I recently received my review copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 for PlayStation 3. After playing Square Enix’s new Final Fantasy installment for about two hours, I have been able to form a pretty solid opinion about things that I find to be improvements, and aspects that I do not like about the game. I will attempt to delineate these without giving away any storyline elements that were not present in the downloadable demo.
After playing the demo, I was left wondering who this Noel character was, and why he was running around the “wilds” of the world with Serah, and what the time rifts were all about. These questions were answered in the very beginning of the game, with a lot of flair, and I couldn’t find anything to complain about in what I think of as the “Prologue”. It sets Noel up very nicely and connects him to Serah in a manner that is unquestionable, leaving no mystery as to their association once it is revealed in the storyline.
Unlike XIII, for the first two hours of XIII-2, the player is learning about the world and what is going on in it, rather than getting “visions” and clips of storyline that only begged more questions. With where I am in-game right now, I know who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, and the exact motivations behind it. The teasing mystery a la Vanille from XIII is completely absent, and I love this factor. It feels like I have taken the first few steps on a journey that will be the building blocks of a complex journey with a compelling storyline, and I know more about the world of Final Fantasy XIII than I feel like I ever learned from the original game.
Cinematic Actions are unquestionably a large element in the game thus far. I haven’t quite decided whether I like them or dislike them. On the one hand, it keeps your mind actively engaged during cut scenes. On the other, if you are a little distracted during a cut scene you could miss the button prompts and be forced to do everything all over again. Unlike some Final Fantasy games in the past, you will find that everyone has a voice in this one; not just in cut scenes or “Cinematic Actions”, but even just passersby have spoken lines. The voice acting is pretty good, though I have a very high amount of distaste for the voice they chose to use for Mog. He is a fairly important character, onscreen all the time after his introduction, and he’s a HE. Why, then, does he sound like a female toddler?
I admit, I had some trepidation about this game because of the legacy of X-2 (the game that some Final Fantasy fans refuse to even acknowledge as a Final Fantasy game), but so far, what I see is pretty positive. The one glaring flaw to me is the soundtrack. I was worried about the soundtrack because of the new team working on it, and apparently my worries were justified. The battle music, in my opinion, is just awful, and they have done away with any semblance of the victory melody that has been present thus far throughout the entire series, and even eluded to in Advent Children via a cell phone ringtone. One part of the soundtrack during regular gameplay sounds like something that came out of Bollywood, which I am not particularly opposed to on a regular basis, but Final Fantasy soundtracks used to be about melodic symphony music WITHOUT muddled wording. The singers sound like they are speaking in Simlish.
So far, I like everything I have played, some of it to an even greater extent than I enjoyed the beginning of Final Fantasy XIII, because it lacks the rigidity of said former title. After a directed introduction to the game that is basically a tutorial/refresher course, I am already running around a seaside town speaking with people and taking on missions. There is no twenty hour “play in a straight line” so you can get the payoff of exploring a little. Aside from an atrocious soundtrack thus far, I see a lot of promise in this game, and a myriad of improvements that it seems Square made based on listening to people’s complaints about XIII. More to come later as I finish the storyline.