Insert generic statement of greeting here, readers! Today, I direct my fanboyish reviewer eyes to the most recent Final Fantasy installment, Final Fantasy XIII-2! I had planned to review XIII-2 sooner, but decided take a bit of time to let my massive fanboy love cool down a bit. So, without further ado or procrastination, let us dive into things!
The story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 picks up three years after its predecessor. Players take the role of Serah, Lightning’s younger sister, and Noel, an admittedly somewhat generic Sora knock-off new to XIII-2. The two companions, accompanied by a horde of monsters, journey through different times and locations on a quest to find Lightning and change the course of history. The storytelling of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a massive improvement over its predecessor; despite the non-linearity of the time travel plot, the narrative still manages to be more cohesive and interesting than that of the original XIII. The characters who do return from XIII are, for the most part, far more likable than they were in the first game. The new characters, including the academic Alyssa Zaidelle and the absolutely insane shopkeeper, Chocolina, are simply delightful. Unfortunately, Serah and Noel are given rather boring characterizations, but even they manage to stay far more likable than the vast majority of the original Final Fantasy XIII cast. The non-linearity of the Final Fantasy XIII-2 storyline is confusing at first, but the plots of the areas are episodic enough that they can be done in any number of orders without being too difficult to piece together.
It seems odd to say this about the sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, but the best part of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is easily its non-linearity. The game is absolutely loaded with sidequests; simply playing through the game is a short fifteen-twenty hour affair that will only take players through about half of the game’s areas. Fully completing the game’s sidequests is a much longer affair that will more than double the game’s playtime. The maps in Final Fantasy XIII-2 are quite non-linear; exploration makes a triumphant return. Many of the maps are somewhat small, and many of the maps are reused, but the areas in Final Fantasy XIII-2 are still a joy to explore.
The battle system of Final Fantasy XIII-2 draws elements in from its predecessor; the roles and paradigm system are retained from the XIII combat. New to Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the alteration of the third party member. Noel and Serah are the only two characters with the ability to change roles in the same way as XIII. Replacing the third party member is a collection of monsters, each of whom are locked into one single role. The player can add into their paradigm deck any three monsters, so the combat feels largely unchanged from the original.
Finally, the Crystarium system returns, though it is a vastly different beast this time around. Gone are the days of storyline Crystarium restrictions; expansions are now given when the player reaches the end of the current stage.
Graphically, there is little to say about Final Fantasy XIII-2. The graphics engine is clearly the same as the one used in the original Final Fantasy XIII, and the game looks similarly excellent. The Final Fantasy XIII-2 soundtrack, with a few exceptions, is phenomenal, with new and returning tracks combining to create a pleasant musical experience. Final Fantasy has always been a series noted for its technical quality, and the latest entry is clearly no exception.
As a complete package, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a must-buy for JRPG fans. Final Fantasy XIII-2 improves on the original in almost every way. The storytelling is better, the characters more likable, the exploration far greater, and even the music is an improvement from the original’s often forgettable soundtrack. Even small improvements, like the ability to save and load paradigm decks or the save-anywhere functionality make Final Fantasy XIII-2 into a much better experience than Final Fantasy XIII ever was. For people who were lukewarm about the original, and for any gamer who enjoys JRPGs, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is absolutely a game worth purchasing. Now if the readers will kindly excuse, this reviewer has some sidequests to attend to.