To outsiders the Final Fantasy series is a mysterious beast. Its strange worlds and dense, complex mythology verge on the indecipherable – it’s all fey heroes, giant chickens and an assortment of monsters so odd it makes Wonderland look like Tunbridge Wells. The only thing more puzzling is its enduring popularity in the face of such weirdness.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 will do little to end the incomprehension. There is a beginners’ guide recounting the events of the previous game but it merely rams home just how alienating the series has become since its late ’90s glory days.
Sadly the mist doesn’t clear in-game either. The time-travelling story is a bewildering mess of Final Fantasy jargon, vacuous homespun philosophy and sappy melodrama. It’s as if a bookstore’s worth of New Age self-help books have been chopped into lone sentences and reassembled at random. Many games can survive with a nonsensical script but story is integral to Final Fantasy and what’s on offer here is a tale that only the most undiscriminating of fanboys could love.
With the story a busted flush, we’re left with the battles, which are the meat and spuds of the Final Fantasy experience. Located in the twilight zone between action and turn-based combat, the battles revel in complexity and nuance while also rewarding quick thinking.
Players willing to dig deep into the intricacies of the battle system in order to calculate the best approaches for dispatching monsters will find much to love, but it is very much an acquired taste. That said there’s a certain problem-solving pleasure to be had figuring out the optimal approach to each of its zippy fights.
It looks and sounds gorgeous of course – this is a Final Fantasy game, after all – but beneath its remarkable beauty the game struggles, lost within its murky story and too dependent on its pernickety fights.