Final Fantasy XIII-2: Time & Failure
So as you might be aware of, I...was not fond of FF XIII. You can find my original review here: Final Fantasy XIII Review
I may have come at it in the wrong way though, and not fully stated exactly what my issues were with it, well here you go, reduced for your pleasure: The story was contrived, the gameplay boring, the graphics were pretty but it pushed the console too much, the characters became caricatures and were mostly stereotypes, the level design was linear as all hell and the music and voice acting were sub-par, with broken translation not helping in any way at all, not to mention the broken combat AI.
The question we’re all wondering is, however; did XIII-2 (to borrow some, and by some I mean the only, plot elements from the game) fix the mistakes of the past, and work towards a brighter future? No. No it did not. Suffice to say that this game not only managed to stay rooted in everything that was wrong with XIII, but it made things a hell of a lot worse.
That’s not to say that the game is utterly and totally devoid of any good ideas. The way the story is laid out, there was an overarching plot between these games that tied everything together, in fact, the two games seem like they were supposed to be the one, along with the third title in the series coming at some point in the future. The initial story was about defying god-like beings that used humans to fight their battles, the second? It’s about fixing time after a form of divine intervention from the first title. It explains one of the biggest plot holes in the game, but it shows that XIII was far too long for its own good, and that XIII-2 carries on that tradition by making a paper-thin storyline that can’t hold together properly.
Story-wise, we’re not starting off well. Lightning, the protagonist from XIII, has disappeared, and the only one who remembers her is Serah, her sister who was saved in the first game. We see, in a dream-like dimension piercing ability of a sleeping Serah, that Lightning is now a servant of the Goddess Etro, who needs her help to defeat the androgynous, purple-haired Sephiroth-wannabe; Caius. The player will play through some parts of the fight, and then we’re introduced the Noel, falling from a weird time portal, who is the last child born in the dying world, after some bad things went down. Lightning decides to send him to Serah to protect her and aid her in the fight to save time itself, and when he does finally arrive to help Serah and her friends...they just kind of accept that he’s a time traveller, and away they go on an amazing adventure. Oh and there’s a Moogle in this game called Mog, it’s really annoying, speaks like a high-pitched Yoda crossed with a Pokemon that keeps saying “Kupo!” over and over again until you wish it was dead, who can transform into Serah’s weapons. It’s also an expert on time travel and how to fix the Paradox’s that are messing with time. The story is pretty simple, but it gets drawn out over a minimum of twenty –five hours, and isn’t very well held together. The characters from previous games are thrown back into it, like Snow and Hope...yay...but they barely feature in it, so it’s ok. The major issue with the story however, is both the length of it, and the characters being abominably bad. Serah, a teacher mind you, can’t make up her frigging mind about what she wants to do, whether she wants to save her sister, or save time...because there’s a competition there...and as for Noel, his story of watching the last two people on Earth die and leave him, and his connection to Caius, is downplayed in place of Noel’s survivors guilt and abandonment issues, in the form of whining about it and being as depressing and pissy as he can possibly get. There’s no character development, because they keep resetting to these default personas in every poorly enacted cut scene until plot convenience says otherwise. It’s just...boring. The story lacks any definitive moment to really let the gravity of the situation sink in, and because of that, because the characters are so abundantly stupid, the story outright fails at what it’s trying to convey. Caius is a pretty pointless villain, his motivations are self-involved, he wants to end all time to save the Seeress, girls who are constantly born throughout the ages, can see all sorts of future and past events, but die young, and really, that’s all there is to him, he isn’t ever threatening, he just takes a beating and runs off. It doesn’t resonate with the player in any significant way, opting for a contradiction of tonal shifts and themes that don’t work properly.
Gameplay wise, nothing much has changed since XIII, there are still paradigms, you switch between them to suit the situation you’re in, and there are six roles in total and you can stagger enemies, the AI has been improved so that the entire team doesn’t waste their abilities at one time, helping with the Launch technique and you now have the option to switch the leader in combat, which is a nice change, though you still can’t control anyone but your lead character. The only significant change is the inclusion of capturing monsters and using their set paradigm skill as part of your team. It’s a pretty cool idea, allowing you to use most of the monsters in the game. You upgrade them through materials that you collect throughout the game, and can infuse other monsters’ stats and abilities to them. It’s a nice little system, and works fairly well...at least, that is, until the game decides that some monsters have limited upgrade paths, needing replacements, which is difficult for some classes, like the Medic, a fairly necessary role. You can always infuse their abilities to the new monster, even allowing that monster to gain up to two moves that the older monster has...however, it’s only if the monster is the same level or higher than the original. Confused yet? See, this is my main problem with this game. Simple ideas are overcomplicated to the point of utter and complete annoyance, and it doesn’t help matters that the paradigm system from XIII has returned in a more streamlined form. Now there is simply one Crystarium tree, where you put points into a certain paradigm role, unlocking abilities as you go. The issue here is that the more points you put into a certain role, the further other role’s abilities are from you in the tree. You can also expand the crystariums by maxing them out, gaining boosts to certain roles, adding to you accessory capacity, something that is also contrived, as the max is one hundred, and the best items are classed at seventy-five, but all of these ideas pale in comparison to the problem that hangs over them: it’s too convoluted and complicated to be any good. When I finally gained access to the Medic role, the Raise move was so far into the tree that it took nearly fifty-thousand points to access, because at points in the tree-route, the amount of points needed to upgrade is increased, the same can be said of monsters, whose expanded crystariums require more powerful materials. All of these issues really come to a head during more difficult fights, as you know you could beat them with the right moves, but they’re either buried so deep or require too many materials to access that grinding is the only choice you have. There are now Quick Time Events, or Live Action Sequences during some of the bigger battles, they mostly involve pushing the analogue stick and pressing a button...there are also Live Trigger sequences, where you will have to choose one of four dialogue options at certain points in time. Neither of these things are engaging, but are really annoying in terms of breaking the flow of gameplay. The QTEs try to show off how 'radical' the game looks...but it fails because the positioning of the prompts is so low on the screen, you can't be bothered to see what's going on as a result of your actions.
Mog has the ability to uncover objects stuck in time, and it can also be thrown to get items that you can’t reach alone...and also because throwing that little shit into a never-ending abyss is the best way to relieve stress while playing this game, it can also use the Mog Clock when around enemies, that allows you to get the jump on them with pre-emptive strikes and deal a certain percentage on the stagger bar. You’ll need to collect fragments, objects that can give crystarium points to the player and there are also Artefacts that unlock more areas through the gates in the game, with Wild Artefacts unlocking extra areas that aren’t as important to the overall story of the game. There are one hundred and sixty fragments in all, and all are required to get the ‘secret ending’...don’t bother, just youtube it, the real ending is actually just DLC released post-game, it isn’t worth the hassle. You’ll also need to fix the paradoxes throughout the different time periods that you travel to in order to continue the game, but a lot of them are just repeats of previous levels, so it’s not exactly amazing.
Graphically, the game looks decent, cutscenes are still pretty, but the game itself looks fairly badly downgraded from the previous title. Movement is janky and details and environments aren’t as nice as they could be. However, there is a bigger issue at hand...the fact that a lot of the levels in this game are direct copy/pastes of the previous title. I’m not even joking, there are levels that are the exact same, no difference whatsoever, put into this title for you to explore, and they barely have any payoff towards the overall game, they could have been changed, but they weren’t, and it’s just sad that the developers had to resort to those tactics in order to pad out the game, because really, all it amounts to is a few extra minutes of padding to make the game seem like it’s worth a full price-point. The levels are slightly less linear, but really, it’s just an illusion, as there are very few deviations and nothing really interesting down any alternative paths that aren’t extra gates or things that are needed to complete certain objectives.
The music in the game has barely changed, although some more J-Pop music and another song by Leona Lewis has been added to the soundtrack...they aren’t good, and you can play the game with the sound turned off, because there really is no reason to have it on. Voice acting is horrible, mostly due to the terrible script, lack of decent translation and the fact that it’s trying to convey some dark themes with the same stupid goddamn readouts that are on par with the first title. The story and the characters don’t line up one damn bit, they don’t work well together and nothing lines up thematically to make me care about anything going on during the game. Really, nothing here adds up into something even halfway tolerable.
There are a few extras, like...costumes...which count as DLC and cost money, so screw that. There’s a gambling time period where you can enter Chocobo races with Chocobo you’ve caught and strengthened during the game, and it’s genuinely fun, but it’s so limited that it wears out fast.
Look, I’m going to be honest, there were parts of this game that I may have actually liked, the ability to capture and use monsters was a great addition, but it got marred by the other design choices involved in that part of the game. The Chocobo racing reminds me of older FF games, and that’s why I enjoyed it so much. However, this game is not worth a full-price retail title, it’s dragged out and not well thought out, and the good ideas that are scattered throughout are kicking and screaming, trying to escape from the dungeon of mediocrity and utter shit that is the rest of the game. Finding a Golden Chocobo and then unleashing him to kick monster ass is really satisfying, but that isn’t enough to save the title. Caius is an unconvincing villain, the story falters and can’t stand on its own, the characters are annoying and undermine the entire, much darker story of the game and for everything the game does right, it isn’t enough to make up for all of the issues. Believe me when I say that this game had promise, but at the end of the day, it just doesn’t work. I'm just sad that so much was dragged out of so little, and was treated with so little respect. You can see that there was a grand idea at the conception of the title...but it’s long since been buried, there really is nothing left to say but...well the verdict:
· Interesting use of monsters in combat
· Cutscenes are pretty
· Chocobo racing is fun
· AI is much better than in the previous game
· Story is dragged out far too much
· Characters simply don’t deserve to exist
· Mog is the most hateful little bastard ever
· Combat is still boring, QTEs are simple but distracting
· Characters are too cartoony to allow the more serious themes to convey themselves to the player
· Soundtrack is just as impotent as before
· Copy/paste level design
· Still linear
· Having to retire older monster because of their lack of strength, despite time and effort upgrading them is irritating
· Voice acting is shameful and uninspired, with conversations options falling flat
· Crystarium is more frustrating than ever
· For all the more streamlined elements, no game has ever been so needlessly convoluted and complicated
WTF? Moment: So you’ve been told by an utter stranger that he’s a time traveller that your sister sent back in time to save time itself with the help of a Moogle, and you just go with it? Hell, there’s a severe lack of healthy scepticism here that really comes off as mind-blowing irresponsibility.