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Final Fantasy XIII-2 review

AT A GLANCE
  • More freedom, more exploration, more discovery
  • Story driven by characters
  • Battle system still rules
  • No summons
  • Some difficulty dips and spikes
  • Only two party members


So what about the story?

All this time travel relates directly to the story, which begins immediately after the final cutscene of FFXIII ends (and it goes without saying, but SPOILER ALERT FOR FFXIII). Fang and Vanille have summoned Ragnarok, creating a massive crystal pillar to keep Cocoon from crashing down. In the original ending, Lightning survived the near-cataclysmic event and was happily reunited with her sister Serah.

Above: Watch us play through some of the game

In FFXIII-2, the timeline has mysteriously changed, and everyone believes that Lightning perished in that battle. Only Serah remembers the truth, but even she questions her own sanity in the face of what all her friends believe to be reality. Then a stranger suddenly enters her life, a young man named Noel who claims he's from the future and has met Lightning in another dimension outside of normal space-time. Both want to alter the timeline – Serah wants to bring her sister back, and Noel wants to save humanity from the ends times he's seen with his own eyes. With their fates in alignment, they set out to change history.

As with any Final Fantasy game, it's difficult to write meaningfully about the story without spoiling anything. Where XIII created a fascinating mythos that revolved around the struggle between humans and demigods and the opposition between civilization and untamed wilderness, XIII-2's story is much more character driven. Serah and Noel are both surprisingly interesting and dynamic characters once you get past their over-the-top character designs.

It's a good thing too, because you won't be seeing much of anyone else for any extended length of time – Serah and Noel are really the only two main protagonists in the game. It's a bit of a shame, because the Final Fantasy series has excelled at creating some of the greatest ensemble casts in gaming, and being stuck with the same two party members for the entire game will definitely bother some people. If you can put your expectations of a larger party aside though, the extra time getting to know Serah and Noel isn't wasted, and makes them more memorable characters than most of the cast of XIII.

Above: The characters are less abundant, but arguably more likable

As you play through the story, one thing that's especially great about the "time gate" scenario is that it completely eliminates the break in reality that often comes from ignoring the narrative urgency of the main quest to explore and take on boatloads of sidequests. Because opening a time gate transports Serah and Noel to a specific moment in time, there's never a need for them to rush. Relax, explore, and when you're ready to take on the next big challenge, it'll be waiting for you, frozen in time until you hit play.


To battle!

If you're familiar with FFXIII, the core of the battle system in XIII-2 remains unchanged. While many traditional turn-based battle systems are all about micromanagement, the Paradigm system in XIII and XIII-2 puts the player in a high level, "big picture" role, if you will. Instead of selecting individual actions for each party member, you direct their actions all at once like an alpha dog issuing commands to the pack.

A Paradigm is a set of roles for the three party members that determines how each character functions in battle. Each role is extremely specific in what it can do – Medics can only provide healing and Commandos can only attack, nothing else. Each role also provides an added bonus to the entire team, like boosted defense for all allies when a Sentinel is in play.

Above: Take a look at the battle system in action

During battle you always have an active Paradigm in place, which you can change whenever you'd like by hitting L1/LB to bring up your Paradigm deck. Building a Paradigm deck with a variety of offensive and defensive Paradigms allows you to respond strategically to dynamic battle conditions. So you might go in guns blazing with a Commando-Ravager-Ravager set, then fall back to Commando-Ravager-Medic to heal as needed. Roles like Synergist (buffs allies with status enhancements) and Saboteur (debuffs the enemy with status ailments) come in particularly handy during long, brutal boss battles where you'll need every advantage you can conjure.

Most of the new "cinematic action" sequences occur during boss battles too, and these are really nothing more than quick time events. It's a feature that almost wouldn't be worth mentioning if it weren't so heavily touted in FFXIII-2's trailers – they're used fairly sparingly, kept brief, and are overall pretty unobtrusive. During particularly dramatic cutscenes, we definitely has a few moments where pulling off a flashy killing blow with a successful QTE definitely felt pretty cool (and we can imagine the opposite if we'd missed it at the end of a lengthy battle), but overall it's not a feature that's going to make or break anyone's enjoyment of the game.

One of the complaints about the battle system in FFXIII was that it "played itself," but this isn't exactly the case. When the difficulty ramps up, the battle system is a perfect mix of thoughtful strategy and quick reflexes. Directing your entire team's actions with the press of a button by shifting Paradigms on the fly still feels satisfying when everyone comes together to pull off a hard-won victory.

Above: Learning the combat system reveals the deep intricacies

The problem is, it's a system that's only as great as your opponent is. Too often in FFXIII-2, we played through lengthy stretches of the game where we just didn't feel challenged enough by the enemies. Often, we never had to shift Paradigms at all from our default offensive stance, and in those cases it does feel like the game is playing itself because very little action is needed from the player. The challenge is there if you seek out some of the tougher sidequests and go for better endings, but at times we definitely felt like the overall difficulty level was too low. Monsters definitely scale up in strength when you revisit earlier areas too, so it's a bit puzzling why they almost always didn't feel scaled up enough. Even total wimps should not think for one second about playing this game on the easy setting. Don't do it.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Franchise: Final Fantasy
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Drug Reference, Simulated Gambling, Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Language
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

66 comments

  • Moondoggie1157 - October 22, 2012 2:32 p.m.

    I know this is an old article, but hell I feel like commenting. I picked up 13-2 a couple weeks ago and have been playing heavy... But no matter how hard I try I still can't put it over 13. the story is too chopped up to be interesting, and if you mistakingly unlock an area that you aren't ready for, you end up wasting time doing small quests in that area only to be completely destroyed by the boss at the end... I dunno, I like the characters quite a bit, but the story just seems so tossed together.
  • g4m3rk1dd - February 4, 2012 3:46 a.m.

    looks like 13 is better than 13-2 to me...no summons? only the 2 human party members? thats half of the reason to play the game gone for me already...ill still try to pick it up at some point though...
  • yAkidAgain - February 4, 2012 9:18 p.m.

    Thinking the same thing. I don't remember any FF game from 1-12 not sure about 11 that didn't have summons and 2 main characters smh Square, were is my Versus 13!
  • Alexlicious - January 31, 2012 1:21 p.m.

    I might be alone here but I thought 13 was better.
  • Squander - January 31, 2012 9:14 a.m.

    great review, thanks a lot!! this game seems to be highly polarizing (Edge 5 out of 10...) - looking forward to playing it! Also enjoyed FF XIII so I guess I'm on the safe side =)
  • Net_Bastard - January 31, 2012 9:24 p.m.

    Edge is known for giving extremely low review scores to games that got a 70-100 Metacritic score.
  • 5DollarFootlong - January 30, 2012 9:59 p.m.

    Awesome review Carolyn. Good luck in the future in where ever life takes you.
  • Moondoggie1157 - January 30, 2012 7:15 p.m.

    Thanks for the great reviews, articles and Pokemon, Carolyn... you will be missed! On a brighter note... I am nearly done 13 (had to restart 3 times, don't get me started). I have really enjoyed it so far, so 13-2 is really looking good. Going to go drink my sorrows away now...
  • juicenpancakes - January 30, 2012 4:52 p.m.

    Goodbye Carolyn and the rest of the talented people at GR (Mike, Matt, and Cheryll). You should be very proud of the work you did. We'll miss you all very much.
  • lilbuddha - January 30, 2012 3:12 p.m.

    I would be less harsh on trash like FF13 if it weren't called Final Fantasy.
  • Cyberninja - January 30, 2012 4:28 p.m.

    different people have different opinions on alot of this like i loved 13 and would say its my second favorite single player game on ps3 and i have alot of games, the linearity worked because i am busy, the battle system was great and only played it self in easy battles, and the story wasn't that hard to follow even if you only watch cut scenes. honestly i would call something like Skyrim garbage because hearing about hundreds of glitches doesn't make something worth playing until the developers get their crap together.
  • lordgodalming - January 30, 2012 5:09 p.m.

    Hey, thanks for checking in with that creative, informed critique of a game that's not even being reviewed here. I'm sure you have a lot of other gaming forums to visit before your next hate crime, so let me help you out with a whole basket of classic go-to phrases on a variety of topics: RPGs 1. Final Fantasy IV wass the best in the series. CECIL WAS SO DEEP! 2. Mass Effect killed the JRPG. 3. World of Warcraft is getting "long in the tooth." Consoles 1. PS3 has no games. It is only a Bluray player. 2. Every 360 gets the RROD like 2 months out of the box. 3. The Wii is for casual n00bs. Shovelware! General Gaming 1. Bobby Kotick is a jerk. 2. EA's Origin service sucks nads. 3. Japanese game developers can't keep up with the mighty West. So there you are. Feel free to use those anywhere. I promise everyone will continue to have just as much respect for you.
  • lilbuddha - January 30, 2012 5:28 p.m.

    To the vast majority of people reading: Hey thanks for being 13, ruining WoW by complaining it wasn't more like single player games / easier, ruining FF series by asking for more J-Pop anime, and ruining the entire video game industry by eating up every last piece of "DLC" your mommy's credit card let you buy. Please, let me move on to another genre/activity that will become popular so you can hop on the bandwagon, ruin it, then point at ME and complain that I'm the problem. You sure did a bang up job doing it with this right here. -Old, disgruntled, jaded gamer
  • lordgodalming - January 30, 2012 6:24 p.m.

    Oh yeah? Well, YOUR comment was...actually pretty solid. Point to lilbuddha. For the record, we're both old and we both (apparently) hate DLC. I just liked FFXIII, both as a game and as a Final Fantasy game, and you didn't. Peace.
  • Jahbu - January 31, 2012 4:54 a.m.

    Your comment it is trash. I loved FFXIII. Its my favorite game all gen.
  • Soxknight1127 - January 30, 2012 3 p.m.

    what an awesome review. its a good thing they didnt just dump her and half the staff that gives Radar the unique personality and feel we all like about the site. that would have been a terrible move...
  • TheRebaleKing - January 30, 2012 2:52 p.m.

    Great review Carolyn, everyone is going to miss you!
  • profile0000 - January 30, 2012 2:22 p.m.

    Great review, Carolyn. We will sincerely miss you here. Good luck.
  • IChooseUAntistaMON - January 30, 2012 2:12 p.m.

    New format is bad for people who don't read the article, sadly like me, fans don't even have to click on the article, they can get the score right from the mainpage thumbnail
  • TheCakeIsaPie - January 30, 2012 2:01 p.m.

    Carolyn! I already miss you! D:

Showing 1-20 of 66 comments

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