Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PlayStation 3) Review

By Az Elias 18.03.2014 3

Review for Final Fantasy XIII-2 on PlayStation 3

There is no question that Final Fantasy XIII received many over-inflated review scores at the time of its release. The first home console entry in the series of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 generation saw FFXIII shift a lot of units to those who had been waiting so long for it to arrive. However, the drop-off in sales of its sequel, and indeed the general negative opinion of the original game upon reflection amongst fans a few years on, does seem to imply that the famous branding contributed to the initial praise many gave it. There was always a feeling that there was going to be a direct sequel, despite it never really needing one, however. Subtle hints as to extra assets that could make up a new game, and the fact that Final Fantasy Versus XIII (now Final Fantasy XV) was still many years off, meant Final Fantasy XIII-2 was an easy decision to fill in the gaps, and to tide fans over until the 'big one' arrived.

The direct sequel treatment has been done before with Final Fantasy X-2 (recently released again alongside its prequel in Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita), but that took fans back to the world of the first game to see how it had changed and its characters moved on since the end of Final Fantasy X. Final Fantasy XIII-2 does not take that approach; it instead goes down the abused time travel road and undoes almost everything that had happened in the original title.

Right off the bat, no explanation is given as to just what on earth is going on, and that theme continues all the way through to the end. Former soldier Lightning defied her fate with her friends at the end of Final Fantasy XIII to survive and save the floating world of Cocoon, and yet FFXIII-2 begins two years later with everyone apart from her sister Serah claiming that Lightning died that day. Why is it that only Serah has that memory, yet everyone else doesn't? Cue a convoluted storyline involving timelines and paradoxes, whilst Lightning fights by herself in the death-bound city of Valhalla in an alternate dimension, as a knight to protect the goddess Etro.

Square Enix may have cheekily made fans believe Lightning was the central playable character in the first trailers and artwork upon the announcement of this sequel, but it is her sister that takes the lead role this time around, partnering with a young man from the future called Noel. Some familiar faces return in unexpected ways, but for the entirety of the game the party stays only two humans strong, with Serah and Noel the mains. Monster capturing means the third squad spot is taken up by a befriended fiend, whose crystal has been caught in battle, allowing for the creatures to be levelled up, and to fight alongside the partners.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII-2 on PlayStation 3

Final Fantasy games prior have usually presented generally large parties of characters of varying personalities, but Final Fantasy XIII-2 forces players to stick with just Serah and Noel, meaning if they aren't really liked, it's kind of tough luck. As a newcomer, Noel isn't such a bad character, though; he's the nice guy, and Jason Marsden does a good job of portraying him. The same can be said of voice acting stalwart Laura Bailey as Serah. The pair goes hand-in-hand with each other, but as much as they bring their talent to the dubbing, they cannot save the script itself.

There is the argument that Final Fantasy XIII didn't really need a sequel; the ending was satisfactory enough. However, there was so much potential in the first game. The lore itself was very intriguing, but it was simply never fleshed out, and left a lot to be desired. FFXIII-2 was the second chance to really explore the world of Pulse, the mysterious Fal'Cie, and the history and mythology of the universe in considerable depth. It just doesn't happen, though. To essentially do away with everything, throw in time travel, and blame everything that happens on paradoxes is odd, and it's easy to feel confusion throughout the course of the adventure.

Continuing with details that aren't explained, Serah's fiancé, Snow, is rebranded a l'Cie, and yet, it is never at any point explained why. Even when Serah finally finds the love of her life after he had left her behind to search for Lightning, the relationship doesn't feel genuine. Serah travelling with Noel does make the situation feel kind of dodgy, too.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII-2 on PlayStation 3

Square Enix made the bold - and terrible - plan to make story DLC for Final Fantasy XIII-2, with Snow being one of the characters to get his own tiny expansion that would supposedly reveal the reason for the l'Cie curse being put upon him again. Astonishingly, though, the DLC doesn't even explain it, instead merely being a fight against him and some lines about how he is unable to come with Serah on her journey.

Other story download content is present for Sazh and Lightning - the former being some gambling mini-games, and the latter letting Lightning use a battle system more representative of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII - but they do very little to go into details, and only continue to point to there being a third game in the saga. The conclusive slap in the face is the words "To Be Continued" at the end of the game. Optional DLC is absolutely fine, and that is present here in the form of costumes and special character fights, but story DLC and basically telling fans to "find out next time" in a Final Fantasy game is out of order.


 
There have been general improvements made over the first game, though. The battle system is essentially the same as in Final Fantasy XIII, except with a few important changes. For one, a knockout of the party leader will not result in a Game Over, and will switch control over to the second member; changing party leaders on the fly is now possible so that more unique abilities can be put to use during battles; and paradigms can now be tuned so that the team can focus on a single enemy or spread their attacks across a group more equally. The difficulty in general has also been toned down, making for an easier experience than the first outing. Depending on personal experiences with the original release, this will either rub the right or wrong way, but there are indeed optional foes that provide a stark challenge.

The Crystarium - Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2's character growth system - has received some alterations for the better in this sequel, as well. All paradigm roles are unlocked from the start, and there is no cap in place to prevent continued development until later in the game. Various bonuses can be chosen and applied upon expansion of the Crystarium, so the system has certainly been made more appropriate.

As mentioned, ally monsters can be captured, but the level-up process is slightly different. Monsters have Crystariums of their own, but special items need to be found or bought, and then given to them to increase their stats. Monsters eventually need many materials of differing types, and too quickly their levels cap. Each monster has its own paradigm role that cannot be changed, so capturing certain ones throughout the game is necessary to find better allies. Not only is the method of growth for monsters too much of a pain, but having a random, detachable fiend in the battle party in place of a human character just seems like a waste, and nothing is done to make them cared for.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII-2 on PlayStation 3

Downsides continue with other questionable elements wormed into the game. First is the "Live Trigger" scenario, where conversations will pause to offer the player a choice of four options to progress the conversation or general direction of the game. Most of the time, these decisions are absolutely worthless, and seem to have been worked in solely for the sake of having the player simply make a choice - a case of taking the wrong influences from certain popular Western games, perhaps. Then there are the oh-so-loved QTEs that Square Enix for some reason thought would work wonders in a Final Fantasy game. Coined "Cinematic Action sequences" in FFXIII-2, they crop up at many points in cut-scenes and battles, serving no other purpose than the opposite of what is intended.

One of the worst ideas implemented in the game are numerous puzzles known as Temporal Rifts. Two of these types of puzzles involve running over disappearing tiles to collect crystals, and joining matching crystals together to form an image. The most aggravating one is the Hands of Time, where the numbers of a clock face need to be erased by stepping on them. Without a doubt, it quickly becomes one of the most awful and frustrating mini-games in any RPG. It is a relief that they are mostly only made to be completed outside of the main plot, but anyone looking to beat the game fully will have to endure the wrath of the Hands of Time on far too many occasions.

In many respects, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a better game than XIII; it fixes a lot of the original's issues. The corridor experience has thankfully been done away with (even if what is present now is a set of limited areas that can only be selected from a messy Historia Crux menu), and there is a lot more to do outside of the main story this time around. The character growth system is improved, and the battle system's adjustments make it that bit more favourable over FFXIII's version. The poor weapon customisation has even been replaced by a traditional and friendlier buy-them-in-a-shop approach, and there are no more hours upon hours of ridiculous item farming to get hold of the best ones. Far too many poor decisions and drastically messing with the story to create something that is difficult to follow really hamper the end product, sadly.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XIII-2 on PlayStation 3

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Where Final Fantasy XIII faltered, Final Fantasy XIII-2 mostly tidies up. The linearity, a few annoyances with the battle system, restrictions in the Crystarium, and other frustrating aspects of the original game, have all been adjusted for the better in the sequel. Unfortunately, Square Enix made plenty of poor and weird gameplay selections, including adding story DLC, and needlessly messed with the plot massively, so that confusion rings true throughout and even after the game is completed. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a good RPG in its own right, and no one can really argue with the price it can be found for these days, so it is worth the money, but one too many bad calls keep it from getting close to other entries in the series, as well as many other games in the same genre on PS3.

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

I own this, but just never got around to playing it. After reading this, I think I might just give it a miss...

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
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Adam Riley said:
I own this, but just never got around to playing it. After reading this, I think I might just give it a miss...
I suppose that depends on how much you liked the battle system in FFXIII, because the adjustments make it a much better system to use overall, and the game is easier to get through than XIII, too. If you can ignore crap like QTEs and a crazy ass plot that creates even more questions than answers, it deserves a chance.

Ignoring the ridiculous story and the really stupid story DLC, I actually liked this game a whole lot. I'm a big fan of the soundtrack too, even though it's very unlike Final Fantasy. Haven't played Lightning Returns yet but I'd imagine this one will remain the highlight of the trilogy for me.

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