The Final Fantasy series has been around for 25 years now, and in all that time only one game in the numbered series has experienced a direct sequel. Square Enix decided to go the route of X-2 with XIII and made XIII-2. As such XIII-2 is a direct sequel to XIII and uses many of the same systems, like X-2 it tries to be little different and takes some chances that a normal numbered entry wouldn’t. Some of these attempts pay off well while others fall a little short. Final Fantasy XIII-2 ends up being an enjoyable experience that fixes a lot of the problems that the original had, however more problems arise like a little more unfocused story.
The game starts a couple years after the events of XIII with the disappearance of Lightning the main character of the original, everyone seems to think here dead except for Serah her sister who remembers a different past than everyone else. This time around the game focuses almost entirely on Serah and her search for Lightning. A traveler from the future named Noell joins her on this quest, and together the two end up on a quest to save the past and the future.
The story makes the game play out in a time traveling fashion, Serah and Noell must travel through different time periods and even different realities throughout the game. As is usual, this time traveling story ends up being more than a bit muddled and confusing. Although I do have to say that of my favorite features of the game was traveling to locales in different times and seeing who and what is different. For much of the game this system and the story in general is a bit difficult to follow, but near the end of the game the story wraps itself up nicely and everything starts to fit together a little better. As the main villain Kaius’s main motivation becomes clearer things add up more, and he actually begins to become a somewhat intriguing villain.
This different take on the story also allows Square Enix to address many of the complaints that people had with the first game. XIII-2 is much more open ended than the original. The locations are all somewhat explorable and there is a wide array of side quests that you can undertake. To open new time periods you must solve the “paradoxes” that pop up in different time periods and acquire artifacts that open time gates for you to jump through. A lot of these are essential to the main story and so you can’t avoid opening them, however there are a good amount of gates that are completely optional.
Having finished the main story I still had about 30% of the locations to visit. There are also collectibles called fragments that you obtain through various means such as completing quests, once you unlock these you get a little bit of text that discloses some information on the story or world in your data log.
As I said before, the new story direction in XIII-2 opens things up and makes the game much more explorable but the story loses some major direction and the game is worse for that. Even though most of the major characters from XIII make appearances in one way or another, the story is altogether not as engaging or interesting and it is also much more confusing (which is saying something). In terms of character development though, there are some decent developments through the game. Mostly just for Serah and Noell. It should also be noted that the pairs moogle companion Mog is mostly annoying rather than anything else.
Gameplay in XIII-2 remains largely the same. You run around through environments, the only difference being the inclusion of a jump button which is surprisingly a first for the series. This adds some height to the maps, however there is an odd platforming section near the end of the game that feels completely out of place for a Final Fantasy game. Speaking of out of place, let’s talk about the quick time events (called Cinematic Action) included in some of the major boss battles. Quick time events rarely work well in any game, and putting them in a Final Fantasy game seems absolutely idiotic. They feel utterly and completely out of place and really drag down scenes that would have been delivered much better with a cut-scene as is.
The wonderful battle system of XIII returns with some minor changes that make it even better. The active time battle, ATB, is back and you queue up your actions as the attack gauge fills for your character, you only directly control one character in battle. Like in XIII, your characters have different roles that fulfill different purposes in battle. These roles are commando, ravager, sentinel, medic, synergist, and saboteur. These roles for your three characters all add up into something called a paradigm. The battle system relies entirely on you strategically using roles and paradigms to decimate your enemies. Battle in XIII-2 is quick and flashy and like before it’s an absolute blast to play, in fact there are times where the battle system feels like enough to warrant playing the game alone.
Unfortunately though, XIII-2 is markedly easier than the first. When you get an enemy that truly challenges you, it is an absolute thrill to play. There really almost aren’t enough good things to say about the battle system, like I thought in XIII this is one of the best battle systems I’ve played in any RPG ever.
In addition to some added attacks for roles, another thing makes the battle system all the more interesting. Serah and Noell fill up two slots on your time while the third is reserved for monster companions that you acquire. When you defeat monsters in battle, there is a chance that they will drop a crystal. These crystals give you the ability to fill that third role with monsters you have obtained. Things called “paradigm packs” allow you to have three monsters assigned at once, these monsters fill the third character in your battle group and they can be integrated into your paradigms however you see fit. This adds a little bit of a collecting Pokémon like kind of system in, that’s fun to use.
There is of course different weapons and accessories that you can obtain or forge and equip on Serah or Noell and the crystarium system returns for leveling even though it’s a bit more streamlined this time around. You have a different crystarium for every role, and you can sink CP into that role until it reaches level 99. Each level you gain raises your stats in some way. Monsters level up differently. You have to level them up with items you obtain in the game, and they have fewer levels that they can gain.
Moving on from gameplay, as a huge fan of Final Fantasy music, XIII-2 did not disappoint me in the slightest. XIII-2 has an absolutely phenomenal soundtrack; it takes some tracks from XIII while adding a host of new ones. Although the style of music for the series has changed significantly, you can always count on a Final Fantasy game to have good music. And XIII-2s techno/ popish soundtrack fits right in. Voice acting on the other hand, isn’t nearly as stellar. Most of the main characters do a well enough job in their roles but minor characters are a mixed bag. Voice acting never achieves a great level in XIII-2 but some voices are just downright painful to hear, like the item shop Chocolina. This can be a bit of an annoying factor considering that so much of the game is in fact voiced.
Presentation is overall pretty good in XIII-2 as well. Again, the game looks beautiful and especially the effects in battle. Battle is especially flashy and fun to watch. The menus are also streamlined well and easy to navigate, whereas XIIIs menus were a bit cumbersome and awkward.
Certain key scenes are presented in Square Enix’s trademark cg. These look just as beautiful as ever and are a real treat to the eye to watch, it is a bit disappointing that the game doesn’t have very many of them. One thing to point out is the long load times, especially when loading a new time or going back to the historia crux load times can take upwards of 45 seconds to a minute. It’s a minor complaint but one to note nonetheless.
Overall XIII-2 is another fun role playing experience in the Final Fantasy series. Some questionable design choices like quick time events, platforming, terrible side quest casino game play, and a much less focused story do detract from the experience though. The ending to the game is incredibly frustrating too. Without spoiling the plot, the game ends with a big fat “To Be Continued”. And seeing as this doesn’t seem like something that can be wrapped up with DLC, this sequel bait ending is incredibly frustrating.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is different from the rest of the series, it tries some new things. In some ways this is good and in some ways this is bad. With the main story clocking in at just around 30 hours, it’s a fair amount shorter than the rest of the series as well. It is by no means a bad game, although a bit disappointing in some aspects. XIII-2 is still a good RPG experience, with plenty of fun to be had among the distractions.
*Square Enix provided SlimGamer.com with a review copy.