We all know that the hugely popular Final Fantasy RPG series has had more than its fair share of games, but rarely do we witness direct sequels. As one of those rare games, Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes place directly after the events of Final Fantasy XIII; Lightning vanishes without a trace and only Serah can remember seeing Lightning, while the others believe she is dead.
Trapped in Valhalla, a world where time does not flow, Lightning finds herself under attack by a mysterious warrior named Caius. Knowing the future is in danger, Lightning calls on Noel to find Serah and deliver a message that she must save the future. As the story progresses, Serah and Noel work together to travel through time to restore a broken timeline and determine Caius’s true intentions.
Much like every other Final Fantasy game, the storyline is vital to your enjoyment. Similar to Final Fantasy XIII, the sequel suffers from a problem with pacing: in the beginning, many players might get lost in the confusion of time travel and easily lose sight of what's actually occurring in the story. Fear not: this confusion is short-lived.
Once the game progresses further, it becomes clear that although the story is shorter than XIII — a completion clocks in at around 20 hours — it wasn’t rushed. Details and events begin to piece together revealing more about Serah and Noel’s world and various other characters. While it might take a while to warm up to most players, the story is incredibly well written with the slight caveat that the ending might not be what most expect. To avoid spoilers, it’s difficult to explain why this is the case; however, it should be known that there is potential for further advancement via DLC or even another sequel.
Throughout the game, you’ll only control Serah or Noel in terms of playable characters unlike the six different playable characters in its predecessor. To make up for this shortcoming, you now have the ability to tame the various monsters you battle throughout your adventure and have them fight alongside you. Up to three can be assigned to your party, but only one can be active in battle at a time.
Different monsters have different roles and will level up differently. Even more advanced is the incredibly complicated infusion system where you can imbue the passive abilities and skills of one monster into another. These features make for a rich and compelling reason to not only fight monsters along the way but also add a higher level of strategy to battle. Oh, and you can also dress up your monsters with a plethora of different styles of decorations such as hats or tattoos. Of course.
When it comes to leveling up Serah and Noel, the newly designed crystarium system is less straightforward than the previous title but offers a higher degree of control over your character's final stats. Instead of each role containing its own cluster of nodes, there's one giant cluster in which you can choose whichever role you want to level up at any time — as long as you have enough crystarium points, that is, which you earn from completing quests and killing monsters.
In the cluster, there are three types of nodes: small, large and ability. The large nodes will give stat bonuses depending on which role you happen to level up on that node. For example, if you choose to level up your Ravenger (magic attacks) ability on a large node, you might obtain a +6 magic boost whereas if you chose Commando (physical attacks) you might obtain +6 strength instead. Since the amount of large nodes is limited, carefully planning out each character can have huge benefits compared to just randomly choosing which to improve. Once one cycle of the cluster repeats, you have the option to select a bonus, new skill role, bonus accessory points or an additional ATB gauge; the gauge then resets, allowing you to fill it once again.
While this all sounds complicated, there isn’t as big a penalty as it might sound for the player who doesn’t feel like planning out all his or her levels. It will reduce the player’s potential, but still allow them to do any task in the game that an optimised character can do, albeit with a higher degree of difficulty. All this complexity doesn’t come without penalty: unlike its predecessor, weapons and accessories cannot be upgraded, a shame as XIII's upgrade system was fairly unique and interesting.
Not in the mood to slay C’eith? Take your chances betting on or racing your own Chocobo. Race results got you down? Relax and put a few coins in the slot machine and try for the jackpot. One of the huge differences between XIII and XIII-2 is the degree of freedom: whereas XIII's progression was pretty limited to where the story took you, here the journey is much more open. If a particular area gets dull or too difficult, it's possible to return to the Historia Crux and select a different time period to explore. The further you get in each area the more fragments and artifacts you’ll collect; artifacts are used to unlock new areas or progress the story in some situations. The collection of mini games and side puzzles offer nice changes in the dark story even though they can be difficult at times — yes, mean you, The Hands of Time.
For those new to the series, it’s strongly recommended that you play the first title before diving into XIII-2 as the game expects players to already be familiar with the battle system and storyline.
The soundtrack features more vocal tracks than just about any other Final Fantasy game to date and offers some remarkable tracks throughout the story. From massive orchestral tracks to death metal, the variation in style should give everyone something to like. Some of the songs accompany the story so well that to take them out would in fact diminish a lot of the emotion portrayed in the event.
On the other hand, the graphics leave much to be desired. Coming from the insanely gorgeous visual world of XIII, many may simply feel that XIII-2 is lacking in this department; while most scenes in XIII were pre-rendered CGI, XIII-2's scenes are mostly rendered in real time. It might seem like a minor issue because they still look great, but coming from XIII’s pristine visual effects, one can’t help but feel let down.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 offers a lot of gameplay and a great addition to the XIII plot. Even though the graphics weren’t revolutionary like XIII’s and the slight pacing issue still remains, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is very good. Anyone who played and enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII owes it to themselves to pick this up and continue the story of Serah and Lightning.