The Final Fantasy series is one of the most popular of all time, and has one of the largest cult followings of any franchise in the history of modern gaming, so it was somewhat disheartening to see the drastic changes that were made to the series with the release of 2010′s ‘Final Fantasy XIII.’ The game everyone knew and loved seemed to have been gutted and stripped of everything that fans of the series knew and loved. In fact, if you were to take away the cover art with the Final Fantasy logo and Square Enix logo, one would have been hard pressed to find anything that made this stand out as a Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XIII was met with acclaim from published critics as most of us applauded Square Enix for taking a leap of faith and taking a huge risk in meddling with a cult classic, but those changes were not so well met by the players that matter the most…..the fans. XIII was met with a mass amount of backlash and outrage by those die hard fans that have long been committed to the series and had been waiting patiently for the next installment in the series, including myself. So fanboys did what they do best, they made their voices heardby letting Square Enix know directly that they weren’t happy with the effort that was put into XIII. So here we are, two years later, and Square has released only the second direct sequel in the Final Fantasy franchise with ‘Final Fantasy XIII-2.” Did the developers at Square Enix listen to their fans? Let’s find out.
NOTE: SPOILERS FOR FINAL FANTASY XIII BELOW
The story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 starts you out three years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII, Serah has been freed from her duties as a l’Cie and is now living on Gran Pulse in the beach side town of New Bodhum. Lightning has mysteriously disappeared to a land called Valhalla, with everyone but Serah thinking that she, along with Vanille and Fang, had sacrificed herself to form the crystal pillar that is now preventing Cocoon from crashing down into and destroying Gran Pulse. Lightning is seen in this new land doing battle with a mysterious enemy named ‘Caius,’ who seemingly will stop at nothing to destroy Lightning and prevent her from changing the events of the future. After Serah’s new hometown of New Bodhum is overrun with monsters, Serah is saved by a young man named ‘Noel Kreiss,’ who has been sent through time by Lightning to find Serah and team up with her to change the events of the future that have left Noel living in a world where he is literally the last person on the planet. Noel and Serah now have to travel through time to attempt to change different events and prevent the seemingly inevitable destruction of the crystal pillar that is holding up Cocoon. XIII-2 is obviously not a main entry in the series, so it really doesn’t warrant the full Final Fantasy epic story treatment so the plot was obviously a little more silly when compared to the seriousness that was XIII, with the time travel feeling a little gimmicky at times. The side quests still feel extremely empty and provide no real motivation to try and find two capsules that a guard accidently dropped somewhere on the map. I appreciate Square’s efforts in trying to put more side quests in, and they are certainly an improvement on the laughable quests that were in XIII, but they still don’t serve any purpose other than to help you get CP and develop your characters. My favorite part of the story were the characters, Noel and Serah are perfect together. They both have redeeming qualities about them with Noel providing the mysterious yet brave male role and Serah being the vulnerable yet emotionally strong lead female role. And where do I begin with Caius? He is possibly the coolest Final Fantasy character since Sephiroth and will certainly give him a run for his money when it comes to fan favorite lists.
Now onto the gameplay. Final Fantasy XIII-2 marks one of the few times in gaming history where a developer truly listened to their fans, and went out of their way to make the improvements that fans asked for. The battle system in XIII was one of the few high points of the game, and most fans loved it, so there was really no need to change it too much. However, there were a few changes in it that made it that much better, starting with the characters themselves. Rather than having three humans in your party, XIII-2 introduces a third slot in your group that is now filled with a monster of your choosing that all have their own dedicated role such as Sentinel or Ravager. As you defeat these monsters in the wild, you are able to collect their monster crystal and make them apart of your group and develop them to your liking. Collecting the different monster crystals and customizing your paradigms to include these monsters added a whole new element to the game that only added to the fun factor of the title. There were also some small changes that were made to the battle system such as the ability to switch characters during battle and the improvement on the actual time that it now takes to switch paradigms that tweaked the system and have now made it nearly perfect. I can’t tell you how much life I would lose in XIII waiting for the little mini cut scene to end while my characters each flashed their weapons as I switched paradigms throughout the battles. Small things like this may not be noticed by someone who is playing this game for the first time, but for someone who played XIII, these changes are huge.
Sticking with the gameplay, my biggest gripe with XIII was the incredible disregard for exploring and adventure. Perhaps the biggest part of Final Fantasy throughout the years has been the great amount of exploring that the player had to do in order to complete quests and progress the main story, and that element was completely absent in XIII with most maps simply being long corridors that you could get through by simply holding the joystick in the up position and you would eventually get to the end of the map. XIII-2 made large strides in providing the player with a decent amount of open world exploring, but I would still have liked to have seen more of it and I am still hoping that Square will eventually re-introduce the overall World Map that helped put Final Fantasy on the map(ha!) back in the day.
Some of the other changes in the gameplay include things like cinematic actions which require you to complete a controller command that corresponds with an on screen prompt that can change the outcome of certain cutscenes and give you an advantage heading into the coming battle, and ‘Live Triggers’ which allow the player to interact with the other characters in the story by responding to certain storyline elements with different choices that each have a different outcome on the story itself. All of the changes made to the gameplay were excellent and helped take it to a new level.
What can I really say about the visuals in any Final Fantasy game? Final Fantasy is easily one of the best looking series in the industry, and that holds true here. The textures are excellent, the characters models are clean, the environments are very well put together and the cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous. Square has once again raised the bar for visual excellence, but that is expected at this point for a Final Fantasy game. The soundtrack was good, but not as memorable as some of the other games in the series, including XIII. Square obviously didn’t have as much development time for this one as they would for one of the main installments in the series, so it’s possible that they just didn’t have enough time to compose the soundtrack that they would have wanted, and it showed.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is by no means perfect, but it took huge strides in correcting the problems that were apparent in it’s prequel. Square Enix did a great job of listening to their fans and making the changes that the die hard fans asked of them. The story was a bit silly at times, but that is completely redeemed by an excellent battle system, newly introduced open world exploration and incredible visuals. This is the game that Final Fantasy XIII should have been, and hopefully Square Enix takes note and keeps that in mind when the inevitable Final Fantasy XV is developed, Kupo!Pros :
- Open world exploration
- Beautiful visuals
- Improved battle system
- Somewhat gimmicky story
- Lackluster soundtrack