Final Fantasy XIII-2 corrects the major flaws of its predecessor and will restore your faith in the Final Fantasy franchise.
Final Fantasy is one of the most recognized RPG franchises in gaming history. It solidified its position with Final Fantasy VII, one of the Playstation’s defining titles. Gorgeous summoning spells, an amazing battle system with limit breaks and a captivating plot with memorable characters made it a legendary title. Games VIII and IX on Playstation were good, but not as groundbreaking as VII. Then came Final Fantasy X on the PS2. Once again, Squaresoft (prior to the merger of Square with the Enix Corporation) showed the gaming community just how great its RPGs were. The company decided that the game was so good; it would be spun off into a X-2. Unfortunately, the spinoff paled in comparison to the original. Three games later, Square-Enix has made a similar move with Final Fantasy XIII, except there is one difference. Final Fantasy XIII suffered from ill-conceived level design that forced gamers into linear gameplay – a definite “no, no” in RPG land. Now, with Final Fantasy XIII-2, Square-Enix has corrected the fatal flaw of the original title. The biggest difference is this: Final Fantasy XIII-2 isn’t just a game worth playing; it’s a game worth beating. You just couldn’t say the same about the original.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 starts off with Lightning, the familiar face and lead badass character from the original game. She’s saying a prayer to the goddess Etros. In the opening cinematics, you also meet a man dressed in purple, named Caius, with one “helluva” sword. He stands on the beach, hovering over the body of a woman. After saying some parting words, he attacks Lightning. Right away, you are thrust into what feels like a major battle. It’s almost impossible to lose, but it quickly gets you fully invested in this new RPG. You want to know what Lightning is praying for and why this man is attacking her. By the way, who is that woman who just died and why does Caius seem to blame Lightning for her death?
Lightning is already powered up. You have Odin by your side and a few powerful spells. But don’t get attached to Lightning; she’s not really involved in the gameplay. The action is superficially intense because it’s really just a warm up for the actual story. After a few battles with Caius, complete with cinematic actions (QuickTime events), a man named Noel falls from the sky. Now, the story can begin. Lightning commands Noel to head through a space-time portal to save her younger sister Serah. She sends along Mog, a Moogle who can find items and transform into a weapon, with Noel to serve as Serah’s weapon.
It’s a long exposition, but in this case it is worth it. The XIII-2 story feels like a completely fresh game even though it’s a part two. Noel lands in the past just as a meteor is crashing down into Serah’s home village on Pulse. If you don’t know what Pulse is, or haven’t played the original game, you won’t be at too much of a loss. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is easier to follow than its predecessor. You don’t dwell too much on the differences between the l’Cie and the fal’Cie or the difference between the people who live on Cocoon and those that live on Pulse (Cocoon is the floating world, safe from monsters, that sits above Pulse like a moon hangs over a planet). Those concepts are still present for back-story and a few key events. However, XIII-2 is more about saving the world. You don’t have to worry about whose focus is what and why and why does everyone hate them for it.
Now, let me warn you. XIII-2 isn’t without its moments of confusing story telling. This is a time travel story. There are anomalies that you have to resolve, which come in the form of mini-puzzles. You can’t have a time travel story without some confusion, but the overarching story will keep you invested. Noel and Serah also take some time to warm to. Unlike Lightning or Snow, Noel and Serah start off as more soppy characters. They almost feel like a throwback to Hope. Serah let her fiancé Snow go off to find her sister after she disappeared at the end of XIII. He’s been gone for three years and in that time she never went after Snow. After he spent all of game XIII hunting for her, it just feels like she’s a little apathetic. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Noel’s back-story, but it takes a while to figure him out and why you should be following him. His character does not have the same appeal as Cloud had in VII.
The gameplay brings you back to a fully opened-up experience. You’re not just traveling along a linear route for the whole game. Instead of a world map, you have a time map called the History Crux. Once you unlock a new area in time, you can travel backwards and forwards through history. There are also alternate histories to explore. This really brings you back to how Final Fantasy should be. You can go anywhere you like, and you have great reasons for doing so.
In XIII-2, you have to collect artifacts, which help you to open up portals to travel through time or allow you to unlock special abilities. The latter is accomplished by bringing your artifacts to a casino, called Serendipity, which exists outside of the timeline. In Serendipity, you can also play a number of gambling games to raise money. As always, there is a Chocobo race. In XIII-2, you not only race Chocobos, but also you can have them fight along side you.
Instead of having three characters in your party, you only have Noel and Serah. However, throughout the game you can catch monster crystals, which allow you to use Monsters as the third member of your team. They can be powered up by gathering various monster materials. Monsters denoted “early peakers” can be powered up quickly and are welcome additions to your team in a hard spot. However, they max out at Level 20. Those denoted “late bloomers” take a long time to develop but will be key assets later on in the game. Similar to XIII, Monsters use the Crystarium System, where you trade Crystogen Points for levels. However, unlike Noel and Serah who can switch between roles like Synergist, Medic, and Commando on a whim, Monsters can only have one default role. You can also infuse one monster with the passive and role abilities of another monster. The ability to switch between party paradigms feels more engaging and strategic in XIII-2 over its predecessor, but that could just be because this game is more engaging overall.
The addition of Monsters to the gameplay makes the battle system more engaging. Your Monsters will be able to perform their own super moves, much like the Limit breaks of FF VII. Although gamers can’t runway from a fight once they’re in it, the game restarts you from right before the fight if you die. Players also don’t lose any of their supplies. The save system allows you to save at any point in the game. If you power off your game, you will return to the History Crux and from there can travel to any place in time.
Lightning isn’t the only character that pops back up into this quest. Hope also appears as a grown up. He’s less weepy than he was in XIII and it’s great to see him finally grown up. He also helps to shift the shift the story into more understandable territory. Thanks to Hope, who heads a group called the Academy, the people are moving away from relying on the fal’Cie and are shifting towards technology. It also gave the designers a chance to really blur the visual designs between fantasy setting and city landscapes, filled with technology. There are a lot of beautiful areas to explore and even more varieties of monsters. There is also a traveling saleswoman called Chocolina, who is a hybrid of a woman and a Chocobo. She looks like someone who escaped from a Brazilian carnival and forgot to take off her costume.
Regarding the mini-puzzles, they are not too prevalent in the game, but they do show up at key paradox points. In one puzzle, you have to make it across to the next portal without backtracking, while collecting crystals. It gets fairly difficult later on in the game. Another puzzle is setup like a two-hand clock, with numbers ranging from one through six spread around its face. If you touch the number one, the hands will clear that number and then move one space in opposite directions. Depending on where the two hands land next, you will have to choose one of the next two numbers to move next. If you choose the six (as just an example), it will move six spaces. The goal is to clear the entire board. This was probably the trickiest puzzle to get used to. Once you complete a puzzle, the game says that you have corrected the anomaly.
There are a few gripes with the game. Traveling with your Mog means that you have to hear it say “Kupo” all the time. It gets annoying. However, you get your revenge later on in the game when you can throw Mog in the middle of any area. It struggles by screaming, “Kupo, Kupo, Kupoooo.” It’s great. There are some frame rate issues when you travel through time and in a few of the cinematic animations. Also, I’m a little upset with the inability to summon. Summoning has been a great part of the franchise since VII so it was difficult to see it vanish. I also would have liked to see more interaction with some of the characters from the previous game; they had more depth and dimension. If not for Caius, Noel and Serah’s story would not have been nearly as interesting. The two just needed some more personality.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a surprisingly good game and the conclusion is worth the hours of level grinding you invested. There is one caveat to the conclusion, but I won’t spoil it for you.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
(Also available on Xbox 360
January 31, 2012
8.2 / 10