Square Enix had a lot to answer for after Final Fantasy XIII. By making use of narrow maps to convey a sense of being fugitives on the run, the game removed the illusion of free choice. Many gamers didn’t like the ‘forced’ feeling of being on the run and instead pined for the open world maps of previous titles. (Even though in most cases the world map is just an elaborate ruse to make players think the games aren’t linear.) Thankfully in XIII-2, the cocoon has opened up to reveal a more mature, transformed creature. Get ready to step into a vast, expansive world to meet old and new friends.[Warning: contains a few spoilers from Final Fantasy XIII, so read on at your own peril, or go finish XIII, stat!]
Lightning, the protagonist in XIII, risked life and limb to save her younger sister, Serah. Joined by Snow, Serah’s fiancé, Hope, Sazh, Vanille and Fang, the group, bound by a Fal’Cie curse, become fugitives during their attempts to save Serah. Three years have passed since then, when Cocoon fell from the sky, the destruction of Pulse and Cocoon narrowly averted by the heroic actions of Vanille and Fang. Without the Fal’Cie controlling the weather or generating power, humanity has regressed. Many have left Cocoon, striving to rebuild on Pulse. But is all at peace?
Serah is plagued by memories that no one seems to share with her. She remembers her sister giving her blessing to Snow for Serah’s hand. But everyone else says they never saw Light, and think she is part of the crystal pillar holding Cocoon in place. Snow left on a mission to find Lightning for Serah, and hasn’t been heard of since. Sazh and Hope also drift off, to start new lives.
That is, until she sees Lightning in her dreams, battling fiercely. Serah wakes up as a meteorite hits near the village and monsters start appearing out of thin air and attack. Something is wrong, as if it doesn’t belong. This all coincides with the arrival of a man who speaks of Lightning and of knowing where she is.The man is Noel who comes from a future where humanity is all but extinct. He mentions the only way to get to Lightning is to travel through time…
Being a time traveller isn’t easy. Even Timelords (Who?) have to be extremely careful to not mess anything up. But what happens if the whole of spacetime starts turning on itself due to massive amounts of meddling? Paradoxes are occurring everywhere, causing monsters from other times and worlds to attack the fledgling re-establishment of humanity.
But how does one get about without a Tardis?
By unlocking gates, Serah and Noel open pathways through the Historia Crux, a place that allows for the characters to step outside of the stream of time, where they can visit, and sometimes re-visit various places in time. The Historia Crux even keeps track of alternate timelines; points where the removal of a paradox results in a new path for humanity.
By hopping through time, players will be drawn towards paradoxes, attempting to solve them to set the timeline back the way it should be. It may take some getting used to, but time is not a unidirectional constant. Large events occurring in the future can cause a ripple effect that changes the past too. To borrow from the Doctor, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect but actually, from a non-linear non-subjective viewpoint it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… Stuff.”
Thankfully, the Historia Crux is a robust, easy to use system, making time travel less daunting than it was in Chrono Trigger.
Serah and Noel capture monsters to use as the third member of the party. Each critter has its own role, skills and stat progression, and has to be fed various components to level up. Due to monsters having some abilities unavailable to the time travellers, capturing the little critters is a rewarding activity, and some of the rarer creatures are pivotal to beating some of those additional bosses.
The graphics are the hallmark of Final Fantasy. Even though they reduced the number of Full Motion Videos in comparison to previous titles, the in-game engine really shines. Some vistas are worth just staring at, and I may have lost a boss fight thanks to watching his awesome spell effects, which then vaporised my team.
But underneath all of the amazing graphics is what really counts, right? Thankfully, Final Fantasy XIII-2 goes the extra distance with regards to the story, and contains some of the best storytelling sequences yet. From small details, like the backstory that is revealed as you collect fragments, to the cohesion of the major storyline… I think I may be in love.
Sidequests abound in this title, and they are written in such a way that, while not required, definitely add a lot to the story. From character’s motivations and expositions, to learning more about the wonderful worlds of Pulse and Cocoon, the completion of a section of sidequests is highly rewarding and can open up new sections in the Historia Crux.
At the heart of all of the chaos is Caius Ballad.The typical recurring Final Fantasy bad guy, Caius is, however, the most bad-ass and most powerful boss in FF yet. Equipped with a massive, terrible sword in hand and possessing the ability to call on an altered version of Bahamut, this black-clad powerhouse in wreathed in mystery. He is masterfully voiced by Liam O’Brien, known for his penchant for voicing powerful and sometimes mentally unstable, characters. (Notable characters include Illidan Stormrage from WarCraft and War from Darksiders.)
So how does one go about getting strong enough to beat the most powerful enemy ever seen in a Final Fantasy game? The Crystarium, that slow, convoluted and bloated beast from XIII, gets a major overhaul, allowing for much more ease of use and a more tangible idea of how powerful your characters really are. Even the monster pets make use of this system, however they level by eating a really large hole in your wallet.
Combat is a lot smoother, with Paradigm Shifts feeling quicker and neater, and the Sentinel being more immediately useful. Large areas to explore and the (small) inclusion of having options of what to say or do all add up into an engrossing experience.
Design and Presentation: 9/10.
Besides the few niggles I have with a loss of framerate in some locations (Bresha Ruins, I am looking at you!), this game is absolutely gorgeous and breath-taking, and that is before the pre-rendered cut scenes start. Menus are easy to navigate, and the Crystarium makes more sense now.
The game takes over 30 hours to finish, and completionists will find over 100 hours trying to get that elusive 100%. Sadly, there are too few minigames in such a massive world. However, this is something that will, apparently, be remedied with DLCs.
This game had me on the edge of my seat, which says a lot about a game that takes easily over 30 hours to beat. It cannot be stated strongly enough that playing the previous title is highly recommended. The joy of revisiting locations from the previous game, and the chance meeting of characters from before, will lose all impact (and possibly be downright confusing) to those who didn’t play Final Fantasy XIII. While not the perfect Final Fantasy (if such a legendary thing exists), it does a pretty damn good job.
Last Updated: February 10, 2012