Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the sequel to the controversial 2010 release Final Fantasy XIII. It is loved by many, and hated by others. This is something that it has in common with many of the predecessors that came before it. Square-Enix was determined to try and fix many of the mistakes they felt that they had made.
Personally I have enjoyed every Final Fantasy, even Final Fantasy XI, XII, XIII, and XIV (now). I come into each, and every one of them with a different set of eyes. This is not a series that is not going to stay along a specific formula. Each chapter in the Final Fantasy saga is constantly evolving, and changing. It is up to the fans to embrace that change or sadly this Fantasy may be Final for you.
Story (Spoiler free):
The story in XIII-2 is pretty interesting. It plays off similarly to a mystery. It starts off 3 years after the events of the previous game. Lightning is gone, and Serah is determined to find her along with Noel. They set off on their grand adventure. Where did Lightning go? How is Noel involved? Who is Etro, and how is she involved? What is the main goal of the antagonist? All of these questions popped into my mind several times. Luckily XIII-2 succeeds in the story department, especially in the later segments of the game. XIII-2 has an excellent cast of characters, with one of the best antagonists in recent memory.
If you aren't a fan of getting the overall plot in smaller portions, and then a grand finale in the later segments of the game. You will more than likely dislike XIII-2s story. Also one needs to remember that this is a time travel game so you need to keep an open mind of what is happening because there are certain things that don't make sense at first, but they will later on. Outside of the story from the cinematics, some bits and pieces are told through data logs and through NPCs (Talk to ALL of them). This was a nice addition because I really enjoyed reading those extra tidbits from the datalog fragments.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a time traveling game. You will be delving through the Historia Crux jumping between the timelines to enter new areas. In these areas you can of course do the main plot, but Square also implemented many outside additions for the players to do. These biggest additions include:
Monster Hunting - One of the best additions to the game. The 3rd slot in the party belongs to a monster, so hunting is essential. You can capture tonberrys, cactaurs, ochus, and even in some cases primals! Each monster has a different role, and can be leveled through the Crystarium (similarly to the main characters, except they take monster components). In certain cases, there are even one of kind monsters. So choose wisely before you level them up. Monsters can be infused to inherit abilities, and traits. One can lose hours of their lives with this system, especially if you want to catch them all.
Sidequests - There are tons of these throughout the game. There are simple fetch quests, killing quests, detailing a map, obtaining 100% of the beastiary, solving puzzles, answering questions, and many more. The nice addition that Square did here is that every character in the game has a voice over, and they aren't reused. If Square did re-use voice actors for NPCs they did a darn good job of hiding it, and I'm pretty good at catching that sort of thing. Also every quest is started in the form of a basic cut-scene. Gone are the days of long dreadful text walls.
Paradox Puzzles - Square implemented puzzles to the game in the form of Paradox Puzzles. These puzzles take place in what seems like a rift between time, and there are three different forms of puzzles. Running tile puzzles, connect the dots of sorts, and the brain crunching clock puzzles. Some of these puzzles had me stumped. One in particular took me close to an hour to figure out. (By the way, those clock puzzles are random. Good luck finding a guide).
Serendipity - This optional area is a theme park of sorts if you wish to call it that. There is Chocobo Racing, Slot machines, and more that will be added later via DLC such as card games. There are dozens of adornments to be found, tons of prizes to win, and lots of money to be lost.
The battle system is pretty much the same as Final Fantasy XIII. At first I actually had a hard time readjusting to it because it's so darn fast. I still dislike the "Auto-Battle" option but I do understand why it's there. You never have to use it once through the entire game if you wish not too.
Square redid a lot of the animations, especially in the magic department. The later tier magic spells seemed to have a lot more effects than its predecessor which I found to be really nice. Though there was a lot of reuse in abilities such as "Ruin, Blitz, Imperil" and more. Monsters from XIII are also reused in a lot of areas, which is also understandable because it's still the same world so they aren't going to just disappear. However if in the future a sequel is made (oh and there will be) I would like to see more additions. There is enough for it not too be annoying, but I would like to see more variations.
Characters advance through the Crystarium, a system used in Final Fantasy XIII. While it may look similar in style to its counterpart it's actually a lot different. There is still a one way path for each role, but depending on what role you level and when, the stats you have at the end of the Crystarium may differ greatly from another player. When leveling the "Bigger Orbs" there are stat bonuses determined by that role. For example a Commando is a 2 STR bonus, while a Ravager is 2 MAG bonus. Choose wisely.
Square implemented dialogue trees, and cinematic actions for more of a western appeal approach. These additions were alright, but as a fan of JRPGs over WRPGs. I hope that in the future, they stay far away from the genre. It's not that I dislike them, but I would rather appreciate 100% of the story, and watch the impressive cutscenes.
The music in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a bit of a departure from other games in the series. A good portion of the soundtrack which boasts over 70 songs has vocals. Luckily the rap tracks have been eliminated from the western version, but almost all of the songs are a delight to listen too. Naoshi Mizuta, Masashi Hamauzu, Nobuo Uematsu, and Mitsuto Suzuki put together a very decent soundtrack.
There were only a few songs I really disliked, and unsurprisingly they were composed by Nobuo. I am a big fan of Nobuo's early work but that Crazy Chocobo theme was entirely unnecessary, and didn't fit with the Final Fantasy universe at all. Head banging, and really crazy death metal isn't my style especially in a boss fight or, when riding a cute little bird.
Naoshi Mizuta continues to impress me with themes like "Warrior Goddess" and "Caius Theme." I really hope that he is a part of all future Final Fantasy installments. In my opinion he is the new Nobuo Uematsu of this time period.
In a generation where video game technical issues seem to be the norm, it is nice that Square-Enix is ahead of the curve with their single player Final Fantasy games. However the game is not perfect. There are frame drops in cut scenes. They aren't anything that will significantly irritate the player (and most people probably will not notice it at all) but it does break my focus.
Thankfully though out of the entire time I spent with the game that was all I encountered. No freezes, no screen tears, no cutting out music, hell my entire 24MB save didn't drop to 10 frames at all!
What I played:
My adventure in XIII-2 lasted about 65 hours (the main story took me roughly 35 hours, and I skipped some content). That time will differ heavily depending on what content you do. The Platinum trophy has been obtained, and I have conquered a majority of the games content. I have seen every Paradox ending, the secret ending, and all 160 fragments have been found. I however did not capture every monster (but I did kill them all ^^), or obtain all of the adornments that can be found throughout the game. I also did not collect the weapons that require ridiculous farming time.
My score and final thoughts:
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is by no means a perfect game, because it isn't. Not everyone will enjoy XIII-2 but I do believe that Square succeeded in bringing back the joy for many Final Fantasy Fans. XIII-2 boasts a very decent story, great music, decent characters, one hell of a protagonist, and one of the most memorable endings I have ever seen. Time literally flew by while playing XIII-2 for me, so thanks Square for the fun.
Caius is EPIC
Illusion of freedom is back
Collector's Edition has an amazing casing
Re-use of Monster assets
Inconsistent Difficulty (Luckily the Final Boss is insanely fun!)
Frame drops in cut scenes
Nobuo's ridiculous head banging music
Note: This review has also been posted on the standard edition, because I purchased them both. I think it's fair that it gets credit on both fronts.