Genre: RPG
Year: 2011
Developed by: Square Enix 1st Production Department
Published by: Square Enix
Platforms: PS3, XBOX360, PC
Feeling Like: Coarse Correction

It makes sense that we now see spin-offs from mainline Final Fantasies. As technology improves and player expectations rise, the cost to develop role playing games becomes daunting, even for the most experienced developer. Why not reuse and recycle artistic content or expand upon a world you’ve already spent hundreds of hours working on?

Final Fantasy 13 is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a radical departure from other games in the series and, at the time, was maligned among fans for removing towns, keeping story details to written logs and providing an almost entirely linear experience. While it was a peculiar experience, I loved how different it felt. The soundtrack was incredible, the combat was a dazzling display of what the new-ish PS3 could churn out and it felt big.

It wasn’t perfect. Beyond a few major story beats, I don’t know if I could tell you intricate details about each character, or who the villain was, or what their motivation was. The upgrading weapons and item system was a huge disappointment. I did miss the villages. Some of the extra content fights seemed overly punishing and grindy.

Still, if the highs are high enough, I’ll overlook most lows.

Final Fantasy 13-2 is a sequel that isn’t really a sequel but it sort of is, but don’t worry you don’t have to play the first one, but you really should. It also involves time travelling and monster hunting/recruiting. If I barely knew enough about Final Fantasy 13’s story to pass a test, I would fail Final Fantasy 13-2’s before I even picked up the pen. Going over the plot synopsis on Wikipedia and on various Youtube recaps is an embarrassing reminder that I play too many video games, or I’m losing my capacity to recall. Or both.

If the original was punishingly linear, this one is awkwardly open ended. I often did levels out of order; the game gives a pretty good indication about which location in time you’re supposed to visit next, but the time-map-thing is as convoluted as trying to explain a time travel paradox. It’s best just to go with it and not think too much.

You can also tell the game was rushed. You don’t often see triple A games being churned out after only a year and a half, but I suppose they wanted to strike while the iron is hot. The translation seemed off and I wasn’t a fan of all the changes they made, but this is coming from a guy who adored Final Fantasy 13 so I didn’t think a departure from that game’s fundamentals was necessary in the first place. I’m in the minority on that one, I’ll bite. Still, it’s a strange game and I don’t think it reached its full potential due to the limited window for development.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of having your third party member be a monster that you’ve tamed/captured. I rarely am when it comes to this type of mechanic. I don’t think it’s implemented poorly, it’s just not in Henry’s Book of Approved Game Systems. Square Enix, call me next time!

One thing Final Fantasy 13-2 nailed is the villain, Caius. He still spouts the usual philosophic nonsense that litters nearly every JRPG on the planet. It’s main reason I was instantly drawn to Final Fantasy 15 – it’s the first game in the franchise where people conversed like normal human beings and not caricatures in a pantomime. Regardless, his motivations are spelled out and his reasoning is clear. I love villains like this, they’re so much more interesting than a vague reason for wanting to take over the world / kill everybody to reset the so nobody will experience pain. Each interaction with him is interesting and he has a great arc. That is a very good way to score big points in Henry’s Book of Approved Game Systems.

The soundtrack follows the series signature trademark of having an absolutely stellar soundtrack. New Bodhum is one of my favorites, I will never get tired of it. It’s so unique and peppy and I don’t get annoyed by the ridiculous lyrics. That opening riff is just magic, it’s something you’ll only hear in video games and likely only in JRPGs. It instantly transports me back into the game like only a great song can. It’s not even overly repetitive! Incredible.

It’s an ambitious, flawed game but the pros far outweigh the cons. 245 it is. Onward!

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