Better Gameplay, Worse Story
Final Fantasy 13 wasn’t necessarily well received by fans of the series, but that hasn’t stopped square from making the direct sequel Final Fantasy 13-2. Square listened to what fans had to say about the first game and tried their damndest to give them the game they were asking for. Most of the changes made improve the game, while others don’t make any sense at all, like the addition of the track Crazy Chocobo. Regardless, the end product is a game that’s much more fun to play, even if the story isn’t what it should be.
The story of Final Fantasy 13 wasn’t exactly the best part about the game. The characters were all right, but the plot surrounding them was filled with ridiculous jargon that made the game night incomprehensible to the average human being. In the end everyone was saved and they were going to live happily ever after. I’m going to come right out and say that I didn’t much care for the plot of Final Fantasy 13. However, compared to the plot of 13-2 the original is a masterpiece.
Final Fantasy 13-2’s plot is heavily based upon time travel. Somehow history was changed so that Lightning wasn’t saved when Cocoon turned to crystal. The only one who remembers that Lightning got off Cocoon is her sister Serah. She’s been pining after her sister for three years, which is where 13-2 begins. She begins to have strange dreams of Lightning fighting a purple haired man. She believes that her sister is still alive somewhere and she’s right!
Lightning is in a place called Valhalla eternally fighting Caius Ballad. In the middle of her fight a young man named Noel enters Valhalla. Lightning gives him a Moogle and instructs him to find Serah. It’s not even worth explaining the rest. All you need to know is that Noel and Serah have to travel through time in order to fix time paradoxes on their trip to see lightning. Any time anything bad or weird happens in the game there’s a 98% chance it has to do with a time paradox. You’ll be sick of hearing about them by the time the game is over, possibly before then.
The main problem with the story is that this game focuses on Noel and Serah, while relegating all the previous games party members to minor roles and cameos. The cast of the original wasn’t too great, but they’re better than Noel and Serah that’s for sure. Serah is a terribly annoying character. She’s far too whiny and all she wants to do is see her sister. Noel is actually a decent character, but you don’t find out much about him until it’s too late to care. Every time there should be exposition or any kind of character development either Noel or Serah say they don’t want to talk about it and then they just don’t. They both seem to know everything about everything, but they don’t let the player in on their secrets so it’s hard to follow what’s going on.
Serah and Noel move from place to place through what are called time gates. In order to enter a gate you need an artefact (Yes, it’s really spelled like that) that corresponds to the gate. After entering the first gate the overworld map, known as the Historia Crux opens up. Each node on the map represents a certain area in a certain time period. The more gates you go through the more places you can explore. There are gates to find all over the place and they don’t all lead to places that you need to go. It’s easy to get sidetracked by going to times that you don’t have to go to, but it’s a pleasant diversion from the main story.
It’s shame that the plot was so poorly done, because everything else about 13-2 seems so polished. The battle system was great in 13 and it’s been vastly improved in 13-2. The ATB battle system makes its return in this game, so expect more fast paces battles filled with paradigm shifting. In order to make the battles flow better the animations when shifting paradigms have been removed. “Cinematic Actions” AKA Quicktime events have also been added to the game. These were added to give players a chance to interact with the boss fights, but all they do is come off as annoying. They don’t improve the experience in a meaningful way.
Monster collection has been added to the battle system to make for more variety. Each monster has a specific job. You equip a monster as the third job in a paradigm, so when you use that paradigm the monster will show up in battle as well. You level the monsters up by feeding them items corresponding to their level of strength. Stronger monsters will need higher quality items to get their stat upgrades. If you want to get the full use of the paradigm system monster capturing is a must. Certain monsters you face in battle will turn to crystal and join you when you do really well against them.
The only caveat to the improved battle system is the crystarium. Winning battles still nets you CP to apply where you like, but the choices are limited. Before you could go in multiple directions choosing which skills you wanted to get first, but now you have to go in a straight line and all the jobs follow the same line. Each level in a job gives you pre-designated stat points, while pre-determined levels will get you a skill. The end result is the same, but the sense of choice is completely gone.
Linearity may have been added to the crystarium, but it has completely vanished from the rest of game. Most of the areas you visit through the Historia Crux are wide open, or have numerous branching paths. This is a welcome change from the straight line corridors of the original game. Towns make a return, but they’re nothing special. Most of the citizens only say random phrases when you walk by them, but they mostly just get in the way.
On top of the exploration there are tons of side activities to be had, which is something that the previous game was also lacking in. The main place to go for side activities is a casino that’s unlocked about halfway through the game. The Casino is home to the chocobo races. While they’re not on the level of chocobo breeding from Final Fantasy 7, it’s still possible to raise your own chocobo’s. You can capture chocobo’s in the wild and then level them up to make them better.
Sidequesting is an option too. There’s an abundance of them in the world of 13-2. These can be anything from solving puzzles, fetch quests, hunting monsters, or crappy dialogue trees. There are plenty to access while the game is going on, but once you complete the game much more become available. There is a lot to do and there’s sure to be something to satisfy everyone.
It won’t take you long to get to the end of the game. I had put in about 24 hours of play time when I beat the final boss. It’s not as long as the original game and it isn’t nearly as challenging either. All of the challenging fights are unlocked after the game is over, so if you want to fight some ridiculous monsters you’ll have to brave through the story first in order to see the more challenging content.
Final Fantasy 13-2 isn’t a great game, but it stands on its own. Most of the issues from the previous iteration were taken care of with the exception of the lackluster plotline. Square is having a hard time with the Final Fantasy series, but it’s clear that they’re listening to the feedback of their fans in order to give them what they want. My problem with Final Fantasy 13 was that it didn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game to me. 13-2 is a lot closer, but it’s still a ways off.