I admit that the Final Fantasy series is not perfect — especially the latest entry. And it probably doesn’t even help that the series was completely misnumbered here in the States with patches of individuals still insisting that Final Fantasy 6 is actually the third installment in the series.
And it wasn’t until around 2000 or so that this “mistake” was finally corrected. The sequel element that Square-Enix has been doing is something that has been doing off and on for almost a decade. I digress. The latest game (XIII) was more concerned about being cinematic than rear kicking gameplay. It wasn’t that the game was bad; it just took too long to get off the ground and was completely and utterly Japanese compared with its traditional counterparts. It didn’t help the game that it slowly became ridiculously camp (and not in a good way). So how does Final Fantasy XIII-2 fit into the series?
Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes place three years after the main story ends with Vanille and Fang sacrificing themselves to stop Cocoon from falling (which is considered the year AF 3). The game follows Serah, Lightning’s younger sister who had an important, albeit brief, role in the original game. For whatever reason, she can remember Lightning giving Serah and Snow her blessing to wed, yet everyone else remembers Lightning getting stuck inside the crystal pillar and is dead. Out of nowhere one night, a young man falls out of the sky as monsters attack the village. His name is Noel and claims that Lightning sent him back into the past to get Serah to fix the timeline. After a little hesitation, she full heartedly agrees to go with him in the hopes of finding Lightning and learning what really happened three years ago.
All in all, it isn’t a bad plot. In fact, it’s rather entertaining to see how Square-Enix uses the already existing and complex mythos, mixing it with even new ideas. The steampunk atmosphere, if you can call it that, works really well. The game doesn’t feel hammed or forced into the overarching universe it doesn’t belong to. The game takes itself pretty seriously with its introspective take on the scenes. The downside is that the game has a tendency for camp like its older sibling. Where Final Fantasy X-2 got away with this “sin” due to its lighthearted nature, XIII-2 can’t get away with this due to the serious nature of the plot.
Graphically, the game looks almost identical to the original and only runs on one game disc. Thus, you’ll be able to enjoy the lush scenery of ruins, forests and cities with LONG loading times. Those of us who are used to early CD gaming will probably be able to bear it. More modern gamers may not. It also doesn’t help that some of the characters don’t look “right.” Many of them don’t emote like regular people and thus the game’s engine now falls into the uncanny valley of human character design.
This is also connected to the gameplay as it is, essentially, the same combat engine. Noel and Serah resume the familiar roles of the paradigm system. That means that you can have six pre-selected strategies for your party to follow. Unlike Final Fantasy XIII, switching between paradigms is far less painful as the game quickly shifts roles. There is no Libra ability like the original (though librascopes are few and far between) as your party will eventually figure out the monsters’ weaknesses by fighting them. Monsters award your party with crystal points (needed for leveling), gil (money) and items. Thankfully, the combat rating actually means something as it will influence the amount of items even though there is a chance you’ll get nothing.
Then there are few new elements that make the game more enjoyable overall. Like the addition of having monsters fight for you. You can bring three different monsters into combat, though only one can be seen at a time. Furthermore, they can be powered up by feeding them the proper items. Different items, obviously, empower different aspects of the monster. For example, power orbs boost physical attacks while vitality orbs increase maximum health. You also can have the monsters devour each other for stat bonuses and new commands. Thus, to find the “perfect” monster, you could ultimately spend hours hunting for those much-needed items and devouring monsters to reach the “ideal” being.
Serah and Noel also are customizable. Unlike the previous game in which characters gained power by following the path of a role, you simply choose which role you want to level up. The ratio of your levels influences the overall strengths of your characters. So if a lot of levels are placed in the Commando and Sentinal roles, chances are health and physical attack power will be higher than a character who emphasizes the Ravager and Sabotager roles. In other words, there’s more freedom in how you want to play, and it’s a welcome change of pace from the original.
So what about the time traveling? First of all, Serah and Noel need to find a gate (sound a bit familiar?). Then they need to find the proper artifact that would activate that gate. So how do you find these elusive artifacts? They’re found by completing the sidequests, finding them in the field and following the main storyline. Finding them is never that difficult as quests are easy to find and there are clues everywhere where to find them.
So what about the sound design? It’s rather solid as well. They are not catchy. Nor do they need to be as it captures the mood of the narrative surrounding it. It ranges from chilled ambient techno that make any new-age musician green with envy to more upbeat songs such as heavy dream beats and, believe it or not, the original combat music from its predecessor. Voice acting also is present and is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the main story is well-acted (albeit hammy) with the actors fitting the characters. Then there are the minor characters that range from enjoyable to just bearable, many of whom fall on the latter end of the spectrum.
So is delving into Final Fantasy XIII-2 worth your time? My answer to that is “it depends.” If you like your RPGs with a bit more depth with a consistent narrative, then you may not like it. If you like to micromanage every aspect of a character, there’s probably not enough — especially in combat — to keep you happy. If you’re looking for something that is just fun and light, then most definitely go looking elsewhere to spend your hard earned cash. Here’s the thing: I strongly suspect that this is what the original game is supposed to look like as it’s a more enjoyable game overall. So if you want a good RPG to get lost in for the next 30 or so hours of your life, tons of references to the previous installments and a lot of customization, then look for a copy. I found it for $20 on Amazon and it is probably the ideal price for the game. It’s at least a decent reason to start belting out Bjork’s “Crystaline.”