Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review: Changing the Past
By AllyFinal Fantasy XIII-2 Review
Japan - December 15th, 2011
North America - January 31st, 2012
Europe - February 3rd, 2012
Available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
ESRB: T - PEGI: 16 - CERO: B
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the sequel to the 2010 release of the thirteenth installment in Square Enix's Final Fantasy franchise. It takes place three years after the events of the first game, where the previous game's protagonist Lightning, has vanished without a trace. A mysterious man called Noel, appears and saves Lightning's younger sister Serah from monsters. Believed to have seen Lightning, Serah sets off on an adventure to find her younger sister.
Final Fantasy XIII was a very polarizing game, with many of it's criticisms being directed towards the linearity and slow pacing of the story. But will Final Fantasy XIII-2 change the past misdeeds of it's predecessor? Read on in this review!
Story and Characters
Expect a bit of spoilers.
As previously stated, the story picks off three years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII. Lightning has gone missing and is believed to have sacrificed herself to save Cocoon. Lightning's sister, Serah, is the only one who remembers the truth. The story starts with Lightning fighting a mysterious man named Caius, who will serve as this game's antagonist, on the shores of Valhalla. Valhalla is an alternate world where Lightning was taken too. After the battle, a mysterious boy called Noel falls from the skies of Valhalla and is saved by Lightning. Lightning asks Noel to find her sister, Serah, and also presents him with a good luck charm: a Moogle. Noel leaps through a time gate to the town of New Bodhum, three years after the fall of Cocoon. (Represented as 3 AF in game)
After the town is ravaged by monsters, Noel saves Serah and after he mentions that he saw Lightning, the two set off on a travel through time to find her. This is where our story begins.
The premise of time travel seemingly comes straight out of nowhere, as the previous game had nothing to do with time travel or paradoxes. But with that said, the narrative is decent enough. Serah and Noel both present themselves as great characters and probably more likable than the cast of Final Fantasy XIII. Noel is an extremely well made character with an excellent backstory and well fleshed out personalty.
Some may be disappointed that you will be stuck with only Serah, Noel and a monster (more on that later) for the entire game but the human characters get along great and each are well fleshed out.
Caius, the game's villain, is a tremendous step up over recent Final Fantasy villains. He is introduced right from the start and his objectives are pretty clear. His voice work and design overall gives him that menacing feel, a feel that I feel that has been lacking from many Final Fantasy villains since Final Fantasy X.
The dialogue that comes out of the character's mouths is not so fascinating. Everything that happens throughout the game is hand waved as a 'paradox', which is mentioned in this game as much as the words 'L'Cie', 'fal'Cie', and 'HERO' were thrown about in Final Fantasy XIII. Everything else is either cringe-worthy, cheesy, or just plain cliche
NPCs make a return but some still vanish without a trace. The original playable characters from Final Fantasy XIII make a return but out of any character introduced, it feels like Hope Estheim has the most importance. While Lightning has been slapped on just about every advertisement for this game, you've probably seen more of her in the advertisements than you'll see her in the game proper.
Square Enix has announced that they'll be giving the original characters their own DLC scenarios, but as of right now, that is not in the game.
The ending of this game is a huge mind screw. It ends with the words 'To Be Continued' and it feels like the main character's initial objective remained incomplete and the story ends without it's purpose solved.
Overall, the concept of the story and the plight of the main character's blend together nicely and form some great ideas, but not all of them are well executed. But it will still provide a satisfying narrative all the way through. Expect 20 to 30 hours with the game's story.
Gameplay and various Extras
The gameplay is the same as it's predecessor, albeit with a few new changes, and all for the better. Firstly, let me explain how it works for those new to Final Fantasy XIII. The Paradigm System makes a return, which are sort of jobs for each of your characters. There are a total of six; the Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist and Medic. Three of these roles form a Paradigm, and you can make a total of six paradigms to switch on the fly to help change the tide of battle.
New to Final Fantasy XIII is the Paradigm Pack system. As you progress through the game, you can gain the ability to capture monsters you defeat in battle and add them to your party. Each monster is skilled in each of their own roles. You can collect over 100 monsters in this game and customize them to your heart's content, and experimenting with other creatures adds a tremendous appeal.
Now for the actual battle system. As previously stated, it remains the same. However, we should be grateful for the little changes they have made to the battle system. First off, you can change party leaders at any time during battle from Serah to Noel. Secondly, there are no more paradigm shift animations from the last game. Thirdly, Gil is now obtained after every battle. These are just some of the many changes Square Enix made to an already fun battle system.
They have also added Cinematic Actions, but there are only a handful in the game, but completing them without any failures will present you with a bonus item after the battle. Your monster allies Feral Links are the same as Cinematic Actions, requiring precise button timing.
Now let's step outside of the battle system and go on to the field gameplay. While on the field, you can use Serah and Noel's new trusty friend Mog and throw him to treasures they can't reach or reveal hidden items and even paths.
Towns have also been added, and a variety of sidequests you can take aside from the main story have been added as well. Shopping is done through an (annoying) shopkeeper named Chocolina, who will also follow you through space and time.
Throughout the game: you use the Historia Crux, the aforementioned time travel mechanic, to hop through time. Each area has sidequests you can take and Fragments to discover. There are 160 total fragments in the game and they are hidden well throughout the game. It gives a great feel of exploration that was extremely missing from the last game.
You can also find seals, which you can use in the Historia Crux to "close" a gate and replay a certain area. Replaying a certain area adds a surprising amount of replay value, as you can discover new rewards and do things you couldn't do before. Normally, for these "things you couldn't do before", like take out a 500 foot giant at full power will unlock Paradox Endings. There are a total of 8 in the game, and finding them is no easy task and will require replaying areas to find out.
A new feature called the Live Trigger system was added, which gives control to the player as to what the characters say or do, but like Cinematic Actions, it doesn't affect the story in any time of way. Just the rewards you get.
Most importantly, there are no save points. The game autosaves and you have the opportunity to save anywhere you want. While it's keep strictly to one file while you are on the field, you have the option to save in another file while you are in the Historia Crux.
Overall, Square Enix has added an extreme level of depth in and outside of battle that was missing from the first game.
Music and Presentation
Final Fantasy XIII-2 doesn't cease to impress with the visuals. It still overall looks the same to Final Fantasy XIII, but still looks good in it's own right. There are occasional frame rate drops and a few glitches are present.
On the music side, the soundtrack might be a hit or miss for some. I know it was the same for me, but when you look at it in a different perspective from what we've heard from the rest of the series, it sounds very original and cool. The soundtrack is more heavy vocal than any Final Fantasy soundtrack to date. While the heavy metal themes still give me pause, the rest of the soundtrack is beautifully composed and delivered.
Square Enix has been known to take risks, and they took a risk with their newest soundtrack. All I've got to say is that they have succeeded beautifully.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 was an amazing experience. While it may be tough to recommend to anyone who didn't like Final Fantasy XIII, as the battle system still remains intact, I trust you at least give it a try. It's fun, it's more open and most importantly, it has more heart than Final Fantasy XIII did. Expect 20 to 30 hours with the story and close to 100 hours to complete nearly everything in the game.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is in every way, shape and form; a step up over it's predecessor. I give this game a hefty recommend to any RPG or Final Fantasy fan.
+ Well fleshed out characters
+ Battle system returns with new, better changes.
+ Time travel mechanic adds tremendous lasting appeal.
+ A variety of sidequests to undertake apart from the main story.
+ Towns... with people in them.
+ Save anywhere.
+/- The story is decent, but still has it's bumps.
+/- Well made soundtrack, but some may look upon it differently.
- Story ends with objective incomplete.
- A bit of false advertisement. Lightning was advertised more than she is in the actual game.
- Dialogue is still a bit cheesy. Go Back