To say that Final Fantasy XIII was linear would be an understatement, the game had you following corridors for hours on end following a story about the Gods and was about as far away from the traditional Final Fantasy series as you could get. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was an emotional rollercoaster and the game felt polished and deep. So when Square-Enix announced a sequel which would fix the majority of the issues and also expand the game world, I was cautious but also optimistic.
Thankfully Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an absolute improvement and a worthy addition to the Final Fantasy series. Three years after the ending of XIII Lightning has disappeared into Valhalla guarding a throne in a realm surplus to time and shrouded in chaos. After fighting a dark lord Caius she meets a young man named Noel from the end of time. She asks Noel to travel through time to find her sister Serah and bring her back to Valhalla to save the timeline.
If one thing shines the most throughout the game it’s the narrative, the story as confusing and lacklustre as it is at times is engrossing. You’ll want to continue playing to see what happens. You’ll meet up with past friends and foes as you travel through the numerous time locations. Expect to see the end of time and the beginning of history. The locations in XIII-2 are varied and unlike the previous game you’ve got the freedom to explore them whenever you like. Yes the main story path is pretty obvious but you’re free to do what you want when you want.
Some of these locations are rather impressive, whether it’s the glorious sandy beaches of your home town or looking up at the crystallised shell of Cocoon in the moon light, the game certainly looks striking. Although not as remarkable as what XIII was when it came out, it’s undoubtedly up with the best the PS3 has to offer. The cut-scenes like all preceding Final Fantasy games are leaps and bounds ahead of anything else. Every strand of hair is visible, every tear is reflective and every scene is so detailed it’s like you’ve visited the location in your own life.
Even after the game has finished the game itself if far from over, you’ll be able to go back to a previous world and replay them using time reversals, allowing you pick up anything you missed or just to do it again differently. You can also go hunting for all the fragments in the game or simply discover all the paradox endings, some of which are truly spectacular. Or maybe you fancy going back through the bosses to achieve the five star ratings. You can also take a trip to the Casinos to win some coins and rare items. Linear is a word that cannot be thrown around here.
As amazing as the game looks its sound is rather underwhelming, voice acting is a little hit and miss. The majority of characters are well voiced. Caius is the stand out here; his voice is so menacing and filled with hate but also despair and sadness. However characters such as Serah spend most of the game screaming and constantly moaning about everything, it gets to the point when you no longer feel sorry for her plight and just want her to shut up. The soundtrack is also a little irritating, one minute you can have a slow romantic song in the background and the next a heavy metal screamer. Unlike games such as Rayman Origins the soundtrack here doesn’t really add anything to the overall experience.
The battle system from XIII has been retained but even that has a few tweaks here and there. For starters Noel and Serah are the only human characters. The usual roles have been retained, as has the level system although because you’ve only got two characters the level up system has been expanded and now allows you to level up any category whenever you like. The third position in your party will be taken up by a monster, you’ll be able to tame different monsters throughout the game and use them in battles along side yourself. Screams of Pokémon come to mind; tame a monster and level it up to use in battle. However unlike yourselves the monsters cannot change their roles so you’ll have to pick your Paradigm party carefully depending on the situation you find yourself in.
The continued use of auto battle makes the game a touch on the easy side. As you fight monsters you’ll learn weaknesses and strengths for them and your auto battle mode will pick the right moves for that monster. You kind of feel like a passenger during battles and it’s a shame that you’ve not got as much input in the battles as you may have done in previous Final Fantasy games.
The game itself is a little on the easy side even without the auto battle mode, bosses are nowhere near as difficult as they were on XIII and there are no difficulty spikes, especially not till after the game completion. Square seem to have taken the criticism of the difficulty in XIII on board, but instead of fixing it properly they have just dumbed down XIII-2. There is a normal mode for people who want a little challenge but it’s not the fist clenching difficultly that XIII had.
Unfortunately Final Fantasy XIII-2 fails to deliver a substantial and lasting story. I felt connected with the characters in XIII so much so that I felt stimulated and moved at the end. I felt the melancholy and the joy in each of them but in XIII-2 all bar a few poignant moments in Noel’s future, I felt like a spectator and didn’t really feel as if I’d been through a journey. I felt kind of emotionless. XIII-2 also finishes on such a cliff hanger it’s unbelievable, I just spend twenty plus hours of my life for that; it felt like a kick in the teeth. For a series that has prided itself of telling immeasurable, engrossing and beautiful stories this was severely lacking in closure.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is certainly an all round better package than XIII, it’s not as linear as its predecessor, and it looks amazing, it’s easy to get to grips with and the battle system is considerably better. However the storyline is confusing and although engrossing near the start it lacks closure, and the focus that XIII had. It’s such as shame as the XIII series, which we will inevitably now call it had such potential.