There was a game that was highly anticipated by our (hero?). He even got a PS3 over a 360 knowing full and well that it would be on this console. Eventually that game came out but it was painful enough for him to put down. Now its sequel is upon us. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Okay, when it comes to Final Fantasy I’m a typically 2D era fan; most of what I have ingrained for the series comes more from the SNES era than the PS1/PS2 era. That said, I knew XIII would be like neither “generation”, and it kinda let me down. And when I saw the announcement for a sequel, I literally groaned and kept begging for XIII Versus. “Could this just be more of the same? The audience has spoken, they’ve had enough!” Well, as a response, yes and no.
From what it looks like in the demo and the released details, XIII-2 is everything its predecessor should have been, for better or worse. Firstly, all the “Final Fantasy fundamentals” are back. You have towns (yes, towns seem to be back) full of treasure and NPCs to chat up. They’re still more like stopovers though. The next big change is that dungeons aren’t literally linear anymore; there’s hidden treasure to find and side routes to explore, so not bad. During your adventure, you’ll even have to make decisions. In the demo, this giant stronger-than-you superweapon from the future, Atlas, is rampaging and Serah will have to decide to take him out head-on or investigate some controller-esque device that also materialized in the field which could weaken him. Okay… Obvious decision, but it may be implemented in other less clear-cut cases, hopefully generating different paths. The world also has lots more to do, various quests and even Chocobo racing. Basically, the world is much more fleshed out this time.
Speaking of the story, though the first game was very droll, (“our heroes defy the cursed fate given to them by our mechanical magical overbeings”) it seemed to wrap up tightly enough. XIII-2 however, uses time travel from the future and has Lightning wind up in Valhalla to pry open an excuse for a second game. It’s a royal mess waiting to happen where I’d rather take Chrono Trigger, which does time travel much better by not simply stapling it on.
Not much to say about the music; the music and ambiance of the game reminds me to a degree of Final Fantasy X-2 with its pop soundtrack. However, voice acting is great, Laura Bailey and Jason Marsden do a spot-on job with their roles.
While on the field, you’ll be assaulted by enemies that suddenly warp onto the ground, like a random encounter. This can take you at any time you’re not in safety, so it seems like a step backwards initially. The upshot is that as the enemies are materializing, you have the chance to go for a preemptive strike or escape by putting enough distance between you and the target before the handy clock runs out of time. Frankly, I prefer this over the past encounter system, which gave you no real options outside of those invisibility sprays. When not in combat you’ll occasionally run into puzzles, like make it to the end of the crumbling maze while getting all the items to liven up simple navigation and battle.
Battle has some tweaks to the original. At any time in the game you can change leaders and you don’t lose should your current leader fall in battle. Items have more usage outside of Potions and Phoenix Downs, with a wider variety of status conditions to inflict and heal. Like it or not, the stagger system is still in place and like in the first game, enemies will have seemingly infinite HP if you don’t capitalize on it quickly, especially bosses. Paradigms are back and can be further customized to single enemy focused, normal, and mob focused to fine tune your strategies. A new battle mechanic is the Feral Link gauge, where you team up with a monster ally for a super move after filling it up. Yes, you can capture monsters in the game and have them by your side. Should yours truly get a hold of the game, he will try to catch ’em all. Boss battles and some cutscenes will have “Cinematic Action” phases, quick-time events to keep players on their toes when landing the final blow. Beats just sitting there for five minutes, I suppose, so I welcome it.
Character development brings the Crystarium back, for both human characters and captured monsters. Not much to say here but there’s a bit more diversity when you pump enough CP into the grid until it asks you for one of five bonuses. Equipment actually makes a difference this time and the shop is full of items for your perusal. Though that’s just for your party’s leveling, your monsters’ leveling has a complete realm of its own. Monsters expand their Crystarium grid by use of items, which I hypothesize players will be farming like crazy. Monsters also have their own attributes, such as rank, paradigm class, growth style, nature, and more. All of these can affect their level cap, what skills they learn, and other things. Choosing the proper monster for the job and knowing how to correctly invest in which monsters sounds like a timesink of its own.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is what Final Fantasy XIII should have been. Though the plot is a mess with time travel now thrown into the mix, it feels like the excuse used to give a mediocre game a second chance. I still don’t know the importance of Time Gates yet or the Historia Crux, so there’s still a lot to cover before I can give a verdict. Perhaps we have some kind of nonlinear progression through different times via a hub-zone? What I can say for sure is that if you liked what was positive about the first game, you’ll probably like what XIII-2 has to offer. I’ve even noticed little things, like NPCs reacting to Mog’s item scope and attempts at weakening materializing monsters, so it’s safe to say a lot of polish and refinement went into Final Fantasy XIII-2. As for me, I’m tabling this as a game I’d borrow first or snag used from what I’ve seen so far. Join me next time where I hope I’ll be eating my hat.