Rants and Raves: Final Fantasy XIII-2

Posted by on Aug 21, 2012 in Commentary |

I have to admit that I completely ignored Final Fantasy XIII-2 the moment I learned that Lightning wasn’t going to be the lead. I found her cold, no-nonsense attitude very appealing. She was strong, determined and hell-bent on completing her mission. Her demeanor was a refreshing change from the young, male protagonists from previous titles of the series. As if not having her as the main character wasn’t bad enough, she was replaced by her sister Serah, the damsel in distress whose purpose was to merely give Lightning somebody to rescue.

Why did I buy it? Because I couldn’t pass up on a premium title that was being sold at one-third of its price. So a couple of weeks ago I found myself the owner of Final Fantasy XIII-2. I had no idea how good it was going to be back then.

XIII-2 feels both new and familiar at the same time. Some things were fixed, some improved while others were completely fresh. One such improvement is characterization, which is a lot better compared to the original. Shifting from an ensemble cast to a duo makes it a lot easier to follow the story and their personal motivations. Not that the game has forgotten the cast from the original, of course. One of them, the one I hated the most, becomes actually likeable in the sequel, which was a pleasant surprise.

I’m obviously partial to Lightning so Serah will always fall short. She pulls off a good job of replacing her sister though, going from someone who needed to be rescued (okay, to be de-crystallized, if you want to be precise) to someone doing the rescuing. While I would’ve preferred a little more exposition on why she can suddenly fight, and she does so with a complex bow-sword hybrid weapon, it’s a forgivable hand-wave. Newcomer Noel Kreiss fits right in. He’s got a great voice actor, a convincing back story and a calm determination that will make you want to root for him. Mog the moogle, the aforementioned bow-sword, adds a bit of humor to the mix as the third cast member. He provides a needed light-hearted touch to the game’s serious atmosphere.

For a Final Fantasy game, the lack of a third party member is new to me. I haven’t played one that didn’t have at least three characters. Mog becomes Serah’s weapon so he doesn’t actually fill a slot during combat. That slot is occupied by a tamed monster that can be swapped at any time. While it may seem like a drastic change, it doesn’t have much of an impact until later on when it becomes evident that some monsters are better at their roles than others.

To explain, the game retains the on-the-fly class switching from the original, meaning that Serah and Noel can switch from Commando to Ravager to Medic any time you tell them to do so. Tamed monsters, on the other hand, have fixed classes. Sentinel monsters will always be Sentinels, but not Sentinels are the same. Knowing this makes it important to find out which monsters are better at their roles than others. In addition to that there’s also an infusion system where you can add abilities to your monster of choice.

Sounds like a lot of customization, right? I would’ve loved it if it wasn’t for one thing: it’s tedious. You’ll need a guide to find out which monster has what ability, then level that monster to unlock it. And you only get to do all that after knowing where to find the monsters in the first place. What makes the entire thing really frustrating is the loading. Some areas take more than a minute to load. That’s a lot of time to be looking at a loading screen these days.

Almost everything else after that is standard Final Fantasy fare. XIII-2 is a good improvement over the original but it naturally has its share of problems. Gameplay elements were refined, the introduction of monster party members was mostly a good move and the writing was very well done. I’m looking forward to the next installment, given the announcement of another sequel. Looks like Lightning’s taking the helm again. I certainly hope so.