on 17 June 2012
Final Fantasy XIII may have been a success story considering a meteoric selling record (the fastest selling title in the FF series) but in my eyes it was disappointing and not in-keeping with the quality of games now passed - with composer Nobuo Uematsu no longer writing the themes that made games and its contents so memorable, characters becoming increasingly corny in appearance as well as personality and worlds becoming linear with limited freedom. That said, XIII did have its positives in ever improving graphics and still loveable characters and plot-lines. Consequently, I believe that if gamers knew what they were getting into, there would be serious doubt over the number of copies sold - The revelation that this was the first Final Fantasy to appear on a seventh generation console (the past 3 being available on PS2 & PC) and having avid gamers wait for the next installment a lengthy 4 years - Clearly played a part in the surge of sales. Despite mixed reviews and anticipation for the next story, Square-Enix announced a sequel to the vast bemoaning veteren fan-base. I'm glad to say that I waited patiently until the price dropped and I bagged a bargain on an eBay Auction for a lowly £7.13 (P&P £2.50), brand new. After being barely satisfied with FFXIII, my acquirement of its sequel was more due to my fondness for the series, a diligent duty to possess and complete all the franchise has to offer, albeit reluctantly.
It's always difficult to regale others with the entrancing stories of the Final Fantasy universe without spoiling any of the story checkpoints or surprises. However 13-2 offers less surprise and more predictability thanks to obvious character tells and a trippy storyline. It happened.. they finally hit the low note of going so over the top that they mess with time travel. True, FF's have always been OTT (and considering the word 'Fantasy' in the title) but they always had some degree of realism that made characters relatable and the world intriguing. Just when you thought 'They must of had a really good idea for the need to make a sequel' they prove to be either insane or milking yet another title (see FF7 & FF10). It takes place after the events of the first game, with the main character being the sister of the 13's main role. This time you control Serah, the younger, more interesting, realistic of the two sisters, suffering from random visuals and confusion of the events in the past. With 13's emotionless, ice queen, mary sue protagonist Lightning gone (hooray!) Serah goes in search to find her (boo!). 'Lightning' or Claire as I prefer to call her (the reasoning behind her nickname is just silly) is seen in stunning FMV sequences, fighting an unknown, purple clothed, eccentric looking man. In a darkened world of ruins, the two spar in cinematic style - special effects running wild as always, you get to take minimal control during a fight scene (pressing the correct sequence of buttons in time) which is surprisingly enjoyable as you watch the repercussions of attacks both hit and missed, unfold. When the videos come to an end, a young man named Noel is sent on a voyage through time, riding a meteor to the past.. mental. As he acquaints himself with a distressed Serah and her crew of oddballs taking on monsters spread by the meteor, we learn that he is from a future where he is the last born, the last hope to rekindle the civilisation of mankind. Cue all sorts of explaining and devotion to a cause. The two set out to go forward and back in time through a 'Historia Crux' (a portal) which are operated by finding artefacts spread across the regions, closing the 'paradox's' and inevitably finding Claire and preventing the future from which Noel is the end of all life.
As gamers with the experience of the first game will expect, you take control of one of the two characters with a 3rd person view as you stroll around areas with the odd sub-route, shortcut or secret location. As you inspect your glorious high definition surroundings of Gran Pulse, you are interrupted by spawned enemies almost every 30 seconds - which you can manage to escape from before initiating combat (you can run and jump away to avoid them and must reach an safe distance to avoid automatic battles). You can strike out at enemies swiftly to gain a 'preemptive' advantage or lose the option of retrying should you attempt an escape and fail - this makes some of your cowardice punishable - something that I found exciting as the game is still stupidly easy (I played on Normal mode as apposed to Casual or Hard). As battle commences, an ATP gage fills up as you que a number of attacks to execute - the stronger/better the combos, the quicker the 'Stagger' gage rises on the enemy where you can deal far greater damage. Thanks to the Crystarium system of advancing in level and stats, you gain new moves and health points when you spend EXP points in the pre mapped board of crystals. This means you progress essentially how the makers want you to. The real option for the gamer is which trait to improve on such as commander, ravager (mage), medic, sentinel, synergist, or saboteur. You can still create your own 'Paradigms' to alter and succeed in battle, but most of the time you can get the best result as a mage and soldier, spamming the the A button for 'auto attack'. This is what makes 13 and -2, so damn dull. Sure you can choose to select the attacks yourself but when the game rewards such apathy, you're better off doing as you are told. Yes, the visuals are impressive the first couple of times as you watch your two man army launch into the air and chop away at a dancing bird wearing a poncho. There are only so many times you can sit and watch the same thing over and over again just to level up your characters - its a boring grind fest with unrelenting rewards. When scouting out new areas, you are charged with the task of finding the 'paradoxes' which you must close to reveal more of the map and progress (connect the dots, mazes). These include simple mini games which are a relief if you are losing patience with a slow paced jog. Half the time though you spend on watching redundant conversations drag on, either explaining the situation or spouting hormonal trash.
[Differences & Improvements over FFXIII]
1 Disc! - As I carefully peeled the shrink-wrap and opened my sleek and shiny new case I was considerably astonished that the game appeared on just one disc. Its predecessor came on 3 (understandable with so many cutscenes) and this made me think that perhaps it would be a shorter tale - though this was disproved when I found out the the logic behind it was that the cutscenes in 13-2 are all in-game and not separated files. Although I remain sceptical (not because of the quantity but quality of the game). Recaps - Upon loading up the game and continuing on your adventure, during loading times you are greeted with a short segment of the latest events occurred in your last few sessions. This is a stylish and helpful addition as it reminds you of whatever you may have forgotten or sheds insight on to what your current task is. Decisions & Consequences - Taking on board a system made famous by the Mass Effect games, you are now prompted to select 1 of 4 sets of dialogue to either fathom some more information or make correct or off topic assumptions. In conversations it doesn't really make a difference (other than gain small gifts for making the right choice) but you soon obtain the ability to change the future and retry if it doesn't all go your way as your decisions have specific consequences. Capturing Monsters - Since you only have 2 solid people to control on your travels, a new capture system has been engineered. On occasion you can acquire certain monsters by obtaining their crystal after battles (actually its a bit like Poke'mon:) Different monsters have different roles (com,rav,syn,sab,sen,med) and have several stages to advance in (also in the Crystarium) and do this by acquiring related items which can be bought from the lunatic 'Chocolina' - She is the sole opportunity to buy and sell items at several points in the game and is pretty much exactly like the shops in 13 combined into one that advances as you do. Maps - The locations are similar in appearance to 13 because they are set on Gran Pulse, however they do on occasion offer separate avenues to roam which 13 lack - but in honesty, as good as some background drops look, the places you're in contact with are just hollow, unmemorable rooms.
Conversations - The reason why so many choose to avoid RPG's altogether, these gossip sessions are so overdone its just unnecessary. Just like 13, you not only get drawn out explanations of your situation but also endless whinging about the future, present, past, and waaaaah I want my sister back waaaaah!!! This is no exaggeration, after nearly all long-winded chats you get a short speech or the inner thoughts of Serah swearing to find Lightning, wondering whether she can find her, wondering where she is, why she's there, blah blah blah. It could be my undying detest of 13s main maiden Lightning talking, because she is an empty pink vase, but the reasons for her disappearance since the end of the first installment and her unexplainable invincibility, makes her role an annoying one, especially as the only person who likes Lightning is of her own blood - so she has to like her. No eidolons - The summons have always been involved and some times played an integral part (FF8,9 & 10) and although they were just whimsical silliness and scapegoats for characters backlogs in 13, removing them just seems wrong. No Teammates - Again, like the summons, gathering and recruiting people was a strong driving force to keep going as new people add to the story, gameplay and dialogue. This in my opinion is why conversations run dry and the plot seems so shallow, because instead of hearing alternative viewpoints and reasoning, people just bumble over the same crap you just heard 10 minutes ago, this time with added emphasis on finding Lightning oooh. OTT - in the past games, you'd encounter situations relative to life as well as the escapades only found in stories. People and places have eccentric twists on clothing and environments but still bear sense, however in the latest games, the people in particular look dodgey in bright jumpsuits and the fabled 'anime hairstyles' that defy gravity.. Attacks have light-beams flying out of appendages and form symbols in the sky, people with the frame of a malnourished child can smack a dragon into the sky.
[Soundtrack & Voice Acting]
The music is something 13-2 has on its mother because it is actually noticeable thanks to far more inclusion of vocals in songs which smoothly adapt to dithering situations, for example you can be walking along a serene beach then get chased down by wolves as the music picks up tempo and more intensity. The vocals are fairly subdued and don't dominate every song which is a plus because although it was only the ending song of 13 that featured an out of place Leona Lewis bellowing out inappropriateness, it spoiled an already mediocre end to an equally tame game. It in no way compares to Uematsu's inspiring songs, it couldn't, but it does make up for the stomach gurgling noises dubbed a soundtrack from 13. The 3 new characters of Noel, Yuel and Caius are a mixed bag. Noel struck a chord with me instantly as he had decent lines and seemed a genuinely realistic character (even though he's from a distant future) His voice is recognisable in minutes to those familiar with subjects close to heart (the voice actor played Haku in Studio Ghibli's 'Spirited Away' rather poorly but does a stellar job here). Not much light can be shed on Yuel as her role is rather secretive as a seeress who sees a resemblance of herself and Serah. Thanks to the epic battle introduction, you have some idea of who Caius is - a feathered weirdo who can turn into a dragon beast thing and summon elemental madness.
For me, the most annoying thing about this game is that after every significant exchange of words, Serah's thoughts act as a follow up to what has been said and just repeat what is already known, bulking up cutscenes for furiously long time spent listening to an overemotional bint. Now I know that the Final Fantasy's are supposed to be 'out there' as they are a good form of escapism from ordinary boring lifestyles. But the direction in which these newer games are going is depressing. Its all about graphics, intense conversations and ease of play instead of memorable environments, complex characters and a suitable difficulty that actually provides a challenge. In my slightly youthful opinion, the last FF title that lives up to the traditions and brilliance of the series was FF10 - when they introduced voice acting but shamefully took away the travelling through world maps. Perhaps it was the beginning of the end for classic gaming as combat and exploration is no longer controllable but forcibly provided. Characters have become extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to personalities - they are either a wimpy pathetic moaning loser or an angry indestructible mary sue - No one is in the middle anymore. So even though there are elements that have worked well in 13-2, I still question the intentions behind its release.. did they have left over plot lines, locations and ideas? Could they not be bothered to start from scratch with a new story and system? With this games ending and online forums awash with talk of an impending FF13-3... the answer becomes obvious.