Final Fantasy XIII-2 improves on its predecessor’s legacy in a big way!
Time travel. I don’t care who you are, it’s something that any of us would love to do. To go back and change some decisions or to go forward and see where it all leads. In Final Fantasy XIII-2, just when you think the worlds of Pulse and Cocoon are safe, it turns out that there is something larger going on that leads to traveling the timeline and fighting for the future and the past.
I think I should give you all a little context first. FFXIII-2 is a sequel to the often hated and hardly appreciated Final Fantasy XIII, developed and published by longtime RPG powerhouse Square Enix. It’s a game full of flaws like repetitive gameplay, annoying characters, and a linear story. That said, the game is beautiful and entertaining in its own way. If I were to review that game today, I would give it a 7.
The story of FFXIII-2 picks up three years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII, only things aren’t exactly as you remember. The game opens with an epic battle between Lightning and Caius, a new foe. When their fight reaches a lull, a boy falls from the sky and we are introduced to Noel. Lightning seems to recognize him and tasks him with traveling the timeline and protecting her sister, Serah.
Serah now lives on Pulse with the rest of the NORA crew, only her fiancé Snow is nowhere to be found. Everyone remembers the day where Vanille and Fang sacrificed themselves to save Cocoon, but only Serah remembers Lightning surviving. Everyone else thinks she is trapped in the crystal pillar that keeps Cocoon from crashing down. Out of nowhere Noel appears (saving Serah’s life in the process) with a message from her sister and the duo starts off on a journey to save Lightning, Cocoon, Pulse and time itself.
It’s a bit of a rough and confusing introduction to the story, but once you get a feel for how the tale is presented, its quite simple. Find Lightning, save her, save the world, save time. It’s not terribly deep, but it’s satisfying for the most part. You are also allowed to make choices when presented with Live Actions. The effect of these on the story are mostly minimal but it’s a nice addition. What you will find is that there are a lot of subplots to discover in the many locations and times available to you. Also, reading the codex entries that accompany fragments is surprisingly interesting and really fills out the story.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 looks to address its predecessor’s most talked about flaw, linearity, by offering branching mission-based gameplay and side quests galore. Instead of the usual world map, the player traverses the timeline via the Historia Crux to visit different locations at different times. Each location has different time gates that are activated by Artefacts received from completing missions. These gates open new places and times. It’s a really great system for branching exploration, but it has its drawbacks. For instance, sometimes you’ll get missions that can only be completed by visiting another time period, but there is little to no indication of which particular missions require this, so you are left scouring the location only to find nothing.
The battle system remains largely unchanged from XIII. Each party member has a set of roles; Commando, Ravager, Saboteur, Synergist, Sentinel, and Medic. The player groups these roles to create a Paradigm, which can be changed on the fly in battle. The major difference is that the third party slot is now filled by creatures that you can tame through battle. Each creature has a specific role and you are allowed to select three creatures to use in a Paradigm Pack, which you then use as the third character in your paradigms. It’s well implemented and frankly brilliant. The thrill of catching monsters and creating the perfect Paradigm Pack is addictive and rewarding, but it doesn’t stop there.
Square Enix also looked to give the player a little more flexiblity in the Crystarium character development system. In the previous game you basically just followed the path for each role, allocating Crystarium Points (CP) to reach the next node. But now, each character has just one path for all roles. Each node provides stat bonuses and the occasional ability depending on which role you are currently sinking points into. It allows you to customize Serah and Noel in that you can choose to focus on one or two roles, or spread your points across all roles.
Each captured baddie also has their own Crystarium, but instead of CP, they are leveled up using materials gathered from defeated foes. Each creature has a limited number of moves and passive bonuses they will learn, but the fun doesn’t stop there. You are also allowed to combine monsters together through Infusion. When you do this, all unlocked passive abilities are transferred, and if they are the same role, moves can be learned as well, allowing you to create your own custom powerhouse.
I just can’t stress enough how well the entire creature capturing and leveling system works. It is amazing.
Unfortunately, all of this creature customization and paradigm creation can go to waste on a battle system that gets a little repetitive. If you are committed to the spirit of the system, switching paradigms frequently and using your skills wisely, it’s fun, but you can just as easily press the “auto-battle” button and watch it all unfold. Also, the pseudo random battles are frequent, with monsters appearing on the field instead of roaming around. You’ll have to make the decision to either rush to get away or engage them and due to the frequency the system can go unchanged throughout most of the game. Square Enix does introduce Cinematic Actions (think, quick-time events) to help spice up the fights, but these are reserved for major encounters only.
Graphically, it’s your usual Square Enix fare, which is to say unbelievably beautiful. Environments are varied and stunning, monsters are detailed and animated perfectly, and cutscenes rival any Hollywood production. Square Enix is in a league of its own and not afraid to show it.
However, the music stumbles a bit. For some reason they decided to include lyrics in some of the tracks. Some of it is okay, but for the most part it is awful and distracting, removing you from the experience. The voice acting is also hit and miss, particularly with Noel, but it’s not horrible.
If you are a fan of the prequel, then Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes what you love and just makes it better. If you wanted to like the original, but left disappointed, then the sequel is the game you were hoping for. The missions allow you to play how you want and Live Actions let you make all kinds of choices. Sure there are some missteps with the music, story, and battle, but the look, subplots, creature customization, and flexibility more than make up for it. It’s a game for fans and newcomers alike, and with multiple endings, it’s a game worth playing again and again.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PS3