Final Fantasy XIII-2 was a rather surprising announcement during 2011 after its prequel wasn’t particularly well received. I found it to be an enjoyable game even though it did have some major flaws, including severe linearity and a story that started well but went rather off the rails towards the end. Despite having a strong opening to the story, the gameplay was too basic. You found yourself constantly walking down corridors and tapping the X or A button. The further you progress the more the gameplay opened up, easing much of the tedium of linearity whilst developing one of the best battle systems of the series, allowing for extremely fast, tense and strategic gameplay that hadn’t been seen in a while. It was interesting to see what had changed in this new sequel and if those changes improved the game or increased the tedium.
Final Fantasy XIII’s greatest appeal and most glaring flaws came from its gameplay, this isn’t the case in Final Fantasy XIII-2. The main problem in XIII was the fact that you were moving down corridor after corridor until the second to last chapter of the game where you were able to partake in side missions to further improve your character. Basically it took too long to get to what you would expect out of a role playing game, the ability to explore and have the freedom to do what you want. From the beginning of XIII-2 you have freedom to explore were you want, how you want, when you want. There are still no conventional towns to explore, which is a shame, however you are able to talk to folk on your travels and acquire side quests, which is a return to form.
Combat is once more the highlight of the 13 games, while lacking the large variety of the first games, it focuses on the basics and then builds upon them. You only have two lead characters through the hole game this time, instead of the 6 from before. Though there is a cool new Pokémon style system, where at the end of a fight you have the chance to recruit the monster you were just fighting, this also combines well with the paradigm system from the XIII game. During battle you are able to switch the roles that your characters play so you can react to the changing tactics of the enemies. Unlike pre-Final Fantasy XIII games, you now only control one person in combat, who is designated the party leader and the AI controls the other two. For the most part this works out really well, as the your party members fight just as quickly as you and react well to what is going on, though this does change in the harder boss battles, where a miss timed heal or debuff (removing status effects or weakening the opponent depending if you are aiming at a friendly or enemy) can cause massive problems. Overall the paradigm system means less micromanaging each and every battle and instead concentrating on the wider strategy of what roles need to be on the field and quickly adapting as each role has its own passive abilities that aid past just hitting or healing.
From the very beginning of the game you will be dazzled by the visuals here. Square has always had a very high bar when it comes to presentation and they haven’t slouched here. Though there are much fewer movie quality cutscenes in the game, which is a shame but you are still treated to highly detailed and for the most part, convincingly emoting characters, who are also voiced superbly, even if the dialogue isn’t always spectacular. Some may be irritated by your moogle, Mog, a little white teddy bear like creature who follows you around, but you get your own back on him and his disdain is adorable. The soundtrack is also of extremely high quality like you would expect from a Square production, even if there are the odd dud tracks that will make you wonder why they would tarnish such a production.
Whilst the gameplay and graphics are what draw you in to begin with, the story is often the most important thing when it comes to a role playing game and, for the most part, Final Fantasy XIII-2 hits where it needs to. The story follows Serah (XIII’s main protagonist’s sister) and her new friend Noel on a journey through time to find Lightning (said protagonist) who has gone missing. The tale is full of tragedy and will pull on a few heart strings. It does tend to drag around the middle, forcing you to go on a search and fetch quest, with little to go on, arbitrarily extending the length of the game. Unfortunately the ending is rather disappointing and annoying, more than likely frustrating almost anyone who finishes it. Adding to the problems is its meager length. My play though lasted around 25 hours, which is rather short for a game of its type, especially coupled with its poor pacing in the middle.
Despite it’s poor pacing during the second act and its less than satisfying end, Final Fantasy XIII-2 can hold its head up high as a large improvement over its predecessor in the places where it counts. The story is more focused and genuinely touching, there’s more variety in the gameplay and the combat has been iterated on successfully while keeping what made its forbearer’s special. I’d whole heartedly recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, it’s haters however will find nothing to like here, and anyone who has no affiliation with the series will be lost cluelessly in its mechanics and deep and slightly confusing world and lore.