30 hour-long tutorial, linear gameplay – it’s safe to say Final Fantasy XIII isn’t going to be fondly remembered by most. Square Enix took the criticism it was force-fed and hid until they produced a sequel. Did they listen to the harsh criticisms, or will they stand stubborn in the face of adversity? Let’s find out..
The story takes place three years after the events of the original, with our main protagonist being Serah Farron, sister of Lightning and former crystal decoration. Lightning has gone missing, and only Serah has realised this, with her fiancé Snow leaving her to her own devices as he hunts Pulse and Cocoon for her. Lamenting the fact she feels alone, even with a cat and four friends, she finds her new hometown is once again attacked by creatures. She is saved by Noel Kreiss, a man… teen… person thing, who has travelled 700 years from the future to save his world from being destroyed, and claims to have met Lightning. The two of them then learn the power of time travel, and resolve to solve the paradox effects that are plaguing the timeline and causing all sorts of freaky timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly stuff.
The story itself is at least more coherent than the first game, and does the opposite of what X-2 was to X. X-2 was certainly a lot more cheery and happy than its original, with XIII-2 taking a darker, more edgy storyline. The game doesn’t bog you down in unnecessary details, but keeps the story going at a steady pace with most of the info needed to understand, with the characters – good and evil – more likeable than most in the original. Except for Mog, he’s meant to be a boy? Girl? Whatever, Mog is cute when it doesn’t speak…
XIII-2 is thankfully a lot less linear than the original due to the time-hopping nature of the story MacGuffins. You can go to any of the previous areas at a moment’s notice, your precise position saved when you return to that era. You can go to the story-mandated quest areas, or you can go wandering and do a golden chocobo’s worth of side quests, with some of them taking longer than the main story itself. I’ve only opened up around a third of the world map, and I’m done with the story. Battles are largely similar to the last game, with paradigms and stagger bars needed to be mastered to deal with your opposition quickly, however random encounters don’t involve running up to enemies, then tapping them on the shoulder like in the last two games. They use a mechanic known as the “Mog Clock” where you have a limited time to strike at the creature to gain a pre-emptive attack, boosting the stagger bar on your opponents, making it easier to kill them. Boss fights occasionally come with Quick Time Events, or “Cinematic Actions” as shown above – they are incredibly hard to mess up, and don’t punish you for a wrong button press.
An interesting mechanic they added is monster hunting, where there is a chance to gain an enemy as an ally to deploy in a deck of three to complete your paradigms, bringing the three member party back, despite the story focusing on Serah and Noel. The game more or less lets you craft your characters and party in any way you wish, but all monsters and both protagonists have their best roles – Serah is best with magic and Noel deals with physical based classes. Without a walkthrough explaining the level-up system and how the bonuses are gained, the Crystarium – yeah, it’s back – is almost nigh impenetrable, with some bonuses cut off if you put a level in the wrong place.
I was surprised by how much I liked XIII-2 compared to the original. I even tried to play a little of XIII and it was jarring. For a story-driven series like Final Fantasy, XIII let it down terribly, but the story is a lot better here, and it makes all the difference. The combat was tweaked here and there, and the leveling up system – while a maze of confusion without a helping hand – is better than it was in the original. They sum up all of what happened in the first game, so you don’t have to beat the first game to enjoy this. I’d recommend you pick it up, it might just be one of the better RPG’s we get for 2012.
out of 10
- Non linear gameplay, encourages exploration
- Tons of content
- Battle system works well
- Improves on the original’s story significantly
- Level up system never fully explained
- Mog’s voice