Warning: Opening 2 paragraphs have a couple of FF XIII spoilers in. Sorry!
Final Fantasy XIII-2 starts with a bang. Set in the realm of Valhalla, the scene shows Lightning (one of FF XIII’s protagonists) locked in a fierce battle with Caius, the villain of this story. Blows are traded, spells cast and monsters are brought into the fray as earth shattering attacks rock the screen. During this fight a time gate opens, and through it falls a young man, Noel. He’s from the future, and a time where Cocoon has collided with Pulse and no one is left alive. Lightning rescues him from falling to his death, and sends him back through the time gate with a mission; find Lightning’s sister, Serah.
Back in New Bodhum, Serah is having a few problems of her own. You see, she knows that Lightning survived the battle with Orphan, but for some reason everyone else has no such memory, believing that Lightning perished. Then a meteorite hits town, unleashing a wave of creatures that begin a vicious attack.
Just as Serah is about to fall victim to the onslaught, Noel arrives and helps turn the tide. When the battle is done Noel convinces Serah that Lightning is indeed out there, and needs her, and they begin their journey that will span many different periods in time.
I’ll be honest; I both loved and hated the story in FF XIII-2. Parts of it had me desperate to continue and find out the next piece of the puzzle. Then there were the bits that I just didn’t really find compelling in the slightest. It’s certainly not the worst story I’ve come across in a game, but it’s far from the best. A good knowledge of FF XIII is also preferable.
One of the first tweaks Square has made is to the size of your party. Throughout the game you’ll control just Serah and Noel, and although others may appear for a brief stint you cannot control them directly. This is a divisive move which personally I enjoyed; as you watch the pair grow as characters and see their relationship develop.[drop2] Linking FF XIII-2’s world together is the Historia Crux. You’ll forgive me for not going into massive detail about it, because if I did I’d be here all day. Basically the Historia Crux acts as a level select, allowing you to travel through time to various places. To unlock new locations you must find certain Artefacts and their corresponding Gates.
I’m aware that one of the complaints about FF XIII was that it was too linear, and this is something FF XIII-2 tries to resolve. More exploration is encouraged throughout the game, with areas such as The Archlyte Steppe practically demanding you scour every last inch. In the Historia Crux you can also reset a previously finished level and go back in to play through again. Whilst this sounds like madness, there are a number of things that can be done differently, so it’s interesting to unlock new rewards.
When you do find yourself on the ground you’ll notice a few changes from FF XIII. Rather than show enemies on the field, Square has gone back to the random battles of old. There is a new addition though, called the Mog Clock. When a random enemy appears, the Mog Clock will also be displayed, and it will start a countdown.
When the clock arm is in the green zone the enemy is immobilized, and if you act quickly you can either escape or get in a pre-emptive strike. When the arm reaches yellow the enemy will begin to seek you out and will be harder to hit for a pre-emptive strike. When the arm reaches red you’ll automatically enter the battle. I found it to be a really interesting system.
Now to the main characters. Both Noel and Serah will eventually gain access to a number of roles throughout the game, which each provide different abilities. The Commando very much focuses on physical attacks and non-elemental magic. The Ravager focuses more on elemental magic and raising Chain Bonuses. The Sentinel is your tank option, attracting the enemy and taking the brunt of their attacks. The Medic deals with removing status effects and restoring HP. The Synergist will boost you up with enhancements, whilst the Saboteur will hit the enemy with status ailments.
It’s here where many people will play the game differently. For example what I did was build up Noel’s Commando role first, supplemented by good Medic and Synergist levels, whilst Serah specialised in the Ravager role, with a little Saboteur thrown in for good measure. This might all sound nonsense, but building up the character’s roles is important for the game’s Paradigms system.
The Paradigms system allows you to create a formation based on your team’s abilities. For example, the “Ruthless” Paradigm consists of a Saboteur inflicting status ailments, a Commando then attacking, with a Ravager staying back and launching magic. At the other end of the scale is the “Tortoise”, which consists of three Sentinels acting as one massive tank to reduce the damage (particularly useful if a boss is about to launch one of its devastating attacks). You can have several Paradigms active at any one time, quickly scrolling through them using the left shoulder button.
In all honesty you can simply brute-force your way through half of the game, but a strong selection of Paradigms will make the later parts of the game easier. I’m speaking from personal experience, as I went into battle against a Gigantuar without any real plan. I got rolled over.
A bit of tinkering later and I was back with my new team of a Saboteur, Commando and Sentinel. Weakening the Gigantuar with Deshell and Deprotect several times I then switched to the “Relentless” Paradigm and hit it with a full on assault. The battle lasted just over a minute, with me walking away with barely a scratch.[drop] Although initially daunting, I absolutely love the Paradigms system. I can see why some people say that the battles pretty much play themselves, as your team mate fights automatically, but if you actively seek out the tougher challenges it’s a real treat. Go and fight a Long Gui then try and tell me the battle system is boring! It won’t happen.
Also linked in to the Paradigms system are monsters. Throughout the game you’ll face hundreds, and occasionally they’ll drop a crystal once defeated. This crystal means that the monster can be added to your party, and to your created Paradigms. This monster hunting can be as shallow or as deep as you want. Keep on the path of the main story and you can tame and raise a decent collection of monsters (which incidentally all have roles too), but venture off the beaten track and you can find some rare beasts and formidable allies, assuming you can beat them.
Both characters and monsters gain levels via the Crystarium. Winning a battle will grant you Crystogen Points, which are the key to levelling up in the Crystarium. Each role you pick can be levelled up separately, with milestones being celebrated by learning a new ability. Occasionally you’ll also be granted a bonus to choose. Monsters are trickier to level up, as they require certain materials which can either be bought, or given as a reward for defeating an enemy. Ironically enough, as the game has been out for over a week, we’re not allowed to discuss much more than that as we have been asked not to by Square.
Visually FF XIII-2 is fantastic. The character models are well detailed, but it’s the environments that stand out, with some requiring you to just stop and have a look around for a while. The only downside is that once your team is powered up, the resulting pyrotechnics in battle can be extremely disorientating.
As for the voice acting, it’s a bit hit and miss, and some of the dialogue gets a bit cringe worthy at times. Whilst the soundtrack is generally enjoyable, a few of the tracks just don’t seem to fit in with the game at all.
- Likeable characters.
- The battle/Paradigms systems are great.
- Looks fantastic.
- Some of the music is wonderful.
- Hunting monsters can get very addictive.
- Lots to do outside of the main story.
- Parts of it are just too easy.
- Some of the dialogue isn’t that great.
Scoring Final Fantasy XIII-2 is almost irrelevant. For every person who nods their head whilst reading this review, there will be one wondering just what on earth I’ve been smoking. I absolutely love the game, and found myself totally absorbed in everything it has to offer. The Paradigms system, the monster hunting, even level grinding was enjoyable, encouraging experimentation to put together the best possible team and Paradigms. 2012 has certainly kicked off with a bang.