Long ago, I was something of a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise. Not the earliest games, mind you, but from VII on. When it came time to buy a next generation console, one of the main pros for the PS3 side – aside from the Blu-Ray player, when no one knew how that little battle was going to turn out – was the promise of Final Fantasy XIII, which, it was expected, would only come out for Playstation. Still, other factors outweighed the Final Fantasy issue, so when I bought my 360, I never looked back and deliberately shut my ears to Final Fantasy XIII chatter.
…Until the other day. I was watching a show on Hulu, and one of the commercials was for Final Fantasy XIII-2. And it was available for 360. A quick Amazon search revealed that the first game was, too.
Guess my ears were closed a little too tightly. And I’ll bet you know what I’ve been up to the past few weeks.
In a way, though, it’s good that I waited so long – because now I can review Final Fantasy XIII-2 with the first still fresh in my mind! Now, I haven’t reached the very end of XIII-2, but I will soon. I’m trying to avoid major spoilers, so I’ll speak in as general terms as I can. The following categories are how the game ranks as compared to Final Fantasy XIII, so keep that game in mind as you read on (and if you haven’t played the original yet and want to remain unspoiled – this is not for you!).
In Final Fantasy XIII-2, the protagonist is a character we saw very little of in the original: Serah. On the one hand, this is genius: I felt like I wanted to know more about Serah as I played through the first game, and choosing her as the protagonist is both logical and a way to keep things fresh. In theory.
In practice, I couldn’t stand Serah. One of the things I liked about Final Fantasy XIII was that there were many competent, interesting female leads – even Vanille, as obnoxious as she could be. Serah felt like a giant step backward. She’s weak, she’s whiny, she’s not very bright. Apparently her biggest personality trait is that others feel compelled to protect her. Can you imagine anyone having to protect Lightning? Or Fang? Even Serah’s character screen is of her gazing adoringly at a male character. Barf.
On the other hand, even with Serah, I enjoyed the plot of Final Fantasy XIII-2 far more than the original. When I played the first game, I constantly felt like I must be losing some subtext through translation – or something, because the details of the plot just made my head hurt when I thought too hard about it. As I near the end of XIII-2, it’s beginning to suffer from a little unnecessary convolution, but for the most part it’s been an interesting time travel mystery that has been pretty easy to follow.
One aspect that I like about XII-2 is that they’ve added side games. Instead of alternating between fighting and cut scenes, there are side games that range from essential – puzzles to move on to the next stage – to just-for-fun ones like trivia games and Chocobo racing. Even navigating the game has become a little more interesting; you have options when you interview certain people (though the actual options could be improved), and cinematic actions are pretty neat and liven things up as well.
But the actual gameplay, once again, feels like a step back. Combat has been simplified; you don’t really require synergists or saboteurs anymore, though they’re there. Whereas in the original game you could strategize and avoid mobs, now it’s back to the old Final Fantasy “boo!” method of falling into combat you have to run away from. They seem to have some good ideas – like tweaking Paradigms – but they aren’t implemented very well. Similarly, I like the idea of using Mog to find hidden treasures, but they aren’t in satisfyingly hidden places.
Probably the biggest disappointment is the changes they’ve made to the Crystarium. It’s become less intuitive, less fun, and less satisfying. The addition of “pets” is a cute idea, but a poor substitute for several well-developed characters with well-developed powers.
Is it worth it?
Even with the negative aspects, it’s still an entertaining game. So should you get it? Well, if you really liked the Final Fantasy XIII universe, this is an intriguing follow-up that explores the world in unexpected ways. But it does definitely feel shorter, and though some familiar faces make an appearance, it’s not frequently enough for my taste. So if you like Final Fantasy, and FFXIII in particular, give this a look – but maybe wait for it to come down in price first.
What about you? Will you be playing XII-2? Have you already played it? Share your thoughts here!