With the release of Final Fantasy XIII on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Square-Enix intended to start a subseries of Final Fantasy called Fabula Nova Crystallis, Latin for “the New Tale of the Crystal,” in the same vein as the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII and the Ivalice Alliance titles. While the first FNC title received mostly positive reviews, there were certain aspects that polarized critics and gamers alike, particularly the story, and thus, it was with trepidation that they received the announcement of a direct sequel to FF13, Final Fantasy XIII-2. XIII-2, fortunately, is a fairly solid game, although it might just be as equally polarizing as its predecessor for whatever reasons.
The main focus of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is time travel between many of the environs previously featured in the game’s predecessor of certain eras through a hub called the Historia Crux, which features all available eras and locales interconnected. Within each era/area are various time gates that the player can unlock with items called Artefacts to expand areas they can visit through the Historia Crux, with icons below each era/area indicating how many gates there are in the particular time and place. The player can also acquire Gate Seals to close gates to reverse actions in a particular time and area and start playing the area from the beginning before the player changed the timeline.
Rather than completely change the battle system as Square-Enix did between Final Fantasy X and X-2, the developers instead decided to build upon XIII’s battle system, which contains plenty of similarities, particularly with the use of Paradigms and the ability of the two playable characters, Serah and Noel, to change “roles” that include Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Synergist, and Medic, each with different abilities and strengths. One of the most significant changes from the original is that the player can fill the third party member slot with various monsters acquired in crystal form occasionally when winning battles, with the player able to put three monsters into a Paradigm Pack, each monster having a fixed role like Noel and Serah, and the player forming various Paradigms that consist of Noel, Serah, and one of the three monsters in the Paradigm Pack.
Whereas Final Fantasy XIII featured visible monsters within dungeons and fields, and the player could use special sprays to get the advantage, its direct sequel instead settles for a system where monsters randomly appear and the screen turns reddish, with the active character able to strike one of the foes to get the advantage (in which case they strike the enemy to fill up its stagger gauge a little), an improvement given the expense of mists in the original game. If the player doesn’t want to fight, they can run away from enemies to nullify the encounter, but the Mog Clock at the bottom of the screen will expire after a few seconds, in which case the player cannot retry the battle that they then enter.
The flow of battle is largely the same as Final Fantasy XIII, with Noel, Serah, and their monster ally able to stagger enemies to deal more damage to them, and change between Paradigms set in the menus as desired, providing a decent level of strategy. Outside battle, the player can choose between Easy and Normal difficulties, with greater rewards in Normal difficulty. Winning battles nets the player Gil (with money being less of a problem in the sequel), Crystarium Points to use in Noel and Serah’s Crystariums to level roles and increase health, attack, and magic power, and occasional items, with special items necessary to advance through monsters’ Crystariums.
Since the player will receive plenty of monster crystals, odds are that they’ll want to cut down on them, in which case they can infuse one monster to another, which will bequeath the consumed monster’s passive skills to the target monster. Ultimately, the battle system works nicely, even more so than in the game’s predecessor, with monster contributions to the Paradigm system providing decent variety, with a fair difficulty curve and decent speed to battle, as well, although there are some moments, particularly in the last dungeon, when the player will want to run from certain fights, although doing so in some cases can be difficult and lock the player in a battle that at their current levels might be unwinnable. Still, the battle system serves the game well overall.
Interaction is superficially decent, with easy menus and shopping (with a time-traveling shopkeeper allowing players to buy weapons, accessories, and items), although there are some puzzles, particularly the Hands of Time, which can be difficult without healing, and there are a few moments where the player might not have the Artefacts required to advance through the main storyline, and be left wondering without a guide how to advance. Still, the interface is slightly above average.
The game’s story picks up a few years after Final Fantasy XIII, focusing on Lightning’s sister Serah, who joins with a young man from the future, Noel, to stop Cocoon from ultimately falling. The plot mostly serves the game well and is a decent reward from beating some of the harder boss battles in the game, although the weakest parts of the story involve people other than Noel and Serah somehow receiving the ability to travel through time as well, and the narrative isn’t complete when the player finishes the game. The poor direction on how to advance at times is another mark off the story, but it’s hardly a repellant from the game.
The soundtrack has a nice variety of tracks that always fit the mood of the game, with some coming straight from the game’s predecessor and/or being remixes, although there are some occasional silent points. The sound effects and voice acting (with the player hearing a moogle’s voice for the first time in the franchise’s history), however, are mostly top-notch, and overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is very much easy on the ears.
The graphics look mostly the same as they did in Final Fantasy XIII, not that this is a bad thing as they’re close to flawless as well, featuring the signature realistic style of the Final Fantasy franchise, with only some minor imperfections such as bland texturing when seen close-up, and little noticeable different between the quality of the main graphics and the FMVs.
Finally, a straightforward playthrough of the sequel can take as little as twenty hours, although sidequests and things such as acquiring every trophy can easily boost playing time and enhance replayability. Ultimately, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is for the most part a solid sequel that hits most of the right notes, what mostly with its solid battle system, decent story, music, and graphics, while leaving a little room for improvement in areas such as the insolvability of certain puzzles without cheating and the poor direction at times on how to advance. The game is sure to be as polarizing as its predecessor, as mentioned, although those that liked the first game will likely enjoy its sequel as well.
+Solid battle system with adjustable difficulty.
+Decent time travel story.
+Great music, voice acting, and graphics.
+Plenty of lasting appeal.
-The Hands of Time puzzles.
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
The Bottom Line:
A minor improvement over its predecessor.
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: 20+ Hours