Final Fantasy XIII-2 fixes most of the problems of its predecessor, but it sacrifices the grand story and beloved cast of characters in the process.
There are a couple of reasons why Final Fantasy XIII-2, a direct sequel to a core Final Fantasy game, exists: it’s a way for Square Enix to tie all the loose ends from the previous game, it’s an opportunity to fix all the problems people complained about with Final Fantasy XIII and, if you want to be cynical about it, you could say that this is a chance to reuse the assets and graphics engine from its predecessor. After playing this JRPG for dozens of hours, I feel like it’s all of the above. But is it a successful sequel? Well, it is and it isn’t. Final Fantasy XIII-2 fixes most of the problems of its predecessor, but it sacrifices the grand story and beloved cast of characters in the process.
XIII-2 story picks up right after the events of its predecessor and if you haven’t played Final Fantasy XIII, I’d recommend you doing so before checking out this sequel (for newcomers, XIII-2 features a beginner’s primer in text form so that the story’s easier to digest.) Now feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to start this game fresh. In the game, you play as Serah Farron, Lightning’s sister, after she becomes human again and befriends a time-traveling man from a distant future called Noel Kreiss. They can retrieve artifacts that open mysterious, time-traveling doors and they’ll use this ability to find out what happened to Lightning and to save Noel’s lover.
As I mentioned above, this sequel attempts to address some of the criticisms of Final Fantasy XIII which explains why the game’s so open: environments are bigger and the game encourages exploration and replayability which was something that Final Fantasy XIII simply lacked. You explore the same places but in different time periods and this sometimes translates into environments that look or feel similar, but have different characters or missions in them.
The combat system is essentially the same, which is great, because that was one of the best parts about Final Fantasy XIII. The main change, since you only control two characters throughout the game is that a third spot is filled by a monster you’ve captured in battle. Although capturing monsters never becomes as engrossing as playing Pokémon, this at least feels different enough to most Final Fantasy games. Encounters are slightly different as well. Whenever you see an enemy around you, you can strike it to get the upper hand or you can run away to avoid the battle completely. Should the enemy follow you around before time’s over, you lose the ability to retry the battle so if you lose, you’re sent back to the last save, making some encounters thrilling.
So far, most of the changes I mentioned have been for the better, but there are some questionable decisions as well. Something I simply detest from this sequel is the soundtrack. Although most Final Fantasy scores are memorable for their long and epic orchestral pieces, XIII-2 mixes K-pop, techno, trash metal and other dissimilar genres that make the music feel incoherent and hard to tolerate. Most of the time I spent with this game, I had to lower the volume or turn it down completely.
Another problem is that before playing the game, I assumed Lightning was going to be the protagonist. After all, she appeared in teaser trailers, was part of promotional material and was in the game cover. It was disappointing (not to mention misleading) to see that she barely makes an appearance in this game and that you play as her sister Serah and a new character. Why would you go as far as to show Lightning again and again and then remove the character completely?
And then there’s the fact that the story doesn’t offer a fitting conclusion to this 30-hour adventure. Essentially, Final Fantasy XIII-2 ends in a cliffhanger with a “to be continued” message suggesting that Lightning will be the protagonist in the third entry in this sub-series. It’s insulting and infuriating to play a title for so long just to see that there’s no closure to the story and that you have to purchase another game to see how it concludes.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 doesn’t make as much of an impact as its predecessor. The story feels less grand, there aren’t as many characters and the soundtrack is horrible. It does fix a lot of Final Fantasy XIII’s problems, such as the linear experience and lack of replayability and that’s great, but I was expecting a complete adventure that was ambitious and had an unforgettable story and characters, but XIII-2 doesn’t offer that. As a sequel that tries to fix every complaint people had with XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 works, but don’t expect anything else from this apt, but less than impressive title.