Three years after the saving of Cocoon, Serah finds herself among friends on Pulse, and missing her big sister. After a visit from a mysterious stranger, Noel, and still believing Lightning is indeed alive, she makes her way through the space-time continuum to find her sister and runs into some trouble along the way.
A driving gimmick through the campaign as new timelines are discovered is the solving of "paradoxes", temporal rifts combining different pasts and futures that play to the discoverer. The lacking plot makes these instances feel needless, often not contributing to plot advancement. Presumably, this is Square's method of either filling content or failing to present a backstory.
In a shocking twist, for a franchise often built on story-driven gameplay, XIII-2 is anything but. The constant need to time travel essentially renders a comprehensive story useless, by which the events of past, present and future unnecessarily complicate a rather simplistic tale. Past Final Fantasy titles have blended solid storytelling and the fulfillment of exploration -- an expectation of the rabid fanbase -- and as with XIII, one is sacrificed to emphasize the other. XIII-2 implores a wonderful sense of exploration with a lackluster story, while its predecessor opted for linearity.
Given the setup, the limited cast of characters is far less appealing this time around. Minus the sporadic reemergence of past characters, the player becomes well-acquainted with only Serah and Noel. While interesting, the banter is primarily expository with little development, including snippets from Mog, Serah's newfound Moogle friend. Rounding out the cast battle-wise is any number of creatures the player can collect through conflict.
One of the stronger elements of XIII, battling returns in a similar format with no major changes. Once again, players follow the Crystarium to level individual roles used in meshing Paradigms. Role-swapping is far slicker and easier to manage, thus more attentiveness is vital for success. This increased pace of conflict speeds up confrontations considerably, morphing a once-droning turn-based system into an engaging work of sport. Sadly, halfway through fighting becomes significantly easier in an inexplicable difficulty drop. (I went about a third of the game without leveling my characters once.)
Defining a role for each character doesn't feel as selective as before, where to fill the cast, defeated creatures can be captured and utilized in combat. Each monster is classified with a set of traits, including a role, which is easily leveled up through items. Players found themselves stuck sometimes in XIII, and this element eliminates that from happening. It is awesome to kick robot ass with a Chocobo.
Through all the explaining done in dialogue, paying attention to what characters are saying has bonuses. Carefully chosen answers net material additives but as well work toward a definitive ending, one of several confirmed for the game. Even from the beginning any question asked has implications, so pick responses wisely.
What feels like a misstep singularly is actually an improvement, at least from its predecessor's perspective. The linearity is eradicated but at the cause of a comprehensive story, and the game does more explaining than showing, effectively killing the experience. An aspect of what makes Final Fantasy great is that blending of discovery, character-building and plot-twisting, and apparently Square has lost its magic touch. It's quite fitting that for a game dealing with time, that time is killing the franchise.
The first review of 2012! One other huge announcement I wanted to make: I've started another blog called Crudeverse, just sporadic opinion unrelated to gaming. I wanted to start the project for a while; I was just looking for an excuse to, and the first official post described the Super Bowl for idiots. Check it out!
Additionally, PlayStation Lifestyle has a great article recounting recent rumours of Star Wars: Battlefront III. Hope it's true. Jeff out.