Is there Hope for Serah & Noel to save Lightning from Caius?
Serah and Noel are your main characters. I had a lot of fun with these two travelling through time. They both get along real well, both are likable and neither character takes lead. It’s not like one is doing the heavy-lifting while the other mopes; both are driven by their desire to find Lightning and solve all the time paradoxes. There is one brief moping period and a moment of seeing Noel’s past, but overall I like the cooperation between these two. It’s a business relationship, and though these two are not meant for love (Serah’s taken by jackass Snow), there’s something refreshing about a story that’s not entirely driven by a love interest.
Hope is a key factor in XIII-2 as he works to save Cocoon from its eventual doom. If you remember how much Hope grew by the end of XIII, you’ll surely like him here. He didn’t get badass particularly, but he’s matured and is very willing to help the main heroes out when they need him. He’s a hero in his own way. He does kind of have this girl Alyssa following him who kind of assists, but she doesn’t stand out as much.
Caius is clichéd bad guy. There aren’t many layers to his character past the usual. He wants to protect Yeul and has a secret in his heart. If you’ve seen Advent Children, think about how Kadaj and his buddies were. XIII was good at developing its L’Cie group, and that’s maybe all that matters. Yuel is a Seeress of Time, so she fittingly has little personality.
Lightning barely shows up in the game past the beginning, Vanille and Fang are in crystallized form, Sazh appears close to the end, and Snow is just as bullheaded as ever. What I love about Noel was when they met up with Snow, how openly he blasted him for acting the way he does. Lightning was quick to frustration also, but she didn’t verbally assault him the way Noel does in XIII-2. The two do come to an understanding before their time together is done.
The overall story of XIII-2 isn’t as engaging to me as XIII’s was. Serah and Noel don’t go through the same development that any of the L’Cie Six did. They just have this straight-forward drive approach to save Lightning that can make the game’s pacing of the story seem fast (and over with pretty soon). Noel is given a backstory, but I don’t know if it was enough for me. I would’ve liked to seen the actual time he was in vs. what the flashbacks showed me.
Time Travel – The Historia Crux
Time travel is the main premise of XIII-2 and an answer to that linearity argument several people had with the first game. Thru a weird timespace-continuum situation, Lightning is now gone and Serah is looking for her with Noel.
Time-travelling is quite easy since you can access the Hystoria Crux thru the pause menu, travel to a different time, and when you go back to where you began, you’ll be placed exactly where you left at. Most quests are contained to the timeline you’re in, but as you might imagine, some quests involve traveling to different periods in time and talking to different people.
It’s not truly un-linear so much as it is multiple things to do during your journey. If you purely want to play the story, there is only 1 clear-cut path to the ending. There’s no second or third way of reaching the same path. The way I beat the game and you beating the game are the same story; it’s just whether or not we bothered to do side stuff or not. That part does kind of disappoint me, but this at least gives players a sense of openness during their journey as opposed to the dreaded “long, 50-hour hallway” of XIII.
While there are multiple time areas to visit in different times, you’re ultimately visiting 13 locations, and covering 100% of these maps are important for particular Fragments that count toward the 160. Imagine a level with 3 different types of skins. Bresha Ruins looks normal in 5AF, but in 100 AF, vegetation starts to take over the land and by 300 AF, the ground is covered in snow. Academia looks like a Star Wars city, but the differences between 400-4XX AF are stark when Caius has control in 400 up against Hope in 4XX. The maps have the same design and same cartography, but with different people and in a number of cases, different areas to access, etc.
There are 160 fragments in the game. You can get thru the game with maybe 30-40 fragments and then grab the rest once you’ve beaten the game. Fragments not only give you CP points, but are the primary side quest location.
If you forget to do something or need to do something differently, have no fear for you can simply reverse time and start back at square one on a level. Once you find a seal (usually in a treasure chest), you can reverse time and revisit locations as though it’s your first time arriving there. This is key if you forget things, a personal example being that I forgot two fragments on my way to the ending and needed to get back to that timeline. It also allows you to get one of the 8 Paradox Endings in XIII-2.
Paradox Endings tell of a different conclusion to the story. When you’re ready and able, you can tackle key battles in a different way which, when completed, lead you to a different timeline and the Paradox Ending. These situations normally require high levels of strength, so you’ll probably not be getting them right away, but rather after you beat the story. One particular Paradox Ending results simply from answering “Yes” to a question. There are 8 in total and they’re a mix of doom-and-gloom, weird or actually a happy ending with a little bit of a sad note at the end. With the way the timeline is setup, I much prefer this approach to multiple endings since I don’t have to play the game over and make different choices that affect the absolute final ending. It’s just easier this way and a quicker look at “what-if” scenarios.
Paradigms & Raising Monsters
ATB returns, for better or worse. My personal preference is to turn off auto-battle and cast my own techniques since I almost never agree with what auto-battle presents to me. When multiple enemies are on screen, I much prefer casting an –aga spell that has an actual diameter instead of focusing on one enemy only. I like the concept of the battle system, but sometimes the presentation can be hectic to a fault; it’s not quite anime dust-cloud level of magic-infused sword strikes that block out the overall view of the action, but especially if you’re in Commando class using close-ranged attacks, you’ll mainly be staring at the health/stagger meter on your enemies. Individual specialty techniques look alright, but alright isn’t good enough for a franchise that’s had some of the most amazing Limit Break/Summon animations ever, even dating back to PS1 days.
The battle system is virtually the same with COMmando/RAVager/SENtinel/MEDic/SYNergist/SABoteur classes, ATB gauges, abilities and weapon attributes, but there are some differences.
First, there are no summons in XIII-2, unprecedented for a FF game. I found them to be pretty useless in XIII, so no love lost from me since there wasn’t any to begin with.
Second, there are cinematic action sequences. QTE button presses will let you deal damage to enemies. However, it is normally done at the end of a battle, so it’s not like the better rating you have, the more damage you do in the middle of a fight. Doing at least 5 of these perfectly unlocks a trophy.
The 3rd member of your team is no longer a party member, but a monster which you can gain thru battles. The success rate of capturing the enemies varies and you can choose up to 3 monsters in your Paradigm Pack. All the monsters are assigned a specific class and can be leveled through their own Crystarium Grid. I was initially overwhelmed that they had their own grids on top of worrying about Serah & Noel, but eventually I found monsters I liked and placed strong focus on them. Some monsters have multiple grids while others can be rather quickly maxed out. It’s also VERY IMPORTANT to feed your monsters the proper ingredients for the best growth. If you have someone like a MED or RAV, feeding them Mana is ideal; anything strength-related would still be progressing your monster thru the grid, but you wouldn’t be getting the most out of them.
The monsters also have something called Feral Link, which is a special ability that allows for you to “somewhat” control the monster with QTE button presses. The benefit of these abilities varies and in some cases just not worth doing since it distracts the flow of the “Leader’s” ability to attack. For example: the Goblin Chieftain, a SEN class monster, can use the Feral Link to add multiple enhancements to all 3 fighters. This is helpful, unlike Cait Sith, a MED who does an attack which it utterly worthless. Why is a MED attacking!?
Throughout the game, I found the SYN and SAB classes useless, which was unfortunate since I remember liking them so much in XIII. I recommend keeping up with your SEN classes since it has the stellar defense needed for the game’s final bosses. Long live the Tortoise Class!
Who Asked For Puzzles?
Anomalies will occur occasionally in XIII-2, and these lead to puzzles. Some levels require you to step on blocks in a proper order and collecting all crystals before reaching the finish area; another asks you to connect dots. Academia 4XX is filled with trivia fragments and a sneaky Captain Cryptic.
The most popular one is the Hands of Time. Using a clock filled with circles numbered 1-6, you must pick the numbers in the correct order so that, when completed, every time circles is off the board as the hands move (if you pick 5, the hands move 5 spaces both left and right). Hands of Time is popular enough that there is a web-based app and IGN even made a downloadable app that lets you input the times as you see it on the board and tell you the proper order to choose. Once you pick one specific circle, it all comes down to strategic arithmetic as you try to eliminate all the other numbered circles.
The puzzles aren’t really fun. They accompany boring, stock dialogue from Serah and Noel about how it affects time and how Yuel must feel about it.
Ending (Free of Spoilers)
Final Fantasy XIII-2’s ending isn’t what you might expect. Without spoiling, when you complete the ending, you’ll think that all Paradoxes have been fixed and you will go back to New Bodhum 3F and be happy. Turns out, a technicality of beating the final boss causes the shit to hit the fan with the ever so classic “To Be Continued…” displayed on the screen before the credits roll, among a number of key moments in the ending I haven’t even eluded to. My personal reaction to the ending was stunning, and there’s something that I find very ballsy and admirable about it. This is not a happy ending, and to end a rare FF sequel with a “To Be Continued” instead of opting for the happy ending, which could’ve presented plot holes. This adds to the appreciation that I had for XIII’s story.
There could be a XIII-3, but I doubt they’ll go that direction. I want to be careful so as to not project what can happen and also not bring up a touchy subject with a lot of gamers these days. That particular subject is…
XIII-2 has DLC? Crazy, right? And no, I’m not talking about the ending here…
So far, what’s available is a costume for Noel and “Lightning & Amodar Battle” in the coliseum. Later, a side story with Sazh (playable) will be available as will another Noel outfit and a cute bikini outfit for Serah. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with outfit DLC, but they both look great for different reasons and plausible. $2.99 is the asking price for outfits individually.
Also at $2.99 is the battle DLC, and this could come in handy for you. Light and Amodar are strong, and when you beat them, you have a chance of unlocking their crystals which will let you use them as your 3rd party member. The success rate of getting each person’s crystal is 7% and it took me 12 times beating them together before I unlocked both. Amador is a very strong COM right out of the box, and Light is a strong hybrid RAV/COM. Earning these two was a bit trying, but they’re great assets for your party. Just having Light in my party and her fighting makes me happy.
- The main story is quite short. It took me 25 hours with messing around and getting a few extra fragments before I completed the game.
- This game gives you more to do while you’re doing the main story. You don’t go to towns, but there is Serendipity to throw your Gil away on gambling.
- Mog has it’s fun moments, but it can be kind of annoying, kupo.
- Speaking of annoying, the music ain’t too hot in XIII-2.
- The monster breeding system has depth to it and makes you think about how you level up. Feral Links mostly ineffective.
- I still enjoy paradigm switching, though SYN and SAB classes aren’t as great during the main story portion of gameplay. SEN is vital, so do work on levelling that up occasionally.
- It’s ending can be infuriating since it doesn’t truly wrap up the story, but I enjoy it just for being ballsy, to be honest.
- Paradox Endings are definitely worth a look. Some reward 10000 CP.
- I will be purchasing most of the DLC pieces, maybe all. Lightning and Amodar are worth it, though getting them ain’t easy.
The verdict is tough. If you didn’t like XIII, there’s really little that can convince you to try XIII-2, especially if you weren’t so keen on the story as I am. But if content and linearity were a problem for you, XIII-2 goes a long way to addressing that with the Historia Crux and its many levels, monster breeding and multiple (Paradox) endings. I’d say give it a rent if you purely want to just play the story, but I’ll tell you that I am going to do what I can to get all 160 fragments.