Saturday, 17 March 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2

Excitement, laughter, boredom, disappointment and hope. All of these I have experienced playing Final Fantasy "13.2", a flawed sequel which could have been an epic masterpiece.

In this article I will lead you through those 5 "emotions", which hopefully will give you insight into the game and whatever it maybe for you or not. Nevertheless this is neither a well reasoned review or a true critique of the game... but I hope it is still useful to you all the same!

Having quite enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, I was quietly excited about XIII-2. Despite being flawed, the first game set a really high standard and a sequel which solved all of these issues would be amazing. Straight out of the box, XIII-2 is just that as well, pure amazement. The graphics are top notch as ever and the opening action sequence is beyond epic. The introduction of quick time events to cut-scenes, in the form of Cinematic Actions, really does a lot in spicing up the action and offering replay value.

As you delve into the game, there are more and more exciting new features to explore and play with. The one that really impressed me was the new "Pokémon" mechanic. Putting it simply, you can now catch ("tame") and raise monsters to fight along side you! The whole system is implemented really well, each monster is unique and has its own Crystarium. Levelling up monsters, infusing them with different abilities and building up a team is immensely satisfying.

These things are just a couple of the many exciting things to be found in XIII-2. The mini-game that is Chocobo Racing is fairly entertaining and the game itself offers a fairly good challenge with lots of replay value. One thing that everyone will enjoy is the immediate openness, you may explore and take breaks from the main storyline at almost any point.

Sadly all this excitement does not last all the way through the game but wanes from time to time. In moments I was actually bored. Unlike XIII, the story isn't incredibly captivating although it is decent. However, the level of confusion has risen a notch and most of the time I was left wondering "wtf?"

Rather disappointingly for a Final Fantasy game, I found many of the characters to be a bit annoying and predictable. This was not all of the time but most of the time, I felt bored with stereotypes and clichés. The history behind characters did seem a bit pathetic at times and there isn't the same sense of development as there was in the first game.

Even though the "Pokémon" system is pretty awesome, it is very easy to capture a single overpowered monster and proceed to forgot all about it. Admittedly this is if you wonder off the main storyline and go hunting specifically for the monsters, but it is still a caveat of the system.

What is especially worrying is how quick the main storyline could go by. The game is fairly short for a Final Fantasy game and I estimate you could probably blitz the game in less than 30 hours. On top of this it is fairly easy to power level so Final Fantasy veterans could probably smash out all the content this game has to offer in under 70 hours... Decent enough but kind of low considering the source.

Nevertheless, XIII-2 does have some really enjoyable and humorous moments. I genuinely laughed out loud at some moments. One of the main characters, Mog the Moogle is fairly amusing and made me giggle here and there.

A new feature to the game is that of Live Triggers, the ability to decide how to respond to dialogue in the game. Some of the options are deliberately quite amusing and make for some comical scenes. Note that most of the humour is more cute and cheesy than top notch comedy.

Having said that, I really did like the answer to one of the quiz questions in the game. The question is something along the lines of, "what is the catchphrase of the hero in the hit TV show Moggle Rangers?" You may judge me, but I ROFL'ed when I saw the answer: Hasta La Vista, Kupo

Moments like these really helped to make the game enjoyable and I only wish there had been more subtle attention to detail paid to every aspect of the game...

What is probably the most annoying thing about XIII-2 is the overriding sense of disappointment. I feel as if this game could have been so much better given more investment. With only two playable characters, the game feels a bit empty. It is blessing in the sense you don't have as many characters to train but it is also a curse in how restrictive it feels. Sure you have hundreds of monsters to play with but it isn't quite the same.

Another strange amendment was the loss of the weapon development system and the fairly limited accessory set. It all adds to the disappointing feeling of being cheated out of content, as if they simply decided it was too much effort to add it in.

This subtle lack of effort seems to be prominent throughout as well, at least to me. Whilst not a big issue, you do see the same recycled maps at lot, albeit with changed weather and personnel. However in the cut-scenes it annoys me that so many of them are simply narrated over and/or have really bad lip sync. It really breaks the immersion into the story and feels a bit jarring.

Speaking of the story, it seemed to me like it almost gave up making much sense. Seemingly it gave up all together at the end. *slight spoiler alert*... I myself really hated the ending, it basically set itself up for another direct sequel which disgusts me entirely.... *end spoilers*

Overall, SquareEnix have left me hopeful for the future, a better future. Considering the short development cycle of the game, they have produced some decent results. The extended play beyond the main storyline is good fun and helpfully adds more to the entire back story. Given more time, I can only assume they can make better games... but that isn't really the issue.

Anyone who knows me will know that I always make a point of typing Final Fantasy numbers as their published roman numerals, which brings me back to why I called it "13.2" at the start of the article. XIII-2 is not so much as a good standalone Final Fantasy game than it is an iteration of its predecessor, change and improved in some ways.

The next Final Fantasy doesn't just need to be better, it needs to change everything and redefine the series. It needs to be what every Final Fantasy is expected to be, an epic master class on being a masterpiece.

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