To be fair, I did want to go through Final Fantasy XIII again (or at least tie up the loose ends) before playing XIII-2. I believe Final Fantasy XIII is a very underrated game. Yes, it is linear and there are some, ahem, problems with the story to be sure, but for once I liked a Final Fantasy that did not offer a whole big overworld to explore or customizations to the extreme. The linearity and simplicity helped me keep focused so that I could abandon it for month (or now years) on end and still pick up where I left off. Plus, the story of Final Fantasy XIII didn't lend the world to exploration the way previous titles did.
I did not go through Final Fantasy XIII again, though. I instead streamed the first few hours of play. I probably did poorly. So far, XIII-2 is different enough from Final Fantasy XIII to be a sequel, but similar enough to feel like one. I have to admit, the visuals are excellent. So here are my likes and dislikes:
- Getting rid of the lengthy paradigm shift animations. This is critical as one of the earliest bosses is of the "Defend/Do Not Attack at this time" type of deals. The last thing that's necessary is computer induced lag.
- Getting gil from battle. This is a big, big plus. This means I can actually spend money in the stores.
- Leader KO no longer means game over. Although I understand the strategic importance of this in Final Fantasy XIII, it was a means of artificial difficulty that really wasn't necessary and somewhat justified the "Retry" option.
- Saving at any time. The way my life is going, I'll need this feature.
- Random encounters. This is where the series actually took two steps back. The beauty of Final Fantasy XIII's system was that you could avoid plenty of encounters just by walking or running by visible enemies. While this did make it a pain to "farm" parts, at least one controlled the entering of battle. Final Fantasy XIII-2 goes back to the days of FFX and before when your enemies literally appeared out of nowhere. Unlike those days, you can see the enemy that appears and sometimes not only avoid it but get a preemptive strike. Still, I don't like the idea of being forced into an an encounter because an enemy literally appears at my feet.
- Having no initial access to the medic paradigm. Granted, this was also the case in Final Fantasy XIII when, but let's get this straight. If you get hurt, you can't heal with anything other than a potion
- The music. I had heard the battle music before the release, so I wasn't blindsided by the development but I consider it to be a disappointment, especially with how surprisingly good Final Fantasy XIII's battle theme was.
The jury's still out on...
- Revamped Chrystarium System: I have to admit, I do like this new method of developing one's characters. However, along with the random encounters, there seems to be an increased pressure to grind for Crystogen Points.
- The dialogue tree (Live Event Trigger). I like that one gets different choices in how to respond to questions and comments. I'm getting the impression that this game will give you the same replies for most answers under the tree.
- Recap. If you save and quit, then restart from an existing save file, you are treated to a "previously on FFXIII" montage. While Final Fantasy XIII did this as well, it was done in text format. Watching the same cutscenes over and over actually subtracts a great deal of the tension, but it does at least give the player something to look at while the game loads.
- The characters. In battle, Serah is awesome, but I have to wonder from what I've seen in the the story how this girl managed to traverse a Pulse Vestige by herself that was likely filled with robots, beasts, and other monsters. With the attitude she displays in Final Fantasy XIII-2 which is initially set three years time after the end of XIII no less, I wonder how this girl survived this long. This wouldn't be too bad if the new character, Noel, was likable. In the intro, he seemed he might be a generic fish out of water kid. It turns out he's got a chip on his shoulder, albeit for what seems to be a good reason if what he says can be trusted. It's still early, so maybe Noel and Serah will become less grating. Heck, maybe Noel = Caius (that would be an interesting twist at least). Maybe the non-playable characters other than Chocolina and the NORA members will stick out. but right now I wish I were in Valhalla battling against Chaos Bahamut rather than running around looking for an invisible giant or capsules or whatever I was looking for.
Despite my gripes, this game is decent to good, so far seems better than Final Fantasy X-2 which I wasted an hour of my life on. If only Serah would take a hint from her sister and put on some clothes that would at least make her look like she was serious about getting into battle. Then again, maybe if I squint really hard and tilt my head a certain way, I can pretend that Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the 3D sequel to Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross SE was developing. Hey, it's got time-travel and gates. All we need is Lucca to come by and present the Gate Key 6.0.