Final Fantasy XIII-2 ($59.99, Amazon) is out for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. With this sequel, Square Enix set out to right the wrongs of the previous game, namely tunnel vision level design, off-kilter pacing, and a lack of player immediacy. But this new one promises to be a different beast. Let’s find out together if that’s true. Instead of playing, finishing the game and then posting my final review I will chronicle my time with it. This will be different from my typical reviews. The format will be looser, a bit more free-form. It should be fun! So let’s dive in.
The game opens immediately, without a need to install anything. Thank goodness. More and more it seems console games resemble PC games, in that they require some ridiculous lengthy pre-install. Not XIII-2. It’s starting up all quick-like!
So, the opening cutscene. Director Motomu Toriyama’s name shows up and I cringe a bit. The 3rd Birthday, in which he had a large hand, was a harrowing experience. Some things are tough to shake off. And this game involves time travel, too, so my guard is up. Way up.
Okay, we see a dude putting a girl, presumably dead, into water. Shades of Final Fantasy VII here. The same dude also has the Soulcalibur apparently. His big sword has a big eye in it, I mean, what else could it be?
Theme Song: CHARICE. I don’t think this is the original theme song. The last game’s theme was replaced with “My Hands” by Leona Lewis. I don’t think it really fit what was going on in the game (not that I could explicitly tell what was going on in the game), and it was full of cheese. I don’t know why Square felt the need to switch out the better theme song for something else. They didn’t do that for “Melodies of Life” or “Suteki da ne”, right? I dunno, maybe it’s a licensing thing. And hey, I’m passing judgment on a song I didn’t even hear yet. Maybe it’s great!
OK, that was a neat intro. Full of oohs and aahs and all that anti-gravity goodness from Advent Children.
Oh, all right. We’re at the title screen. Pretty!
Hey, a Beginner’s Primer. It details what happened previously on Final Fantasy XIII! Maybe the story will make sense this time. Hm. Actually, this primer brings back fond memories of my early moments of the game. The beginning of the game was really good! We were thrown right into the action alongside characters with interesting motivations, primarily Lightning and Hope. There was great music in the Gapra Whitewood…
By Chapter 6 of this primer — about halfway through the game — I’m reminded just how little story there is stretched across FFXIII. It turned out to be a very poorly paced game. And Sazh’s threatened suicide was pretty silly. Oh, Jihl! That Baroness from G.I. Joe-looking girl was a wasted character. Nope, this primer didn’t help me. Things happened in that story, well, just because.
Time to start a new game. It detects my save data from FF XIII! It says there will be new extras and new goodies to find in-game. I wonder what they are?
WHOA. Autosave!? Save ANYWHERE? This is indeed a new and exciting universe.
Here’s the actual intro. Oh. It’s the same thing I watched before, only with dialogue. Guess I could’ve skipped that earlier intro movie. The SoulCalibur-swingin’ dude casts Meteor! Cool! He’s named Caius! And he TRANSFORMS! Whooaa. I’m grinning like an idiot now. And finally playing! I skip the tutorial and go into battle. It’s basic stuff, nothing complicated. I just Auto-battle and mash X until I win. I notice the great music and raise the volume.
Quick Time Events pop up and I roll my eyes a bit. They’re easy to pull off. I wonder what happens if I fail to do any, but I go through with them anyway. I miss the last one on purpose, but nothing seems to change, I still win. The characters’ acrobatics are very reminiscent of Advent Children.
Another battle in the air and again, it’s easy-peasy. It’s the very beginning of the game, so it gets a pass. There’s more cool-looking story stuff, but I have no idea who’s what or what’s going on. I know Lightning obviously, she’s there in Valhalla looking a lot like Lenneth from the Valkyrie Profile games: armor, feathers, exposed thighs and all. We meet Noel suddenly and Mog the moogle, who Lightning just kind of pulls out of nowhere. I like the contrast between super-serious Lightning and super-deformed cutesy Mog.
Lightning gives Noel his mission: take Mog, find Serah, bring her to Valhalla. Nice and simple. Noel’s a good sport and he takes the moogle and his mission and doesn’t ask any questions. Then a METEOR strikes! You want a FF7 remake? You got it right here!
More story stuff. We meet Serah and a few of those NORA losers from the last game. And I explore the first Final Fantasy town in HD. The seaside location’s pretty, and I really like the crystallized Cocoon in the distance, but exploring this first town is a bit underwhelming. Serah can jump, but she can’t jump anywhere cool even though there are plenty of spots that look jumpable. Houses? Can’t go in them except one! I wanna look around and explore! At least there are NPCs here. They’re very talkative and the voice acting’s pretty good so far. The music is fantastic so far. Granted I only heard maybe three or four tracks.
Eventually I get to fighting bad guys. It feels good. The battle system is very similar to Final Fantasy XIII except random encounters are back. Monsters just pop out of nowhere and then the Mog Clock counts down from green to yellow to red. Bash the bad guy while it’s green, you get boosts like Haste. Bash ‘em while it’s yellow, a normal battle occurs. Red: dead. Well, no, but you get debilitated somewhat.
I like the return of random battles. It keeps me on my toes and the Mog Clock reminds me of Persona 3‘s approach to engaging battles. Hit an enemy, you get initiative. The enemy hits you and they get the upper hand. Makes sense.
And what’s this? Does the game have a sense of humor?! As I make my way through the area outside the village, Gadot, the biggest NORA doof, shows up and acts all tough around Noel because he’s not from around there. A LIVE TRIGGER pops up. It’s a little dialogue event that stops the action and asks me how I want to respond. It gives me four choices. I ask Gadot “Aren’t you the boss?” and the big galoot acts all bashful and embarrassed and runs away. Fun, silly stuff.
I get up to the first real boss, a beast named Gogmagog that kind of resembles Anima from Final Fantasy X. It’s another easy victory. So far all battles have been. But hey. Beginning of the game.
So far, I’m liking Noel. He seems like a reasonable lad even though he’s from a bleak future. He’s not whining about anything and he’s all about business. I like how focused he is and he’s not brusque either. Serah, so far, has done little to annoy me. I approve of her new role as main character. It’s nice to have a leading lady who actually asks questions and seems interested in what’s going on instead of blindly following the orders of the men around her, and depending on LIVE TRIGGERS she can be as clueless or snarky as we please. She also wields a moogle that can turn into a bow-and-arrow and a sword at will. That’s cool.
Paradigms from Final Fantasy XIII return with a few tweaks. Now I can fine-tune them to target single enemies or wide swaths of them. I don’t find a reason to actually do that yet. The Crystarium returns as well, though it’s really different. Instead of a skill tree for each class — Ravager, Commander, Medic, etc. — there’s a single skill path for each character, so I can build Serah or Noel into any kind of class or mix of classes that I want. Spiffy!