Posted on March 29, 2012 by Monica Valentinelli
Available at Amazon.com
I have had a long, sordid relationship with the Final Fantasy franchise. While I haven’t played every game, I have played most of them. When you play Final Fantasy, there are certain elements that you come to expect: cactaurs, chocobos, moogles, summoning, and BIG GIANT SWORDS. Final Fantasy XII began to stray from the iconic characters found in the property with its attention to new mechanics and a more realistic art style heavily inspired by the steampunk genre.
Final Fantasy XIII further deviated from the heart of the franchise. Though it did offer eidolons (one per character) this far-flung futuristic story jarred a lot of fans who hadn’t seen Square Enix dive that heavily into science fiction since the days of Cloud and Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII. Additionally, XIII had issues with the complexity of its story and the ever-changing moving target of a clearly defined antagonist and what the party was supposed to do. In essence, that was the point of the tale. The characters were doomed and had no idea how to cope with that knowledge. This, combined with hours of grinding (e.g. killing monsters to level up characters and weaponry) made for a very confusing game as Grim pointed out in his Final Fantasy XIII review.
Final Fantasy XIII-2? After seeing the demo at New York Comic Con, I knew I had to pick up this game to find out if Square Enix could revive the series I’ve come to know and love.
Since, to me, story comes first the question you’re no doubt asking is: “How easy it is to follow what’s happening?” Very. Instead of being barraged with text when you boot up the game every time, you see a video recap to remind you what’s happened. The story is focused on Serah, the first L’Cie who kicked off Final Fantasy XIII by turning into crystal after she fulfilled her goal (or focus). A l’Cie is a typically unwilling servant of an alien called the Fal’Cie. If you don’t do your job in the time allotted to you, the details of which are handed down in dreams and prophetic visions, you evolve into a monster. (This, truthfully, is the quintessential fate vs. freewill argument that often appears in a Final Fantasy story.) The group of six characters who fought in XIII — including Serah’s sister Lightning and Snow, her fiance — struggled with what they had to do. While, in the end, they were successful saving their world it did not come without a price. Fang and Vanille, two l’Cie’s from centuries past, sacrificed themselves to suspend and connect the artificially-buoyed planet Cocoon to their homeworld Gran Pulse.
In XIII-2, Lightning is not only missing, she has been wiped from the timeline. Snow, Serah’s fiance, sets out after her and hopes to find a way to save Fang and Vanille. By all accounts, Serah is alone. Enter Noel, the last human from a future so terrifying in its inevitability that Serah doesn’t trust him at first. Together, they set off in search of Lightning only to discover they must resolve errors in time called “paradoxes,” fight off an immortal nemesis dubbed “Caius Ballad,” and resolve the mystery of the seeresses called “Yeul.”
With the help of her Moogle, Noel and Serah time travel to different settings to save not only Lightning and Cocoon, but time itself.
This is the first time Square Enix has presented a non-linear storyline with elements to resolve scenes in the way that you prefer — and you can do it twice. You earn XP and level up in each role you want your character to be proficient at through the Crystarium. Two characters, however, is not enough to beat some of the bigger monsters in the game. For that, you can collect monsters and swap up to three of them out in your battle formations. Monsters can be leveled up as well with different elements you obtain after a battle. Both types of advancement are really straightforward and are easy to learn. There are three levels of gameplay for casual and hardcore gamers. I’ve been playing on the Normal level.
Battles take place when you approach (or are ambushed) by a monster. A clock appears and if you attack the monster when the pointer is green? You get a bonus called a “Preemptive Strike.” The faster you slay the proverbial dragon, the higher and better the rewards. If you wish, you can fine-tune the battle controls or you can simply press “X” to your heart’s content. Each monster that you take on to your scenario has its own limit break and required set of controls to max that out.
There are many goals in this game; some mandatory, some optional. The primary goal is to collect fragments and artefacts; both help progress the characters through the story and will become important later on when Serah and Noel attain a weapon that bases its power on the number of fragments you’ve received. Both goals are tied (either directly or indirectly) to resolving paradoxes through the main storyline in order to open gates for time travel and more worlds. There are several ways you can respond to different scenarios and, if need be, you can reverse your decision by using the appropriate artefact and replay that scene to get a different effect or ending.
Secondary goals occur through the mini-games and boss monsters scattered throughout the worlds. You can play casino games and unlock rewards when Serendipity is available. You can answer questions when Brain Blast and his counterpart, the good Captain. To unlock certain fragments, you also have miniature logic puzzles that I haven’t seen since Final Fantasy IX, too.
Unlike its predecessor, it is easy to attain rewards after battle and get Gil you won’t necessarily spend. The number of accessories your character can equip is limited so, in many cases, you won’t necessarily need to hang on to all that “stuff.” Trust me, you’ll want to hang on to your Gil for later in the game!
I think people who played Final Fantasy XIII who were attached to the characters will like the cameo appearances and goals of this storyline, but I don’t think prior gameplay is required to enjoy this addition. I also believe that this is not necessarily a story you have to like to enjoy, because there’s so much variety in Final Fantasy XIII-2 and a return to what fans have come to know and love. While eidolons aren’t part of the game here, you will find the dreaded tonberry, the adorable Moogle, large and obnoxious cactaurs, and ride-worthy chocobos. Regardless, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a giant step forward for a memorable franchise that lost its way by returning to what it does best — telling tragic stories and innovating new ways to slay iconic creatures along the way.
Review by Monica Valentinelli
Tags | video-games