Those who have been readers (or listeners) of PSUni.com for a while know of my distain for Final Fantasy XIII. As a long time fan of the series, it failed to live up the Final Fantasy name. A lack of exploration, unbalanced enemies, unsatisfying leveling system, and linear level design made it the most disappointing game on the PS3. I was expecting to hate its sequel too but the demo surprised me. So after a few weeks, I finally finished it. Is it a good game, or did it fail after all?
The story follows Serah, Lightning’s sister. It turns out that a different ending has played out from the one at the end of Final Fantasy XIII. In XIII-2, everyone remembers Lightning disappearing after Cocoon was saved, and Serah doesn’t believe she’s gone. She then meets a man by the name of Noel Kreiss who claims to be from 697 years in the future who says he knows how to find her sister, and can take her there. Since the game would be short and boring otherwise, she goes with him and they embark on an epic journey through time to find her.
The game is a time traveling adventure. You pop out in a different area of the world at some point in the future, which could be 2 years after or who knows when. As you progress through the story, you will even unlock alternate timelines as your actions change a very dim future. These locations can be reached (or even replayed) via a map called the Historia Crux. As well as unlocking locations through the story, you can also open many various timelines as well, giving you many places to explore.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 did something I never thought possible: it made me appreciate Final Fantasy XIII. See, the story for FFXIII was actually really good. Lightning’s mission to find her sister, Snow’s need to save everyone, Sazh’s search for his son and his pain when he fails, Vanille running from her problems, Fang’s search for Vanille, and Hope wrestling with his need punish someone for his mom’s death combined beautifully to create a really powerful story. I wondered why I played FFXIII all the way through, and I now know. I wanted to see the story through because I was that engaged in it.
The sequel’s story isn’t terrible, but you can’t make a Final Fantasy with only 2 characters. Instead of getting new bits of information on back-story or more interesting additions to the story, we mostly get a lot of stalling as Noel fights amnesia through most of the game. Serah I just couldn’t connect to at all. I didn’t buy that she all of a sudden was a master archer, why her and Snow are even still a couple, and why she was this strong all of a sudden. The overall affect is a story that gets a bit repetitive at times but has its moments. Noel and Serah do have some chemistry on screen together, and have a campy appeal to them. I did like them as a team, though they will not go down as some of my favorite characters.
Speaking of which, I really have to tip my hat to the newest Final Fantasy antagonist, Caius Ballad. I love the look of him, his voice actor (Liam O’Brien), and his story is really intriguing as I can see how he feels like he’s in the right. A Final Fantasy definitely needs a strong bad guy, and Caius fits that bill nicely.
FFXIII-2 is fun to play, simple as that. Every complaint that people had with the first game was fixed. Level grinding pays off now, and the joy of this led me to grind for several nights. The crystarium leveling system is easy to use, and puts the job classes at your disposal pretty early. There’s no “game over” if your party leader dies, sparing my controller from having to be flung in frustration. Enemies are plentiful, and easy to find or avoid. Gil is no longer a chore to get, and the prices for items at the store are a lot less. Levels are a lot less linear, and you have to explore them pretty thoroughly to get through them. Any problems with FFXIII I had were solved, and it helps the game out immensely.
The fighting system, while pretty much the same as FFXIII, runs a lot faster and smoother. Paradigm shifts now take less time to do, and are seamless with the action. The action is intense, and the use of monsters make strategy and fast thinking a priority. The experience is actually as fun as it is frantic.
I want to also bring up the new “Cinematic Actions”. These are essentially quicktime events that can take place during boss fights and cinema scenes to give the sequence an Advent Children feel to it, and there are rewards (and a trophy) for doing them all perfectly. While this new feature has gotten mixed reviews, I found them enjoyable and they made boss fights a little more memorable. I do think they need to include the choice aspect into a lot more than they did, but otherwise a nice first time.
On top of this there are a ton of things to do in this game. There’s a place called Serendipity where you can participate in chocobo racing and card games (available later with DLC). After you beat the game, you can hunt for Paradox Endings that give you interesting alternate endings to enjoy. With purchase of the DLC, you can enter the coliseum and have some pretty tough boss battles. There are 160 fragments to collect from eras all over as well that will take up a lot of your time. There are tons of items and weapons to collect and results in hours of play.