Answering the critics
2010's Final Fantasy XIII received a mixed critical reception. Chief among the complaints was the ditching of the series' usual side-quest-packed open-world structure in favour of a linear journey filled with desolate environments that offered the bare minimum of distractions. Two years later - the series is now a quarter of a century old and has surpassed 100 million game sales - creator Square Enix delivers the direct sequel, aiming to give fans what they wanted from the previous game. In many respects, Final Fantasy XIII-2 makes good on that promise.
Set three years after the events of its predecessor, the game sees mysterious time paradoxes causing all manner of unwelcome events, such as the destruction of the pillar supporting the world of Pulse and the disappearance of FFXIII protagonist Lightning. Players take control of Lightning's sister Serah and newcomer Noel, a stranger from the future. Both characters want to alter the timeline, Serah to bring back her sister and Noel to save humanity from a future destruction he has witnessed first-hand.
Back to the future
To do so players have to explore fractured timelines by jumping between different historical periods and resolving paradoxes, usually by defeating angry boss monsters. Featuring a more open world structure than its predecessor, there are plenty of branching paths to explore, allowing players to uncover and enjoy the experience at their own pace in multiple orders, ensuring a different experience for each user.
FFXIII-2 boasts some truly stunning and imaginative worlds to visit, from futuristic Blade Runner-like cities that glisten in a rain-soaked neon glow to gorgeous planets sporting sunset beaches and sparkling star-filled skies, and each is packed with characters offering side-quests and general chit chat that helps bring them to life. Player choice, variety and the ability to shape the adventure is greater than in FFXIII, then.
FFXIII-2's battle system may be the game's most divisive element. On the one hand it's accessible and looks lovely in motion, while on the other it hasn't evolved greatly from its predecessor's, and arguably isn't challenging enough. It's is the first game in the series to feature an adjustable difficulty mode - players can choose between Normal and Easy - but some will find it pretty easy even on the tougher setting.
Battles are built around your three party members - Serah, Noel and a third left open for monsters you collect along the journey - although players only directly control one lead character's moves during fights. While the other two characters are computer controlled, players can switch up their wider team's tactics between offensive, defensive and support strategies mid-battle to counter enemy attacks, the idea being to guide the tactical flow of events.
During the tougher encounters the battle system requires a good blend of thoughtful strategy and quick reflexes, making it highly satisfying when everything comes together to pull off a hard-earned victory. However, some experienced players will go through lengthy stretches of the game feeling unchallenged. During some battles, simply setting up your computer controlled companions to attack and heal while leaving your main character idle can be enough to earn a victory. The criticism that the battle system effectively "plays itself" hasn't been totally addressed, then.
A step forward
FFXIII-2 falls short of recapturing the franchise's glory days on PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2, but that's not to say it isn't a great game. While the lack of a more challenging battle system may disappoint some veteran players, looked upon as the direct sequel to FFXIII, FFXIII-2 rectifies many of the problems its predecessor had to offer a significantly improved experience. There's some thrilling action, gorgeous worlds to explore, and a fair amount of emotional engagement with the character driven story. It's also a generously large game that clocks in at about the 40-hour mark, meaning it'll keep series fans and newcomers busy adventuring for some time.
- Better than FFXIII.
- Open level structure.
- Stunning worlds to explore.
- Overabundance of cut-scenes.
- Battle system could be improved.
- Some fans will find it too easy.