- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Square Enix
- ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
- Genre: RPG
- Pros: Nice visuals; solid music; fun battle system; collecting monsters; time travel aspect is well handled; decent pacing
- Cons: A lot of different gameplay styles mashed into one; needs more Lightning; inconsistent
Lightning may be the cover girl for Final Fantasy XIII-2, but she actually isn't around much (to our great disappointment, seriously, I love Lightning). After the end of Final Fantasy XIII, (PS3 FFXIII review here) Lightning mysteriously disappears. Everyone else assumes she is dead because only her sister Serah remembers a conversation she and Lightning had on the plains of Gran Pulse before she disappeared. Three years later, Serah has a dream where she sees Lightning fighting an epic battle in the land of Valhalla, and in the dream Lightning sends a young man named Noel through time and space to Serah. When Serah wakes up, Noel is there waiting for her. With proof that Lightning must still be alive somewhere, Serah and Noel set out to find her. Finding Lightning isn't simply a matter of "where", however, but also a matter of "when".
It turns out time and space are being distorted by some unknown force. A large part of the game is spent tracking down special gates used to travel through time, as well as specific keys called artefacts used to activate each gate. By traveling through each gate to a new place and time, Serah and Noel find and fix problems in the time stream and try to return everything to normal. By solving the rips in time, they hope to eventually find Lightning.
Yes, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a time travel story. But it is actually surprisingly well done and easy enough to follow. While it is really the Serah and Noel show, you do come across the other FFXIII main cast now and then, sometimes in unexpected places. If you liked the characters and overall story and the worlds of Cocoon and Pulse from XIII, you'll enjoy XIII-2. It doesn't always make sense, and isn't always easy to follow, but we figure it isn't any different from most anime storylines, so we don't mind it. I know some reviews say the story is awful, but if you've watched any amount of anime it isn't so bad.
The main story takes around 25 hours to play through, but the game offers several dozen more hours of gameplay after the main story to keep you playing. You can scour all of the areas in the game for artefacts and fragments, you can collect monsters to fight for you, you can race chocobos, you can gamble at a casino, and much more. You could say the main quest is too short, but it felt about right to us, and all of the extra stuff you can do afterwards really beefs up the overall value. It is a 25 hour main story, but 70-80 hour game overall.
One additional note is that if you have a Final Fantasy XIII save, you'll unlock special goodies in XIII-2 but we won't spoil what.
Another interesting aspect of the game is that you capture monsters to battle alongside you (yeah, kind of like Pokemon but different). Your main party only consists of Serah and Noel so you have to have monsters to fill the third battle slot. Each monster has their own specialty, and the idea is that you can have a monster be your medic or synergist or saboteur while the two mains can just focus on fighting. The monsters can be individually leveled up, dressed up with accessories, and you can even feed them other monsters to give them new powers. It is a really cool system and finding some new powerful monster is always a thrill.
Leveling up the main characters is also pretty clever. Rather than having each role have its own level up requirements, now leveling up affects every role. Meaning that if you level your ravager skill up to 40 and level 41 costs 250 points to level up, leveling your medic role to 2 will also cost 250 points. This means you have to pick roles to specialize and stick with them rather than have Jack-of-all-trades characters. The nice thing is that you can grind and really level up all you want if you want to take the time to do it. Realistically, though, you'll probably have around 3 roles fully leveled by the end for each character. And if you are leveling your monsters alongside them, you'll have a pretty awesomely powerful team.
While the normal field exploration and battling enemies is pretty straightforward, XIII-2 also has an abnormally large number of mini-games and additional mechanics that pop up and every one of them has its own set of rules and requirements. Seemingly every level you visit introduces you to some new mechanic and after a while it is sort of overwhelming. Solving time aberrations involves a couple of different puzzles. Each level has its own unique quirks as well. One level requires you to stay in the path of searchlights to avoid monsters. Another level has you controlling the weather to control which monsters appear. Some conversations have choices and you'll learn different things depending on what you choose, but you can usually only choose one (thankfully, you can reset levels and select different options and do things different if you want). Also, quick time events pop up during battles that you have really pay attention for and hit accurately to be successful. Each monster you can have in your party also has a different QTE you have to activate to use their special attacks as well. There is a lot to keep track of here, and we would have preferred it be a little simpler.
Inconsistent World Design
Also, while we do like the overall story and everything, the game is very inconsistent and oddly paced. Each of the different time periods you can visit is a different level, usually in completely different parts of the world. None of it really feels connected. Some levels are visually stunning. Some levels are only so-so looking. Some levels are well designed and fun to explore. Others, not so much. One level might have a ton of interesting things to do. Another might be a linear A to B trek with nothing. It makes the pacing very uneven and inconsistent from one level to the next.
With that said, the pacing is still infinitely better than it was in FFXIII. It doesn't take 25 hours to open up or 10 hours before you actually have your full battle abilities. There might be individual levels or missions that drag XIII-2 down a bit, but there are also a lot of high points as well. The important part is that it sets you loose into the main meat of the game - time travel and monster collecting and leveling up - so you can play however you like very early on unlike FFXIII which kept a leash on you a majority of the time. FF XIII-2 opens up and gets out of the way so you can actually have fun with it.
Visually, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a nice looking game. It is kind of amazing that it packs lots of nice cutscenes and 80 hours of gameplay all onto one disc while the first game had to be split into three discs without really sacrificing much in terms of image quality. The characters look great, the environments are detailed and nicely varied, and the animation is good all around.
The sound is also very good overall with great voice acting from the main cast. Sound effects, battle cries from monsters, and telltale "RPG" menu sounds are all just like you'd expect. The soundtrack is also quite good and features a surprising amount of vocal tracks.
All in all, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a solid sequel to FFXIII. It fixes most of the problems - pacing, towns, difficulty spikes, linear levels - and is absolutely a better game overall. It does have some of its own troubles, such as inconsistent level quality and an inescapable feeling like the developers tried to cram one (or ten) too many unique mechanics into the game, but overall it is still very fun and worth playing for fans of XIII. And that is a key point - fans of XIII. If you liked Final Fantasy XIII, you will like XIII-2. If you hated the story and characters and thought it was all pointless and stupid, you'll think exactly the same about this one. For fans, though, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is definitely worth playing and is almost certainly among the Top 10 Xbox 360 RPGs. Some cynics have long predicted the downfall of Final Fantasy, but that downfall won't be because of FF XIII-2.