It is never a good sign when your editor sniggers as he hands you a game, turns out this time it is the second part to a game that I never managed to finish, Final Fantasy XIII. It must have been good enough though as it is a rare occasion that the Final Fantasy games revisit the worlds of previous games, let alone the same characters.
My main issue with Final Fantasy XIII was the painfully slow introduction and a storyline that took far too long to settle and get into the main plot, throwing all sorts of fantastical lore and characters early on and leaving lots of confusion and an urge to play something else. Thankfully with Final Fantasy XIII-2 the plot kicks off at breakneck speed, very quickly catching up three years after the previous game and rarely slows down. Following the events of XIII, Lighting was summoned to Valhalla to serve as its guardian, this is where we join the game with Lightning in an explosive battle against a new enemy, Caius. Just as all seems lost, a new character, Noel, mysteriously falls out of the sky, leaving Lightning to save him. Lightning seems aware of his predicament and tasks Noel with travelling to Gran Pulse to find and assist Lightning’s sister, Serah and help stop a new evil.
With the aid of the Historia Crux System, this time Final Fantasy is all about time travel, with both Noel and Serah teaming up and skipping through specific time zones and visiting numerous cities and lands to find artefacts that will help repair the ruptured timeline and ultimately find Lightning. But who is the mysterious Caius and how did Noel become the last human in his timeline?
There have been a few changes from XIII, though it’s down to personal taste if it is for better or worse. One of the main changes is that the invisible enemies return, yep, wandering around the world will now generate random battles, often at the worst possible time. This is something I really did not like from the previous Final Fantasy titles and was hoping for a similar approach to XIII, though I am sure many of you will feel differently. This has been approached slightly differently though, rather than throw you straight into a random battle the enemy will appear in your world, your cute Moogle companion called Mog creates a Mog Clock which counts down how long you have to start attacking them; the quicker you are bringing on the action, the better the advantage you’ll gain once the real fight starts, not only that but there is the option to run away from most battles if you don’t wish to fight them.
Once in the battle screen, FFXIII-2 is similar to the previous title with more of a flowing battle than the turn based efforts of the past. This time you are reliant on your constantly charging ATB meter, with you assigning attacks or potions to use which once the ATB meter is full, allowing you to then queue it up again waiting for a new full charge. You have the choice of who your party leader is and the other will battle away automatically and also await specific commands from you via the Paradigm Shift menus. By holding the R1 button you are presented with a list of tactics, with commands like split your fight, focus on a specific enemy, taunt and create a shield. There are loads of these to unlock as you play through the game, with each one being vital to master as the larger enemies and bosses require quick changing between each one to survive and defeat them. The action is very fast and with the constant Paradigm shifting you may forget to actually fight. Thankfully, there is the Auto Battle icon which will fill in your move set best suited to you, though it does feel like cheating a little, there are times when it is a necessity.
With time travel being the main hook you will venture to many lands familiar from Final Fantasy XIII. This time though there is more apparent freedom to wander around, with approaching inhabitants with speech bubbles over their head to engage in a chat, sometimes this opens a “Live” choice moment, offering a multiple branching answers or questions and though this does not seem to alter the storyline in any way, it is nice to have a little more interaction during these moments. Talking to the locals will also open side-quests, but there is nothing ground breaking here with mainly ‘collect this’ and ‘return that’ type quests. One of the largest additions to, not only XIII, but also the whole Final Fantasy franchise is the ability to capture monsters. Once you have the right equipment you are able to capture and then utilize your monsters during battle by using new Paradigm Shifts to bring them into the fight. There are loads of monsters to find with more than a few extra secret ones to hunt down, adding loads of extra gameplay plus replay opportunities later in the game.
Levelling up for Serah, Noel and the captured monsters takes a different approach to the previous system used in FFXIII, with battles earning you points to spend on the new Crystarium System. This system is represented by a star constellation shaped out as the characters weapon. From here you can spend points to progress your character, from acquiring new moves to earning new Paradigm Shifts to try out. This is different from the last game’s system as each role is represented on the same grid. You also need a specific amount of points to level up your characters unlike XIII where you could spend a little to travel a small way up the connector, here you need whole numbers to move from orb to orb. With each orb you hit that role gains a level, you can mix and match the roles to have balance to your attack schemes. This gives you a far greater freedom in picking how your characters progress.
As mentioned, your monsters can be upgraded as well, this is done via a similar Crystarium system however, collected items are uses to power them up instead of points claimed in combat, in a similar system to that used int XIII to upgrade weapons. Speaking of weapons, you now no longer need to upgrade them with collected items, instead the old system of buying better weapons from the store is back and makes the stat boosting element of the game far more succinct.
As with all Final Fantasy games, the presentation is again of a very high quality, with plenty of cut-scenes to enjoy and very explosive battlegrounds full of colour and movement. The console never seems to struggling with what is on screen, running a constant framerate throughout. There is also a lengthy soundtrack to take in, with plenty of great orchestral tracks, though these are marred by a few bad tracks that do tend to annoy if exposed to for too long.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a decent improvement over the previous game with a story that, whilst still very linear is great fun to play-through. The ability to collect monsters and the other new additions will surely keep you at this till the very end. Final Fantasy fans will be pleased and that is what Square would have wanted.
Rating: GoodReview Policy(version tested: PS3)
You can order your copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 from Shopto on PS3 or Xbox 360.