Final Fantasy XIII-2
PlayStation 3
Reviewed: 1/29/2012

Final Fantasy XIII had its own share of problems, but it made deliberate choices to craft a very specific type of experience. Square Enix’s reaction to the backlash behind Final Fantasy XIII had the potential to fill these gaps and create a satisfying experience, but in many cases, Final Fantasy XIII-2 just muddies the waters.

Though Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, almost none of XIII‘s core cast makes a prominent appearance in the game, with the story instead focusing on Lightning’s sister Serah and three new characters from a doomed future: Noel, Yeul and Caius. Lightning has vanished without a trace into Valhalla, a land beyond time, and everyone except Serah believes her to be dead. Noel, the last human alive, meets Lightning in Valhalla and is charged with protecting Serah. He travels back in time and together he and Serah journey through time and space to find Lightning and a way to stop humanity’s demise 700 years in the future. Meanwhile, a man named Caius sets out to kill the goddess Lightning is sworn to protect, aiming to destroy all time and history itself, all while watching over Yeul, a girl who can see into timelines.

The story is a jumbled mess of new lore, obscure old lore from the first game, contradictions and paradoxes across time. XIII spent a lot of time building up its key concepts and elements of the world — fal’Cie, l’Cie, Cocoon’s view of Pulse — and yet XIII-2 doesn’t choose to draw from the rich potential of exploring those elements in a changing world.  Rather, it uses tidbits from the old Datalog to form a plain story about the Goddess Etro, granting boons to humanity in mysterious ways. After a story that dealt with beings that cursed humans with servitude, that had a clear presence in the world and relationship with society, an off-screen goddess who lacks a clear function except as a miracle dispenser that holds back the evil feels like a huge step backwards.

XIII-2‘s plot changes focus several times, from finding Lightning, to saving the future, to saving Yeul, to stopping Caius, to saving Cocoon, to reaching Valhalla, to protecting the Goddess. Mechanically, the time travel elements are handled well, but in the story, they just add to the mess.  The connections between Etro, Lightning, Caius, Chaos, Valhalla and Time itself are not clearly defined, and some of those relationships are not even established until the late game. It’s not that the story is over-complicated, but it is overloaded and over-directed. It feels like a story engineered to produce specific dramatic scenes or twists, rather than one that produces good characters and good tension. The story needed to pick one clear direction and stick with it, and it never did. It eschewed well-established concepts for new ones that are ham-handed and ridiculous.

The characters don’t fare very well, either. Serah could have been a good lead character, but she is forced to share the spotlight with Noel, whose mere presence reduces her to wide-eyed and vulnerable. Her dialogue options usually include at least one stupid option (“I don’t understand what you’re saying!”) that insults her and our intelligence by even existing. Noel’s presence is mostly to pad the cast with a male lead that can sword fight with the male villain he has sworn to defeat. While he does have a personal story arc that ties up neatly, the story would have been leaner without him, and would have had fewer awful lines and shonen cliches as well. Caius is over the top and while his motivations are interesting, he has cheesy, too-poetic lines and absolutely no personality. Yeul suffers from the same problems Caius does, and comes off as robotic and unsympathetic.


All of the story’s flaws combine to create one tangled tale, but the ending almost offered a glimmer of hope for Noel’s characterization, for the ability of the series to take risks, and for a genuinely interesting twist on normal plot conventions. It did, until the “To be continued…” screen showed up. How wonderful, that none of those interesting developments will turn out to be final or permanent, and that apparently the game’s story isn’t complete. The ending might have redeemed it somewhat without the “To be continued…”, but as it stands, Final Fantasy XIII-2‘s story is a complete trainwreck.

This means that it’s up to the game’s mechanics to salvage its entertainment value. Do they? Ultimately, yes, but mostly because the battle system from Final Fantasy XIII continues to be strong enough to carry a lot of slack. The new gameplay elements introduced in XIII-2 are a mixed bag: it has a neat time travel mechanic that allows for exploration of a lot of cool areas, but eliminates unique and exciting battles within those areas.

The Crystarium has received a much-needed alteration, that now allows the player to choose his path through it. Instead of spending CP to meet predetermined milestones and receive stat boosts and skills, now all roles in the Crystarium share the same linear board and CP cost, and can be leveled in any order the player desires, gaining skills at predetermined job levels. Want to neglect all other roles and boost one to level 99 at the start of the game? You can do that, for the exact same cost as splitting 99 levels across 5 roles. Completing a single Crystarium board give the player the opportunity to select a new bonus, such as a new role, larger ATB gauge, or the ability to equip more accessories. This is what the Crystarium system should have looked like in Final Fantasy XIII. It constantly rewards the player, especially players who think about which jobs will offer which stat boosts for each node. The CP cost is well-balanced, sloping gently throughout the game, so a single level is never more than a few battles away, making the player eager to keep progressing forward.


The battle system, on the surface, hasn’t received a lot of significant changes. It keeps at its core the tactical, wide-scope battle system that made XIII worth playing. The most significant change is that a third human ally has been replaced by a monster of the player’s choosing. During the course of the game, monsters gems can be found or won, and each has its own stats, selection of skills, special Syncrodrive technique, and specific role it is locked to. Players can select three at any time for use in their Paradigm list. Monsters also have Crystariums, but use items instead of CP to level up. It’s fun to keep leveling up and swapping out weak monsters for strong ones as the game progresses, and there’s something to be said for being able to take series staples like the Cactuar into battle. On the other hand, the monsters take the place of Summons, which are entirely absent from the game.

The battles are also lacking as much depth and balance as XIII‘s had. Enemies almost never use status effects, even though there was a wide palette of dangers for the developers to choose from. Conversely, a lot of player buffs and debuffs are missing, most notably Slow and Haste. One or two monster allies get the missing spells, but they are not easy to come by. The new max-HP-reducing Blood Damage rarely becomes a problem for the player, and has very limited strategic applications.

Worst of all, the battles just seem to lack a lot of the urgency and tension they had in XIII: battles are cakewalks, especially for veterans of the first game. It’s easy to find one good Paradigm configuration at the start of the game and have it be serviceable straight through to the ending. There are no more delightful moments of pausing before a difficult monster hunt, rifling through skills and tailoring paradigms and roles to be just right for a tricky foe that requires a custom strategy.

One of the largest controversies of Final Fantasy XIII was its linear maps, and lack of people to interact with and places to explore. On the surface, these problems are fixed, as there is a large number of accessible maps with an even larger number of eras (around 30 in all) to visit those maps in, many of them containing people to talk to and quests to receive. It is great to finally have some breathing room in this world, to be able to roam around finding treasure chests and chasing down NPC #25’s lost photograph. The excitement of opening a gate to a new era never wore off throughout the game. But the “town” areas were mostly groups of scientists in harsh territory, almost never a real society of people that could add layers of subtlety to the setting and story, and the quests, while varied and involving plenty of time travel, also seemed to involve a lot of fetch quests and walking from point A to point B. The maps and NPCs added in XIII-2 do go a long way towards scratching that exploration itch that was rarely satisfied in XIII, but don’t feel as well though-out or as lovingly crafted as they could have been if they were part of the game’s vision from the beginning, instead of a reaction to customer outrage.

The music does something similar to the first game, in that it has a core musical theme that is explored in both the primary battle music and an orchestral variation. XIII-2 has more pieces that seem tonally opposed to each other than XIII, but the track list makes stronger use of key melodies, resulting in catchier tracks and a more cohesive story being told by the music. Caius’s Theme and Noel’s Theme are some of the best melodies to come out of the series since it first climbed into the double digits: they hook the listener in immediately, and are heard in many variations throughout the game, from the upbeat to the contemplative. Caius’s Theme is a definite villain song, which has dramatic choirs and violent strings and brass that make it threatening, but also a ton of fun.

Contrasted with those themes are the vocal songs which function as background music, exploring many modern pop trends. The background music also adds an extra dimension to the gameplay: when monsters pop up, the music switches to an “aggressive mix.” Some of these songs are well put together, but the cheesy English lyrics make them irritating at best, and unintentionally funny at worst. The vocal songs also sometimes contrast with the environments. On the other hand, the deliberately funny and out-of-place death metal version of the Chocobo theme was a wonderful surprise.

Visually, Final Fantasy XIII-2 looks great, though perhaps not quite as great as XIII.The amount of colors flowing out of the world, in particular, really makes the game a treat to look at. More cutscenes are rendered in the game’s graphical engine than CGI, but while the difference is big enough to notice, it isn’t big enough for most people to care about. In fact, the CGI cutscenes are mostly full of self-indulgent aerial battles, so far removed from context and sense as to be unfathomably dull, so the dearth of them actually helps the game, even if that makes it a little less shiny.


Final Fantasy XIII-2 has a lot of meat on its bones. Even if it has some gaps that might seem like great places to put DLC, the core game is satisfying without paying for any extra content. Plenty of the eras are optional to unlock, and the fun is in finding out how to unlock them. There are 160 Fragments scattered throughout the game, and collecting all of them in each area is a satisfying challenge. Putting the Fragment count beneath each area’s name in the Historia Crux was a smart move, because the player always wonders where the last ones are. In addition, there are several Paradox endings that can be acquired in the postgame by defeating bosses that were previously impossible to beat, or by making different choices throughout the game. Without touching much optional content, Final Fantasy XIII-2 can run from 20-40 hours.

In the end, the battle system and time traveling exploration redeem Final Fantasy XIII-2 by making it fun to play, combating the turn offs of a scattered story and incoherent directing. Fans of XIII will probably be happy with it, while others will see the game as a rushed combination of concepts and ideas that run a mile wide and an inch deep. Aside from the vastly improved Crystarium and the mechanics of time travel, nothing the game introduces has much merit.  If XIII-2 wasn’t building itself around such a powerful foundation in Final Fantasy XIII‘s battle system, it wouldn’t be a game most people would find worth touching.

-Janelle Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Horrible
Graphics Excellent
Sound/Music Very Good
Replay Value Very Good
The Verdict: Good