It’s a bit fitting perhaps that Square Enix used a time travel-centric plot for Final Fantasy XIII-2, as the developers used the continuation tale to literally go back in time and correct what’s widely considered to be one of the worst entries in the long running RPG series. The original was too linear? FFXIII-2 features an impressive amount of wide-open, explorable areas. The original was too repetitive and dull? You’ll find some of the coolest monsters the series has ever seen and beating them will test you almost each time.Yes, this is what Final Fantasy XIII-2 should have been all along, but sadly, no Delorean, Tardis or Jules Verne inspired contraption could save it from becoming just another cliched (if not polished) Japanese RPG game.
The opening moments of XIII-2 set the stage for an epic story. Lightning, the heroin from the original Final Fantasy XIII is in Valhalla, a realm that exists outside of the constraints of time — locked in battle with called Caius. The battle gets you ready for what you think will be an epic confrontation — but you don’t get it, at least not at first. You see, you’re not playing as Lightning, and your main quest is not to defeat Caius — no your quest is completely different. For the majority of the game, you’ll control Noel and Serah, the sister of Lightning on a quest to find her sister before it’s too late. This is in stark contrast to the opening events of Final Fantasy XIII proper, which took an incredibly long amount of time to get you to the main quest.
The time bending story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 serves it’s purpose, but it’s all just too convenient, and Square Enix uses the plot device very liberally whenever it wants to do away with something from the original or something that they can’t wrap up. Stuck in a plot that doesn’t make sense to the rest of the game? Oh, don’t worry — it was a merely the result of a time paradox. Continuity screwed up in between in game elements? I get it, I really do — I want to forget that a lot of FFXIII happened, but it’s a little dishearteing when you’re engaging in one of the game’s longer quests only to be told at the end of it that the events didn’t really matter. I got to the point where I stopped caring about midway through the game. Expect to do the same.
It’s also a bit disheartening that in this, the game that Square is obviously trying to reconnect the series with its roots, have chosen to stick with the nonsense stories that the majority of the later games have used. There are so many moments where you’re going to groan in agony as the game tells another long winded monologue that you’re going to feel like you’ve heard before. Growing up, Final Fantasy was the gold standard of story telling, but it’s no where close right now. To make matters worse, the story is left open intentionally. FFXIII-3 anyone?
That’s not to say that the game doesn’t do anything right — in fact, it does a lot very well. One of the biggest complaints about Final Fantasy XIII was in just how linear the game was; in fact, a lot of people compared it to being fed down a series of tubes with one ending and one entrance. Thankfully, that’s all been changed for XIII-2, as the game features an impressive amount of open and explorable worlds. This plays a part in just about every aspect of FFXIII-2. The game becomes much more open ended and user driven, as you’ll be focusing on a number of different quests at once, but you’re sure to miss a few in the process, which is going to get a lot of people to jump back into the game again once the credits have rolled. FFXIII-2 feels more like the Final Fantasy we’ve fell in love with than any games in recent memory.
I found myself both hating and loving the game’s new, faster combat system all at the same time. Bosses in FFXIII-2 are impressive in both scale and design, and some of them are downright tough. The game seems to encourage trial and error and wants you to keep trying to come back with different strategies. The new Pokemon style monster collection system, which finds you being able to capture up to three wild monsters at a time, and use them in battle is a cool new addition, that fans are sure to love.
Visually, FFXIII-2 is pretty impressive, and at times — inspiring. The series is known for open, sprawling battles and landscapes, and XII-2 is not slouch in that category, but I found myself marveling more at the detail in some of the game’s smallest details. It’s in the ruffling of the Chocobo’s feathers, in the cool effects of your magic attacks. It drips with Final Fantasy charm, and it’s good to see after all of this time. Sadly, the voice acting is pretty unimpressive, and often comes off as overdone and hammy.
The Blast factor: With Final Fantasy XIII-2, Square Enix has carefully listened to fan criticisms of the original game and addressed them; delivering a fast, fun and open adventure that better fits to the classic Final Fantasy name. The sad part though is that it’s still exactly what you’d expect from your typical JRPG, and the developers don’t take any risks — something that the genre desperately needs at this point.