I guess the title gives this away but I can give you the tl;dr version of this right now: Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a really shit game that I like a lot.

It feels very difficult to justify this opinion, because there is a lot to not like about Final Fantasy XIII-2. Its plot, let me state right now, is basically a checklist of everything to hate about JRPG writing: It’s got bullshit time travel, uses it non-sensically (not quite to Sonic 06 “We’d better hurry up and time travel or we’ll be late!” levels, but I digress) and pretentiously waffles on about those cliches the Japanese love to over-use like choosing your own destiny and fighting against fate and THOUGH WE MAY BE APART OUR HEARTS WILL ALWAYS BE CONNECTED and argh jesus christ

Okay lemme start at the beginning. FF13 was a game about humanity living in a giant fucking death star floating above a planet full of monsters that would eat them. The sphere is held up and supported by magic god-analogues called Fal’cie who nobody likes because they like giving humans unreasonable tasks that if they succeed, they get put in suspended animation, and if they fail, they turn into batshit insane monsters. For this reason the party decides these fuckers need to die in the traditional JRPG way, and the main character is reunited with her sister and yay happy ending

Then we cut to FF13-2’s plot. Suddenly the GODDESS OF TIME is revealed to have pulled a few strings or something in FF13 and her interference is killing her and the main character of 13 now apparently vanished into thin air when they beat the final boss and she’s now the goddess’ personal valkyrie but her sister remembers everything about the real timeline and there’s this guy with purple hair and a fabulous voice trying to kill said main character and some doofass from the future magically falls into a portal to the LAND OF TIME and the main character sends him back to her time to meet her sister and go on a quest to put the timeline right and stop the goddess from dying and THAT IS THE FIRST HALF HOUR.

The nonsensical bullshit remains present through the length of the game, with contrivances galore and a plot that only makes fucking sense if you’re prepared to read the game’s stupid goddamn in-game dictionary (because fuck having a narrative that’s coherent on its own merits!) and even then to say it makes sense is really fuckin’ pushing it. So before we talk about the parts of this game that are actually good, let’s talk about how I managed to find stuff of merit in the shitfest that is the writing.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s a fantastic lesson in how not to translate, and in an interesting sense. You get wooden translations of JRPGs all the time – Tales of Vesperia comes to mind in being a game that basically has all of its literary effort going into its terminology, and doesn’t dabble in particularly difficult concepts, yet has an incredibly wooden translation where the dialogue just does not appear to be one coherent conversation. 13-2 has a more interesting problem, in that its writing is innately convoluted, and to an extent hence it’s understandable that your average TL – or even a better than average TL – is going to have issues with making that dialogue sound good – and I am definitely speaking here from a position of criticizing without necessarily being able to do better myself. But when you’re releasing a fucking Final Fantasy game, the flagship franchise of your company, come on guys. Get your A-team in, make sure your script actually feels alive, like it’s been written by a human being rather than an emotionless translation robot.

That said. From my experience, a better translation would have actually made this a worse game. I think it’s at the point where constantly getting to chuckle at the stiffness of the translation is better than the alternative – which would have been a perfectly fluid translation that instead drew my attention to what was actually being said, at which point I’d be reduced to a constant state of punching myself in the arm. Allow me to provide a fantastic example from the scene where the heroes first meet the game’s antagonist:

Villain: “If you change the future, you change the past.”
Heroine: “It keeps changing?!”
Villain: “Hmph. Change is the constant.”

You know what, actually, here. Watch this. Enjoy this.

You can skip to about 1:45 in if you just want to enjoy the complete “what the fuck am I watching” of the whole scene. It’s a nightmare of bad storytelling, the type of thing where the player’s representatives in the world react to things in a way that is either bordering on too stupid to exist (the main heroine) or by being an aggravating shit who understands the Deeper Significance(TM) of everything being said in a way that makes the viewer feel alienated from events because you haven’t provided them with the knowledge to get whats going on (the secondary hero).

The video also highlights the other saving grace of this atrocious fucking script – Liam O’Brien voicing the main villain. A good voice actor can make a good script shine, but it takes a truly talented voice actor to make something amazing out of the cliche nonsensical dialogue FF13-2 provides, and him and Troy Baker are about the only two people in the game who can do it. I can probably listen to (and attempt to replicate to no end) him saying “THERE ARE MANY YEULS.” for pretty much forever before I get tired of it.

So let’s talk about the good. Aesthetically, it’s a very beautiful game that makes use of being a sequel very well. It has existing assets and familiar locales, and it can use these in combination with familiar music hooks to pull up some nice little nostalgic calls to FF13 itself. For me, this is kind of weird, as FF13 was a game that I realized I only really cared about (in terms of character, story, etc.) after I beat it. So while I didn’t enjoy the main game of FF13 that much as I played it (though the post-game where it turns into RPG Monster Hunter fucking owns) having an old character show up again in this or hearing a familiar piece of music triggered fuck yeah moments that they really shouldn’t.

Not to take credit away from this game’s original stuff, though. Considering FF13 itself was a 3-disc game (mostly due to its reliance on huge fuckin’ pre-rendered FMVs everywhere, I admit) it’s a real interesting thing to see a game with this many sprawling areas and beautiful designs crammed onto a single DVD. The game looks beautiful – to the extent the framerate can kinda chug a lot in places – and the new musical direction is fantastic, with the game being filled with a lot of soft-spoken vocal pieces. I guess if having vocal songs as background music isn’t your thing then this might be considered a negative, but that’s okay, I know you can’t help not having a soul. There’s also this really nice touch that reminds me of Phantasy Star Online where the music in the field shifts seamlessly into a much more rocking, upbeat version when an enemy appears, and those are great for the entire 5 seconds you get to listen to them before said battle starts. One good reason to get the soundtrack, I guess.

The gameplay is a lot more difficult to be objective about: It’s very much something that appeals to my niche. Rather than having a single cohesive game world, you have a ‘web’ of different locations and times, with things you do and problems you solve in one area opening gates to other areas at other times – with a linear-ish path taking the player through the plot and lots of optional branches coming off of it. This allows you to see locations as they grow and evolve over time, or sink into decay from abandonment, or just watch the seasons pass. You also have the option of, as your actions shape the timeline and alter events, visiting some areas either as they were before you intervened, or as they are afterwards. It’s pretty neat!

In each area you’re going around, talking to people, collecting magical time doohickeys and fighting battles. The FF13 games have this interesting battle system where your party kind of controls their specific actions automatically, but you shape their ‘paradigms’ – essentially job-changing them on the fly. Battle control is more about quickly shifting people into the right roles for the right moments, making use of how different roles in the party synergize to fight battles effectively. There’s also an element of reaction, shifting into defensive or healing modes in time to hold off an enemy’s attack, or activating a skill unique to one role and then switching into another one mid-action so that it gets a specific bonus from being in a different role. The fact you can change at any time during the middle of any action really makes the use of the system really interesting and exciting, and it has a lot of nuance that means if you want to get spergy about it, you can.

Oh, and your third party slot is for monsters. You can catch them, raise them, fuse them, put funny hats on them, and then go fight with them. You can swap them out mid-battle and they all have their own skillsets and stuff. Pokemon Simulator 2012 woot woot.

But really, I do like the game as a game. There’s a lot to do – it’s one of those games that has a lot of doohickeys for you to collect and does a really nice job of constantly giving you objectives and things to do. For people like me who lives for basically turning games into a checklist of things to say “I’ve done that, what’s next?” it’s an absolute pleasure and a joy. While the gameplay is easily breakable and oddly balanced due to the nature of how much optional stuff is constantly unlocking, and the game making assumptions about how much of it you’ll have done at any given point in time, it never really gets dull, in my opinion. I just wish it had an actually interesting and engaging optional boss like the original game did, whereas 13-2 makes do by giving you harder versions of the existing bosses that basically all have the same strategy, but eh, beggars can’t be choosers.

I just wish the game was capable of offering the gripping and exciting narrative experience the series was known fo-bahahahahaha yeah right. Honestly, I don’t think I can recommend the game despite enjoying it, but if you’re a masochist, I heavily recommend the group LP by Kung-Fu Jesus and his posse. It perfectly encapsulates the mind-numbing despair this game would put its average player through, and I feel that experiencing that by proxy is by far the preferred way of doing it.