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Rating: Not Rated

Square Enix Has Balls/I Guess I Am Just a Fanboy

Talraen's Review of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3) (Video Games)

Opinions on FFXIII-2 have been mixed, but having just finished the game (and only at about 1/4 of total completion), my feelings aren't mixed at all - I loved this game. Of course, I was one of the few who liked FFXIII, so maybe I just need to give up any pretense of being unbiased. That said, aside from sharing a combat system, this game isn't really much like FFXIII at all. (In that way, it's sort of the opposite of FFX-2's relationship with its predecessor.)

Before I go on, I should point out that FFXIII-2's very existence is a minor ending spoiler for FFXIII, in that it reveals the fate of several characters from that game. I'm not going to go through any contortions trying to avoid talking about that, so if you're super hardcore about FFXIII spoilers, you should stop here. (Realistically, it's not a big deal, though.)

Having just finished the game, my inclination is to talk about the story, but let's start with the mechanics, since that's the meat of the game. As previously mentioned, FFXIII-2 features the same combat system as FFXIII, though with a few improvements. The biggest of these is that you can change your leader during combat, and thus don't immediately get game over if your leader dies. Also, this time around you have two standard characters, with your third slot being occupied by monsters you recruit and level up. Monsters use the same roles as other characters, so the net effect is that your third character is incredibly customizable.

The monster-recruiting mechanic is one that seems to get a lot of discussion. I haven't played Pokemon, so I can't speak to that particular comparison, but the ability to customize monsters is pretty great. Your main characters are pretty limited in certain areas - they're good at hitting things, but not great at support magic, healing, and the like. At the end of the game, rather than everyone having a huge list of abilities, you have to rely on monsters for a lot of the good stuff. Given the simplification of the leveling system, I think this is a good thing.

Monsters may randomly be captured after battles where they are defeated, while using other monsters' special attacks to finish them will make this much more likely. Monsters are advanced in two ways - through items (acquired as drops or purchased directly) and through consuming other monsters. Just getting through the game didn't require a huge expenditure of these items, but if you actually want to customize dozens of monsters for specific situations, it would get costly. Fortunately, every battle yields gil now, so at least it's theoretically feasible.

The crystarium system for your main characters has also been changed significantly. It is now entirely linear, with you choosing which role to advance at each level. While this adds some nice wrinkles for character customization itself, some advancement nodes yield extra bonuses based on which role you level with them. It's really easy to focus advancement in one particular area, especially since there are only three stats (strength, magic, and HP).

Gone is the overly complicated weapon and accessory leveling system of FFXIII. In its place, you will mostly buy or find these items. You can also use dropped items, along with gil, to create new items at a shop. The end result is a lot of the same customization that was available in FFXIII, but without the math. Another nice wrinkle is that accessories now have an equip cost rather than all taking up a single slot, which allows for much more powerful accessories to exist.

So those are the mechanics, and they are fun. But what about the gameplay? This is where Square Enix, despite my review title, has completely capitulated to the internet whiners. Gone is the excessive linearity in favor of a very open-ended game with tons of optional exploring. I finished the main plot in 20 hours (which really felt like the perfect duration), but only found 40 of the 160 "fragments" that mark the major quests, sidequests, and secrets of the game. The plot is heavily related to time travel, though you won't find many "hit this button in the past to open something in the future" puzzles. Most of the time travel stuff is esoteric weirdness that's directly related to the plot, at least along the more well-traveled paths.

You'll also find a few cities, people to talk to, and shops that are more than just a menu. However, those shops take the form of a very strange chocobo-woman named Chocolina, who is inexplicably all over the place. I'm not sure how she managed to not be as annoying as she could have, and should have, been, but I kind of enjoyed her volatile emotional range and unabashed item hawking in the face of apocalypse.

Also, I have to mention that your exploration is assisted by a moogle. The moogle can reveal secrets, talks and generally acts silly, and can be thrown to reach distant items. Like Chocolina, this is not as annoying as it should be (kupo!). I'm not sure why not. Maybe it's because you can throw the moogle, and its reaction to being thrown is pretty much what one might expect if it were real.

And that brings me to the story. This story doesn't make any more sense than any other Final Fantasy story. It all fits together, I suppose, but when your antagonist states his nihilist aims two minutes into the opening video, it's pretty clear things are going to get weird. The basic plot is that, after the events of FFXIII, the timeline went all out of whack, and only Lightning's sister Serah seems to notice that anything is amiss. Lightning is now basically a valkyrie (don't be fooled by the cover art - she's barely in the game), and a new character, Noel, joins the group from an apocalyptic future. The previously mentioned antagonist, Caius, is defined mainly by having a cool voice, apparently wielding the Soul Edge, and wanting to destroy history. (All in all, a pretty typical villain for the series.)

What made me enjoy the story so much is that it has a lot of twists and turns that played out like I hoped, but didn't actually expect, that they would. Sure, there are some silly time-travel solutions to major issues, but this game actually has real consequences. This extends to your own actions - a notable boss fight is repeated over and over until you figure out the right way to end it (fortunately it's pretty quick). What makes this work is that your choices make sense, and your characters expect them to work, but then they don't for logical reasons. (Or at least internally consistent reasons.)

I can't talk about the specifics of the ending, obviously, and having no one to discuss it with will be frustrating, but the ending sequence is what really sold me on this game. As a sequel to a numbered game, Square Enix was free to take some chances, and they certainly did that. For once, all four stages of the last boss fight make at least a modicum of sense, and the actual ending takes a screeching left turn into "wait, they actually did that?!" territory. I was left stunned. Was it, objectively speaking, some masterwork of storytelling? No. This is Final Fantasy, people! But damn if it didn't give me chills, and left a (completely inappropriate) smile on my face.

Maybe the Final Fantasy series is degenerating into something only the hardcore fanboys, blinded by loyalty, can appreciate. If so, well, at least I'm getting something I like. This is a fun game with an interesting story, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would based on what I'd heard. The combat and leveling systems are top notch - for instance, I was completely dominated by the final boss sequence, but an hour of leveling and focusing on a monster strategy made that fight relatively easy. That's the strength of FFXIII's battle system, and your ability to adapt is only enhanced by the monster recruiting mechanic. I'm hesitant to give the game a full A, because it's the sort of score I'll probably look back on one day and find ridiculous, but screw it - I really loved playing this game, and I'd highly recommend it if you've finished FFXIII. (And honestly, if you haven't, it's probably still pretty good because the characters are there but their history isn't really important here.)

Score: A

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