leasspell_dael: FF13's Serah Farron standing in profile (ff13 - serah - solitary)
[personal profile] leasspell_dael
I finished Final Fantasy XIII-2 a couple of weeks ago, but wanted to let my thoughts percolate rather than make a knee-jerk review. I think I've reached the point where my opinion isn't going to change, and I have a solid grasp of why I feel certain ways about certain aspects. So, here's my review. All spoilers will be written after the second cut. There will be spoiler-space in-between the cuts if you're reading the first section.

Graphics: 9/10
Characters: 10/10
Battle System: 8/10
Story: 8/10
World Building: 7/10
Music: 8/10
Overall: 9/10

Graphics: 9/10
Much like its predecessor, this game has absolutely remarkable graphics. Most of the time the facial movements are expressive, the body movements are natural, and the background graphics are stunning. They even allow you to change your characters outfits, and the only time they will revert to the default is in the very final FMV. There are only a few minor things that prevented it from getting a full 10/10.

I'm not penalizing it for old-school television faults this time, although I highly doubt they've fixed the issue that prevented me from seeing my HP in the last game. grumble grumble I figure by this point if you have an old-school TV, and still picked up the game, you knew what you were getting yourself into.

Meanwhile, there were a few times where I would see some minor glitches in the background, and in one of the alternate endings, a character moved in some very unnatural ways.

Characters: 10/10
While none of the cast from the last game was completely left to the wayside, I applaud the designers for keeping a much smaller core cast that I really felt I came to understand as the game progressed. I saw them both grow and change, and reveal parts of themselves to the player and each other. I didn't feel that either character was rushed or underdeveloped, and while my most important questions were answered, there's still room to see more from them in the future (whether that's in fanfiction or sequels!).

Battle System: 8/10
This was essentially the exact same system as from the previous game with a few minor tweaks. Perhaps the most important of these was that the game assumed you already knew how to play, and left you to do it (tutorials available for those interested, though). I gave the system for XIII-2 a slightly higher score for that reason, as well as the fact that playing with the Monster system was kind of fun. I still dinged it for making it impossible to skip abilities you don't want, although I found the changes to the Crystarium interesting.

Story: 8/10
GREAT improvement over the previous game on this front. While many of the holes from the last game weren't expanded upon, it didn't add new ones except where the characters/players are not supposed to know what happened. I don't consider that an issue. I do consider it an issue that to get some of those holes filled I'm going to have to pay more money, but that's the way of today's gaming. I have an issue with the ending, but I don't think it's the same issue a lot of other people have. There will be more on this in the spoiler-filled section below. Oooh! Oooh! And my datalog didn't spoil me this time! How sweet is that?!

World Building: 7/10
We learned a lot more about the world's mythology and past in this game, plus explorations of what happens to the society after the events of FFXIII. With the ability to play areas in multiple time-periods, we really got to see more of the places to which we have access. I would have liked to see more new areas however, and a few of the locations didn't change much between time-periods, which was disappointing.

Music: 8/10
I felt that the music was a bit better presented in this game than the last. There was the combination of nostalgia whenever an old track from the last game turned up, plus there were more tracks that reached out and grabbed me. There was one world where I happily explored for hours because the background music was so awesome it didn't feel like a chore.

Overall: 9/10
I absolutely adored this game, and played it every free moment for a month until I had not only finished it, but gotten all the alternate endings, including the "secret" ending you needed all 160 fragments to obtain. I'm not usually a perfectionist with games like that, and often watch secret endings on YouTube. This time, I just didn't want to admit it was over.

Part of this reaction could be that my expectations couldn't have been lower going in. FFX-2, while a good game, did not feel like a good sequel to me, and I had had major issues with the story in FFXIII. I was preparing myself for fanfic.

Well, it was fanfic, but the best kind of fanfic; the kind that makes you think: "Yes. This should be canon."

Alright, now I'm going to start discussing specifics about the game that I enjoyed or needed work. THIS IS WHERE THE SPOILERS START!!!

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Let's start with Serah. She shares star-billing with Noel, but I have some left-over issues with her from the previous game I'd like to get out of the way.

Last game, Serah was not a playable character, but was important to many of the characters who were. I lamented that we didn't learn more about her relationships with Lightning and Snow, given her importance to their motivations.

Well, we still don't know a lot about her relationships with them, given that both Lightning and Snow are absent for the majority of the game, but we do get a few tantalizing pieces of information.

Serah uses her sister's new name: Lightning, not Claire. Is this showing support for her sister's choices, or does it demonstrate a distance in their relationship?

Serah also calls Lightning her teacher, and says that she was strict. Whether this means Serah was home-schooled or if she merely means her teacher in life's lessons is unknown.

Serah is devastated when Lightning disappears, and desperately wants to be reunited with her sister. (Lightning refuses to give her the reassurance that she seeks when they are briefly reunited.)

We don't get a lot of extra information about her relationship with Snow. We learn that he's postponed their marriage until he can track down Lightning, putting his trust in her just like in the last game when she was branded. We also learn that despite his unconditional love for Serah, he still tends to make impulsive and dangerous decisions, such as requestiong to become a l'Cie, and fighting powerful monsters on his own.

(I'm planning to post my opinions on Serah/Snow later, which is a complicated subject for me.)

While I didn't learn a lot about her core relationships this game, although much was implied, I did get to learn who Serah was, which was something else I'd wondered about.

Serah is both a student and a teacher of history. She has been sheltered most of her life, but given the chance to take a stand she will do so and make an admirable display. Serah is full of optimism, not because she doesn't see the bad, but because she believes in working to achieve the "impossible". She loves wholly and freely, and understands people. Serah trusts, which isn't always a good thing.

Serah is strong, in many ways stronger than her sister.

Noel Kreiss.

I was hesitant about Noel when he was first introduced. He was new and I was afraid he wouldn't fit.

Noel was perfect. He has goals and motivations, a fascinating backstory, and he provides the much needed catalyst to get Serah moving. Noel has enough information to get them started, but he doesn't know everything, and many of the gaps in his knowledge are dangerous. The player often knows more about Noel than Serah does, but there's still enough we don't know that we can enjoy learning alongside her.

What I most like about Noel is the team he makes with Serah. I found their relationship very platonic, and enjoyed playing the game without having sexual tension all over the place. He and Serah respect one another, and teach one another. They learn and work together. They tease each other.

Noel is the best friend Serah does not have back in New Bodhum. They even call NORA "Snow's friends" specifically. I'm sure they're fond of her, and are friends to her, but they also think of themselves as her guardians. Noel protects Serah, but more importantly: he gives her the tools to protect herself.

The entire sequence in A Dying World 700 AF was heart-breaking, and this was the world where the music kept me captivated. I played through it several times, and always cringed when I revealed/killed one of the tribe-members.

Mog.

Okay, here was another character that I was afraid to see. I mean, how on earth was I supposed to take him seriously?

They really presented him well, though, and the way he was used as both a character and a weapon fit. I'm glad they included him, and feel the game would be less without him.

Er. Him? Her? Zir? (I personally think of Mog as gender-neutral because then it maintains FFXIII's trait of have equal girls/guys.)

Lightning and Snow I'm going to delay talking about until DLC for them comes out. Lightning is due out in May. I hope there's something on Snow down the road....

Fang and Vanille.

The squeal of fan-girly delight when these guys appeared? You CANNOT IMAGINE! :D I was so happy they weren't just relegated to references and Fragments. I find the information that they're sometimes aware fascinating (even if it was implied at the end of XIII) and wonder if they experienced the same thing last time. What about Serah and Dajh? What does this mean for the supposedly happy dreams Crystal Stasis is supposed to impart?

The paradox ending "Vanille's Truth" was heart-breaking, and I'm unsure if it's supposed to be an alternate sequence of events or a look into the past, but either way I'm glad they included it.

I have the feeling that next game (if there's a next game), Fang and Vanille will both play a bigger role. After all, we spent an entire game orchestrating their rescue from the pillar. I'd be very surprised if they didn't wake up soon.

Hope.

Now here's a character that gave me even more fangirl-y squee at seeing again! I adored Hope last game, at least up until the point where you leave Palumpolum, and he loses his complexity. After that, he mostly fades to the background. But that was an issue with unbalanced character growth in the last game.

This game, he once again has PURPOSE. He's smart, and he's using those smarts. He has entrenched desires to protect the people of Cocoon from their journey, but he still looks back trying to regain the people he's lost. He's the character that grew the most between games, but he was still Hope, still recognizable.

He is still adorably awkward in social situations, but now he cloaks himself in a protective shield of formal language. Still, the sheer joy in his face at seeing Serah--anyone from his past--is overwhelming. Contrasted immediately with his brush-off of Alyssa shows that it's not just that he's become touchy-feely.

I was so pleased when he became a recurring familiar face. He constantly evoked new emotions in me. Fear/sadness when I thought he'd died, suspicion when he was in 4XX AF (I was convinced he'd turn out to be a duplicate...), success when he saves the day in 500 AF, pity when he finds out Serah's fate.

Also, who can deny me the joy of the best battle solution EVER: "Scream at Hope"? :D

Along with Fang and Vanille, I expect him to play a larger role in any theoretical sequels. I have THEORIES. They will probably prove to be completely irrevocably wrong, but they remain nonetheless.

Alyssa.

I loved her. She was brilliantly executed. She was constantly doing things or making comments that made me suspicious of her, only then she'd do or say something so undeniably helpful and empathetic that I'd forget about my suspicions immediately. Her Evil Glance (tm) was like a sucker-punch to the gut. I had to play through that Void Beyond sequence several times to get the Live Trigger answers that 100% confirmed my suspicions, and then I got the joy of the Paradox Ending that made it explicit. I eventually managed to get the Augusta Tower 200 AF fragments which added just that little bit of depth as well.

I'm sad we've seen all of her, but you never know: We have just undone all of time. Who knows what could happen.

Yeul.

Where do I start? I'm still not sure I have all of her appearances straight. It was only after multiple play-throughs of August Tower 200 AF that it finally clicked that she was the same Yeul as Oerba 200 AF because it was the same year! They acted so different, and I'd convinced myself that veil!Yeuls were different from loose-hair!Yeuls.

She is such a complex and tragic character. Like Serah, she appears fragile, but has a core of strength. I'm dying to see more from her perspective. What does she think of Caius' plan? I get the feeling she doesn't approve, but maybe some of her incarnations do? Does she even know about it, as he leaves to execute it from after her last death? Can she see it because of how he's interfering in the timeline? She definitely tries to stop Etro from being killed in 500 AF, but why did she not appear in person?

She makes an appearance in the Paradox Ending "Beneath a Timeless Sky" you join Yeul in 700 AF. She both walks and runs.

Like a baby penguin.

It's adorable, and makes me giggle, but it's also one of the main things that lowered the graphics score in this review. She obviously wasn't programmed for excessive movement. Oops?

As for Caius, I find him an interesting villain, and he serves his role well. I don't find him as interesting as a lot of the other characters, but he's kept purposefully vague. I've finished the game, and I'm still not quite sure what he's done or why he couldn't just stab himself without another's hand on the blade to accomplish it. Another character I'm waiting on DLC to elaborate upon.

I haven't played Sazh's DLC yet, and since there's so little he does in the main game, I'm going to be silent on him as well.

The Datalog.

Didn't get spoiled for the game by the game this time! You have no idea how happy that made me. The datalog provided summaries of stuff that had happened so far, and information on characters and places that had no true importance to the game/plot, but added some depth to the world. The quizzes also did a good job of that (as frustrating as the guessing game could be).

The Ending.

I think a lot of people are upset that Serah died/the heroes failed. I don't mind that, because they did an excellent job portraying the emotion of the scene, and it was a realistic consequence.

No, what bugs me is the "To Be Continued". When? DLC? Sequel? Give me some context! I am unhappy about needing to pay more to get the rest of a game I already paid for. Sidequests as DLC? Sure. Snow, Sazh, Lightning? I'm okay with ALL of their stories being filled in with DLC. Serah and Noel's? That upsets me.

Beyond that, XIII-2 did the exact same thing that XIII did regarding the ending: The heroes should have turned back. The characters had more than enough information to realize why killing Caius would be a BAD THING (tm) before they reached 500 AF. I was a bit perplexed by their confusion regarding Yeul's warnings. When I realized during the ending sequence that they really had NO IDEA of the chaos about to be unleashed, I was boggled. Noel piecing together what happened in the final FMV seemed to me like a shallow attempt to cover up that there had been a gap in their logic. In XIII, this was when the team finds the Cavalry all turned to Cie'th. Orphan was no longer threatened, so they should have turned back and aided the evacuation. Instead, they did what the enemy wanted.

Noel at least tried not to kill Caius, and I argue that he didn't (ignoring secret endings) as ultimately Caius drove the blade into his own chest. However, Noel's reasonings were for the preservation of all life, not because he was trying to thwart his enemy's plan.

Maybe I'm taking player information and expecting characters to know it, I'll have to play through again. But I was a little disappointed.


TL,DR; Very fun, with lots of replay-value. Significantly improved from its predecessor.

Wow, quite a wall of text, huh? And guess what?! I'm not done yet!! :D

But I will leave it there for now. Next time: game as fanfic, Chrono Trigger, Snow/Serah, Lightning's knowledge of the future, "hope", Noel's inexperience, Etro's successor, Yeul's connection to Caius, historia crux shape, fanworks
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