Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Final Fantasy XIII Series (Part 2 of 3)

After revisiting Final Fantasy XIII for the review, I've gained a newfound appreciation for it. Yeah, there were things that I felt were done wrong, but there also things that were done right. And with the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII-2, I had high hopes that Square-Enix would take some of the fans' disapproval of the original into consideration and make improvements. But then again, I'm a sucker for anything with the Final Fantasy label on it.

Note that since this is the second of a three part review, there will obviously be spoilers of Final Fantasy XIII in this review. If you haven't checked out my review for that, check it out here:  Final Fantasy XIII

Now before I played this, I was prepared for the worst. Whenever I hear the words "Time Travel" as a theme for a movie, video game, etc., I automatically cringe. There have been few times when time travel has been done right, when a time traveler's ability to do so is well defined, and the rules of causality play a heavy role into the narrative. Knowing this, I braced myself and dove right in. 

When first starting the game, you're greeted with a pretty cool opening cinematic that transitions beautifully into a battle between our heroine Lightning and the villain Caius Ballad. While it does an amazing job of setting the stage, I was disappointed that Lightning wasn't the main character this time around. That honor is given to Serah, Lightning's younger sister. Three years after Lightning and her friends united the world in the original game, she mysteriously disappears. It's up to Serah to traverse time and space for her older sister with the help of the mysterious Noel Kreiss. I had my doubts about Serah in the beginning because, well, she's not Lightning. But, as the story progressed, she kind of grew on me. She's got much more spunk than you'd expect, and she's not some helpless girl either. Noel, on the other hand, is kind of bland. He has even less of a personality than the average protagonist. As our villain, Caius is pretty cool. I love bad guys that have a human side, instead of the cliched "I want to destroy the world because I'm the bad guy." He actually has a purpose, in the form of another character, Yeul. She's a seeress, with a fatal curse, and Caius isn't cool with that. The original FFXIII characters, Snow, Hope, Fang and Vanille make a return as well.

The main cast, looking totally badass. From left to right: Yeul, Serah, Noel, Lightning and Caius.

I came to like the Paradigm Shift battle system from XIII, and it makes a return, although it is tweaked a bit. You can now change your party leader, and the game isn't over when the party leader dies. Throughout the entirety of the story, you'll be playing as Serah and Noel, but a third slot is open for monsters. Yes, in this game there is a monster catching mechanic, and it it's as addictive as you think. You can boost their stats, and you can change their appearance as well. Speaking of boosting stats, the Crystarium System returns, and it's thankfully not a limited or tier-based, as it acts more like a true leveling system. Another addition to XIII-2 comes in the form of "Cinematic Actions," which are basically quick-time events, but I felt that the battles are already theatrical enough without them. Then there's the time travel element. Plotholes aside, the results of your actions in FFXIII-2 feel unrewarding, and just come off as messy. I can understand actions in the past changing the future, but the other way around? 99% of the time, altering the timeline affected major characters, but did nothing to affect other NPCs. It seems the only way to enjoy a happy future in XIII-2 is to have been lucky enough to have been born with a unique character model. Which brings me to the ending, or endings, seeing as how there were eight. Some were better than others, but the "To be continued" at the end seemed like sort of a cop out.

A "Cinematic Action" action, lol

While I played this game, one thing always stuck with me. The music. The soundtrack was awesome, and my favorite, "Crazy Chocobo", is flat out hilarious. Performed by Shootie HG, this song matches the situation perfectly, as you're literally riding a chocobo (The series signature rideable ostrich?) that makes you wonder if it really came from hell, haha. It was a lighthearted take on the classic chocobo theme, and I believe we need more parodies like this. Here, give it a listen:

One major improvement over it's predecessor was amount of things to be done on this game. I spend most of my time collecting Fragments, the games's collectibles and references of lore. One thing I can say I hated about collecting them was Serendipity, the game's casino of sorts. Complete with slot machines, card games, and chocobo racing, you can literally waste hours of game time here. I warn you now, the quizzes will really test your knowledge, as well as test your patience with complete random questions (head or tails? really?). I felt like it could've been more fun, but I digress. The "real" ending has to be bought via DLC, which I really hate because it seems to me like I got an unfinished game. I eventually gave it and bought it, for the sole reason that Lightning was a recruitable character, as well as the fact that Serendipity became a little more tolerable with Sazh around. Other than that, the DLC expands the already short and easy game, so I'm not really complaining.

Generally I feel the game is an "okay" sequel, albeit a fun one. I suspect people's appetite for and reaction to XIII-2 has largely been weighed down by their distaste of the first one, but I have to say that I like the original better. While the game was decent, it seemed to sacrifice the story for other improvements, and the ending left a pretty bad taste in my mouth afterwards...maybe because I felt that this game was unnecessary. I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone other than people who are interested in the XIII storyline, as anyone else probably wouldn't appreciate the liberties it took over the original.

But I wondered, will the third game redeem the trilogy? Or will it sink like a paperweight in the deep depths of bad games? Find out here: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

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