In the history of Final Fantasy only one game has ever had a direct sequel and it wasn’t exactly on par with the quality titles that had been in the franchise up until that point. So, it was safe to say people were a little sceptical when Square Enix announced that Final Fantasy XIII, a game that was slated for being too linear, was getting a direct sequel in the form of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Can the Final Fantasy franchise be revived or is Square Enix out of Phoenix Downs?
Final Fantasy XIII-2 picks up shortly after the first game. [Spoiler] Most of the citizens of Cocoon have evacuated the former Fal’Cie haven and opted to make their new home Gran Pulse. After being reunited with her sister and fiancé, Serah is enjoying life and couldn’t be happier until one day Lightning goes missing and Snow sets out on a journey to find her leaving Serah all alone again. [/Spoiler] Lightning is off fighting the battle for the world against a new foe, Caius, who threatens to rip time itself and destroy the world in order to start a fresh timeline. After meeting Noel, a time traveller from the future, Lightning instructs him to go and find her sister and tell her she must play her part in saving the world. After Noel finds Serah, the both of them travel through time with the help of the third member of their team, Mog, and start travelling to the past and future in order to stabilise the timeline and save the world.
The story missions are selected in the Historia Crux, which is a hub like menu, and although it is a drastic change from the traditional Final Fantasy model, it actually fits in very nicely with the plot of going through crystals to travel through time. Once you complete a story mission you are able to travel back to it at any time as you left or, after completing the game, turning back time and playing it from the beginning. Not only that but the changes you make in other periods of time will affect the past and future, which makes replaying levels highly rewarding. While exploring these different time periods you will be on the hunt for fragments that will unlock special skills for use outside battle and also open various different endings depending on your actions. There is also Coliseum, which is used for battling enemies through downloadable content and Serendipity, a casino that features slot machines and Chocobo racing for the first time since Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy XIII’s Paradigm Shift battle system makes a welcome return and has been refined to give players more control in battle. The most welcome change is the ability to change characters during battle - at last! But the best addition has to be the capturing and controlling of various beasts you find throughout the world. If an enemy is tameable you will have a chance to catch it when you kill it and have it join your team. These monsters level up in the same way as your character's using a revised Crystarium system, which instead of learning abilities by purchasing the node with CP, will reward you with new abilities each time you hit a milestone level from one to ninety-nine. You can choose three active creatures at once but you are only allowed to have one creature out at a time, and although you can’t actively control them, you can perform cinematic attacks once their power bar has filled up.
The way you enter battles has also changed a little bit as well. In Final Fantasy XIII you could see monsters on the field and choose to fight them if you wanted, but in Final Fantasy XIII-2 you are pounced upon enemies coming in through a time rift and are welcomed by a clock counting down. You still have the choice to run but you must get a certain distance away from enemies before the clock reaches zero. If you want to fight them you can control Serah or Noel to attack them and you will get a pre-emptive strike.
The game’s visuals look is almost the same as Final Fantasy XIII and to cut the game down to one disc (yes, just one this time) most of the FMVs have been taken out of the game and have been replaced with in-game cut scenes which still look fantastic. The different locations you will be visiting are also not linear and allow players to feel a sense of exploration again, either on foot or on the back of a Chocobo. The music is, as always, spectacular and I can’t explain how awesome the Crazy Chocobo theme is and will have you riding the time warped Chocobos over and over again. Even though it shouldn’t matter in a role playing game, some people will also be very glad to hear that some of the dreaded collection achievements have also made an exit in this sequel.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a step in the right direction for the franchise and it is clear Square Enix have listened to fans and implemented a lot of the changes they wanted. One thing that will be frustrating is the ending, or at least one of the ten possible ones, and that it’s left on somewhat of a cliff hanger which would indicate some lengthy DLC or another sequel. Other than this it’s definitely a great game and for any RPG fans a must have.