Direct Final Fantasy sequels, for the most part, are either really good or the worst thing to ever happen to the series, depending on who you ask. When word got around that Final Fantasy XIII was getting a direct sequel, people were very, very vocal about the news. Some people went “Meh”, others “Cool, I enjoyed XIII” while some of the more colorful “diehard” fans said something similar to: “OMG SQUEENIX IS TEH SUXXORZ I HOPE THEY DIE AND BURNZ!1!1!!! FF IS DED!1!1! FF (insert number 6 to 10 here) IS FTW!!!” Final Fantasy XIII was already a drastic change from the ‘traditional’ games of the series, so what more could Square Enix (SE) do to change it? Does Final Fantasy XIII-2 deserve all the hate that it has been given just because it is not a “traditional” Final Fantasy?
Revamped Battle and Job Systems - Both the battle system (Command Synergy Battle) and the job system (Paradigm) from FF XIII get tweaked and reworked. The battle system’s encounters a bit faster paced and the ATB meter fills up much quicker than in the previous game. Also added was the ability to switch between Serah and Noel, meaning that if the lead character dies, control goes over to the other and a game over doesn’t occur. The Paradigm system also got a few tweaks to coincide with the speedier CSB system. When going for a Paradigm Shift in FF XIII, the action would pause for a few seconds as the party switched jobs. This would break up the pacing of the battles and often cause the hit chain to reset itself. In FF XIII-2, Paradigm Shift can be switched on the fly without pausing in the middle of battle. Also due to the lack of a third human party member, monsters can be added to the party and serve one of the six roles. Speaking of monsters….
Monster Party - Clearly taking a page from Pokemon's playbook, one of the more interesting changes from FF XIII to XIII-2 is the addition of a monster as the third member of the party. As silly as it may sound, having a monster serving as the third member (fourth if you count Mog) is a really neat mechanic. Each monster fulfills one of six roles within the party, just like Serah and Noel. The only difference is that the monsters’ roles are locked and can’t be changed. This is where collecting monsters comes into play with the revamped Paradigm System. Since each monster has their own role they can be assigned a spot in the Paradigm Pack. Monsters can also be infused with each other to unlock new abilities and gain buffs. To top everything off, players can also adorn their monster companions with trinkets to make them look cute. All kinds of accessories are available: newsboy hats, backpacks, crystals and even stuffed animals and flowers.
Crystarium Leveling System Overhauled - The crystarium leveling system has been overhauled as well. Each crystal is worth a set amount of crystarium points (CP).This will deduct that amount from the total earned instead of slowly “feeding” it. Having it this way makes leveling up roles much faster and more accessible. The only downside is that the amount to level up to a spot on the chart carries over to other classes, so when you start to reach that max number on a role that you’ve been working on and suddenly want to level up a different role, the amount of CP needed to level up the new role will be the amount of CP from the previous role.
New Game Mechanics Introduced - In addition to having the battle and leveling systems overhauled and tweaked, there are a few new game mechanics introduced in XIII-2. One of those mechanics is the use of Mog the Moogle. Not only is he Sersh’s weapon, but he is also a treasure hunter. By pressing R1 he can search for hidden treasure spears and boxes. If the item is too far and out of reach, just hold down L1 and you’ll be able to throw Mog towards the item, which is strangely satisfying for some reason. He is also used as the Mog Clock. The Mog Clock is the game’s version of preemptive striking monsters. When monsters appear on the field, he transforms into Serah’s sword and this allows her to get a first strike on them before entering battle.
The other mechanics introduced in XIII-2 are Cinematic Actions and Live Triggers. Cinematic Actions are the QTEs of the game. At certain points, mostly during cutscenes, CAs will appear prompting players to input the button action on screen. Doing so will deal out additional damage and have players earn special loot if they earn a perfect rating. Live Triggers are the game’s version of a dialogue wheel. While the choices you make may not affect the storyline, they do affect how the surrounding NPCs react to you, how Noel reacts and might even reveal a hint or two.
Multiple Solutions to Boss Battles - With past RPGs that I’ve played, there was always one solution to beating a boss: beating the hell out of it while trying to stay alive. While a viable solution, having more than one way to beat a boss is preferable. FF XIII-2 takes this idea, runs with it and encourages players to explore the current timeline and sometimes other timelines before engaging the boss. By taking the time to explore your surroundings, you may find something that will give you an edge in battle when you really need it. As the saying goes, “There more than one way to skin a cait sith”.
Historia Crux System - Final Fantasy XIII-2’s entire gameplay and store revolves around the Historia Crux System. The Historia Crux is a series of passages that connect time gates together and enable time travel. Serah and Noel use the Historia Crux to travel back and forth between timelines, either ending up in the true timeline or in an alternate timeline created due to their involvement. The HC affects the gameplay really nicely, tying in missions to it, thus giving it a purpose other than a just being a pathway. For example, as stated previously, there are multiple ways to deal with a boss. Sometimes the answers may be found either 100 years in the past or 100 years in the present. Or maybe one of the NPCs wishes for a certain object but that object only is available during a certain time of the year. Tying in time travel with objectives is a really nice touch and forces the player to explore even more, seeing the same areas in a different light, or season. As for story, while I enjoy a good time travel tale, I feel that the time travel mechanic wasn’t used to its full potential on disc. More on that in a bit.
The Most Varied OST Ever - Final Fantasy XIII-2 has one of the largest, most varied original soundtracks in the history of the series. Composers Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, Mitsuo Suzuki and Yoshiyaka Suzuki were given free rein to be more creative when composing the music. The creativity shows throughout each track, which range from J-pop, Jazz and synth to rap and even death metal. A few of my favorite tracks are the Chocobo Themes; particularly the death-metal inspired "Crazy Chocobo." It’s funny how people hated on the song but when they found out that Square brought in Nobuo Uematsu to compose the song, it’s suddenly a masterpiece. I do have issues with XIII-2’s overture/prelude theme though. While a good song in its own right, it doesn’t have the power and emotion that the original prelude brings.
DLC Missions, Monsters and Extensions - I might get crap for saying this, but I welcome DLC for FF XIII-2. While the ending left me a bit confused, I want to see more. I want to see more of Noel’s background and the things he went through before going back in time. I want to see more of Lighting and how her battle with Caius started. I want to see what the other characters from XIII, like Snow and Sazh, are doing. I want more Coliseum battles and more different monsters to collect. I even would like to see an online mode where you can fight with other players using either your whole party or just the monsters.
A FINAL DISASTER
Temporal Riff clock puzzles - I’m all for having puzzles in RPGs. They tend to slow things down and give players a bit of a break and have them catch their breaths after fighting random encounters and bosses. FF XIII-2 has a couple of such puzzles. Some of them are short linear puzzles and didn’t require too much thinking, which is fine by me. But the one puzzle that really annoyed me was a clock puzzle called The Hands of Time. These puzzles consist of either Serah or Noel standing on a giant clock face with a minute and a hour hand. The object of the puzzle is to make all of the numbers that appear on the clock disappear. In order to do that you move the active party member to a number and press the action button. The hands of the clock will move to that number then move the amount of spaces left and right. For example if the hands land on a 6, the minute hand will go right six spaces while the hour hand will go left six spaces. If either of the hands ends up on an empty space and there are numbers still on the clock, you have to reset the puzzle and do it over again, with a new set of random numbers. It’ll sink in after the 10th time, but none the less, it is annoying as hell and you’ll be glad to be facing whatever lies beyond that puzzle.
Chocolina - In FF XIII, players complained about the lack of in-game shops. While I understand the appeal and tradition of shops in Final Fantasy, since the characters were on the run in the game it wouldn’t have made sense for shopkeepers to sell items to enemies of the state. For FF XIII-2, Square decided to add in shops in the form of a scantily clad girl dressed as a Chocobo named Chocolina. While she has an interesting character design (she’s dressed up as a red Chocobo), I found her dialogue to be a bit on the annoying side. She prefixes the word “Choco” to a few words each time you talk to her, and she’s constantly cheery and high pitched. She also doubles as a weapons dealer/crafter and sells items to level up monsters, so if you’re the type that upgrades weapons and monsters in your party, you will be seeing her often. If you have to stop at her traveling shop, I recommend buying in bulk.
Time travel story- As I mentioned before, I love a good time travel story. The Time Machine, The Sound of Thunder, and of course Back to The Future I & II are a few examples of my favorite stories involving time travel (sorry Dr. Who fans). The reason I bring these up is that they detail some of the fictional rules that must be followed when traveling in time to other locations. Don’t touch anything that may cause a paradox, don’t get involved too much with the locals, don’t bring anything from the future to the past (this includes knowledge of events), avoid contact with the past/future version of you of the timeline you are visiting, the effect of altering a timeline and many others. FF XIII-2 ignores these rules for the most part. While I do understand that they are changing the timeline for good reasons, one can’t help but think of all the repercussions that might happen when Serah and Noel get involved. Alternate timelines can get created with even the tiniest of changes, no matter how innocent the intent was. Since Noel is traveling back in time, doesn’t his involvement throw Serah’s current timeline into a paradox? If they were traveling to alternate realities or dimensions that are crossing over into each other, they could have gotten away with ignoring some of these rules since inter-dimensional travel is different from time travel. This weakens the story a bit for the most part, but I feel it doesn’t use time travel to its full potential.
Personally I liked XIII, it was a fresh start for SE on the next generation of consoles and a good place to start a new chapter in the series mythos. I also enjoyed the Final Fantasy XIII-2 demo over at E3 2011, seeing all the changes made, the new additions and learning a bit more about the aftermath of Cocoon falling. I enjoyed the ride the final version Final Fantasy XIII-2 provided. SE could have done more with integrating time traveling mechanics into the story, given Chocolina more personality and backstory, and picking a different puzzle that doesn’t involve numbers. To me, the revamped battle and leveling systems, having monsters as party members, using Mog in unique ways, integrating time travel into gameplay, and having the largest OST in the history of the series make up for its faults and for the faults of XIII. I might be in the minority, but I can’t wait to see what SE plans for DLC, be it additional monster members, new stories for other characters and other things. If you really enjoyed XIII, pick up XIII-2.
*This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*