When I first played FINAL FANTASY XIII I have to say I was a little disappointed. It was so linear, it didn’t let you loose to explore until right near the end. There were no towns in which to interact with other characters and visit item shops. There wasn’t even a world map.  It seemed that half of the things which I loved about the FF games previously had been taken away. But after playing for over 80 hours I actually realized how much I loved it. It may be terribly linear but it had a kickass battle system, an amazing soundtrack, great characters and voice acting and of course an epic sweeping storyline. And graphically it was the best looking game in the franchise so far.  So rather than being annoyed or disappointed that Square Enix were bringing out a direct sequel I was actually pretty fucking excited. In fact I was so excited that I spent the extra money and pre-ordered the Crystal Edition. I will admit that I still had a bit of an uneasy feeling though because of course the last direct sequel was the piece of crap FFX-2.  Earlier this month the game arrived and it was time to see if my excitement was justified, or if this was a repeat of the FFX-2 incident.

I guess a lot of people’s first question is “is it better than FFXIII?” and I will answer that right now. Yes. It is 100% better. They’ve basically taken all of the good points from XIII and added even more good shit.
As I said earlier I ordered the Crystal Edition, so it is the one I will be reviewing. Not that it matters much, the game is exactly the same it just comes with some extra goodies.

There’s so much in this game that it’s hard to know where to start, but I guess I will start with the characters. In FFXIII there were a total of 6 playable characters which were for most of the game arranged into two parties. But with FFXIII-2 they’ve decided to go with something a little different. First of all I have to admit that I haven’t actually finished the game yet, but I can tell that I’m near the end so I have  pretty good overview of the game. As far as I can tell there are only two playable characters in the entire game. Serah from XIII and a newcomer named Noel Kreiss. It sounds bad doesn’t it? I thought so too at first but when I realized what the other characters were being replaced with I thought it was an awesome idea. Monsters. That’s right, monsters. When you fight monsters you have a chance of taming them. It’s like FINAL FANTASY meets Pokemon. You gather monster crystals and you can then use any of these captured monsters in your party. But that’s not all. If you’ve played FFXIII then you’ll know all about the paradigm system, if you haven’t then you can go look it up because I can’t be bothered explaining it. Anyway, the monsters you tame all have their own particular role. For example a Behemoth will be a COM, a Cait Sith will be a MED, a Bunker Beast will be a SEN and so on. Although you keep all of the monster crystals, you can only set a maximum of three active monsters at a time. These three monsters will take the place of your third character when you shift paradigms.  Your two main characters however can learn all six roles. So if you want to use the Cerberus Paradigm (COM, COM, COM) you will need one of the three active monsters to be a COM. If you don’t have one then you won’t be able to use that paradigm. And to make things even better you can actually level up your monster companions. You will collect monster materials throughout the game which can be used in the Crystarium to level up and upgrade your monsters.
There will also be plenty of monsters and characters available as dlc in the near future. These will be able to be fought in a special Coliseum level and used in the game in the same way as the regular monsters. One of bonuses which came with the Crystal Edition was some exclusive dlc which included two extra character outfits and also the opportunity to fight the legendary Omega Weapon in the Coliseum. Defeating it gives you a chance to tame it and use it in your party. At the moment the only other dlc characters are Lightning and Amodar but I’m sure there will be more soon.

I will also talk briefly of the game’s storyline. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll leave most of it for you to find out for yourselves, but will talk about the basics. First of all you don’t need to play FFXIII before you play this sequel, but I would suggest it if you really want to understand what’s going on. Basically after the whole saving Coccoon incident at the end of XIII Fang and Vanille have been trapped inside the crystal pillar which is now holding up Coccoon. Lightning has somehow ended up trapped in Valhallah, Snow has left on a journey to go find her and Sazh is also gone. Serah is convinced that Lightning is still alive even though nobody else does and when Noel Kreiss suddenly arrives and tells her that Lightning sent him she follows him through time in a quest to find her. Follows her through time? You may ask. Yes that’s right, this whole game revolves around time travel. How awesome is that? As I said I don’t want to give too much away, but essentially you will find yourself travelling to different locations in different time periods. On the way you will meet some old friends and also a new enemy in the form of Caius Ballad. Soon you’ll find that not only do you need to save Lightning but you will also need to save the future.

Once again there is no world map but in its place there is what’s called the Historia Crux. It’s a kind of grid or timeline which contains all of the locations you have visited and have yet to visit. It also contains different time periods of the same locations. To unlock these new locations and time periods you will need to fulfill certain requirements. This will usually involve finishing a level/location, defeating a boss character or simply finding a specific artifact. Artifacts are the keys to opens gates to different periods and locations, and there are specific artifacts for specific gates. Not all of the locations will need to be unlocked in order to finish the game but if you want to unlock all of the trophies / achievements then you will need to find every artifact and location.

One thing a lot of people complained about (including me) with FFXIII was the lack of quests or minigames. Well you can rest assured that there are plenty on offer in XII-2. Across the entire game there are 160 ‘fragments’ which can be collected and most of these are found through quests. Most of them are simple ‘go from point A to point B, bring back item A’ type of quests but once you add in the whole time travel aspect then things get a little more difficult. For example you may travel to a certain location like say Yaschas Massif in the year 100AF but in order to complete a quest you may need to then travel to Yaschas Massif in the year 110AF as certain key items are only available in certain time periods.
Apart from these fragment quests there are also a bunch of mini-games. In certain levels you will find ‘anomalies’ which need to be solved in order for you to proceed further. To solve these anomalies you will need to step into them and complete a few puzzles. There are three types of puzzles. One where you need to make your way across disappearing tiles while collecting crystals, another where you need to link crystals to make a kind of constellation image, and then the frustrating hands of time puzzles which involve clearing all of the numbers of a clock face.
There is also a location in FFXIII-2 called Serendipity which is basically a casino. You can race Chocobos, play slot machines and soon with dlc there will be card games available. You can also trade in your acquired fragments for certain fragment abilities which will help you along in the game.

Now that I’ve gone over most of the new additions I’ll also talk about the things which have stayed the same and also the things which are no longer present. First of all is the battle system which is identical to the one in FFXIII. The same ATB system which lets you queue attacks and switch paradigms is back and I think that it’s great. The Crystarium as also back but it is slightly different. It still uses the same CP to upgrade the same roles but it has been refined into a single tree for each character which makes levelling up a lot quicker and easier. You can also level up monsters with monster materials.

The weapon upgrading system from XIII however is thankfully gone. I fucking hated it. In XIII-2 you will find better weapons as you progress through the game. You will also be able to construct special weapons if you have the right materials. But that’s all you need, you don’t need to spend a shitload of gil buying components and upgrading for hours. And speaking of weapons I have to mention Serah’s Bowblade. Not only is it a weapon but when she is not using it transforms into the little Moogle companion named Mog. Mog is a very important part of the game. Not only does he seem to have a great understanding of the whole time travel thing, but he can also be used to find hidden items and artifacts. Later in the game you can actually get the ability to throw him around so that he can fetch distant treasures for you.

This review is getting way too long so I’ll have to wrap it up here with a bit of a brief overview. Basically this game is FINAL FANTASY XIII but better. If you didn’t enjoy XIII then you probably won’t like this, but if you liked XIII then you will love XIII-2. The ability to collect and use monsters like Pokemon is awesome. The addition of quests and mini-games is great and the ability to move between locations and time periods whenever you want is a fantastic way to get rid of the linearity that the previous game had. Once again the voice acting is top notch, the soundtrack is amazing (a four disc CD soundtrack was one of the bonuses with the Crystal Edition) and the graphics are perfect. Even though I think VIII will always be my favorite, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 is one of the best in the franchise so far. A lot of ‘traditional’ FF fans may not like it because it’s so different but I urge you to give it a chance, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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