releases are considered holidays in Japan. Stories about lines around the corner at game stores, no matter the situation, are always documented whenever the latest installment of Square Enix’s
long-running franchise launches. While the series seems to have lost a little of its luster with a couple of titles that fell short of expectations, it seems that Square Enix
has listened to its fans and done a bit of a reboot, going back to the formulas that made this series the one that all RPG fans frothed at the mouth for the moment they heard another one was coming. This time around, it’s a true sequel with Final Fantasy XIII-2
When we left off in Final Fantasy XIII, Gran Pulse and Cocoon had avoided catastrophe thanks to the heroes of the game, some sacrificing themselves in order for the world to continue. Lightning, the protagonist of the title, is believed to be dead, though the opening cinematic shows what happened with Lightning, now a knight in the realm of Valhalla. While you will have your moments with Lightning throughout the game, the focus is on her younger sister, Serah, and Noel Kriess, a time traveler from 700 years in the future. In his time, Noel is the last human alive. He wishes to change the fate of his world by attempting to right certain wrongs that have occurred in the past, though you do not learn of any direct causes early on. We don’t want to ruin anything for you beyond the basics, considering that the storyline is arguably the most important part of any RPG. In comparison to previous installments of the series, this ranks right up there as one of the best.
Right out of the gate, you will find that the battle system from Final Fantasy XIII is back. Roles such as Ravager, Commando, Medic, and so on, are making their return and have been revamped. In the previous title, you could avoid using certain roles, such as Sentinel, and get away with it in battle. This time around, you are going to find yourself using every role and strategy that you have to get by. The timing of your Paradigm Shifts are going to be crucial in battle, especially boss fights. For example, early on you will receive a lesson in Sentinel that switching to that role comes with a reduction of damage, and switching to this role, even just to take on one big attack, can mean the difference between victory or defeat. On top of that, making very specific combinations of job classes and knowing how to properly customize has taken on a far greater importance, as if the first game didn’t challenge you enough at this.
The biggest problem with the previous title, as just about any Final Fantasy fan will tell you, was how incredibly linear the game was. Free roaming was eliminated as you were forced to go from “A” to “B” in just about every instance of the game. Square Enix listened to the fans and made sure that this one isn’t anywhere close to that. In the time I’ve had with the game, I can tell you that the open feeling of a classic Final Fantasy game is here. There are side missions aplenty and they will come early and often. They may just be little quests where you have to track down an item, or you may have to take out a hidden monster in order to complete the quest. Mixing it up like this is what you want out of a good RPG.
Speaking of fighting monsters, random battles have returned. While the game doesn’t launch you directly into battle immediately like in early Final Fantasy titles, the monsters aren’t visible and will appear with little to no warning. The trick to this, though, is that you have the opportunity to pull off a pre-emptive attack if you are fast enough. If you manage to avoid an initial contact with the monster, you can attack and do damage before the true battle even begins. Once the battle is initiated, you will immediately see the similarities between the two sister titles. The stagger bar is still in play as you must do enough damage to lower an enemy’s defenses, but still be smart about limiting your own damage and having a backup plan to survive. A change, though, is that while you will still only command one member of the party, if that leader dies, it is not game over. You will simply be changed over to the next member of the party and still have the chance to recover.
An addition that I absolutely love is the creation of the “Cinematic Action” attack. At random points in a battle, this is initiated by the player and will resemble the old “Blitz” system of sorts from Final Fantasy VI’s Sabin. You will have to input specific commands in a short period of time in order to maximize the damage that is output by the character. If you miss these commands, you may still do damage, but it will not be nearly as effective. It’s a great twist to the battle system that, for the most part, was enjoyed by fans of the last game.
Another addition is the way the third party member is handled by Serah. You eventually are given the chance to include monsters in your third party as Mog makes his return to the series to be a supporter and teacher for Serah. You can unlock numerous monsters that will have specific roles in combat and to shore up your Paradigm Shifts. So, for example, one monster might be only in a Medic role, while another will be a Ravager. By interchanging your Paradigm Packs and switching out monsters, the customization jumps to an entirely new level.
As previously mentioned, Final Fantasy XIII-2 returns to a more non-linear system, allowing players to choose where to go freely, though you will have to unlock worlds along the way as you are traveling through time with Serah and Noel. The worlds are broken down by the area you are in as well as the year, which is labeled “AF” or “After the Fall” for the fall of Cocoon. It’s impossible to not think of Chrono Trigger with this system, and older gamers like myself can truly appreciate the work that was done with this to make sure that the storyline stays in place with the jumping between eras in time. Don’t expect to be jumping back 65 million years in the past though. The system that is in place to do the time traveling is known as the Historia Cruz System, which will also introduce players to certain puzzles called Temporal Rifts, which is yet another addition to keep a player on their toes while enjoying the title.
Graphically speaking, the 360 version has gone through an upgrade from its sister title. With Final Fantasy XIII, it appeared to be a rush job to get the title complete and the graphics didn’t seem to be up to par to its PS3 partner, forcing it to be spanned across three discs. This time, with the development team being able to spend equal time on a 360 and PS3 version, the graphics are much better on the 360 version, though the PS3 still has a slight edge in terms of cleanliness and resolution, though the average player will not see much of a difference, even if you had the games side by side.
While I have been praising this game for most of the review, there are some flaws that do need to be brought up. Battles can get to be incredibly monotonous in the early stages as you roam. There isn’t too much monster diversity until later in the game, so players might find themselves grinding early and maybe getting a bit burnt out on battle after battle. The leveling system with the Crystarium, also, can be a bit confusing. Early on, I found it to be enjoyable, but as you progress further in level, you have to be careful as to just how much you are putting into specific roles with what you unlock. It is not a straight-forward system and it is possible to paint yourself in a corner, so to speak, without having to grind more. I am a little disappointed that the game has drastically cut back on playable characters in recent titles, but that is more of a personal opinion considering that Final Fantasy VI’s 14 playable characters is easily my favorite. Still, these are minor issues that do not take away from an overall amazing experience.
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