Game Play: ‘XIII-2’ not new but improved

If you ever played “Final Fantasy X-2”, Square-Enix’s first direct sequel, there’s a good chance you had a great deal of trepidation and nausea when they announced they’d be giving the same treatment to “Final Fantasy XIII.”

Fear not.

“Final Fantasy XIII-2” manages to do a lot of things right and in many ways improves upon its predecessor, however there are still a number of problems that prevent the game from reaching its full potential.

The story picks up three years after the events of “Final Fantasy XIII,” except instead of playing as the former game’s heroine, Lightning, players will take control of her sister Serah and newcomer Noel, a time traveller from the future.

Together Serah and Noel spend the course of the game traversing multiple timelines in an attempt to save Lightning who is lost in a world outside time.

While I found “Final Fantasy XIII” to be quite pleasurable, there was one glaring problem that plagued the overall experience: it was incredibly linear.

This time, players will be able to chose from a number of branching timelines to complete and explore at their leisure throughout what’s known as the Historia Crux. Levels are much more open and players won’t feel herded to their next objective like in XIII’s long corridors.

The slick, fast-paced combat from XIII is back and also improved.

Just like last time, players can chose from a number of different group roles, called paradigms, but now paradigm shifts are instant. This allows for a much more strategic approach to battle where players must quickly switch roles to react to enemy cues in the midst of their attacks.

Also spicing up the combat is the inclusion of quick time events, known as Cinematic Action. While some may chagrin at the addition of QTEs to Final Fantasy, these sequences are few and entertaining enough to enhance battles.

Characters advance through the Crystarium system once again, which has also been modified for the better. Now all roles are leveled in tandem with one another instead of individually, which works to streamline their development to progress much more quickly.

Not surprisingly, the game looks fantastic, continuing SE’s reputation of making stunningly visual games with top-notch graphics. Lip-syncing is spot on and the voice acting is not too shabby (with an exception here or there).

In light of all the amendments, it seems that for every bad thing that was fixed, a good thing was taken away and the game suffers for it.

Perhaps the most glaring omission is the absence of Eidolons, or summons, one of the biggest staples in the Final Fantasy franchise.

With the exception of

Gestalt mode, the summoning system in XIII was amongst the best in the series and their exclusion here takes away from the overall experience.

To take their place we’re treated with a different feature, monster catching.  The third slot in the party is reserved for monsters that are captured in battle on the field, leveled up, and then joined in battle alongside you. And not a pokeball in sight.

I’m sorry but this goes a long way from replacing Ifrit and Shiva.

Weapon upgrading was fun and exciting in XIII and offered a varied arsenal to choose from.  Now what we’re left with is an abysmal selection of non-upgradeable arms that are few and far between.

While Cinematic Action is a welcomed addition to the franchise, the other interactive inclusion, called Live Triggers, do more harm than good.

Live Triggers are moments in the game where players are asked to select a choice from four responses in certain conversations. These conversations are meant to flesh out the events they pertain to and players are often rewarded with items for their selections.

The problem is that the whole sequence is awkwardly rendered and feels more like a distraction.

All in all “Final Fantasy XIII-2” definitely takes many steps in the right direction that future entries in the series can take advantage of. Combat is the best in the series and the gameplay is more cinematic than ever.

But at the end of the day I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps these efforts would have been better spent in an all original addition to the series, like a Final Fantasy XIV per se.

One can only wonder what Square-Enix has in store for us with “Final Fantasy Versus XIII,” their next game in line to hit the shelves.

 

3.5 Joysticks out of 5