I never thought I'd do it, but I did. I actually bought Final Fantasy XIII-2. Before release, this was one game that had nothing going right in my standards, with the combat mechanics being the only aspect of the game I like. The whole time travelling story, Pokemon-ish third character, and Serah (Lightning's younger sister) now taking the spotlight, it didn't strike me as a game I'd like to play. It reminded me of that other Final Fantasy sequel that to this day I have not bothered finishing. what pulled me into buying? I was itching for a JRPG, and with it now on a price cut, I gave it a shot.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 Hours In: 16 hrs Platform: Xbox 360
Final fantasy XIII-2 felt more like a big apology from Square Enix. The first game was criticized for it's very linear gameplay. An RPG that feels like you are on rails. No matter what, you are moving forward, and only after chapter 12 (towards the end of the game,which is 40 hours in) does the game open up for you to stretch your legs and actually explore. In the sequel, you have all the room you need. Thanks to the confusing time travelling plot, revisiting past locations are now possible, and there are missions and fragments to find to get distracted from the main story. This is how the first game should have been, minus the whole time traveling thing. I still prefer a world map with a sky ship waiting for me towards the end, but this will have to do.
The story is flat-out horrible 16 hours in. Again, time traveling being the main reason. Altering the future to change the past. That phrase alone will pretty much give you the gist of it, and as much as I want to give the narrative a chance, I just start scratching my head and ask why Square decided to make things so complicated. They have Gran Pulse - the open world in the game that has so much potential. Instead, they decided to have players time travel from the current timeline serah came from, all the way up to 300 years into the future, even more at times. The world of Final Fantasy XIII is fascinating, but Square again fails to capitalize on what they have created. It's like creating a masterpiece painting, and you decided to add just a few more touches to spice things up, but in the end, it ruined it.
BEST FINAL FANTASY COMBAT EVER
As expected, the combat is so far the saving grace to why I'm now past the 10 hour mark. The whole paradigm shift mechanic is back and faster than ever. This is easily my favorite game mechanic from all the Final fantasy series combined. Yes, it even beat's Final Fantasy 7's materia system for me. Shifting from paradigms (classes) after paradigms keeps the game intense. The crystarium(level up system) has been simplified, which is a negative, but is not bad that it ruins character progression and the overall fun. The pokemon aspect of the game, having monsters captured by Serah to fight alongside you, filling your third character slot, is actually a great addition. Since you can bring three monsters into battle, there's more character customization in this game. It's like you're worrying about the progress of 5 characters in a sense. Since you can capture any monster in the game, plus them having unique skills and roles, it keeps the combat fresh, since you get the urge to experiment with other monsters, hoping to find the best combination.
The soundtrack for the game so far is a bit subtle for my taste. It doesn't fit well with what's going on in a specific cutscene, even the battle music(which is really important in Final Fantasy games) fails to pump me during a battle. But those are tolerable, what I can't stand is the writing and the voice acting. That damn moogle that Serah uses as her weapon is the new vanille. Meaning, I hate him/her. The high pitch whenever he talks is annoying, and each sentence ends with a "kupo". You get the ability to throw moogle to unreachable treasure orbs, but I sometimes just throw him out of annoyance.
So far, despite the confusing time travelling story, and that damn moogle that I wish dies in the end, I'm enjoying myself. The combat keeps me entertained , and the ability to backtrack to explore new areas is a welcome change. Graphics of course what you'd expect from a Final Fantasy game, but there is inconsistencies. Compared to the 3D models of all the important characters in the game, the NPC's and the less important characters have less detail and less animations, suggesting a bit of rush in this project.
Another new addition that I consider as the worst thing to add in an RPG, especially a JRPG, is QTE(Quick Time Events). These occur during "intense" cutscenes, requiring the player to press whatever button appears on the screen on time to be successful in the fight. It's added to have the player more engaged during a scene, But in the end, it comes out unnecessary . It's easy button combinations, and gets old after the first few times you need to do it. But thankfully it's a rare addition. QTE's show up for your monster's feral rage, a unique ability. Again, the game is better off without it.
I'll continue playing this game. I'm planning to play it after I'm done with this actually. I'm glad that I decided to give this game a chance, but it makes me worry on the future of Square Enix's Final Fantasy series as a whole. It's a good JRPG fix so far, it even may come out better than the original, but it's definitely nowhere near the standards of past Final Fantasy games like FF 7, FF 9, or FF X. They love experimenting in each Final Fantasy game they release, I get that, but I think it's about time they slow down and look back at what worked in the past. Just my two cents.