Final Fantasy is a franchise that everyone has heard of by now, either directly or indirectly. The series has about sixteen main games, and numerous spin-offs. Recently, though, after the release of XIII, fans have begun to think that the franchise might as well be considered a ‘Dead Fantasy’.
The excitement for Final Fantasy XIII was immense. Fans had loved VII, which was the first Final Fantasy on the PlayStation 1. Final Fantasy X was also enjoyed, being the first game on the PlayStation 2. When Square Enix announced XIII, which was to be the first game on the PlayStation 3, it was assumed by fans that just like it’s predecessors, XIII would be an outstanding game too.
They were wrong.
Although XIII scored a 83 on Metacritic, which is considered good, the game was disappointing. It felt nothing like a Final Fantasy game. Linearity, annoying characters and a battle system that could have used a lot of improvement, are only a few of the many problems that the game faced. Fortunately, it turned out that Square Enix listens to it’s fans. After realizing their mistake, Square Enix decided to create a sequel to XIII to correct it’s many problems and satisfy fans. What Square did not realize is that fans did not want a sequel. They wanted a completely new game that was better than the previous ones. To be precise, they wanted Versus XIII, which by the way, still remains behind curtains.
Nonetheless, Square released the sequel, and in a short of span of time too. Although this did not manage to placate the fans, I believe that it was better than it’s predecessor. Many seem to disagree with me though. Most reviewing websites gave XIII-2 a low score and the game now holds a metacritic score of 79. One thing I noticed in almost all the reviews was that they said that the game was ‘better than XII’, yet the scores remained low. I came to the conclusion that XIII had been an overrated game, being the first Final Fantasy on the next-generation consoles. On the other hand, XIII-2 had been underrated due to the hate for XIII itself.
Remember, one must understand both games to compare them. I often find myself reading hateful comments towards XIII-2 by people who have not even played the game as they express a lack of knowledge toward it. I wish that fans would give a chance to Final Fantasy XIII-2. It’s not as bad as you may think it to be.
Here, I will compare both games in various aspects and provide a clear verdict for all Final Fantasy fans.
The Final Fantasy series is known, among other things, for it’s amazing stories that fans have come to love. Every story has recurring elements, but is unique in it’s own way. Stories that span over an entirely new world with entirely different antagonists and protagonists, along with exciting twists and turns. XIII tried hard to deliver a good story, but got lost somewhere along the way. At first, the story was exciting as Lightning and Snow were both trying to save Serah, and got tangled up into something unexpected. However, all this talk about Fal’Cie and L’Cie got too confusing. And before we knew it, the story slipped from our grasp. It wasn’t difficult to comprehend it or anything; it just wasn’t interesting enough to hold on to. It simply dragged on and on, cutscene after cutscene filled with pointless dialogue that simply wasted time and interfered with the gameplay.
On the other hand, the story of XIII-2 has minimal talk of Fal’Cie and L’Cie. However, it is quite confusing, especially for those who are not familiar with time travel mechanics that have been shown to us in different movies and video games. Although the story is gradually made easier to understand as you progress through the game, some parts are still left hanging. Some points were never clarified and are either left for the players to speculate upon, or explore further in downloadable content. I managed to completely understand the story but some things left me confused. Questions like “How did Sazh come into 500AF?” or “What happened to Alyssa?” were never answered. I did not understand the part about Snow being a L’Cie either, but I guess that is later explained in DLC. Despite being minor points that can be ignored or understood later by putting some effort into them, they should have been answered properly to avoid disorientation.
Both XIII and XIII-2 had flaws with the story but I personally enjoyed the story of XIII-2 a lot more as it was more fantasy-like. Goddesses, warriors, looking into the future, guardians… It was great and had the fantasy feel to it, unlike the story of XIII that was more like science fiction meets weird monsters. Almost everything in XIII was mechanical, from the monsters to the bosses to the eidolons, minus the part in Gran Pulse where proper monsters were seen on the field. I would’ve been okay if more fantasy was involved though. Therefore, due to better fantasy elements, XIII-2 has a better story. All those who do not understand it’s story need to familiarize themselves with Time Travel mechanics, by watching more movies related to it. Honestly, if you did not understand the story of XIII-2, I doubt you would be able to comprehend anything in Back to the Future.
Every story needs memorable characters. XIII definitely had characters worth remembering, but not in the way you’d expect. Lightning was a good character, no doubt. I wouldn’t have wanted any other female protagonist to take the lead. However, the same cannot be said for the rest. Snow was too over-confident, arrogant and brash. He should have been the ‘cool guy’ like Vincent, or Auron. Sazh tried too hard to be funny, and failed horribly at it. Hope was too whiny. Fang was okay, but not worth remembering, except for her Australian accent (Didn’t know people on Gran Pulse were Australian). And Vanille… she was the worst of the lot. Her moans and chuckles were simply awkward and her entire personality was way immature. Seriously Square? What happened to the females who were fun to have in the party? Like Yuffie in VII, Selphie in VIII and Rikku in X? Vanille was just too overboard.
The antagonists were not good enough either. Barthandalus was a stupid villain who had no aura of evil. Orphan, the final boss, was too easy and not quite noteworthy either.
XIII-2 had all the protagonists of XIII, along with a few new additions, such as Noel (Which is Leon turned backwards by the way. Seems like Square ran out of ideas), Caius and Yeul. Most of the previous characters were either improved, or shown very little of. Hope is no longer whiny. Instead, he’s more mature and serious. I actually liked him in XIII-2. Sazh, Fang and Vanille make tiny appearances in the game and aren’t significant. Thank you Square Enix, for not having us endure the torture of Vanille’s voice again. Noel is a nice, strong character. Not the serious, cool protagonist you’d like to have, but good enough anyways. Serah is not that good. I wanted Lightning to be playable throughout the game, but I guess that was never meant to happen. Serah is awkward and very girly. Not to mention that she moves in a very odd fashion, which made me use Noel as the party leader.
Caius, on the other hand, is a great villain. He isn’t your typical ‘I-want-to-destroy-the-world-for-no-reason’ type of guy. He does what he does because of grief and sorrow, and to save Yeul. All he cares about is protecting Yeul, no matter the cost. His sword, looks and outfit have a semblance of destruction and despair hanging over them. This is the type of villain every fantasy game should have. He is obviously not close to the likes of Sephiroth in terms of strength, but his overall character as an enemy is very impressive.
Seems like Square did improve upon it’s characters this time around.
Good music is something I always look towards when I play a new game. Final Fantasy has been a source of amazing tunes for me to hum along to. In fact, most of the music in my iPod consists of momentous tracks from numerous Final Fantasy games, either original versions, orchestrated versions or covers. Just by this variety, you should be able to fathom how loved the music is. Concerts are held in memory of these fantastic melodies.
Unfortunately, neither XIII nor XIII-2 satisfied my hunger for music. The tracks were good, no doubt, but just not worthy of remembrance. Then again, this was to be expected as Nobou Uematsu was not the one who composed the soundtrack. For those of you who do not know, Uematsu-san produced the music for Final Fantasies 1-12. Masaishi Hamauzu had composed the music for XIII and XIII-2, but he could obviously not match Uematsu.
The only tracks I thought were catchy (Only slightly though) were Saber’s Edge and Snow’s Theme. The battle theme, Blinded by Light, was catchy only during the middle. In XIII-2, some of the tracks, including Saber’s Edge and Snow’s Theme, among others, are repeated. There are new tracks as well, but just like XIII, they fail to capture hearts. Great tracks, but not up to the Final Fantasy standards. XIII-2 also has several vocal tracks. I have never seen many vocal tracks in a video game, so this was a first. It was nice, but once again, not good enough. Perhaps if the songs had been chosen more carefully, they would have been welcomed. Once again, just to make my point, the songs were not bad, but not up to the standards.
And don’t get me started on the Chocobo Rock Anthem.
Therefore, in this aspect, both games stand together.
I would be a fool if I did not accept that XIII was a beautiful game. The visuals were stunning. I had first seen XIII on a regular CRT television with a 480i input. Even then they seemed splendid. After I started the game with a proper 1080p input, I was blown away. Square Enix has always been skillful with graphics, (Further proved by ‘Agni’s Philosophy’) but I did not expect graphics to be as astounding as this. I would sometimes just stand there on Gran Pulse, looking at the environment around me and marveling at everything. Sure there were a few rough edges here and there, but the whole thing was spectacular.
XIII-2 did not match up to it’s predecessor in terms of visuals. If you could compare both games, you would obviously see the difference. XIII had better textures, better effects and better visuals in all aspects. This is no surprise as XIII had been in development since 2004, meaning that Square had 5 years to work on it. On the other hand, XIII-2 began development in 2010, meaning that it was given to us in only a year and a half. Nonetheless, there is no point in giving excuses, though one must really understand that Square worked quite hard as they produced a good game in a short span of time.
XIII is the obvious winner here.
This is what matters in every game. Without good gameplay, a video game is like a slice of pizza stripped of all it’s toppings and cheese. Where’s the fun in that?
XIII’s gameplay was widely criticized. When fans saw the trailers, the hype increased. It seemed like the battle system would be great, and there would be a lot of exploration and what-not. The trailers were a lie.
XIII was absolutely linear (So was X, but it made up for the linearity with it’s story, characters, music and graphics). Throughout the whole game, except the part on Gran Pulse, you simply had to walk down a narrow corridor and fight the occasional battle. This linearity caused me to rage quit somewhere in the middle, until I ran out of stuff to play and got back on this. The crystarium in the game is also linear. You just keep holding down a button and your stats will be improved automatically. Somewhat similar to the sphere grid, the Crystarium does offer some extra upgrades, but they are useless as you have no control over 90% of your stats. They’ll increase according to the role your character has taken.
The fact that you could see monsters was both good and bad at the same time. Good, because you could avoid them or fight them without being surprised or frustrated. Bad, because sometimes they blocked your path when you were in no mood to attack, or were too weak.
The battle system was not impressive either. It was flashy, and made it seem like you had a lot of control over your character, when in reality it was automated. You can only control one person in battle, and the game ends if that one person dies. Whats more is that you could not select who you wanted to control in battle, until chapter 9 or so. The paradigm shifting was there, but it was too slow. By the time you switch paradigms and watch the characters change their roles, the enemy would have dealt some damage, causing you to be at a disadvantage. Stars were displayed at the end of the battle, telling you how well you fought, but there were no incentives for getting 5 stars.
And there were summons (now called Eidolons). These iconic epic entities help you gain the edge in battle in every Final Fantasy. Except XIII. I found Eidolons to be pretty pathetic. Most of them were revealed much later in the game, and they did not do significant damage. I did well throughout the game without their help. Sometimes, I staggered my enemies with the Eidolons only to find that the stagger meter went down after the Eidolon left. What was the whole point then? Furthermore, Eidolons didn’t look as cool as they did before. They all turned into robot-like monsters who change their shape to become… cars and bikes?
Another iconic feature of the Final Fantasy series is the existence of Chocobos. Yes, those yellow, ostriches with large feathers. They help you get around very fast. But what is the point when you get them 11 chapters later? And even then to be used only in Gran Pulse? They were useless unless you wanted to attempt sidequests in Gran Pulse.
Ah yes, sidequests… Those uninteresting missions that consisted of nothing more than a mere battle. Also, you can not have more than one sidequest. Trust me, you would not want to waste your time on these. And if you already have, then I respect for being able to withstand the immense boredom.
You’d think that was enough, but it isn’t. Remember the cool weapons you’d get in previous FFs? I admit that they weren’t given much of a look, and they were only slightly altered, but they were good weapons nonetheless. The equipment in XIII is crap. You need to ‘upgrade’ your equipment using different items, but there is no point in testing out different items, as they will have the same result. Why have such items in the game in the first place, if they hardly have any use?
I’ll admit that I’m a Final Fantasy fanboy, to some extent. I’ve played most of the Final Fantasies, and I even enjoyed the early ones in this age, which shows how I am able to love the series easily. It’s surprising, and depressing, to see that XIII couldn’t manage to gain my praise. It is like a scar on the entire series.
As for XIII-2… Well, Square solved most of the issues related to gameplay. Firstly, there is no more linearity. There is still no world map, but the game is very open. Through the History Crux, you can access areas belonging to various timelines. Each area is open and can be approached with many ways. You have different choices to make, and the Live Trigger option, though having no immediate effect, is fun to use as it provides you with information regarding the story and allows you to delve into the conversation. Treasures are hidden in every world, and sometimes you have to find them with Mog’s help, which is a lot of fun. Throwing Mog to find treasures, while risking the appearance of monsters is a nice addition. Also, I love how Mog screams for mercy (Mog Abuse). All this breaks the linearity and gives you more freedom. Although it’s still not as open as western RPGs, it is still admirable in terms of JRPG standards. Whats more is that almost everything is unlocked from the start. All the main roles, the paradigms, the party members… everything! No more tutorials at every other chapter.
However, the crystarium is still linear. Now, you just select a role and tap a button to improve your stats. Once again, your stats are improved automatically, with you having no say in them. On the other hand, you can no longer see monsters until they appear. The Mog Clock feature is nice, and brings back random encounters in a less irritating way. Now, if you feel like you don’t need to fight, you can choose to keep running to avoid the monsters. These beasts no longer block your path and force you to fight them.
The improvement that I was most looking forward to was that of the battle system. And I’m happy to say that I’m satisfied with this. There are only two party members this time around; Serah and Noel, but I had no issues with that. Since the game is short, I didn’t see the need for additional party members. Instead, you can now have monsters fighting with you in battle. It was a welcoming addition to the game. I’ve never played Pokemon, but I think I understand how players must feel when they catch a new Pokemon for their collection, because I felt the same way when I caught monsters in XIII-2. Did you want that Chocobo in you battle? Well, now your dream can come true. Behemoths, Tonberries, Cactuars – you name it! Each monster had it’s own special Feral Link ability which saved me time and CP. For example, I attained a monster who could buff my party with his feral link ability. This saved me from having to develop one of my characters as a synergist. Not only is this useful, but it’s fun too, as the Feral Link ability needs to activated by certain button inputs. If these inputs are provided quickly, more bonuses will be given. The battle leader can also now be changed any time during the fight. Also, the game does not end if the main player dies; in such a case, the second surviving player becomes the leader. Thus, no stupidity while fighting. If you fear that the battle still may not be in your control, due to ‘auto-battle’, you can set the cursor to always be on abilities so that you can select your characters moves manually, allowing you greater control over the game.
These button inputs lead me to another aspect of the battle system: Cinematic Action. Occasionally, especially in boss fights, you’ll have to press, hold or tap various buttons at the right time to defeat the enemy. This is also a good addition to the system and breaks the repeated cycle of ‘attack-stagger-attack’.
Paradigm shifts are much faster too. Now, you don’t have to watch your characters changing their paradigms. You simply select the paradigm you want and the characters will switch into it immediately. This makes moving back and forth between paradigms entertaining and easy. This time, the stars displayed at the end of the battle have some meaning attached to them. If you achieve five stars, you will get bonuses, such as a 200% chance of item drops from the enemy. Such little incentives intimidate the player to perform better, instead of just hacking away at the enemy with the Commando role.
Sadly (or fortunately) there are no Eidolons in the game. The game feels as if it’s… ‘lacking’ due to this. But its better to not have Eidolons than to see them being useless and pathetic, hence scarring their might as powerful entities. On the other hand, Chocobos are now available in almost every area. You can ride them and reach your destination quicker.
Sidequests are much better to. Still not very immersive, but better than the Cieth missions in XIII. In XIII-2, you will meet people who will ask you to perform different tasks for them, such as retrieving a flower that only blooms in the winter (in which case you have to go into the future when it is snowing and get the flower), or providing them with fully explored maps which you gain after… fully exploring the area, obviously! These seem like menial tasks, but all sidequests are this way. I’m sure you’ll agree that these are better than the killing quests in XIII.
Lastly, the items required for upgrading are no more. Yes, the weapons are still simple and similar-looking. New weapons can be purchased by a vendor named Chocobocolina who appears in every area. Sometimes, you require specific items to buy new weapons, and this is better than having to upgrade your weapons using them.
My favourite part about XIII-2 was the autosave feature. No more saving after every area, meaning no more need to worry about losing my progress.
Length and Content
When you spend $59.99 on a game and exhaust your wallet, you obviously want something that will keep you entertained for days. RPGs are known to be very long and vast, hence keeping you occupied for a long time. This was true in XIII’s case. The game spanned over 40-45 hours easily, even if you avoided the side-quests. XIII-2 was comparatively short. People have reported to have finished the game in 25 hours, whereas it took me only 18 (Avoided the side-quests and left them for the end).
But along with length, you always want good content, right? Although XIII was twice as long as XIII-2, it had you run through narrow pathways, fighting occasional battles in between which were not quite fun as everything was automatically done, except the paradigm shifting, which was slow. XIII-2 was better in game play, and hence more fun, as explained above.
And so it can be concluded that Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an improvement over XIII and is definitely worth playing. XIII-2 has a better story (if you put your mind to it), better/improved characters, more freedom, a better battle system, chocobos, good sidequests, autosaves and fun things to do when you aren’t pursuing the main story. It is only in terms of graphics that it feels weak.
All those people whining about this not being a good game, simply because they did not like XIII, can now understand how Square fixed it’s mistakes. Perhaps you’ll give the game a chance now.