It’s not easy to get into a Final Fantasy game. It’s even harder to get into a Japanese role-playing game. And it’s even harder than that to get into a “double” numbered sequel. Final Fantasy XIII-2 marks the second time a Final Fantasy numbered game gets a direct sequel, and judging from this one shaped up, it probably won’t be the last.
First and foremost, I actually really enjoyed Final Fantasy X-2. Remember? The one that took the beloved characters from FFX and made them…well, whores? It was a completely unnecessary game and deeply flawed, but it worked for me and I truly enjoyed it for the most part.
So here I am with Final Fantasy XIII-2, another game which many deemed unnecessary, and it turns out, this game is very necessary.
It’s immediately apparent that this game exists to right the wrongs of the deeply flawed Final Fantasy XIII, and it certainly does just that. Jumping into the game, taking place a few years after the events of the last tale, the story presents itself in a much simpler and digestible manner, using only the core, basic concepts and characters from the last game as it’s foundation. It’s simplicity worked wonders– I knew what was going on the entire time, with not much extra thought required. The writing team’s intent was to expand Lightning’s tale, and I was hooked; she was one of the few elements from FF XIII that I truly enjoyed.
The story centers around Serah, Lightning’s younger sister, and her time traveling Kyle Reese-esque companion from the past Noel Kriess. While at first sight Noel seemed like a stereotypical Square character ripped straight from Kingdom Hearts, he actually turned out to be an incredibly compelling character. The elements of time travel Noel brings to the story give the game settings a huge amount of variety, and the whole adventure vaguely feels a bit like Chrono Trigger.
The meat-and-potatoes of the game, the battle system, only receives slight updates this time around, speeding up and refining what was already a great, yet notoriously polarizing battle system.
The biggest surprises to be found are within the party system itself. Heading into the game, I was worried that playing as only two characters for the entirety would be a drag, only to be pleasantly surprised. Serah and Noel weren’t the least bit annoying, had perfect voice acting, and served enough various and perpetuating roles in combat that I remained hooked most of the time. The other great surprise was the understated third-party member. Throughout the game, you attain the ability to capture monsters and use them to fight alongside you as a third character, with their own leveling up system. Yes, it’s like Pokemon, and yes, it’s as fun and addictive as it.
One of the biggest issues players had with FF XIII was the linearity. The offensively simple game design had you walk down a narrow hallway, fight a monster, walk through a hallway, watch a cutscene, fight some more, and walk through straight path hallways until- congratulations! You’ve beaten the game! The developers are not messing around this time; expect branching pathways, NPC conversations, and lots of towns and shops! There’s even a casino mini-game area with Chocobo racing akin to the Gold Saucer in Final Fantasy 7, which was a great nod.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 gives you more than enough to do with plenty of freedom to do it all as you see fit, but that’s also where problems crop up. All too often I found myself wondering what the hell to do and where to go next. While menus are nicely designed for everything else, the game doesn’t even try to provide any clear, organized way to show the player what to do and where to go. While side quests are now abundant throughout the entirety of the adventure, they’re extremely lame and are presented in a pretty sloppy manner. Like the main quests, they’re also poorly laid out in the menu/map system.
I cannot stress how much great characters and a condensed and simpler plot make for an enticing JRPG. It’s what will keep players playing. Like many other Final Fantasy games, my interest wandered after a while, but the incredibly fun and fantastic looking battle system will reel you back in to experience great multiple endings upon finishing the game. The ending provides some ground for a possible Final Fantasy XIII-3, and I’m totally okay with that. Final Fantasy XIII-2 refines and perfects what was previously a shell of a great game, and a third edition and subsequent establishment of a trilogy would only solidify this game as a great entry in the 25-year-old series.