Final Fantasy XIII-2: Fool me twice…

I’m feeling kind of ashamed right now, because I have to write another anti-review.

I call it an anti-review because I haven’t completed the game.  Even in the case of a game that I don’t enjoy – take Fragile Dreams for Wii, for instance – if I feel I must talk about it, I beat the game to get the full picture.  I cannot bear to continue playing FFXIII-2.

It’s not the battle system – at least, not exactly.  By itself, it’s reasonably fun.  Monster raising was a good addition, and adds much-needed variety.  The changes to the leveling system, though, give you a dichotomy: focus on a COM/RAV build, making all random battles a cakewalk, or diversify for boss battles, making random battles longer and less profitable.  Regardless, the vast majority of battles end up being “X to victory” once again, with paradigm shifts only occasionally being necessary.

Boring battle systems and poorly balanced leveling mechanics can be forgiven, if there is enough substance to the rest of the game.  I can think of plenty of simpler games I’ve played and enjoyed.  Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has no substance.  It has been forsaken entirely for style.

One need only look at the interactions between the characters for a perfect example: very short exchanges, with occasional dialogue choices.  The few interactions that take longer are usually punctuated with action, whether it’s the sudden appearance of unexpected enemies or the in-cutscene take-down of a large monster (with a Quick Time Event, usually).  It’s like playing the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie.  When the game is loaded, you get a little “The Story So Far” cutscene – just like in a bad anime or TV series (“In last night’s episode…”) – although I only played a subset of the game, The Story So Far was consistently filled with explosions, sword-swinging and very little, um, story.

The straw that broke the camel’s back may in fact have been the most clear-spoken character in the game: the mascot character, Mog.  Unfortunately, Mog is also unbearable conceptually; not only is he totally unexplained, but he’s also consistently a centerpiece of initial conversation (“oh my, do you have a toy moogle?!”) and a focus of exploration (necessary to find hidden items and advance to new areas).  He has no point whatsoever except to be cute, yet is a constant fixture in cutscenes, as if the designer wanted to kill suspension of disbelief every five minutes.

I’m not going to claim that the genre has been much better; but it’s certainly placed a greater emphasis on subtlety, simplicity, and quality.  If this is going to be a trend-setter for JRPGs, I think I’ll stick to older games.

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