, but even that’s mitigated because every time you encounter him, he’s identical to how you left him from his first appearance in the game. The only real difference is that he’s slightly older and certainly more tolerable as a character than he was in XIII, but that’s hardly an exciting change.
Other members of XIII’s cast make appearances as well, but again, I feel like revisiting these characters across various timelines never has much of an impact. And while I wasn’t big on the cast from XIII, I’d still like to have seen these established characters used in a more interesting manner if they had to be shoehorned into the plot.
Some of the other complaints that numerous people leveled against Final Fantasy XIII have also been addressed. Exploration is actually a thing this time out, so there’s less linear paths through multiple corridors and more wide open spaces similar to Gran Pulse from the original game. The world is divided up into a series of areas accessible through an overworld map that represents various timelines, so it does feel a little segmented, but each area generally provides you enough freedom that you’ll want to check out every nook and cranny presented for treasure or other secrets.
The leveling system is also a lot more flexible, and while Noel and Serah certainly seem to fit certain roles more so than others, you can pretty much pick and choose what type of character you want them to be. There’s no real restriction, so Noel can be a medic/sentinel/ravager, or if you play enough, can just max out every single role in the game.
The soundtrack seems to be largely improved, providing a lot more memorable tracks than just the main theme (which is also heavily used again). However, there’s definitely a blow delivered to the crisp, beautiful visuals of XIII. It’s not a huge downgrade, but you can tell that this game certainly didn’t have the same development cycle of the original. It’s definitely not bad, but there are some jarring differences to be found when comparing the two games, and for whatever reason the framerate seems to take a noticeable hit, often clocking in below 30 frames per second.
So while this might not feel as polished in its presentation as Final Fantasy XIII, the sequel certainly manages to get more things right about its gameplay than before. I’m more on board with this than I ever was the original, and I find myself still wanting to play and explore the game for the optional stuff I missed. I was completely burned out on Final Fantasy XIII upon finishing the story content, so I can see a difference in my overall enjoyment. I definitely suggest checking out XIII-2, and while it might not fire on all cylinders, I think you’ll find yourself enjoying it quite a bit.