I’m one of those guys who actually liked Final Fantasy XIII. So, sue me. I thought changing up the style and offering a different take on the FF universe was a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, I love previous FF games as well. This is why I think Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a great combination of the old and the new.
As you can probably tell by the title, FFXIII-2 is a direct sequel to FFXIII. You play as Serah, Lightning’s sister, and Noel, a young man from the future travelling through time. Noel travels in time to Valhalla where he runs into Lightning fighting a man named Caius. Lightning asks Noel to use time gates to find her sister and bring her to Valhalla. Using one of these portals, Noel heads back in time and retrieves Serah, embarking on a mission to rejoin Lightning. Thus begins Final Fantasy XIII-2
The game is very reminiscent of Chrono Trigger or the DS title, Radiant Historia. Your party visits different time periods and locations, changes things that happen, and travel to the futures and pasts created by those decisions. You will even encounter alternate time periods that explore the “what if” scenarios.
The battle system stays the same, for the most part, with one big exception and one small exception. The big exception is the inclusion of monster taming. Noel and Serah are the only two human party members you will have. The third spot is reserved for monsters you have tamed that will help you out in battle. Monsters have their own specific role, and switching paradigms that require a different role will switch out the monster. You can have up to 3 monsters slotted in your party at one time. The smaller exception to the combat system is the speed of the battles. Paradigm shifts happen much more quickly. Now, when you switch paradigms, it is almost instantaneous. Because of this, you can switch up roles on the fly and chain together combos really quickly. It makes the game’s combat fun and simple, but still challenging.
In some boss battles, you will encounter certain events that can give you the upper hand if performed correctly and in a timely matter. They are in the form of quick time events that never get too complicated, instead offering a change of pace during long battles.
The Crystarium leveling system is the same, but with more streamlined takes. Instead of multiple grids for each role, you have only one grid and chose what role to level up on that grid. Abilities are learned now at specific role levels. It keeps the confusion down. Monsters can also be leveled up in the Crystarium, not with points like Noel and Serah, but with monster items that can be found bought, of acquired through winning battles.
The biggest complaint fans had with FFXIII was how linear the game was. This is most definitely not the case in XIII-2. Not only are you going to different locations and time periods at will, but when you arrive at said locals, there is a lot to explore. In fact, the game actually rewards players for exploring and finding things. Some areas are small, but others are massive and could take you hours to find everything you wanted. Another open ended aspect is the amount of optional side quests you can venture out on. Some quests will have you going to another time period to gather something and bring it back to a simple “I dropped something way over there. If you bring it back, I’ll give you something.” Of course, this is optional, but it does offer up some nice rewards for the players who want it. There’s so much exploration and choice in the game, that there’s even an option to reset a time period and basically replay it again and see how it turns out with different choices.
Another thing that still blows my mind is the presentation of the game, and just how beautiful it actually looks. The colorful environments, and even the cut scenes, look absolutely amazing. Also, Square Enix has done some amazing work, once again on having the English voices match up with the characters. It’s almost flawless at times. I really like the whole “previously on Final Fantasy XIII-2” cut scene recap that plays every time you load up your game. It’s almost like watching a television show.
If there’s anything FFXIII-2 is weak on, it’s the story. Granted, I was never bored while playing through the game, but it seemed like the story was “We have to get to Lightning.” That was it. It picks up more about halfway through the game, and of course, you do unravel a big mystery about the paradoxes that appear in the time periods. For the most part, though, it felt like there was no real reason for the actions of the characters. Also, because of how open-ended the game is, I found myself somewhat lost in some situations when it came to which gate I should open and how I should approach a certain time period. Because of that, you may end up going to a time period and running into someone that you weren’t supposed to until you went somewhere else first, so the story dialog doesn’t match up with what has happened so far. It’s a rare condition, but it did happen to me a few times. It doesn’t break the game, but breaks up the story a little.
All in all, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a really enjoyable game. If you didn’t like XIII, I’d still suggest that you give it a try. There are enough improvements to both exploration and combat to appease the old school FF players while keeping the game play fresh. If you’re a fan of Japanese RPG’s, you’ll love the game. Despite the story slowing down at times, the game is really impressive and a lot of fun to play.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.