Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review
Let’s try this again, Kupo.
Another frequent complaint was regarding the Crystarium being a stiff and uninspired levelling-up system. Square have improved on that too and while it’s still far from their best, the minor tweaks have gone a long way to appeasing the level-grinders. For example, distributing CP (Crystarium Points, the game’s XP equivalent) across roles has become more manageable and more strategically significant when developing your characters. In addition to skills and abilities obtained from developing the Crystarium, there is now also additional skills known as fragment skills. These skills are often non-battle active and passive abilities that are obtained from an NPC as the player collects fragments. Such abilities include haggling skills that gets you higher Gil return per item sold or the ability to glide for a short while after jumping, for example. Finally, and perhaps XIII-2’s biggest addition, there is monster collection.
While this may sound like a Pokémon-ish trading card gimmick, it may very well be FFXIII-2’s primary source of gameplay depth. Before I explain the system, I must point out that XIII-2 is a ‘duet’ as far as playable characters are concerned. Your party is Noel, Serah and Mog (whom actually transforms into Serah’s weapon and is not really a playable character). In addition, there are no summons (or eidolons) in the classic sense. The monster collection system is designed to compensate for these omissions and technically does so in a convincing manner. Upon defeating monsters, there is a chance to obtain that specific monster’s crystal, adding it to your collection. Each monster has a specific role – for example a Nekton is a Ravager, a Hoplite is a Commando, A Cait Sith is a Medic and so on. Monster can be individually levelled-up by consuming items, unlocking skill that can be sued in battle. You can equip 3 monsters at a time in your paradigm pack allowing you to strategically customize the paradigms you’ll be shifting between in battle. So, in some respect, your party can potentially be massive, made up of Noel, Serah and a variety of critters, behemoths and robots. You can also name monsters or infuse them to transfer skills…in fact everything about the monster collection system is designed to make roaming through FFXIII-2 a highly addictive experience, and it works to great effect as well.
When I mentioned that the absence of party members and summons was technically covered with the introduction of the monster collecting mechanic, Square Enix may have underestimated the emotional impact on FF fans. While the game is thoroughly enjoyable and, in some ways, a return to form, it falls short of feeling like an authentic Final Fantasy experience. They may have added Chocobo races and other mini-games, they may have put Mog in the limelight once again, but too much of the game is disjointed, seeming almost like a patchwork of ideas at times. They’ve introduced cinematic actions (QTEs) and multiple-choice dialogue options in an attempt to learn from popular Western genres like God of War and Mass Effect, but in doing so, have treaded away from their own rich heritage. That said, FF XIII-2 does at times seem partially inspired from Kingdom Hearts, another beloved Square series, but a little more focus and coherence may have benefitted the game immensely.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is visually beautiful. Not as impressive as XIII was when released, but there is very little to complain about. Their design choices however are a bit a hit or miss. Caius is an interesting villain but Chocolina (the omnipresent store vendor) is a potent dose of vexation, leaving you feeling unnaturally homicidal. On a personal level, the one thing that bothered me most throughout the game – the knife in my back, so to speak, was the soundtrack. Having grown up to enchanting Final Fantasy tunes that constitute some of the greatest video game music of all time, I have certain musical expectations. XIII-2 not only fails to meet these expectations but does so with gusto and can be downright offensive to the ear at times. There are exceptions but not enough to redeem a truly pitiful soundtrack. Even if Nobou Uematsu wasn’t available (as I am assuming was the case), Square Enix has plenty of fantastic composers that should be able to put together a better score in their sleep.
With everything that has been said, I just want to clarify my position. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a enjoyable and entertaining game that proves Square Enix is not down and out. However, it puts fans of the series in an awkward position, intriguing us enough to play through the game but constantly reminding us of its inadequacies. As we endure endless amounts of nonsensical dialogue and disastrous music, it becomes crystal clear that this is not the Square Enix revival we’ve been yearning for.