Previously on The Final Fantasy XIII-2 Diaries!
Noel, a boy from the future has to get main character Serah, Lightning’s younger sister, to Valhalla via time warp gates! A moogle with a fat head named Mog accompanies them! The Paradigm Shift battle system from Final Fantasy XIII returns with a few tweaks, random encounters with weak monsters happen, and I’m pleasantly surprised by just about everything so far!
Still not sure how QTEs are supposed to improve the game, but maybe we’ll find out today.
After I load up my save file I’m treated to a… oh, what do you know? It’s a “Previously on Final Fantasy XIII-2!” montage complete with TV-style flashcuts and voice clips of a few scenes I’ve seen before. I always appreciate recaps like this, it’s nice to see XIII-2 do it a brief, fun manner.
After a long load time I’m back in. Looks like Gogmagog is back and he brought grating metal music with him. The music in this game’s pretty weird. It fluctuates between great and not so great at the drop of a chapeau. I dispatch Gogmagog easily then look in the menu for HARD mode. Yes, in Final Fantasy XIII-2 you can toggle between NORMAL and EASY mode whenever you like, but there’s no HARD mode! I wish Square had gone to The World Ends With You for inspiration when it comes to difficulty. In that game you can switch difficulty at any time between Easy, Normal, Hard and Ultimate, though I think Hard and Ultimate modes have to be unlocked. If Hard Mode turns out to be DLC of all things I’m calling an open season on moogles.
After Gogmagog, I come across the game’s first chocobo! I actually shake my fists with glee in a goofy manner. Oh, gosh. I didn’t mean to do that. It was an automatic response, like a reflex. Anyway, I need Gysahl Greens to ride this bad boy… do I have any? What luck! A treasure sphere with gysahl greens inside. I remember I took on a sidequest to find a missing medkit at the village, so I hop on the chocobo and ride back expecting that (in)famous CRAZY CHOCOBO metal music. I’m treated to a light nimble version of the trademark chocobo tune instead. It kind of sounds like Sonic CD music, so I must like it.
I’m surprised I can take the big bird into the village. NPCs are impressed by it. They all go “He’s a grand one! He’s huge! Wow, a chocobo!” I know, I know, peasant NPCs. Hands off, now. I can even go in the house with it! What a different game this is than FFXIII. Then I realize, this being a time travel game and all, the medkit is probably in another time or something. Having used one gysahl green already, I tread back to the gate to continue my quest to Valhalla.
Once I get to the gate some dopey conversation with the NORA jerks occurs. Turns out they all did heartwarming stuff for Serah without her knowing. How sweet. I could do without this anime-lite stuff — oh look I can see Lebreau’s panties — but hey. The voice acting’s great, I just wish the writing was a lot better.
Speaking of voice acting, Noel’s far and away the best one of the lot. A lot of actors make pauses and chew on their lines, but all of Noel’s dialogue has a good clip to it. Though a lot of the stuff he says can be super-serious or solemn he never goes in that obvious direction.
OK, let’s enter the gate! Noel and Serah appear in the HISTORIA CRUX, what I assume is now the game’s main hub.
I just talked about how much I like Noel, but how does he know all this stuff about time gates and the Historia Crux? Did Lightning tell him?
OK, looks like the Historia Crux is an interface that allows backtracking to previous areas. Shame it’s got such goofy music playing in the background. A lot of these songs would be better without the vocals. The singer’s just yelling “TIME AND SPACE TIME AND SPACE…!” Oh cool, I can enter the Historia Crux from the PAUSE menu? Now that’s nice.
K, let’s go to Bresha Ruins. Oh hey, it’s the area from the demo! Atlas, a big giant that’s in some weird time-distorted semi-invisible state, attacks. “Guess that arm doesn’t wanna shake hands!” Noel snarks. That boy’s all right.
Here the game introduces Wounding Attacks that reduce maximum HP. Wounds cannot be healed by normal potions. Gonna need Wound Potions for that. OK, so this is where the game gets difficult right?
There’s more weird battle music with Engrish vocals… gahhh.
I wonder why Atlas’ stagger bar isn’t going up even though I’m going all-out Ravager on him. Crap, I forgot to use all those Crystarium Points from the last boss fight, I’m probably underleveled. Oh right, it doesn’t matter, this is a QTE battle. I really hope all big boss battles aren’t like this. The cavalry comes in, I press Triangle a bunch of times, we win. I get a Cinematic Bonus item: Silver Gear. Could it be some kind of monster dress-up material?
After the fight, Serah and Noel end up in jail! Full disclosure: That last sentence was almost “Sorah ends up in jail!” Could Noel and Serah, combined, be Sora from Kingdom Hearts? Time travel, distorted dimensions, other worlds — it could make sense. About as much sense as the rest of the Kingdom Hearts canon. Maybe they’re Sora’s Heartless/Nobody/Unknown/Gall Bladder.
OK, more Live Trigger stuff. I get a chance to be a jerk to a prison guard and I take it.
Then a Samus Aran from Other M type shows up. Dr. Hotpants trips over her own feet, gets us out of jail with a lot of smooth-talkin’, then I’m free to walk around. Turns out Samus/Dr. Hotpants is named Alyssa and she runs away even though she’s my objective. That’s cool, I can just like… explore and stuff. Like an RPG! I expand my Crystarium, learn some spells, open the Synergist and Saboteur roles… This game’s coming together OK.
At this point I take a break to let my PS3 cool down some… Sony products, y’know?
I turn the game on again and there’s UPDATE DATA?! Ooh! I let the game update and DLC is accessible now! Except… there’s nothing to download yet. Huh. Back to the main game.
I explore Bresha, find some treasure spheres, and talk to some NPCs. I appreciate the details in the game, but these guys are just repeating stuff I already know. And lot of them repeat stuff I’ve heard before… hrm. No side quests yet. CHOCOLINA appears and oh man, her voice… it’s peppy all right. I buy some items and new weapons from the bird woman and bid adieu to her chirpy enthusiasm. Best thing about her: all the inevitable cosplaying.
I talk to Alyssa. Noel gets tricksy with her and convinces her fighting Atlas is a good idea. As if that wasn’t the only option! I venture forth and the MONSTER CATCHING part of the game gets introduced! Catching them is as easy as defeating them it seems. I can then slot them in as the third party member. Cait Sith (don’t expect a Final Fantasy VII cameo) becomes my medic while… some other mechanical doodad becomes my new Ravager.
The game lays a lot of new tutorial stuff on me that all goes into the DATALOG in the main menu. The Datalog is a lot like the one from XIII and it has the same glaring fault: there’s still no Mark All as Read option for all the new unread entries. If I want to get rid of all those glaring exclamation points I have to access each unread entry individually. I guess after researching all those Western RPGs to see how they can fix Final Fantasy they missed this one little thing. It’s little, yeah, it but sure is convenient.
Besides that though, the game’s coming together much faster than XIII. Only a few hours in and there’s already so much to do.
As I go through the ruins, digging the music all the way (no vocals!), I come across Chester the soldier who gives me a sidequest to defeat a C’ieth monster. The C’ieth are humans who got turned into monsters by the Fal’cie, the gods of Cocoon Lightning and the gang defeated in the previous game. The more you know. Yup, this is the demo we all played not too long ago. Mog can now uncover hidden treasure chests using his little bobble thing. NPCs are talkity and have opinions about things. Personality and world-building appears to be back.
I get through the dungeon, kill the C’eith, get another side quest to find experimental drugs (?!) and catch more monsters. This is… this is almost like a game! I can dress up my new monster companions with items I find, like that Silver Gear I got before. I put a newsboy cap on a monster and it covers his entire head. This… is adorable.
After a few more Live Trigger events and battles I get to a thing that’s supposed to help me defeat Atlas. I access it and it warps me to some other plane of existence where I have to solve a simple puzzle by walking on panels. I have the option to retry it if I mess up, or to quit altogether. I solve it because 1.) it’s simple and b.) I get a reward.
Solving the puzzle weakens Atlas somehow, so I go beat him up and almost have a tough time doing it because of all the wounding damage he inflicts. More QTE nonsense occurs and I still wonder what will happen if I fail them. I should find out the next time.
With Atlas defeated, Alyssa shows up and some sappy story stuff takes place. It’s not awful as I expect, it’s actually kind of depressing when you think about it. I notice the cutscene direction is far, far better this time around with actual blocking in the frame, gestures the characters make and camera movement beyond Having It Sit There.
Final Fantasy, there’s hope for you yet!