Despite Final Fantasy X-2 failing to win over fans and Final Fantasy XIII being such a polarising title, Final Fantasy XIII-2 has emerged as the second, numbered direct sequel. Its intent is to appease fans that complained about XIII’s linearity, and it does so brilliantly. Moreover, it contains several tweaks to the XIII formula to create a more flowing experience in combat and dialogue. There’s no doubt it’s a fantastic Final Fantasy title.
Set directly after Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 follows the adventure of Serah after she was freed from her crystalline form. Her sister – XIII’s protagonist, Lightning – has mysteriously disappeared and muddled memories of her disappearance as well as troubling dreams gnaw at Serah causing her to doubt reality. When fractures in the very fabric of time, localised paradoxes and a man from the future appears, her doubts are confirmed and together with the time traveller, Noel, they set out to find Lightning and save the future.
It’s a convoluted plot of sure. The Final Fantasy XIII universe was already a deep sea of acronyms, conflicts , civilisations and beliefs, adding the element of time travel and paradoxes to the mix certainly ups the ante as far as complexity goes. It’s a barrier to entry for new comers. A comprehensive catch-up of the events of Final Fantasy XIII helps fill you in but there’s a lot to digest and many will find this off-putting. However, it’s very cleverly put together. The depth of the universe is already impressive and Final Fantasy XIII-2’s story does a great job of carving out its own identity within a familiar setting, with the time travel adding significantly more depth. Though it helps to be savvy with its predecessor it’s not required.
Characters from XIII crop up now and again as passing nods to players who are familiar with them, and Lightning is a key character in setting up XIII-2, but the majority of the time you’re in the presence of Serah, Noel and an entirely new set of non-player characters. It’s inspired by its predecessor but not limited by it, and this is further explored in its additions and alterations.
Combat still involves the paradigm system, which allows you to manually or automatically stack actions to be performed as a chain at the end of each turn based on one of several approaches or paradigms, such as magic with the Ravenger paradigm or a defensive stance with the Sentinel paradigm. It’s a wonderful system that blends turned based strategy with real-time actions. You can switch paradigms at any point during battle – and it’s a much quicker affair in XIII-2 – so to adapt to different battlefield conditions. Staggering your enemy will reduce their physical defence, for example, making a shift to the physical weapons paradigm – Commando – a perfect choice. Indeed the combat is fast paced and action packed but maintains a high level of strategy heavily based on timing; it’s truly exceptional.
As you’re now limited to two party members, the third slot is taken up by monsters you can capture throughout your journey. They essentially become a part of your paradigms, complimenting the selected paradigm’s approach with its abilities. Moreover these critters will develop as you use them and can be customised with new abilities as well as re-dressed if the urge takes your fancy. In fact you can lose an inordinate and embarrassing amount of time placing hats on your party monsters.
Finding enemies to fight has also been updated, incorporating random encounters with a little more choice and strategy. Enemies will appear randomly as you’re travelling through an area and you can choose to engage them – trying to attack from their back or flak to gain a pre-emptive strike – or simple flee and hope they don’t spot you and give chase.
Quick Time Events have also made their way into Final Fantasy and crop up in XIII-2 as part of the combat. However, their use here feels like a natural progression for the paradigm based system. QTE essentially act like Limit Breaks and gives you the opportunity to inflict potentially huge amounts of damage on occasion, especially during boss fights.
Out of combat sees tweaks to the levelling system to make it a simpler process, although as a result a less engaging one. Far more open areas to explore full of shops, NPCs, side quests and hidden items, and even dialogue trees. It’s certainly a multifaceted adventure and one that takes the complaints of XIII straight on. It’s not as lengthy as its predecessor – only clocking in at between 20-25 hours – but it’s crafted with clear intensions of adding substance to what was already present. Fans should be more than happy with the result.
The pacing, however, suffers slightly. The introduction is a fast paced and beautifully animated set-piece involving Lightning that re-introduces the combat system and get’s the time travel events rolling. However, once you’re in control of Sereh things slow down considerable. Of course when the action ramps up it’s pretty spectacular but even though the play time is considerable shorter than in other Final Fantasy titles you can expect a lot of exposition and downtime.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 does a remarkable job at appeasing fans disappointed by XIII whilst also bringing the series forward slightly, notably with the addition of dialogue trees and refining the already brilliant combat system. It’s still a confusing narrative that doesn’t help bring in new players but this standalone tale of time travel is well worth exploring if you found XIII even slightly compelling.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360 Release Date: 03/02/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.