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Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review – Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

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“Change the future.” It’s the tagline that accompanies Final Fantasy XIII-2’s description on the game’s back cover. After the hot mess that was Final Fantasy XIII, that’s exactly what many craved: change. Square-Enix got its second chance in the form of a sequel, but let’s just make one thing clear: Final Fantasy XIII-2 is what XIII should have been. There. I’ve said it, it’s out of my system, and now we can move on.

Three years after the close of its predecessor, Lightning’s sister, Serah, takes the leading role. Our former pink-haired heroine has vanished from the world of Cocoon and Gran Pulse without so much as a peep. While everyone else believes Lightning to be dead, Serah can’t accept this. She sets out with Noel Kreiss, a time-traveler from an apocalyptic future who claims to have met her still-alive sister. What ensues is a journey through time and space itself as Serah hunts for answers and the lost Lightning.

Ah, yes, time travel – XIII-2’s answer to the linearity that plagued the former title. Serah and Noel will spend their days resolving anomalies, correcting Paradoxes, and gathering “artefacts,” which open gates to new eras. Players travel through various points in the game using the Historia Crux, a timeline that allows you to easily leap from era to era with ease. Each of these time periods has gates to open that will allow you to continue forward. Or backward. Or to alternate realities. Such is the magic of time traveling.

Jumping around the game’s history gives XIII-2 a great chance to show off a variety of different environments. Gorgeous green jungles, dark, futuristic cities, even random sepia-soaked voids—XIII-2 has them all. Although there’s not as much exploring to each area as I’d have liked, it’s a welcome chance to fully experience the worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse at leisure.

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But regardless of where or when you are, there’s no escaping the fact that XIII-2’s story is something of a letdown. It often felt that no matter what era I was in, each played out the same way: paradox correction, dialogue-cutscenes-dialogue, possible cameo or appearance of stereotypical JRPG villain with giant sword. That’s it. I have just described most of the story in about three lines of text. Yes, you have the so-called character development, the untwisting of plotlines, and the fusion of newfound revelations, but at no point is it anything to write home about. And the game has no definite conclusion – along with several possible endings, XIII-2 ends with a frustrating “to be continued.” I sunk almost 40 hours into this game, dammit. Give me the satisfaction of a complete conclusion.

Where the story falls short, however, the game’s battles more than make up for it. The strategy-driven combat of the old game returns, but without a few incredible nuisances. Paradigms are back, yet the time-sucking animation that used to occur between every switch isn’t. Players can easily jump between party leaders with the tap of a button, and a fallen leader no longer means the end of your journey. The Crystarium, too, makes its reappearance, but it’s been upgraded as well. Party members can level up with a single quick click. Serah and Noel are also able to open every available role almost immediately, as opposed to XIII’s guarded handholding.

Best of all is the addition of monster cohorts, who will happily suck up the boring-but-necessary battles roles such as Medic or Synergist. Monsters can be leveled up the same way as Noel and Serah, allowing you the chance to more tightly focus your party leaders. Random battles are also back, in a manner of speaking. When a sudden monster attack hits, the Mog Clock will appear, giving you a chance to either escape or sneak up on enemies. It’s the best of both worlds as far as Final Fantasy’s typical system for encounters.

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Perhaps the most curious aspect of this game is its music.  XIII-2 just can’t seem to make up its mind on what it wants to be. Tunes jump from erratic, electronica riffs to sweeping, orchestral tracks. Vocals have invaded a great deal of the soundtrack; at best, it creates poppy, catchy groove for gamers to vibe to. At worst, it’s like a horrible, dollar-bin knock off of Persona’s quirky raps.

The music is an interesting leap for the series—and to be fair, what kind of music would you expect for a game that sends you hurtling through space and time? The biggest problem I have with the soundtrack is its ability to violently yank you out of the moment. In my mind, XIII-2 will forever be hailed as the installment that created techno death metal. It’s as unfortunate as it sounds. Much of a game’s emotional capabilities ride on its soundtrack, and XIII-2 sometimes left me confused. How should I feel about this battle—apprehensive? Confident? Nope, angry and ready to dance. Okay.

Auditory abortions aside, XIII-2 also still suffers from one very crippling flaw: its inability to create emotional tension. It’s not that the game doesn’t try to have those tear-jerker moments. Noel and Serah seem to have plenty to be upset about. It’s more that I just don’t care. Beyond my general curiosity, I feel no drive to reunite Serah with any of her friends or her sister. The cameos of past characters are completely lost on me. I don’t feel as though I’m returning to old friends, I feel like I’m meeting a vaguely remembered acquaintance that I never really cared for in the first place. Once my controller was down and my system was off, it was as if I’d never taken the journey at all.

I want to feel that gripping heartache and emotional tug. I want the familiar catch in my throat like when I watched my party reunite after the defeat of Kefka in VI; when Aeris met her fate in VII; when Yuna finally reunited with Tidus in X-2. I want it all back. But like an overly intoxicated, middle-aged single embarking on a one-night stand, I’m left repeating the same words to myself over and over: I don’t feel anything.

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Somewhere between the creation of XIII-2 and the swift backlash of criticism from both gamers and media outlets alike, it seems that Square-Enix took a hint. In many ways, XIII-2 feels like a big, “Oh, my bad,” to those who were displeased with the original. Almost every complaint feels attended to. Shops, mini-games, NPCs, and hell, SE even threw gamers a time traveling bone—it’s all here. It’s a fan-appeasing tactic that works, for the most part.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is not destined to polarize fans as much as its sister title, yet how you feel about the game will likely depend on what you seek. Those aching for the same brilliant storytelling and emotional pull of the series’ predecessors will not leave this convoluted tale happy. But for gamers willing to push that aside—the people who come to brawl and battle their way through time—there’s something here for you. And hey, who knows; maybe the next one will finally get everything right.

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Final Fantasy XIII-2 was released on January 31st, 2012 for Xbox 360 and PS3. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

Your Comments

  • avatar
    lucassmith said Feb 8th 2012 5:27 PM

    Real question on my mind…is it worth $60? or should I wait for a price drop?

    Reply
  • avatar
    yhBLAZED said Feb 9th 2012 9:13 AM

    That ending…

    SE are god tier trolls.

    Reply

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