Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review

Final Fantasy XIII was released to wide criticism. The game was linear and the combat mechanics did not truly open up until around 30 hours in when you were finally able to have free rein over your characters and parties. Square Enix set out to fix these deep flaws in FFXIII by creating another direct sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Something that struck me in Final Fantasy XIII-2’s opening credits was the understated name of the director and then WHAM – massive bold print all over my screen with a name I’ve learned to hate: Tetsuya Nomura. Tetsuya Nomura has been the character designer for all Final Fantasy games since VII, and his presence has grown ever more prominent with every iteration of Final Fantasy. It’s become somewhat of a cliché for Final Fantasy to have these whimsical and fantastical character designs that look incredibly absurd and frankly, I’m getting a little bit tired of it. Final Fantasy has fallen out of favour with the mainstream markets, and characters that look like Noel and Serah are not the way to win back that mainstream loyalty, which is sad because mechanically Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a great game.

FFXIII-2 focuses around the disappearance of Lightning, FFXIII’s protagonist. Then a time traveller falls out of the sky and takes Lightning’s sister Serah on a journey through time to find her sister. Yep. It’s pretty far fetched as time travelling JRPGs go. As with FFXIII’s plot, FFXIII-2 is filled to the brim with jargon and made up words that I don’t really care about or understand and although the game goes to great lengths to explain these things to you it just feels incredibly silly. The curveballs that FFXIII-2 throws in terms of plot are very minimal and are really only there to drive the game’s mechanics.

Most of the overworld stays the same in FFXIII-2, however Square Enix have changed the way that you see monsters on the map. Instead of seeing the monsters yourself on the map and choosing who to fight and avoid, they’ve reverted back to random encounters. To me this seems like a bit of a step back, as a map populated by monsters looks fantastic and populated as we saw on Gran Pulse in FFXIII, the place looked alive, bustling, and there was a real sense of freedom to the map. That’s all taken away in FFXIII-2, and is instead replaced by empty landscapes with random encounters. This could be due to the nature of a new mechanic that Square Enix have input into the game, monster hunting.

For the most part in FFXIII-2, you stay in a party of two accompanied by a monster. These monsters take the role of the third party member you would usually have. There’s a great range of monsters to hunt and any of them can be caught if you hunt long enough. They level up through use of different items and fit very nicely into the game’s battle system, which is possibly my favourite part of the entire game, as you select and switch classes on the fly during battle to fulfill certain roles. Being able to do this enables you to toy around with strategies on the fly and is the most captivating thing about the entire game. Each enemy requires different strategies and switching your roles or “Paradigms” is integral to your success.

As ever, Final Fantasy looks and sounds brilliant with some spectacular tracks on the soundtrack, although I do question some tracks such as “Crazy Chocobo” which contains QUALITY lyrics like; “Got Chocobucks? You better put them on this chocobo!”, “Everybody’s gonna wanna ride your chocobo. It’s choco-loco style in a choco-rodeo,” and finally “So cute yet fierce, is he from hell?”.  Truly, I love this game’s soundtrack, but this is actually hilarious.

Overall, this iteration of Final Fantasy left me a little bit polarised. I commend the game’s mechanics such as odd puzzle solving segments, the combat system and the game’s stellar soundtrack but there are a few additions that Square Enix has made that left me completely puzzled. For one, the game has introduced rather pathetic dialogue trees. In fact, they’re not really dialogue trees at all, it’s really just a question of pushing the right button to get a reward. In trying to add an element of Western style into an inherently Japanese game, it fails.

If anything, the potential of FFXIII-2 irks me. It shows that the team at Square Enix indisputably have talent, however it also shows that the Final Fantasy franchise needs to grow up. Square Enix need to redefine the series to become relevant within gaming culture. Ten years ago, a new Final Fantasy was a massive event for the games industry, akin to a new Grand Theft Auto game, but now the name has been run straight into the ground and the naming convention is getting increasingly silly and may be preventing new fans from gaining interest in the series.

Square Enix needs to reinvent the entire Final Fantasy name. They clearly have talent and Final Fantasy XIII-2 is far from a bad game. If you’re a fan of the current Final Fantasy games then buy Final Fantasy XIII-2, you’ll love it. However, if they corrected its shortcomings it may well have been one of my favourite RPG’s of the past five years, but by sticking to tradition they may have lost their way.

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