Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pre-Emptive Strike: Final Fantasy XIII-2

You know, I really don’t consider myself very difficult to please when it comes to video games. I know what mediocrity is, but I tend to enjoy several games that many people hate. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I and Metroid: Other M, though they did receive fairly decent critical reviews, are both utterly despised by their respective series’ fanbases, and while I can admit that they have their flaws, I enjoyed both games a lot. And, for my money, Final Fantasy XIII is brilliant with a fantastic storyline and a great combat system. However, while I love Final Fantasy XIII, I can admit that the criticisms toward it are valid and I appreciated the fact that Square intended to address those criticisms in the direct sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2, which I decided to set aside sixty dollars to buy. However, after spending ten hours with it, well…let’s just say that my thoughts may surprise you.

(Yes, these are my impressions after only playing ten hours of the game, which is why I’m calling this a “pre-emptive strike” and not a proper “review”. Mainly, I’m not sure if I’m going to finish this game very soon since I have quite a few other games I want to play at the moment, so I wanted to go ahead and get my thoughts out there. If I finish the game and my thoughts change on anything, I will write an amended review.)


(The below paragraph contains spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII.)

The storyline of Final Fantasy XIII-2 focuses on Serah, the younger sister of the first game’s main character, Lightning. While Final Fantasy XIII ended on a high note, in XIII-2, a time paradox has caused Lightning to be written out of said ending and instead has caused her to be thrown into a battle with Caius to protect the goddess Etro. Serah, somehow, is the only one who remembers Lightning being in the ending, though everyone tells her it’s just a dream. Just in time, a boy from an apocalyptic future named Noel rides a giant meteor into Serah’s time with a shape-shifting Moogle in tow. Meanwhile, time paradoxes are rapidly occurring everywhere, and Serah and Noel set out on an epic time-traveling adventure to save the world.

Sigh…well, that’s the basic gist of it. Well, where to begin? How bout that it revolves around an obnoxious retcon to a perfectly good ending? I liked the ending to XIII and I thought it was a really satisfying conclusion! XIII-2 decides to take a gigantic dump on that. And then there are the characters. I thought XIII’s characters were great; I found the cast to be really likable and I enjoyed watching them interact and develop. In XIII-2, however, the only character I find even mildly interesting or likable is Noel. Serah is completely vapid and almost devoid of any sort of real personality. Almost all she does is whine and monologue about how she misses Lightning and wants to see her again. Heck, upon meeting back up with her fiancée, Snow, after not having seen him in over three years, she almost seems to not care. Then there’s your Moogle partner, Mog, who, let me just say, will have you running back to Navi in an instant. With every joyful shout of “kupo”, you can tell the game is absolutely BEGGING you to find him absolutely cuddly-wuddly adorable, but it just comes off as incredibly annoying and his voice doesn’t help either. Alyssa’s over-enthusiasm and general stupidity make it impossible for me to feel anything other than hatred for her, and finally – ugh – there’s Chocolina, the merchant who sells you things. Let me just say that this chick has to be one of the most utterly irritating, unnecessary, horribly written and downright awful characters in any JRPG ever. Even the sound of her voice is enough to set me off. Even aside from those flaws, the storyline so far just feels like it’s built on a collection of bad ideas that serve no purpose other than to make me roll my eyes.

But, of course, the storyline isn’t the most important aspect of a game. That would be the gameplay. But hey, you know what? They screwed that up, too. You know, I was fine with the linearity of XIII. I thought it worked from a storytelling perspective. That said, a lot of people hated it – a lot – and one of Square’s main goals for XIII-2 was to make a more exploration-oriented experience, and, well, while I suppose the game has some “exploration”, none of it feels substantial. The game’s areas from what I’ve played are either collections of straight lines, a single wide straight line with two or three areas branching off that lead to an item or two, or a needlessly large area with precious little to do in it. If someone at Square was feeling really crazy that day, you might actually be required to backtrack once or twice across this world of straight lines. Sorry, Square, but this is not exploration, nor is it at all fun.

Occasionally, you will be given a puzzle or an optional side quest to divert your attention, but these are just as laughably insubstantial as the environments. All of the puzzles so far have been laughably easy, essentially being “connect the dots” with a side of shape and color matching. I don’t know about anyone else, but I went to kindergarten and I don’t think I need Final Fantasy XIII-2 to put me through it again. Then there are the “side quests”, which are essentially tedious, boring fetch quests that make the Tears of Light quests from Twilight Princess look engaging. Yes, you could say that I’m judging these aspects too soon since I have only played ten hours, but hey, let’s be honest, that’s ten freaking hours! This game should really have picked up by now.

Oh, and another thing. Neither Final Fantasy XII nor XIII featured random encounters, which is something that I greatly appreciated. Final Fantasy XIII-2 brings them back. No, as a matter of fact, I am not kidding. Rather than there being a transition between traversing the overworld and fighting a battle, now enemies actually spawn on top of you. While this does give you more of a chance to get away, at the same time it happens a lot more frequently, is twice as obnoxious, and leads to much frustration when you’re trying to “explore”. On top of that, I just cannot for the life of me understand why. Why would you break what you just fixed? Why?! Oh, and there are no new enemies from XIII at all. They’re all exactly the same, right down to the design. Unnacceptable.

Heck, even the aesthetics of Final Fantasy XIII-2 seem worse than those of the first. The look of the game itself is almost on par with the first, but the framerate is completely, inexcusably choppy. And then there’s the soundtrack. XIII-2 offers a more vocal-based soundtrack than previous Final Fantasy games. I’m all for that, but unfortunately, very few of this game’s tracks are even listenable, and even the ones that are listenable aren’t very memorable.

Fortunately, not everything is terrible in Final Fantasy XIII-2. The battle system, much like it was in XIII, is still really fun. If you want an explanation as to how it works, you can check out my review of XIII, but anyway, it’s just as fun and fast-paced as it was before…well, in my opinion at least. A lot of people even hated the battle system of Final Fantasy XIII, so I have to say, if you weren’t a fan of it in the first place, I doubt you will care much for it here either. There have been some changes to it – namely, that you can switch your party leader (and the leader will automatically switch if the character you’re controlling dies) and it features quick time events, but I wouldn’t say that these changes are too substantial. In short, if you loved the battle system in the first game, you’ll love it here, but if not, XIII-2 won’t do anything to change your mind. Another positive aspect of XIII-2 is the Live Trigger, which allows you to choose exactly what a character says at certain points and I believe you can even get different items depending on your choices. It’s not too substantial, but I do enjoy it.

The Good:

+ Live Trigger is nice
+ Battle system is still fun

The Bad:

- Exploration is really insubstantial
- Puzzles are insultingly easy
- “Side quests” are just boring fetch quests
- Random encounters return
- Storyline and characters are awful


Yes, I’ll admit that it’s unfair to judge a game before I finish it, but I really did give it a chance, and if it takes more than ten hours for a game to become even passable…that’s pretty hard to forgive as well. I would have played more of it before writing this, but honestly, I’ve got much better games on my mind right now. Heck, I’m actually playing through and reviewing all of the games in the Kingdom Hearts series in honor of its tenth anniversary. If I do come back to the game and finish it, my thoughts may change, but these are my impressions for the moment.

Pre-Emptive Grade: D

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