Final Fantasy XIII-2 – The PS3 Attitude Review
Final Fantasy XIII is considered a great game by some and even a greater disappointment by many others. Square Enix has let it known that Final Fantasy XIII-2, while it may have the same name in its title, is a completely different experience from its predecessor.
Has the game changed enough to return trust to the faithful fans or should Square Enix have put its resources more towards the next iteration of the franchise?
After saving Cocoon and reuniting with friends and family, Lightning all of a sudden disappears, as if she was only a figment of her sister Serah’s imagination. Final Fantasy XIII-2 puts players in the role of Serah Farron as she searches for Lightning and must save the world from a new mysterious threat, Caius, who has been appearing to Serah in her dreams fighting against Lightning. This is all set in motion by the sudden appearance of Noel, a hunter from the future who’s the last remaining human. The two embark on a journey through time itself in order to solve the paradoxes and return the world to the way it was meant to be.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 opens with a page taken from the God of War series. Players are immediately thrust into a massive battle filled with elaborate set pieces and dynamic backgrounds as Lighting riding Odin battles a fearsome Caius in his Chaos Bahamut form. Right away, the bar is set high. Like a good teaser, this is all foreshadowing what’s to come.
One of Final Fantasy XIII’s main criticisms was the linearity of the environments and how players were essentially tunneled from point A to point B with little to no exploration. It wasn’t until nearly 10 chapters in that the world finally opened up. XIII-2 changes that with the introduction of the Historia Crux system which allows players to jump between locations and time periods through the use of time gates scattered across the dimensions.
While there is a set goal in sight, Serah and Noel can explore the worlds to discover new locations that are either in the future or in the past. Specific artefacts are required to open up each time gate so players will need to explore all there is to do in each place in order to see everything. This may mean going back to previously traveled locations to find new and hidden items. Opening a time gate can be one of the more satisfying experiences of the game. Where and when it will lead to is unknown up until it’s unlocked and the anticipation of having a new locale to explore with new fragments to collect can be exciting.
Speaking of fragments, there are 160 of these little crystals scattered throughout the game to collect. They can be obtained by defeating certain enemies, progressing through the story, or by completing side quests. Each fragment unlocks Crystarium Points which can then be used to level up various abilities of Serah and Noel.
Unlike in Final Fantasy XIII, the leveling up system is more mainstreamed for XIII-2. Rather than individual menus for each character role, the Crystarium system is enveloped into a single expanding tree where points can be distributed to any of the six roles; Commando, Ravager, Synergist, Sentinel, Medic, and Saboteur. New abilities unlock at varying levels for each role, allowing for greater freedom in deciding how and when to level up each character.
Perhaps the element most prevalent from Final Fantasy XIII is the battle mechanics itself. The Active Time Battle system (ATB) for the most part remains unchanged for the sequel. Battles are fought in real time with each party member filling up his or her ATB gauge from a list of available abilities. This selection process can be made easier by simply picking the Auto Battle option that will automatically choose the best plan of attack for the current scenario. For many of the smaller monster battles, mashing the Auto Battle button will lead to a quick victory.
Should you want more of a challenge, this option can be turned off in the settings. The real skill involved in mastering the battle system, however, comes from knowing when to Paradigm Shift and creating a party that makes the best use out of all six roles.
Initiating battles are now completely randomized, thanks in part to the Mog Clock. When an enemy randomly appears on screen, a countdown initiates requiring the player to either charge the enemy head on and score a preemptive attack, or attempt to flee and risk getting caught off guard with no exit available. Landing one of these attacks can be a little tricky as the controls feel a bit stiff. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few swings before contact is made. A preemptive attack could mean the difference in life and death in some cases so knowing how to approach each situation is critical to staying alive. Sometimes, it may be best to run from a truly powerful beast.
In addition to Serah and Noel in your party, Final Fantasy XIII-2 introduces a new monster mechanic that allows you to add collected beasts as a third fighting member. At the end of battles, some monsters will randomly turn into crystals which can then be developed into mean fighting machines. It’s sort of like Pokemon, only instead of capturing them in Pokeballs, monsters are confined to frozen crystals. Each monster has their own stats and leveling tree, and with more than 100 to find, the party possibilities are near endless.
That’s the thing about Final Fantasy XIII-2; there are so many choices and routes to take within the game. With Final Fantasy XIII, there was always one clear mission and frankly not much else to do besides level your characters. XIII-2 greatly expands the entire playing field by providing options for every type of player. For those who enjoy leveling up their characters, there are plenty of missions and massive beasts that will net a treasure trove worth of CP. Like random trivia questions? Academia is the place for you then with its Brain Blast trivia game and Captain Cryptic’s Confounding Quiz. There’s even a casino filled with slot machines and Chocobo racing for the compulsive gambling types.
While having plenty of objectives and side missions is nice and all, it’s the quality of the game that matters most to Final Fantasy fans. The most memorable aspect about Final Fantasy XIII was how annoying Vanille was. While Final Fantasy XIII-2 may have a slightly less annoying character in the form of Mog, its story makes up for the misstep. There are plenty of familiar faces Serah and Noel meet as they travel through time and the newly introduced Caius is one of the more complicated villains of the series. He may seem like just another villain bent on destroying the world at first but as the game progresses, Caius’ “the end justifies the means” ideology becomes clearer. He’s no Sephiroth, but he definitely leaves a lasting impression.
When all is said and done, Final Fantasy XIII-2 eclipses nearly every aspect of its predecessor. Even with all its faults, Final Fantasy XIII laid the initial groundwork for what would be a fantastic game. Square Enix listened to fan feedback this time around and created a more engaging and more open experience.
Hours will fly by in what feels like minutes as you explore everything XII-2 has to offer. Now, if only we could go back in time and create a paradox in which this was the game Square Enix released two years ago.