Is it a blue moon? A rare moment is happening; Final Fantasy XIII is getting a direct sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2. Will players want to come back? Saddle up your chocobo and spike your purple hair, we have artefacts to find.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 picks up three years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII. Serah Farron, Lightning's younger sister is troubled by her memories. Everyone else believes that Lightning gave her life (along with Vanille and Fang) to save everyone from the fall of Cocoon. Serah believes her sister is alive. She specifically remembers Lightning giving her blessing that Serah and Snow be married.
Meanwhile in the realm of Valhalla, Lightning is entangled in a full scale war with a mysterious man, Caius. During a battle she finds a young man named Noel. Noel is from 700 years in the future and is, literally, that last of mankind. Lightning gives Noel a special weapon and a task; go back in time and give the weapon to Serah, then make his way back.
From there the story is placed into the hands of the player, branching through time into one of several possible endings. What I experienced story wise may be different than other players, so we'll stop here.
Controls and Gameplay
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is like all its predecessors, is a fantasy based role playing game. Players explore the world from the perspective of Serah, a young woman who starts as a mousey, non-combatant then evolves into a capable fighter. Unlike previous versions of Final Fantasy you will only have two main characters to control; Serah and Noel. Eventually you will gain a third spot on your roster, but that is for a tamed monster of your choice, not another character. In fact, as you play through the game, you will amass quite a collection monsters which can be leveled up along with Serah and Noel.
The Active Time Battle system with its Paradigm Shift system returns from Final Fantasy XIII. What this means for Final Fantasy XIII-2 is that you can use the “auto-battle” function, allowing the game to choose what your characters do in battle (depending on what role you have set for them under the Paradigm Shift), or you can attempt to control your characters in real time. To say the battle system is dense with choices and settings is an understatement and yet after getting a few battles under your belt it does become clearer. Fine tuning what your characters do during battle with the Paradigm Shift system is key. You have six different Paradigms you can fine tune and save into one of three "decks" effectively giving you 18 different Paradigms to choose from.
While it might sound daunting (the manual devotes seventeen pages explaining it all) you will quickly find a set of Paradigms that work for you.
Graphics and Sound
A hallmark of Final Fantasy games has always been its cutting edge graphics and sound. From the uncanny valley realism of the pre-rendered cut scenes to the design of the menu system, Final Fantasy XIII-2 looks beautiful.
The soundtrack holds treats for those familiar with past themes from Final Fantasy and a clunker or two. The chocobo theme always had charm, but the death metal version found in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is not so great, and this is coming from heavy metal fan.
The English translation of the voice acting and menu elements appears to be done with Square-Enixs' eye towards quality. I couldn't find any errors here. The voice cast portrays their characters well.
While Final Fantasy XIII had a great, yet dense story, the game itself was very linear. It was as if the player was just along for the ride as the story played out, pressing buttons to advance though. Taking many of these criticisms to heart, developers Square-Enix set out to address this and bring the series back to the prominence. The biggest change is the linearity, or lack thereof. Part of the storyline has the characters moving back and forth through time and parallel worlds. This also sets up the multiple endings the game has. There are also many side quests that players can choose to accept or pass on. In ways Final Fantasy XIII-2 is like a great big choose-your-own-adventure.
Exploring is a big part of what Final Fantasy XIII-2 encourages. Doing one thing in one time line can change another completely or "create" a new one allowing the player to travel to those areas to see what has changed. Not to mention searching for artefacts and collecting monsters. Speaking of collecting monsters, you can also spend a good amount of time collecting items to dress your monsters in. I currently have mean, nasty-looking dragon-like creature with a cute little four leaf clover sprouting from its head. Does it have any bearing on the game? Not really, it is just goofy fun.
The only problem I really have with Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the combat system. On one hand I do have an understanding of how it works and I have some control of the flow with the Paradigm Shift system. On the other hand I feel like I don't have any control with it. Because the system is real time based it goes by to quickly to try and manually play without the “auto-battle” using the Paradigm Shift system. I have been more successful that not, using Paradigm Shift, but I just have a nagging feeling something somewhere needs a little more tweaking to make it feel right.
In the end though I enjoy the sense of adventure that Square -Enix has brought back series and Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a fine entry. I give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a 4.5 out of 5.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is rated T for Teen for Drug Reference, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Simulated Gambling, and Violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). It is available now for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.
For more information see the Final Fantasy XIII-2 web site.