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Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PlayStation 3) review


"The most difficult thing about Final Fantasy XIII-2 is trying to figure out where you were up to. As this game’s narrative is completely fractured, and the characters are so bland, the game becomes very tiresome. "



Fool me once, shame on you.

I did not like Final Fantasy XIII. I can’t exactly remember what was going through my mind when I decided to purchase a heavily discounted copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Going into it, I knew it was going to be more of the same. But I was intrigued by the time travel plot – I love time travel. Back to the Future is one of my favourite films, Doctor Who is one of my favourite TV shows, and Chrono Trigger is one of Square’s early masterpieces.

The Square that created Chrono Trigger doesn’t exist anymore, so what we have is this mess, a direct sequel to a game that didn’t really need one. XIII-2 is as glossy and beautiful as its predecessor, but it has a lot of the same problems, such as poor writing, bland characterisation, and it the exact same battle system.

But the biggest problem is that Final Fantasy XIII-2 makes no sense.

The most interesting thing about time travel stories is that they usually show how a character from our time behaves in another time, whether that is the future or the past. And it can also be fun to see a character from the future or the past having some fun in our world. For this reason, most time travel stories take place in our world.

A time travel story set in a fictional world is a very difficult thing to pull off successfully, and Chrono Trigger is the only example that I can think of that manages this. It started with a typical fantasy world, and then let you explore that world in other times. It introduced you to likable and identifiable characters from different time zones, and the story was absolutely compelling as it took you to different times. Chrono Trigger did so much with its time travel premise, with various puzzles and story segments taking advantage of this, such as your robot party member spending four hundred years restoring a forest while the rest of the party travelled forward in time to pick him up.

Chrono Trigger made logical sense within the rules it defined for itself. Time travel is a fantasy/science fiction element that needs to have logical and consistent rules. This is why there is usually a character who is able to explain it to the other characters, and the audience. I am familiar with many different types of time travel stories, but I still can’t make much sense of Final Fantasy XIII-2. And yes, I have finished it. I have no idea what the hell happened.

I’ve read enough books, watched enough movies and TV shows, and played enough video games to understand just about any time travel concept thrown at me.

The game throws words like paradox and artefact around the entire time, and has this mantra “If you change the future, you change the past.” In a world saturated by time travel fiction, XIII-2 tries to create its own time travel rules, but not even the characters understand them. Eventually you need to stop asking questions and just go with it and try to enjoy the journey the characters undertake.

Which is difficult, as Square-Enix seems to have forgotten how to create memorable and iconic characters. Mercifully there are only two party members this time around. Serah is Lightning’s younger sister, a busty, yet improbably petite girl wearing a ridiculous fan-service attire (with additional, more revealing costumes available as paid DLC). She’s trying to reunite with her sister and eventually marry her fiancé, Snow. This is her primary motivation throughout the game. Her main goal in the narrative is to ask questions about time travel and solve the various problems that occur in the various time zones. She spent the majority of the first game as a crystal statue, and her characterisation here is only marginally more interesting this time around.

The male lead is Noel, a character so bland and generic that he doesn’t even manage to become annoying. He is essentially what happens when you take every male lead from every Final Fantasy game and run them through a blender, taking out anything unique and memorable. He is a do-gooder, he sometimes broods over his lost love, and they even threw in a little bit of amnesia so that he can only explain the plot in small increments. The most interesting thing about Noel is that he comes from the far future where he is the last human alive, but nothing about how he interacts with others really seems to suggest this. He’s actually quite well adjusted for the trauma the story tells us he’s been through.

Rounding out this cast is our bad guy, Caius. A tall, deep voiced man with flowing purple hair and an absurdly big sword, you just know he’s supposed to be Square-Enix’s attempt to create another villain as iconic as Sephiroth. Caius’s motivations are based around protecting an already messed up timeline. I don’t know. It doesn’t make a real lot of sense. His anger towards Noel doesn’t really hold up as the time travel aspects of this story don’t hold up either. He’s trying to protect a series of identical girls named Yeul that die whenever the time line is changed. Because she’s a seeress. I’m still not entirely clear on what the deal is with her.

And then of course there is Lightning, a character that is Square-Enix’s pride and joy. She resolved all her issues in the first game, so she just hangs around Valhalla, a place outside of time, and battles Caius in a flashy, yet somehow boring, opening cutscene, and does some story narration from time to time. At the end of the first game, she apparently disappeared to Valhalla, and Serah is the only one who actually knows that she’s gone; everyone else thinks she ended up in the crystal pillar that holds up Cocoon.

And that brings us to the world of this game. Cocoon and Gran Pulse (the planet beneath) are still just a series of disconnected places. In the first game you just let the story drag you from place to place without any real idea how the world fits together. In this game, now you’ve got disconnected locations scattered throughout time.

Serah and Noel just turn up in a particular time zone, walk around a bit, ask some questions and try to explain the plot to each other and to us, fight a bunch of enemies, talk to the locals, find out what paradox is making life difficult for them, and then they go fight a boss or two, try to find an artefact, find another time gate and its key, and then it’s off to the next place. Sometimes you’ll arrive in one place but can’t resolve the paradox until you go to another connected time zone to work out that paradox. Sometimes you’ll need to complete a puzzle mini game to resolve the paradox.

You basically just keep doing this until the game decides to end.

The most difficult thing about Final Fantasy XIII-2 is trying to figure out where you were up to. As this game’s narrative is completely fractured, and the characters are so bland, the game becomes very tiresome. For some reason, you’ll probably want to reach the end, but if you’re like me, it’ll take a long time to do that, with quite a lot of stopping and starting (sometimes for a month or more). When you load up the game, you’ll find yourself in the Historia Crux where you will need to select a time zone. You may have to jump around the time zones and wander around in each one until you encounter some cutscenes so you can find the story again.

When you load your save file, you will see a “previously” cutscene, like in a TV show. This one of the single best ideas I’ve ever seen in a game, and I hope it catches on. Unfortunately, it is completely useless as it just gives you a few abstract clips of dialogue that don’t really tell you much at all. It’s kind of like one of those 30 second teaser trailers that upcoming movies sometimes have. I’d love to see a version of this mechanic in future games that is not completely useless.

The battle system is lifted directly from Final Fantasy XIII, but with one exciting new addition: Quick Time Events! Yes, certain boss fights will include a cutscene where you quickly press or mash the button that appears on screen. I don’t actually know what happens if you fail a QTE in this game because it was pretty easy.

Since you only have two party members, both Noel and Serah will eventually be able to learn all six classes. Yes, they are exactly the same as last time: Commando (fighter), Sentinel (defender), Ravager (black mage), Medic (white mage), Saboteur (status ailments) and Synergist (status enhancements). A new feature in this game is the ability to capture monsters and train them. You choose a monster to be your third party member. Monsters will eventually reach a level cap so you’ll need to discard the weaker ones and replace them with better ones. I was half way through the game when I found a decent Medic monster, so I just kept him for the rest of the game and let Noel and Serah handle everything else.

Everything about this game is just so draining. This battle system requires basically zero input from the player for most random encounters. Occasionally you’ll need to paradigm shift if you need an extra healer or something. I can sort of understand why Square-Enix felt they needed to add some reflex based button pressing to boss fights, because otherwise it’d just be a cutscene of Noel and Serah jumping around, dodging and doing cool cinematic things that an RPG battle system doesn’t allow for.

If they were just normal cutscenes, they would be removing control from the player, which has been a major issue with a lot modern games. But there are still hours of cutscenes that you can’t control, so I’m not sure why they bothered.

Most cutscenes are just characters standing around talking. If the camera isn’t obviously succumbing to “male gaze” on Serah or any other scantily clad females on screen, it’s usually just a boring slow pan that abruptly shifts when another character starts talking. These scenes are constant, especially in the early hours of the game. Sometimes you can’t go two steps without another conversation scene.

Square-Enix included something else RPGs usually don’t have much use for – a jump button. This actually seems fairly innocuous until you reach the last dungeon, which is basically a huge labyrinth of moving block puzzles which requires platform jumping and occasionally falling into a bottomless pit. The final dungeon alone nearly stopped me from finishing this game, and I’ve heard it derailed other players, too.

But if you do reach the end of the game, you’re not rewarded with any sort of resolution or any epiphany that makes sense of the whole ordeal. No, you get a cliffhanger ending which leads into the next game in this damn series. Lightning may return, but I will not.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Rating: 3/10

jerec's avatar
Community review by jerec (August 17, 2014)

On very rare occasions, Jerec finds a game that inspires him to write stuff about. The rest of the time he just hangs around being sarcastic.

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Suskie posted August 18, 2014:

But I was intrigued by the time travel plot

I'm sorry, Jerec. I'm so, so sorry.
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jerec posted August 18, 2014:

One day I'm going to walk into a shop, see Lightning Returns for $10 or so, and my suffering will begin anew. I say I won't. But I know it'll happen.

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