FFXIII-2, you had so so much potential
FFXIII-2 is a strange one. I've just finished this game, and my thoughts are rather mixed. They're not negative, nor are they overwhelmingly positive. This isnt because there's nothing in the game which stands out, or because everything in the game is decidedly average, it's because there are so many things in this game that are brilliant, but there are an equal number of things in this game that seem like bizzarre and unnecessary design choices. Where the albeit disappointing FFXIII had a clear goal, FFXIII-2 is much more of a mish-mash of things put together in an attempt to placate angry fans of the the first game. It does this job to some extent, but also leaves many questions about both the story and gameplay.
Disclaimer: some of this review will contain spoilers, I will highlight when these are, so if you don't want the story spoiled don't read the bits saying "SPOILERS".
Well okay, let's start with the good points. There are so many things I think FFXIII-2 does right, and I do believe that it is a better game than the first FFXIII. I really enjoyed the first FFXIII, but the main problem in it was the lack of exploration. This is something that Square really have tried to address in this game, and for the most part it works very well. Exploration's an interesting premise, where you travel to different locations through various time periods using the so-called Historia Crux; it's quite nice to see how these locations have changed through time when you go to them in the future. Think Fable, but over a much larger time-scale, and done right. This helps you feel like there's a lot going on the game and that your tale is just a small part of what's going on in the world. It helps create the illusion of epic scope as you're travelling through 700 years of history. It is little more than an illusion however, as whilst you're told these icons you're selecting are different time periods, the Historia Crux acts as little more than a level select screen in reality.
The levels that you're going to are quite sizeable though, and genuinely do give you the chance to explore and talk to some citizens. It's all welcome from the very linear and sparsely populated world of FFXIII. However, the freedom of choice in the game can be one of its major downfalls. There is much less direction than there was in FFXIII, and whilst I personally didn't think this hindered the story too much, ironically I thought it hindered the gameplay. It seems that Square are damned if they do and damned if they don't then. Make the game linear and fans rage. Make the game open, and the game isn't as directed or fun to play. Well, this game would be absolutely fine with how open it is, but there are some just downright stupid decisons in the game. I'm going to focus on just one, as really this is the one which in my opinion breaks ths game. In fact I would go as far as to say that if it had been omitted, FFXIII-2 would be considered a complete revival of FFXIII, and I may have even considered it to be one of the best games to be released in 2012.
This truly gamebreaking feature involves what can be best described as an easter egg hunt. SPOILERS: Towards the end of the game Hope asks you to go searching for items called "gravicons". Their power can be used to help the new cacoon that he is building to float above Gran Pulse. This sounds reasonable, but as "go find this" quests always used to grind my gears it was rather annoying. In most games however, these quests were always possible. END OF SPOILERS This is where FFXIII differs from most games. Most "easter egg hunts" have "eggs" that are actually visible. Most "easter egg hunts" are not compulsory to continue the story. Yes, you read that right. In FFXIII-2, you need to go traipsing up and down the timeline finding INVISIBLE objects in order to carry on the story. If you're someone who doesn't believe in using youtube or walkthroughs to help finish games, DO NOT BUY THIS GAME. These objects are not only invisible, but are also located in some very very very difficult to find places. They would be hard enough to find if they were bright glowing red lights. But as it is they can't be seen unless you're just a few feet away and your moogle starts flashing. Further, to get to the levels containing some of these gravicons, you need to find INVISIBLE artifacts in order to open the right gates to get to the right level. Seen as you don't know which gates go where before you open them, just getting to the right level can be almost impossible, let alone trying to find these ivisible objects in what is a rather expansive level. Yep, if the levels in this game were smaller and more linear, then this bit of the game (might) be possible. Better yet, Square should have just omitted this entire thing from the game as SPOILERS when you actually find all of them, it's not like you're treated to a special cutscene, or that anything unexpected happens. Hope says thanks, then you go to another time period, and you don't see him again unti the end of the game in a few hundred years. Nice one Square, great way to make our efforts seem worthwhile. (slow clap) END OF SPOILERS.
This wouldn't have been quite so frustrating if it wasn't so obviously a way to pad out the game. Being less linear and much more open has had the side effect of making FFXIII-2 a shorter game than its predecessor (easter egg hunt aside) and whilst Square have tried to maximise game-time with including loads of mini-game and other side stuff you can do, it's not fooling anyone. So it seems that this easter egg hunt, which without the aid of a guide will probably take you about 20 hours, if not more, seems to serve one purpose. That purpose is to artifically make the game longer. It's not fun, it's just a chore, and gaming should never be a chore.
As much as I like every other feature in the game, they're not outstanding enough to carry the weight of this huge cock-up. Enough of the hate though, I've written two paragraphs of hate. It's time to actually say what is good about this game.
The combat. I love the comat in FFXIII, and the sequel has left much unchanged which in my opinion is a very good thing. It's added the extra twist of allowing you to capture monsters, have them as your 3rd party memeber and upgrade them over time. This pokemon-esque feature feels a bit gimicky to me, I don't really care for it, but it's quite a nice idea and I don't mind that it's there. Everything else about the combat is an improvement, it has a slightly nicer interface, and gives you the ability to change leaders on the fly which can be rather handy. I would say some of the music during combat is a bit odd, and not to my tastes, but if you like screamo-type metal then I guess you'll have no complaints.
I was pleasantly surprised by the story of FFXIII-2. I wasn't expecting much, but it did rope me in slightly towards the end. However, the end of the game was one that filled me with complete shock. SPOILERS This was not a good shock however. This was a shock of the bad kind. Without going into specifics, after the ending sequence the main emotion I felt was that everything I'd done in the game was pointless. The whole objective of the game was to save cacoon, and this did not happen. It is not a happy or satisfying ending, in fact it may even be worse than Mass Effect 3's ending. It' awful, and makes the mid-game easter egg hunt feel even more pointless. The ending makes you think you have just wasted the past 40 hours of your life coming to no useful conclusion. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the game ends with a "to be continued screen" (slow clap). I certainly hope Square actually do make a FFXIII-3 not only to contine the story and provide some closure, but also to right the wrongs done in this game. END OF SPOILERS.
It is not that FFXIII-2 is a bad game. Far from it; taken as a whole, I had a good time with the game. There are parts of the experience though that I remember as being bad and not much fun, or just disappointing. Then there aren't any amazing parts of the game to compensate for these poorer parts of the game. The rest of the game is just good, but nothing incredible. When a good game gets dragged down by bad moments in the game, it is then that it becomes just a mediocre game. It's such a shame, because I wanted this game to be so good. For a while I genuinely believed it was. Getting to the end however proved to be a lot of trouble, and when you get there it didn't feel worth it.
Like I said at the start, FFXIII-2 is an odd one. I've enjoyed my time with it, but some things have left a sour taste in my mouth, and in the end I've come away disappointed.