Developers: Square Enix, Tri-Ace
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: Out now
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a rare occurrence in the Final Fantasy franchise; it is a direct sequel to a previous game. Only a handful of these exist, such as Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years.
XIII-2 is set three years after the events of its predecessor and follows the story of Serah, the sister of XIII’s principal protagonist, Lightning. For anyone who hasn’t played the previous instalment, XIII-2 includes a primer guide to fill you in on the story up to this point. The essence of the plot is that Serah now lives in an alternate timeline where everyone seems to have forgotten the fate that befell her sister at the end of XIII, and with the help of a time traveller named Noel Kreiss from 700 years in the future, she must attempt to set this right.
The altered timeline to Final Fantasy XIII-2’s plot is significant in that it introduces the main gameplay dynamic, the ‘Historia Crux’, which helps to separate the game from its predecessor. This allows Serah and Noel to jump between different locations and timelines within the universe of Final Fantasy XIII, in a way that is similar to, though less effective than, the time travel featured in the classic RPG Chrono Trigger. This feature does allow the game much more freedom however, as the ‘Historia Crux’ allows for more exploration, less linearity, multiple endings and cameo appearances from Hope, Snow and Sazh.
Aside from time travel, the other main changes to XIII-2 are all related to its battle system. The Active Time Battle System, along with its paradigm shifts, has been retained, but there are some notable differences to these battles when compared with those of XIII. First of all, visible enemies in the field have been replaced by random encounters which older Final Fantasy fans should be familiar with. The second change is the introduction of quicktime events. Rather than revolutionising gameplay, these seem more like a token gesture towards player participation during the game’s lengthy cut scenes. XIII-2’s cut scenes are cinematically superb, but they are more frequent than in even the most long-winded Metal Gear Solid title. At times XIII-2 seems more like an interactive film rather than a game. The final change is the most drastic; rather than having a substantial team at your disposal like in most Final Fantasy games, Serah and Noel are the only playable characters. The rest of your team is composed of beasts that are caught á la Pokémon; a dynamic which Namco tried out in 2009’s Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, where it felt similarly out of place and underwhelming when compared to a properly rounded party of full characters.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is decent but unremarkable, and it isn’t unreasonable to expect more from as talented a developer as Square Enix.