Ever since it’s announcement, the Final Fantasy XIII series has been marred with controversy. From Square Enix announcing that the game would arrive on multiple platforms, to the launch of what many thought to be an unfinished project, the latest iterations of the long running franchise have seen their doubters. These doubters however, are usually long time fans of the franchise which has seen numerous changes over the years. Over this time, Square Enix has for the most part fundamentally changed what a Final Fantasy game is, and what we can expect from them in the future. With Square Enix pleading with fans for a second chance, they’ve released the follow-up to Final Fantasy XIII with Final Fantasy XIII-2. Did they get it right this time? Or are we right back to where we started?
For what its worth, I never quite re-connected with the Final Fantasy franchise in Final Fantasy XIII. How could you? The linearity overshadowed the outstanding graphics and new battle system by a landslide. The mess of a story didn’t quite leave the lasting impression that its predecessors did, but it did introduce us to a new cast of characters to explore. Lightning, the likeable protagonist returns in Final Fantasy XIII-2 but in a much smaller role than before. Instead, the story focuses on Serah. Lightning’s sister, and the one that you rescued in the original. Joined by Noel, a time traveling do-gooder, you’re goal is to rescue Lightning from Valhalla, in what unravels to be one of the most convoluted and far reaching storylines in the franchise’s long history.
Truly awe inspiring cutscenes make for some not soon forgettable visual moments.
Monster Capture and use in party is a great new feature.
Combat still heavily focused a Paradigm Shift
Better Customization Options
Much of the fun comes from the set up in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Designing Paradigms to use, and the incorporation of a monster collection to tinker with are probably the best features in the game. Noel and Serrah will be your primary party members, alongside Moogle you’ll have control of a third party member in the form of a monster that has been captured along your journey. You can level these companions and incorporate them in your Paradigm battle strategy. It’s Pokemon-esque, but it definitely adds a new layer to the combat and keeps the game fresh as you hunt down new companions that ultimately aid your quest.
Lightning teased in early game, but little seen after.
A franchise that feels like its struggling for its identity
Characters you spend most of your time with are the least likeable of the cast.
Combat system is fluid and responsive but feels more “on-rails” than ever before.
The ability to Autoplay in the standard mode takes away any inkling of challenge the game could have provided.
Weirdly enough, on a piece by piece basis Final Fantasy XIII-2 manages to one-up itself in almost every department. At the same time, you get the distinct feeling that Square Enix has lost its way with the franchise, especially in the story telling department. The game is littered with moments throughout that just don’t add up. For a game that starts out as strong as Final Fantasy XIII-2 ,with Lightning battling through Valhalla, it immediately squashes all hopes of a exciting journey by beginning to loosely explain what is transpiring, and what your ultimate goals of the game are to be.
Combat systems have always had a major role in role playing games like the Final Fantasy franchise, but never has the story taken such a back seat to the on-screen action. This all important story element to the experience is the Achilles heel of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Without it, Square fails to pull you into the world in any meaningful way. We’ll have to wait and see if Square can finally deliver the full package when the all but confirmed XIII-3 releases.