Friday, 30 March 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2 - Review

It's not hard to argue that Final Fantasy XIII didn't need a sequel.  The story was nicely self contained, with all the major plot threads resolved by the close.  But Square Enix faced criticism from the hardcore, 'Too linear, too much hand holding, too serious,' they cried.  And so back to the drawing board they went, cooking up a twist on the original games ending to hook the fans back in and then looking again at how a Final Fantasy game should feel in 2012.

XIII-2 takes as many steps back as it takes forward.  It's an oddity in the FF franchise as for much of the game battles are no real challenge at all.  The brilliant Paradigm Shift mechanic is still present, indeed it's much faster to move between Paradigms, but you'll barely touch them during your normal play through.

You play as Serah, Lightning's sister, from XIII.  She and new character Noel (who sounds a bit like a young Tom Cruise) must travel through time in order to find and save Lightning who is trapped somewhere outside of time.  It's pure hokum, but somehow it works and the time travelling element, despite not making any sense at all, allows the producers to revisit areas in different eras.  It also, more importantly, allows for some freedom in how you tackle the game.

There's a lot to do here if you like your RPGs side quest laden.  If you preferred the straight forwardness of the first game you can apply that to the sequel and simply play through the story.  The developers have listened to the masses and put plenty of NPCs in with little speech bubbles above their head, vying for your attention and it sort of works to flesh the game out.  However it does distract from the story.

There seems to be a trend with Final Fantasy, from around X onwards, for the game to truly open up after it's finished. It's an odd way to do things but here it's done well.  Once completed you can go back, close areas and replay them, seeking out alternative endings.  It gives the title at least a further thirty hours of game play and there's already been a few DLC drops with additional content.

It's as beautiful as the previous game, Square, if nothing else, know how to make this generation of consoles sing.  The characters are likeable enough, even Mog the Moogle (a flying cat thing who ends every sentence with the work 'Kupo') avoids being grating by being useful.  Serah and Noel don't have the presence of Lightning though, who is much missed here as the lead.

Gameplay is much as you'd expect, random battles are back, but that's not a deal breaker and fights are simply stunning to watch as you hammer at the x button.  There's even a bit of platforming late on in one of the most visually arresting segments of the game.  There are plenty of puzzles of various different types, although nothing too taxing, which help to break up the game play.  Unusually you only ever have Serah and Noel in your party, the neat trick is the monster recruitment dynamic.  Catch a monster during battle and it can fight alongside you.  They can only play as one of the six possible roles but you can have three monsters in your Paradigm deck at any one time.  It should feel limiting, but it works brilliantly, especially as monster development is handled separately from character development.  Plus, of course, there's a the gotta catch them all thing, which will hook plenty of gamers.

The handholding, which lasted a good twenty hours in XIII, is gone but for the most part it just doesn't matter as you'll be walking through most fights with no problem.  It's actually a bit of a shock in the post game completion section when you have to start shifting Paradigms more regularly to overcome much tougher bosses.

Final Fantasy XIII ends on a bit of a bum note.  There's some emotional clout in the closing moments but because so little of it makes sense much of that is dissipated.  There's more to come from these characters though, that much is clear, either in the form of DLC or a further title.

If you played and enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII this is a must, if you've never touched a Final Fantasy title this is not the best introduction.
★★★☆☆