Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review
Final Fantasy games don’t get direct sequels too often. In fact, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is only the second one to be made, with 2003’s Final Fantasy X-2 being the first. It seems that Square Enix felt they had more of a story to tell with Lightning, Serah and friends, and so players will find themselves once more adventuring through Final Fantasy XIII ‘s worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse. Final Fantasy XIII-2 thrusts you into a time traveling narrative right from the outset, and like most time traveling stories, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But what truly counts is the gameplay and fun factor, and thankfully Final Fantasy XIII-2 greatly outshines its predecessor in those respects.
The combat system is faster, the extreme linearity of XIII is abolished (almost to a fault, which I’ll expound upon later), the graphics are improved, and new mechanics have been seamlessly integrated into the experience. What’s left in from its predecessor has been streamlined and polished to a mirror sheen. The narrative feels much more lighthearted than XIII, which got a bit overbearing in places. I really like the character of Lightning, and I love that we finally got the chance to play as a female as the main character in a Final Fantasy game (yes, Yuna was the heroine in X-2 but I consider that game more of a spin-off). However, Lightning was a bit too stoic and didn’t have a whole lot of personality. She still is in this game, but her role in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is relegated much more to the background, with this story following Lightning’s sister Serah, her boyfriend Snow, and a time-traveling teenager from 700 years in the future named Noel Kreiss.
At the game’s outset, we meet up with Lightning once again, clad in medieval looking armor, and it is explained that she is now a guardian of the Godess Etro. She’s in Valhalla, a realm which is untouched by the hands of time, and is in the heat of battle against a purple-haired man named Caius. In the middle of this fight, she meets future-boy Noel, and she asks him to travel through time and find her sister Serah, and bring her back to her, as she can’t leave the realm of Valhalla unguarded.
Within a few hours of the game’s opening, you’ll be time-traveling and using the Crystarium upgrade system on our heroes, which is quite a different story from the very slow opening of the original. As many players no doubt remember, Lightning was funneled through a very constrictive path for more than 20 hours. Square Enix definitely listened to players’ concerns and XII-2 gets the ball rolling much faster. In no time, you’ll be exploring vast open areas with branching paths and lots of choices. It’s a stark contrast to the original, where the only choice you had was to go backwards or forward.Here, there’s side missions, you can choose what your character says to people a la Mass Effect, and there’s even brand new Cinematic Actions (read: Quick Time Events), which actually add a whole new dimension to the gameplay. Some people can take or leave Quick Time Events, but Final Fantasy XIII-2 uses them in a very solid fashion, adding tension, action and emotion to battles, and even the aforementioned matter of choice. In a Cinematic Action, if an enemy is jumping towards you with their blade drawn, you can quickly decide to, for example, either melee them, use your gun, or magic. All this choice actually gives you the feeling that Final Fantasy XIII-2 could be played a bit differently upon repeated playthroughs, giving a replay value I’ve never felt with a Final Fantasy game before.
However, all this free reign can be a bit of a bad thing if a player doesn’t fully understand what to do or where to go, and this feeling permeates much of Final Fantasy XIII-2. There’s a map with some dots on it, and when you see right in front of you the thing you’re supposed to be looking for, the game will show an exclamation mark, which is usually less than helpful. I found myself backtracking quite a bit and running through levels blind just hoping to trigger a cutscene. I’m glad Square Enix decided to give us more freedom, but a little hand-holding would have been appreciated here. When enemies pop out at you every five seconds while you’re just trying to find your way out of a section, it can get pretty frustrating.
One more big change for this series is that in XIII-2, you’ll only be controlling Noel and Serah. Other people will sometimes join you for battle, though, and you can actually capture monsters that you fight and tame them, putting them in your stable to fight against other monsters. You can even level them up, it’s a pretty neat and addictive feature.
As I mentioned before, the battle system has received a few small tweaks under the hood to optimize performance and make battles feel faster. Once big chance is that Paradigm Shifts, the act of changing your characters’ roles (Synergist, Medic, Commando, etc.) in the heat of battle has been drastically sped up, which is great considering how often you’ll usually need to change them, especially during boss fights, which can get way too long-winded. Final Fantasy XIII‘s Auto-Battle also returns, which chooses attacks and defenses based on what information you’ve collected on your enemies.
The graphics are just as impressive as Final Fantasy XIII, if not a little more so. The amount of detail poured into the character models and facial animation is staggering, and combined with the Cinematic Action sequences, it can feel as if you’re playing an interactive version of Final Fantasy: Advent Children. There were times when I was literally second guessing myself as to what was in-game and what was one of Square Enix’s trademark beautifully rendered CGI cinematics, so that really says something as to this game’s graphical fidelity. The story may leave a bit to be desired, but it’s far from terrible. It just doesn’t measure up when stacked against classic Final Fantasy games such as VII and X. However, no one can deny that Square Enix went above and beyond to make Final Fantasy XIII-2 a better game than its predecessor, and they succeeded in almost every respect. If you’re a fan of this series or its genre, Final Fantasy XIII-2 deserves your attention.