Final Fantasy XIII-2: The Kotaku Review

Final Fantasy XIII-2: The Kotaku Review
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In an epic tale of time-traveling heroism, Square Enix travels two years into the future to rectify the mistakes it made with Final Fantasy XIII. Have they found redemption with Final Fantasy XIII-2, or is history doomed to repeat itself?

What ever happened to Lightning? Something horrible has happened to the main character of 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII, and only her younger sister, Serah Farron, seems to notice anything is out of place. Somehow time has gotten twisted out of shape, and it’s up to Serah and a mysterious temporally-displaced young man from the future named Noel to set things right.

Thus beings Final Fantasy XIII-2, a rare direct sequel to a major Final Fantasy game that many are calling Square Enix’s apology for the sparse and overly linear original. They’ve swapped out main characters, replaced straight-corridor dungeons with the twisting corridors of time, and slipped in some exciting new features meant to propel this game above-and-beyond its predecessor. How did that work out for them?

Just as Final Fantasy XIII-2 recycles many of the game mechanics of its predecessor, my Final Fantasy XIII-2 review recycles the beloved review format I utilized for the original game. Without further ado, here’s what I loved and hated about Final Fantasy XIII-2, red versus blue.


An Adventure You Can Really Lose Yourself In: Well aware of complaints that Final Fantasy XIII was too linear, Square Enix erects a giant time tunnel-shaped anti-linearity cannon and fires it into the heart of Final Fantasy XIII-2. The game consists of a series of different eras linked together via the Historia Crux, a magical time navigation device mysteriously accessible by the two main characters. Once an era is unlocked the player can drop in and out of it whenever they like. It doesn’t matter if they’re just wandering about hunting for treasure or standing directly in front of a major boss fight; as long as the player isn’t in battle, they can warp from time to time at will.

There are no straight corridors leading you directly from goal to goal here. Even the earliest era features branching paths, hidden shortcuts, and out-of-the-way nooks where obscure treasures await. Where Final Fantasy XIII players could easily get lost because each level was so uniform and bland, in Final Fantasy XIII-2 they’ll get turned around because the environments are so vast and twisting; a welcome difference indeed.

WHY: Because it improves upon Final Fantasy XIII in nearly every way.


Developer: Square Enix / Tri-Ace
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Version played) / Xbox 360
Released: December 15 (Japan), January 31 (US), February 3 (EU)

Type of game: Epic role-playing with a strong emphasis on strategy, with some monster collecting and gambling thrown in for good measure.

What I played: Cleared the main campaign on Normal difficulty in 30 hours, partaking in many side missions and activities. Played post-ending for several hours; there’s still plenty to see and do.

My Two Favourite Things

  • Complete freedom to go where you want, when you want
  • Collecting and levelling up monsters hasn’t been this entertaining since Pokémon

My Two Least Favourite Things

  • The most entertaining characters from Final Fantasy XIII are relegated to cameo roles
  • The music is mostly shit.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • “Completely makes up for Final Fantasy XIII!” -Mike Fahey, Kotaku
  • “Doctor Who would only be slightly confused!” -Mike Fahey, Kotaku
  • “This one’s much better, really!” -Mike Fahey, Kotaku

Twisted Tales of Time Travel: Crafting an intricately detailed yet easy-to-follow fantasy tale meant to keep players involved for dozens of hours is no mean feat. Throw time travel into the mix and it’s damn near impossible. Somehow Square Enix, a developer that’s crafted some of the most dense and convoluted storylines of all time, has managed to craft a time-twisted narrative that I understood completely and, for the most part, enjoyed thoroughly (expect for the very last bit, grr).

A great deal of that enjoyment is due to the characterisation and motivations of the game’s three core characters. Over the course of the game I witnessed Serah transform from Lightning’s mousy sister into a heroine in her own right. Newcomer Noel Kreiss is an amazingly strong character for all he’s been through in life, his experience serving as the impetus for one of the game’s most powerfully emotional moments. And perhaps the game’s greatest character, villain Caius Ballad, metamorphoses over the course of the narrative from a purple-haired Sephiroth clone wielding a massive sword that could have been stolen directly from SoulCalibur into one of the most human antagonists the series has seen.

A Slightly Less New Paradigm in RPG Combat: The Paradigm combat system I enjoyed so much in Final Fantasy XIII returns in XIII-2 with several minor but appreciated tweaks. Player characters (and now their monster companions) have several roles they can play in combat, from the magic-hurling Ravager to the impenetrable tank of the Sentinel. The player can create six different configurations of these and swap between them on the fly during battle. Is there a high damage attack on the way? Switch to triple Sentinels. Want to debuff your enemy while bolstering your own defences? Then Saboteur / Synergist / Sentinel is the way to go. Determining the proper time to use the proper Paradigm is where the game’s strategy lies. XIII-2 deepens the system somewhat by allowing players to select how each Paradigm they create behaves. Should everyone focus on the same target, do their own thing, or stick with wide-area attacks to take out large groups? It’s all up to the player.

The way roles advance as also been streamlined into an ultimately more enjoyable system. Rather than have different Crystarium (power grids) for each different role, players have a single advancement path to follow, choosing which role they wish to focus their points on along that single track. It’s a simple-yet-satisfying way to develop your characters, much improved over the previous game.

You Simply Must Catch Them All: The single greatest addition to Final Fantasy XIII-2 is the ability to capture the creatures you battle and recruit them into your party. Boss monsters aside, any creature you battle in the game has the potential to become your new best friend. Monsters come equipped with their own set party role, advancing along their power grid by ingesting special items found in battle or purchased from a vendor. You can even dress your monsters up with silly decorations; Chase, my Chocobo Commando, is currently wearing a tiny tree on his head.

What begins as a simple diversion soon becomes an obsession, driving the player to explore every inch of the game in search of the rarest, most powerful monsters. Acquiring them is only half of the fun. Levelled-up creatures can be fed to others to strengthen them, creating even more powerful companions. It’s not a mini-game, but rather a full monster-collecting experience tucked inside an epic RPG.

One-Stop Shopping: The rather impersonal vending machines of the previous game have been replaced with a rather annoying woman wearing a Chocobo costume. How is this a plus? Well for one, rather than having a bunch of different virtual shops to wade through to find items you may or may not need you’ve got one simple list. Plus, ear-gratingly annoying as she is, the omnipresent Chocolina is a welcome dose of humanity in the wilderness, something Final Fantasy XIII certainly could have used.

The Breathtaking Beauty of Time-Tossed Shores: Free from the constraints of space and time, Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s development team has created a visually sumptuous buffet of beautiful scenery. From the lush jungles of the Sunleth Waterscape to the glowing technology of the Augusta Tower, each new era is a treat for the eyes. One expects striking and colourful characters and creatures from Square Enix, but this strikingly gorgeous kaleidoscope of strange and unique settings was a welcome surprise.

All the Small Things: Another major complaint about Final Fantasy XIII was that it lacked the numerous diversions that made a Final Fantasy game feel like a Final Fantasy game. There were no towns to visit, no NPCs to talk to; just a single-minded mission. That made sense given that game’s urgency, but Serah and Noel have all the time in the world to relax in-between story missions.

So the developers have laced Final Fantasy XIII-2 with plenty of non-essential content. There are non-player characters doling out side missions; hidden items to hunt down via your ever-present treasure hunting Moogle; shards to collect that unlock special powers and abilities; and some especially brutal trivia challenges. There’s even an entire era dedicated to roulette, Chocobo races, and eventually (via DLC) playing cards. Now that’s service.


Lightning Crashes, a New Heroine Tries: Square Enix has gone out of its way to feature Final Fantasy XIII lead Lightning in all of its promotional material for Final Fantasy XIII-2. The pink-haired warrior princess appears in the trailers, is featured in the advertisements — she’s even on the game’s cover art. Sadly once you combine all of things together you’ve probably seen Lightning more in the marketing than you will in the game proper. She’s more of a motivational goal here than an actual character.

The developers have done a fine job taking Serah, the two-dimensional damsel-in-distress from the first game, and turning her into a compelling character. She makes an excellent companion for Noel, the mysterious young man from a bleak future. I was just expecting more from the more interesting folks we met in game one. We get a light dusting of Snow and a few brief cameos from other members of the original team. The only returning hero that gets significant screen time is Hope, the pitiful whining child from Final Fantasy XIII, transformed by a decade into a character so much more likeable he might as well be somebody else.

Music to Vomit By: I’ve discussed the soundtrack to Final Fantasy XIII-2 previously on Kotaku, and unfortunately I must report it hasn’t magically transformed into Chopin between then and release. We’ve still got the Lake Bresha rap song and Chocobo death metal. The ending theme song is still sentimental fluff. It’s not a complete loss, with several tracks enjoyable enough to make me linger in one area longer than I should just to hear them out to the end. It’s still so bad that shelling out extra for the collector’s edition of Final Fantasy XIII-2 complete with four-disc soundtrack is akin to paying someone $US20 to shit in your ear.

It’s impossible to talk about the triumphs of Final Fantasy XIII-2 without touching on the failures of Final Fantasy XIII. Fortunately this is because in order to fully appreciate how good the second game is one really needs to have experience the first. Final Fantasy XIII was the shadow of an excellent game. Final Fantasy XIII-2 steps into the light, a much more tangible, spectacular, and fully realised experience. Apology accepted.


  • I’m interested in this game, but I feel like I can’t get it until I’ve finished XIII … which apparently is not a task I’ve held myself to completing in a timely manner 😛

    • First time I played 13, at launch, I could not bring myself to finish it. Started from scratch 3 weeks ago and actually enjoyed it. Only played till the end for the story and was around 30ish hours.

      • Yeah, I’m basically in the same boat here, but without the starting from scratch. I keep coming back to the old save I already have going… I’ve considered starting over, but haven’t brought myself to do it.

        • I only managed to finish it like a few months ago. The story is lackluster, the characters are lackluster, the combat is fun until you have a 10min fight against a normal mob.

          At least its better than the other jrpgs squeenix have made though for next gen, star ocean tlh, infinite undiscovery and last remnant are some of the worst stories/voiceacting and characters I’ve ever seen.



    Why does this make me suddenly interested in this game…

  • Why did i have to read that?!? Now i have to finish XIII and then play this! I don’t have time for that, I have too much work to do! AAArrgh!

  • There probably should also be a mention that you can skip the random battles by running past them when the monsters appear in front of you.

  • I still laugh at all the people whose faith in Squenix was ‘destroyed’ because of FFXIII. Stop being dramatic and/or bandwaggoning. FFXIII wasn’t THAT bad. Even if you honestly think it was, a history as rich as Squaresoft/Square Enix is enough to be ruined by one game you didn’t like? Take a chill pill, son.

    I played the demo and have preordered this – really excited, the demo was great.

    • It certainly wasn’t that good, though, was it? I mean Final Fantasy 7 had many, many more features and content than it did.

      • When was the last time you actually played FF7 through? Don’t get me wrong, FF7 is great, but too many people are just jaded by the fact that OMG IT’S FF7. Feature-wise, FF8 absolutely decimated it, for example. I’m sick of FF7 being the benchmark.

        • Hey, no probs, let’s take 8 as the benchmark. Compared to 8, the last 5 years of squeenix rpg production has been utter dogshit.

          • Pretty weak argument you’ve got going here. 7,8,9 and 10 are fairly well regarded across the board as great successes for Squenix. 11 doesn’t count (it’s an MMO) 12 was a mixed reception, but not shitcanned, so that really only leaves 13 as your example of ‘the last 5 years being utter dogshit’.

            Again reiterating my point of how many people are touting FF13 as the demise of the Squenix we know and love and all that’s wrong with them today. Sensationalist bullshit, says I.

          • 8 was shit (except for the CGI movies and music, which were awesome). That was the last time people moaned about Final Fantasy being killed forever.

            Seriously, Squall was the most unlikeable protagonist of the series, the Squall-Rinoa love story was excruciating, nobody on Earth can actually explain the plot beyond a certain point because it makes no sense at all, and the draw system was the worst gameplay idea Square has ever had. Oh, and unskippable summons that could take over a minute to play out. *facepalm*

            Happily 9 was the bees’ knees and restored faith.

            I think the real problem with XIII is they diverted a ton of resources to building their lousy new MMORPG and to vaporware side projects. If they actually focus on XV we might get it in a reasonable amount of time AND it might be pretty awesome.

          • 9 was shit and forgettable. 8 was fucking excellent. Triple Triad.

            I take that back. 9 wasn’t shit, but 8 shits all over it.

          • 9 was shit and forgettable. 8 was excellent. Triple Triad.

            I take that back. 9 wasn’t shit, but 8 shits all over it.

          • I’m surprised by all the praise for FF8 actually. I loved the game and it is still my favorite but I just thought it was because it was my first FF. Glad to know i wasn’t alone.

            FYI: there is a triple triad game on android marketplace.

  • I enjoyed FF13 alot. Didn’t know why people complained about it so much.

    I also enjoyed it because it was linear. Since I play alot of different games, I don’t really want to spend 150+ hours on one game. When you grow up you have less time. Sure exploring open worlds are awesome, but it just adds on more hours for me. I think people that were hating on FF13 were those who are truly hardcores FF fans who play mostly FF games,

    But sadly, I will not be getting this game on launch. But I will get it later. Just bought a gaming PC and like I said before don’t know how I can manage adding FF13 on my games list when there are many games i still need to finish.

    • Lost Odyessey was dull. Utterly dull. The story, the characters – everything. Kaim was about as interesting as a stick waving about on a windy day. Disagree.

  • >___< Must. Hold. Back. On. Buying. This. Game.

    Gonna wait until they release the FF-X Remake..then I can think about this game..this year's gonna be quite a year for purchases too..I'm going to go broke.

  • Do i HAVE to play FFXIII to enjoy XIII-2? I only managed about 10 hours of XIII and don’t really want to try it again. Can i just read a synopsis of what happened in the first game and play the sequel?

    • Before I went back to XIII a couple of weeks ago to finish grinding through the rest of the achievements, I watched all of the cutscenes on YouTube. It pretty much takes all day but that might be a more valid option.

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