Final Fantasy XIII-2 User Review
You, know, I've spent most of my life as an athlete above most other things. Mind you, the last few years I haven't exactly been MUCH of an athlete, what with the new "protective layer" covering my six-pack... (I swear it's in there somewhere!) But there was a time! ... ah but on to my real point...
I've had a large number of coaches over the years. I've had great coaches, good coaches, ok coaches, and bad coaches... I've had coaches that were excellent motivators, but terrible trainers. And I've had others that were terrible sport psychologists, but knew exactly what to look for and how to train. And then there was the question of whether or not they could make good decisions!
Excellent coaches are very hard to find. Rarely do you find a coach that can assess talent, motivate, and find flaws to shut them down and accent the strengths all at the same time! Sometimes, I've seen teams that should be championship contenders will lose because their coach wouldn't be able to take the full all-around approach... they can see the flaws that need fixing, but they aren't able to capitalize on what had previously been their strengths.
So... they end up shifting... Instead of adding new strengths, they fix their weaknesses and ignore the strengths to the point that weaknesses develop where there once was strength. In other words, they ping pong from one weakness/strength to the other.
In other words... it's -patchwork coaching-.
And -THAT- is the FFXIII series.
I've recently acquired all the paradox endings, and now all I need to do is do a little clean-up for the platinum trophy. (That silly 100 pre-emptive battles in a row one, for example) Before moving to the ratings, let me focus on the story, first.
You can find my FFXIII review here on the site for a comparison, if you like. I found the original to have a great overall story. However, it was hidden and harmed by two things: 1) The necessity to READ half the damn story in the archives, and 2) Terribly written dialogue and poor character development. Poor Lightning was a great character who was forced to recite countless one liners and mickey mouse answers. Character's primary development occurred in a single event for each one of them. Nothing over time... no history to found them... just the events where they go crazy and fight their Eidolons. That's it.
But FFXIII-2 was much better. Dialogues were more thought out, the characters, although fewer, were more interesting (I actually liked Hope this time), and their development took place over the course of the entire game! And the best part was that they grew as people as time went on, and they were forced to face inner demons. And not just once for 10 minutes, either. Over time. I ended up liking Noel and Serah better than the entire original cast, which is unfortunate, because Lightning should be an incredible character. (She deserves a better game)
However, the overall story was short and forced. Even with the immense amount of added side quests and modest amount of added exploration, the game is easily 30+ hours shorter. (At least my time to platinum will be.) And it's not like the extra paradox endings, save the secret ending, really add anything at all. They're literally just early endings, most of which serve little more purpose than comic relief.
They really improved a few things with story, but they also left behind some of what worked. And to be honest, I'm not sure which of the two were better in this regard.
There's again a lot of color in this entry, interesting character designs, nice environment effects, and well... overall it looks pretty good. But there is a definite decline in quality from the last. A real loss of gloss, so to speak. Pixels are more apparent, there is no CGI (which I felt added greatly to the original), human movement is less fluid, etc. The biggest gripe of all for me is the lack of various character designs. The only way to change your character's outfit, is to purchase DLC. I won't even start on how stupid that is...
The environments, if you think about it, lack real scale because every map is enclosed by either giant cliffs or buildings. Only the beach and the Steppe have horizons, and they are both across water. The original game had moments where I was subconsciously forced to stop and just move the camera around to look at the environment around me. I never had that with this title.
What is most disappointing is that there's only a small handful of maps that are all recycled over 3 or 4 different periods in time. Most of the time, the only difference was weather, too. This made everything really dull really quickly for me. I've read on the internet about people frustrated with how long it's taking them to pop the chocobo trophy for 10k steps on a chocobo. Mine came naturally because I no longer had anything to explore and it was just easier to get everywhere via chocobo!
Lord almighty, thank goodness for changing character's mid battle! No longer is the RAISE spell completely useless! Leader dies? No problem! No game over! You can RAISE! Why do I even have to praise that? It should be standard... but whatever... But you are -still- at a disadvantage if your lead dies.
The battle system is fairly similar. Instead of a third party member, however, you only have a monster. The bad part is you can only pick three. I feel this limits customizability beyond everything else. There's no need for 2 different synergists, or 2 different anything, really. And passive and active skills can be transferred by absorbing another monster. I like that you get different monsters as time goes on, but what I don't understand is why you can only pick 3 monsters to switch between each battle? Why not one for each class? Or whatever monster you feel like? In the last game, everyone had every class, although some had obvious strengths than others. But now... if you need a tortoise paradigm for a hard hitting boss move and a synergist with "en" spells... you're going to need to pick the last spot for the other 4 classes... but only one. So you can't have 3 ravagers AND 3 commandos depending on your need and strategy. So while I have more flexibility in choosing which of the two characters I want to control, I actually have less flexibility in my overall strategy.
And that is a massive flaw. All of a sudden, people are encouraged to use very similar strategies to each other. And that's lame.
The paradox anomalies are little puzzles to advance various points of the story line. I love puzzles, but this became so tired so fast. If you consider there are 3-5 puzzles per anomaly, 9 in each Oerba, and others in other places, there are easily over 100 puzzles. And the worst part is that there are only 3 types of puzzles. So the repetition is ridiculous. Having to go through all those again will literally prevent me from ever playing through the whole story ever again.
Quests are plentiful, but not ridiculously so. The last game had only the Ci'eth stones, but this one has variety. I like that! Some are fetch quests, some are search quests, some require trivia, some require defeating monsters... just good variety. This is something FFXIII needed.
I've already touched on the dialogue, but the voice acting was professional, believable and just really well done. Caius' voice was a little too "Joe Swanson" of Family Guy, for me, but still done well, never-the-less. Liam O'Brian is a decent voice actor who's done other voices I liked in the past, like Madoras in WKC or Kain in Dissidia, but I felt Caius wasn't well imagined. Everyone else was pretty great! Noel was the best acted, in my opinion.
The music score seems to be an improvement, as well. I really liked FFXIII's main theme, but lets face it... that song was done 100 different ways to comprise 70% of that game's soundtrack. FFXIII-2 has more diversity in it's music, has numerous battle themes, and even a variety of chocobo songs!
The sound effects in battle match the actions well, but there isn't much variety. Certainly nothing that really wow's you.
Control is fluid and simple. Characters don't do things you didn't intend, and the buttons are simplistic and easy to navigate through. Fortunately, you don't need to sit through a paradigm shift animation anymore while you get pounded, but even still, if your ally dies, you can quickly raise them. But if your leader dies, sometimes the game really lags in letting you finally take control of the second character, or even perform a shift. This fluidity needs to be improved. I mean, come on... there's 2 characters... I really don't need you to visually explain which character I've switched to while every other character fights on...
And I still can't give priorities to my fighters... My monster synergist has a bravega spell that I want it to cast FIRST... but I have to wait until it does every other buff it's got first... no way to change that priority. Same goes for the second character. I mean, come on, Serah... you've got the "Launch" ability, but 90% of the time, she just shoots an aarow at a staggered opponent instead of running up and launching it! AND THERE'S NO WAY TO GET HER TO DO OTHERWISE! ARG!
SE listened to the complaints of the leader dying, but they really didn't give any more control. While giving us the ability to choose which character to use, they removed complexity by limiting us to 3 monsters, and they still haven't allowed us to prioritize our teammates actions...
Well, you can get 60+ hours out of this game, which is great for single player experiences nowadays. But some annoying quirks make this tough to sit through a second time... those anomaly puzzles jump to mind...
Overall, this game, while improving on some areas, kept some of my biggest quirks on control, and left some of the last game's stronger points in the dust. With reduced graphical quality, gameplay improvements that are surrounded by new issues (although, it's improved gameplay overall, in my opinion), shorter and weaker story despite stronger character development and dialogue, and smaller and fewer landscapes despite the added freedom, I really don't see this game as a real improvement even after giving it a fair chance.
It's still not living up to the 90+ scores of former FF's, but it's a decent game in it's own right.
It's certainly no champion, but the two games combined have all it's needs to be great... Really, the problem is that SE simply can't get the whole picture together.
All that patchwork coaching just isn't paying off....
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.