Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Final Fantasy XIII-2 appears to be a game that was made by Square for Square. I can’t imagine many people played through Final Fantasy XIII‘s turgid and obtuse storyline with its much maligned cast of anime-inspired characters and thought ‘What I really want from this game…is two more sequels.’ That’s right, Final Fantasy XIII-2 ends on a cliffhanger with a ‘To Be Continued’ screen.
What Final Fantasy XIII-2 appears to be is an effort on Square’s part to address many of the criticisms levelled at Final Fantasy XIII – that the game was too linear, lacked a sense of adventure and only really let the player fully utilize its excellent combat system in the final quarter. To this extent, they have been largely successful.
Right off the bat, XIII-2 lays out its intentions with a time-travelling storyline that not only allows the players to visit multiple worlds but multiple time-periods of said locations. The full Paradigm combat system is not only accessible right from the get go, Square have added a Pokemon-style monster collecting component to the game which gives it additional depth and a collectathon mode that is actually rather enjoyable.
It’s certainly a sign of promise from the once mighty Japanese developer who has had an absolutely horrible time making the leap to the HD-era. The original Final Fantasy XIII was in development for the better part of five years and its spin-off Final Fantasy XIII Versus appears to be in limbo, having been announced a mind boggling seven years ago but still has no release date. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was developed and released in two years, has a reasonable amount of spit and polish to it and shows that Square can still get their affairs in order and actually create a game from start to finish that has some measure of quality and doesn’t have an insanely long gestation period.
For a game that is fun to play, if a tad on the easy side, Final Fantasy XIII-2 does have one major and rather critical flaw. It’s storyline is absolutely god-awful and its characters are the embodiment of the lazy art style associated with character designer Tetsuya Nomura.
The story begins by focusing on Serah, the younger sister of Lightning from the original Final Fantasy XIII. Serah was probably the least interesting characters from that game which is really saying something. She spent most of the story being frozen in crystal and now she finds herself searching for her older sister who has disappeared since the ending of the first game.
She meets Noel, a time travelling man from the future who shows up with no explanation beyond telling Serah he will help her look for Lightning which she accepts without question. Really. There is some exposition in the dialogue where Noel explains how time travelling works but there is no motive given for why Noel would do this or why Serah would go along with this complete stranger.
The villain in the story is a man named Caius Ballad. Unlike Noel, Caius *does* actually have some motivation. He is seeking to stop Noel and Serah from changing history and creating paradoxes when they time travel because it causes his young female companion Yeul to die over and over again at different points in history. This seems a rather noble goal but we know he is the villain because he dresses in a ridiculous purple costume, is accompanied by ominous music and sounds like he is voiced by Jeremny Irons.
The storyline is a mess. It is divided into five episodes but the story is so lacking in structure I can barely recall what happens in one chapter from another. We get a wee bit of backstory in the fourth episode but beyond that, the journey is pretty much Noel and Serah travelling to a bunch of locations before eventually meeting Caius for a final showdown at the end of the game.
Noel and Serah are boring, bland and devoid of personality. I challenge anyone to describe them beyond their appearance. The storyline should set up Serah with an interesting dilemma – her fiancee Snow is trapped in a distant time period from which he cannot escape and now she finds herself in the company of this handsome new guy with a beautifully coiffed hairdo. But Serah seems strangely indifferent to Snow’s absense and her relationship with Noel remains strictly platonic. This is a game that is entirely devoid of any romance. Everyone here is ‘just friends.’
Is it possible to like an RPG when you’re completely indifferent to the storyline? The answer for me was yes. Given the game’s relative brevity for an RPG (the story can be completed in about 22 hours), it enough time for me to enjoy the combat system, collect a bunch of monsters, go chocobo racing and check out a bunch of cool locales without being too fussed about the forgettable storyline.
I was surprised that Square had the balls to finish the game on a ‘To Be Continued’ screen however. By making a third game in this installment, they are investing more in this group of characters than they are in the characters from superior games like Final Fantasy VI, VII, IX and XII. I’m pretty sure they know the characters are really terrible so why are they doing this? Who knows? Regardless, if they really do go ahead with a full-fledged third installment, I might well come back and play that too because I enjoy the combat system that much. Hopefully by the time we get Final Fantasy XV though, Square will have truly rediscovered the form from their glory years and finally give us a storyline and some characters that are worth a damn. For now, this isn’t too bad and a small sign that Square might be turning the corner with better things to come.