Final Fantasy XIII-2 represents only the second time that we’ve been given a direct sequel to a Final Fantasy title on a major console. The first time was the PS2 title Final Fantasy X-2. X-2 spelled a departure from the formula, but ultimately this departure proved successful selling over 4 million copies worldwide. Final Fantasy XIII moved the series to both the Xbox 360 as well as the PlayStation 3, giving it an incredible graphical and sound upgrade, but also taking new risks with some great mechanical changes. The Paradigm system, chain attacks, two AI-controlled characters while you control a third, and the Crystarium system rounded out a solid product with a deep storyline. While the game cleared 6.2 million sales, there were some criticisms leveled against the game including excessive linearity, and a lack of life (towns, cities, shopkeepers, etc.) in the world. Final Fantasy XIII-2 comes just a year and a half later – would SquareEnix take more risks with their successful franchise or play it safe? It was time to find out.
It’d be easy to say that Final Fantasy XIII-2 starts off 3 years after the events of XIII, but it isn’t quite that simple this time around; XIII-2 is all about time travel and paradox. Instead of focusing on powerhouse Lightning, XIII-2 focuses heavily on her young sister Serah. Serah is joined by a new character to the series, Noel Kreiss. Noel comes from 700 years in the future and he represents the very last human being on the planet. The opening of the game shows Lightning in the same time period as Noel, fighting against game antagonist, Caius. There is little to explain why Caius is out to destroy our heroine in the beginning of the game, but over time (literally) you’ll uncover the events that lead up to their climactic battle.
The storyline is typically the strongest part of a Final Fantasy title, but in this case I’d say it was a little harder to swallow. Put simply, the plot starts off rather confusing, and to combat that the game tends to beat you over the head with certain concepts. Thankfully this lets up a bit after about 5 or so hours, but you’ll certainly be saying “Uh, you just said that 5 minutes ago” more than a few times in that span. The game runs roughly 25 hours to complete the main storyline, but there is at least double that in side quests and additional area runs. While the hunting system is gone from the previous title, it is replaced by a surprisingly robust time travel system.
In addition to the challenges in the story, SquareEnix also chose some of the weakest characters from the previous title and brought them forward into XIII-2. Be that as it may, you’ll get to reunite with some old friends, make new ones, and carry with you a familiar trademark to the series – a Moogle. Mog serves as Serah’s weapon (he transforms into a bow or sword as needed by your currently selected class), your combat trigger (more on that later), and a compass to find hidden items. He also serves as your insider on what is happening in the space/time continuum. He also grates on my nerves as he says “Kupo!”. A lot.
Time is a major element of Final Fantasy XIII-2, allowing the player to travel between 5 AF (I’d explain, but it’d ruin a plot element) and 700 AF, as well as a few items outside the realms of space and time. Gone is the complete linearity, replaced by an eventual semi-free flowing time system. As changes in the future and the past have direct effects on the area, you’ll revisit some areas and see that they have completely changed. Winding areas and multiple paths helps open the game up quite a bit more than the previous title, and the ability eventually completely isolate a particular time period to reap drastic change gives the game legs beyond the comparatively short main quest. While it isn’t an open world like we’ve seen in the earliest Final Fantasy titles, it does remove some of the closet and hallway feel we had in the previous title.
The time travel system is presented with something called the Historia Crux System. The Historia Crux offers two views of the non-linear time travel system. Similar to the Radiant Historia in Chrono Trigger, another SquareEnix product, you can control the outcome of a great many things in the game. Certain creatures will be much tougher if you travel into the future and fight them when they are ‘all grown up’, but they may be less tough if you change things and prevent them from maturing.
Beyond the time travel aspects, the Historia Crux occasionally presents you with an additional puzzle element via the Temporal Rift. The rift gives you the chance to do a bit of color matching and Q-Bert-esque floor disappearing sequences. These sequences help resolve paradoxes in time, which can grant items or change other aspects in the world.
Another large change for XIII-2 is within the Crystarium, item, and monster class system. The Crystarium returns, but in an exceedingly simplified format. You’ll have access to a certain set of classes (Commando, Ravager, Medic, etc.) just as before, but the CP system is now unified. What this means is that you’ll spend, as example, 300 points to level your Commando class to 15, but it’ll be 315 to move Ravager to level 2. The CP points just move up regardless of what class you are improving, so you have to be mindful of your planning. The status system shows what level you’ll get new skills, but there are no restrictions on how those points are spent. This means you can paint yourself in a corner by being a level 60 Commando and only a level 2 Ravager – if Ravager is what you needed for the situation, you just got hurt. There is one way to help shore up your classes though – the new monster system that we’ll get to in a moment. The item system has been similarly simplified. Gone is the upgrade system, replaced by a simple collection element. To make a specific item you’ll need to battle monsters and pick up loot that unlocks your ability to buy it from a vendor. The vendor (her name is Chocobocalina, she is partially Chocabo, and no I’m not kidding) appears throughout various periods in time and she carries everything, thus eliminating the various specialty stores. Your character can now only equip a certain amount of accessories, so there is far less focus on them here. As you complete Crystarium constellations (they look like your weapons, or in the case of monsters their outline) you’ll have the option to choose additional accessory capacity, so it is still possible to ‘game’ the system a bit with your item choices, but that means giving up other options presented including bonuses to your classes, expanded ATB, or even new class choices.
In Final Fantasy XIII you almost always had three characters in your party. In XIII-2 you’ll be capturing the monsters you fight and then skilling them up as your third party member. This means you’ll collect Cait Sith as your medics, Behemoths as Commandos, and everything in between. You’ll be able to build up to three Paradigms using three monsters that you can rotate into your party at will. The monsters build up power called “Feral Link” that is reminiscent of Limit Breaks from previous Square titles. These Feral Link sequences require button or directional presses presented on screen as quicktime events. These aren’t the only quicktime events though – let’s talk about the new Live Trigger and Cinematic Sequences.
Final Fantasy is known for showcasing some of the most amazing CGI (and now in-game engine) cutscenes in any game series to date. Love it or hate it, the game now contains moments that will require you to pay attention and react within the story sequences. Announced with a small section that tells you it is an interactive cinematic, you’ll be presented with quicktime events that move the battle in a particular direction. Based on how well you do in these sequences, you’ll be given special rare bonus loot items as well, so it pays to pay attention. The other change is the new Live Trigger. The Live Trigger gives you a chance to choose from four dialog options between your characters. While these don’t have an impact on the endings (there are multiple), they do offer some additional interactivity in the story.
Final Fantasy XII and XIII brought enemies to the battlefield, allowing you to see and if you are inclined, avoid your enemies. XIII-2 reverses this standard, instead bringing something called the “Mog Clock” to the battlefield. With a nod back to previous titles, you are now subject to attack at any point outside of certain safezones. The clock starts in the green, counting down to zero. If you initiate the attack and press your random enemies before the clock leaves the green zone, you will be rewarded with a pre-emptive attack. If that clock runs into the red however, you’ll occasionally be inflicted with vicious status effects, or at the least you’ll blow the chance to take the fight to your enemies in a hasted state. Running the clock out completely locks your retry ability. This means that if you die, you can’t select retry – it’s Game Over.
There is one aspect of Final Fantasy XIII-2 that did rub me the wrong way – the Casino. It isn’t the Casino itself that bothers me, but the fact that playing cards is marked as future DLC. I don’t have a problem with DLC per se, but I do prefer that it actually adds new elements and content rather than restricting existing content. There is no Casino on this planet or any other that doesn’t have card games available to its patrons, but apparently in the world of Final Fantasy that has become an optional and additional purchase. While we’ve not seen announcements on pricing (who knows, it could be free!), it just left a bad taste in my mouth.
Final Fantasy XIII-2, like its predecessor, takes bold chances that pay off in nearly every way. It is clear that the folks at SquareEnix have listened to their fans and have made a great many changes based on that feedback. While there are some aspects that could use some shoring up, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is very worthy of the mantle of this long-standing series.