Bring up Final Fantasy XIII and you’ll generally get a group of disgruntled moans from around the room. The title built up a bad reputation for itself that seemingly gets worse over the years. Final Fantasy XIII branded announcements are met with cries for Square Enix to abandon the series and start anew.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII sits on my list of to-play titles for this year, so I can’t talk about Square Enix’s more recent outing. However, I can tell you that if you disliked Final Fantasy XIII, you should at least give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a try.
Starting Final Fantasy XIII-2 seems like a mistake, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one. It opens with this weird cutscene that serves mostly as fan service for the first title’s main character, Lightning. The rest of the game follows Lightning’s sister, Serah. Then you have to deal with her annoyingly whining for the first half of the story about Lightning’s disappearance from the world. It gets better as the plot focuses more on Noel, who is one of the last surviving humans in a future world, but sometimes it feels like the game would be better without Lightning and Serah’s story at all.
Undoubtedly, the biggest improvement of Final Fantasy XIII-2 are the areas in the game. Gone are the linear hallway level designs in favor of locales with more variety. Large open areas with winding paths take precedence here, along with an emphasis on exploration to find treasures as well as keys that open gates to new areas. These levels are frequently reused, but often they have some sort of gimmick or change of atmosphere to freshen up the experience.
Both the main line story quests and side quests require players to track down items without too much guidance given. Having freedom from an ever-guiding hand is appreciated, but sometimes the developers can leave players in the dark about where an item is or how to get to its location. It’s a pain if you don’t have time to search every corner and path. However, there’s a simple solution to that: Use a guide. There’s no shame in that. I used one, and I approve of you using one, too. It’s our little secret.
The battle system remains largely unchanged from Final Fantasy XIII, but gives players full control from the start. Players immediately have access to three major class roles, and the combat focuses heavily on quickly changing between offensive and defensive formations, like in the original. The player’s battle performance is ranked, which provides awards and gives incentive to optimize strategies even within normal battles. One annoyance is that random battles return, but they can be avoided if the player outmaneuver an enemy in time.
A couple of hours into Final Fantasy XIII-2 unlocks the ability to essentially train the series equivalent of a Pokemon to fight in your party. While there are some strategies in choosing specific monsters, for the most part they simply fill an additional slot to complete a three person party.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is not the greatest JRPG or Final Fantasy, but the changes to the pacing, level design and some of the story remedies many of the most hated aspects of Final Fantasy XIII.