Wednesday 15 February 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2 - 20 Hours In

Final Fantasy games were always pretty reliable: confusing story, random battles, hours of side quests, engrossing character development and Chocobos.  That was until the last iteration, Final Fantasy XIII came along and threw some babies out with the muddied bath water.  The gaming public did not approve.  Where were the side quests and the twee villages free from monsters but full of interactive NPCs?  Well they weren't there.  Instead there was a linear path through one brilliantly realised location after another and a battle system that didn't get going until you'd ploughed twenty hours into hitting the action button half a zillion times.

Story wise though, XIII was strong.  The best since FFIX and as engrossing as FFVII.  Personally I really enjoyed it and the way the game opened up after it finished was a great incentive to get to the end of the story and then really test yourself against some huge monsters in, y'know, hour long battles.  Maybe it was too westernised, too slick, but on lots of levels, if you had the patience, it was a great game.

Now I'm deep within the sequel.  It's set three years after the end of XIII, focusing on Lightning's sister Serah and new character Noel.  Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a time travelling mini opus with Lightning trapped in an unknown era and it's up to Serah and the her new companion (who's from the future) to find her.  Story wise it's lighter than FFXIII, but not as silly as FFX's sequel.  Graphically it's as breath taking as its predecessor and full of beautiful touches.  Rushing through areas is possible but more often than not you'll want to just stop and look.

Square have clearly listened to the gaming public and right from the off, after the quite stunning opening sequence, there are NPCs aplenty to chat to.  Some will even give you the odd fetch quest, or even send you off to kill a monster.  After Skyrim, initially at least, the freedom feels a bit superficial, but it doesn't take long for the cleverness of the time travel element to reveal itself.  Every time you complete an area in one time zone another is opened up.  Sometimes it's the same area in a different era or even the same area at the same time but with a different history.  Brilliantly you can close an area off and go back and play it all afresh again.  Apparently once the main story is completed this becomes a necessity to get a full complete.

The battle system borrows much from XIII, although randomness is back, but it is slicker and much faster.   There's masses of stuff going on while the battles take place and the ability to collect monsters and add them to your party is a nice, Pokemonesque, touch.  Levelling up is pretty simplistic and as per usual for the first hour you lament the changes made to the system from the previous game before realising that this is much much better after all.  Probably.

XIII-2 is going to do much to bring life back to the series even if the story feels like it is, at times, taking a back seat.  There's enough crowd pleasing elements, including Chocobo racing and gambling, to warm the heart of Sephiroth.

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