It took a while to get this review out there, but I have finally finished the second game in the FFXIII trilogy and I’m ready to share my thoughts on the title. I want to start by saying that I often feel like the odd-man-out when it comes to the original Final Fantasy XIII. Most people pan the game, but I found it to be an excellent title. Regardless of the negative criticism the game received, it sold well enough to spawn a sequel: Final Fantasy XIII-2. This game was generally held in much better regard than its predecessor. So I was curious to see just what I thought about this entry.
I purchased this game when it was released in 2012, but I only played it for a few days before other games captured my attention. So at the time, I didn’t really have a chance to really sink my teeth into it. For this playthrough, I erased my old savegame and started over from the beginning – experiencing the game anew.
The story behind FFXIII-2 begins about three years after the end of the previous game. It focuses on Serah as she struggles to understand the events that followed the aftermath of the original game. Serah has a vivid memory of speaking with and spending time with her sister Lightning after the events of Final Fantasy XIII, but to everyone else, Lightning disappeared (and assumingly sacrificed herself) during the events that ended the game. Then one day, a strange boy named Noel suddenly appears in the village, claiming to be a time traveler sent by Lightning to retrieve Serah. As it turns out, Lightning was chosen by a powerful goddess to be a guardian to the eternal realm of Valhalla. The goddess is under attack by a mysterious time traveler named Caius who is causing dangerous paradoxes and disturbances all over the timeline, causing havoc with the universe. Serah decides to follow Noel and travel through time resolving these paradoxes in hopes of eventually meeting her sister again in the timeless realm of Valhalla.
Admittedly, the storyline above may seem a bit confusing. In fact, I was quite confused by it when starting the game. But eventually, things start to piece together and by the end of the game, it’s quite impressive just how much sense everything makes. Trust me on this one. Regardless, if you played the original Final Fantasy XIII, you can probably already tell just by the story alone, this is a very different game.
At risk of sounding contradictory to what I’ve stated above, in a lot of ways, XIII-2 is similar to the original game, but in just as many ways it is radically different. First, let’s talk about what’s the same. Combat. For the most part, XIII-2 uses the same combat/paradigm system as XIII. If you are familiar with this, you’ll feel right at home. The only difference here is that your basic party is only made up of two main characters now (Noel and Serah), the third slot if occupied by a monster. Monsters are collected throughout the game, often by defeating them in regular combat. Different monster are assigned different “classes”, so by adding a monster to your roles, you can effectively make a three-person Paradigm just like in XIII. Since monster roles cannot be changed, you have the ability to “equip” three different monsters in your “paradigm pack” and can swap out as needed. Most monsters can also be leveled up to a certain point as well. This brings me another familiarity, the Crystarium system from XIII is back, albeit slightly refined.
That’s where most of similarities stop. One of the greatest complaints about XIII was that fact it is was very “closed”. Many described the game as being “Final Fantasy on Rails”. This is not at all the case with XIII-2. Of course, in the beginning, options are limited. But it doesn’t take long for this game to open up dramatically. Essentially, players are able to explore various locations/times via a central hub known as the Historia Crux. This is basically a cosmic “Warp Zone” of sorts. When exploring new areas or completing certain objectives, more locations and options become accessible. The main storyline of the game does guide you toward certain areas and some locations are locked out until checkpoints in the storyline are reached, but where to go and what to do is left largely open to the player. Even though I personally enjoyed XIII, this new level of freedom is admittedly refreshing. Another interesting addition to this game are “cinematic actions”. Many boss fights end with these button mashing fests. I’ve seen these concepts in other games, but was surprised to see them pop-up here. I’m not a fan. What’s the real point of this? You’ve just spent twenty minutes beating this monster only to have to execute a number of precise button pushes in order to a get a perfect win? Blech.
Another thing that makes this title unique is the inclusion of Downloadable Content. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is officially the first game in the series with DLC. Quite a bit of the DLC for this game is worthless/vanity costumes, etc. But there are also purchasable “Coliseum Battles”. These are optional DLC boss fights that take place in a special zone on the Historia Crux. These battles are quite challenging compared to the rest of the game, but the reward for winning is being able to add the monster/character defeated to your paradigm deck. The most interesting of the coliseum DLC choices is the Snow’s Perpetual Battlefield. Yes, this is another battle, but one that shed’s some light on the fate of the popular character, Snow.
Other DLC options include an optional episode called Heads or Tails. This focuses on the character of Sazh as he finds himself in the strange “cosmic casino” known as Serendipity. Essentially, this DLC serves as an expansion of sorts to the Serendipity zone within the game, adding a few new games to the casino. Completing this DLC will unlock Sazh as paradigm option and also provide some details regarding his inclusion into the game’s main storyline.
Finally, the last and most controversial DLC option is Requiem of the Goddess. This content is essentially a mini-episode intended to be enjoyed after players have finished the main game. It is through this DLC that players will be able to see the final “chapter” in the story of XIII-2. As expected, there was a loud voice of disapproval from fans over the concept of locking out such a crucial part of the game storyline behind a paywall. Personally, I find these DLC episodes to be largely inexpensive and well worth the investment. But I do find it hard to shell out more money after already spending a big chunk on the game itself. Regardless, I personally enjoyed each and every additional scenario and arena battle. However, the only customs/weapons I obtained were the ones that I received by preordering the game. I didn’t spend a dime on the gimmicky costumes.
All in all, I found Final Fantasy XIII-2 to be fairly solid sequel to the original. For me, it took a lot of getting used to at first, but once I got an understanding of just how the level-hub system was put together, I began to really enjoy the game. Regardless, I still found myself enjoying the original XIII just a bit more. Either way, if you’re a fan “Fabula Nova Crystallis“. It’s certainly worth setting aside some time for this entry in the series.
Difficulty: Variable – This title comes with a Normal and Easy mode option. But in all honesty, even in normal mode this game is not particularly difficult. The main scenario is quite beatable with little difficulty. The only caveat to this is that to be successful, you do have to actually take a little time to learn the mechanics of the paradigm system. Once you have a firm understanding on how the combat works, the game is more than manageable. The biggest challenges in the game can be found in many of the downloadable Coliseum Battles available for purchase.
Story: Building off the mythology of the original game, the storyline to XIII-2 starts off in a very confusing place. The game does a great job of setting things up at first, but before long, things become muddied and confusing. Fortunately, about halfway through the title things start to clear up and the storyline really begins to shine.
Originality: Despite being a direct sequel to XIII, XIII-2 manages to stand on it’s own quite well. Even though it is set in a familiar world, with familiar characters. The whole time travel concept presents a very unique experience. Even re-used game mechanics like Paradigms and character advancement are tweaked just enough so that they remain fresh.
Soundtrack: This is probably where XIII-2 receives is lowest marks for me. Yes, there are some very good tracks in this game. The title screen theme is a prime example of classic/excellent Final Fantasy music. But a large bit of the music in the game just left me cold. For one, too many background songs have vocals. While this is ok from time to time, it feel like it was overdone in this game. Not to mention that quite a bit of them are not just not that good. Sad.
Fun: I wasn’t sure what to think of this game for about the first half of the title. It started off quite fun, but then began to feel a bit repetitive. Eventually however, everything clicked and I ended up enjoying the game quite a bit.
Graphics: This game uses the same graphical engine as XIII and looks just as good. Beautiful stuff. Again, the PS3 has a slight edge over the 360, but not by much.
Playcontrol: No real complaints here. The game controls work as expected. The camera controls are natural and precise, the button mappings are intuitive.
Downloadable Content: YES – Vanity items, optional battle content, and additional story scenarios. Average pricing.
Mature Content: Minor language, skimpy outfits.
Value: I purchased the game at full price when it was released. I feel that there’s enough content in the game to make it worth the amount that I paid. However, considering all the additional story-based DLC, I feel that the original release price was a little steep. These days, the game can be found for around $20 or less. At this price, you certainly get a good value. PC users even get most of the DLC at no additional cost.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Most people rate this title better than the original XIII, but to me the first entry just had a certain charm to it that seemed to be missing from this title. Not to mention, I was slightly turned off by the concept of spending more money on additional story DLC. That being said, don’t misunderstand. XIII-2 is a great game! I certainly recommend it to fans of the series, but to me, it misses the perfect score mark.
Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam
Other Reviews In This Series:
World of Final Fantasy – Explorers – Mystic Quest – 4 Heroes of Light
Tactics – Tactics Advance – Tactics A2
Crystal Chronicles – Ring of Fates – My Life as King – My Life as Darklord – Echoes of Time – Crystal Bearers