Final Fantasy XIII-2
Most RPGs are difficult to judge based on the first several hours of gameplay. Tutorials are absorbed, characters are introduced, and the overall pace of the adventure’s early stages is usually quite slow. Most gamers that will be picking up Final Fantasy XIII-2 will have already played FF XIII, so jumping into the new chapter will be a smooth transition. But even for newcomers to the Fabula Nova Crystalis universe, I’d argue that FF XIII-2‘s introductory hours are shaping up to be the most thrilling of any recent Final Fantasy title – even if the story is a tad confusing.
Gotta Catch 'Em All!
As mentioned in previous FFXIII-2 coverage, Noel and Serah round out their party by enlisting the help of monster partners. During my playthrough I used a Cait Sith to satisfy my medic role, a metallic Hoplite as an extra heavy hitter, and a wasp-like Nekton as a spare spellcaster. Cycling between these allies opened up new paradigm options, allowing me to shift between more battle formations to dispose of foes how I see fit. Each captured monster can also be expanded via their own Crystarium path.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 begins with Lightning talking to the goddess Etro. The heroine speaks of a sadness that grips Valhalla, the world she’s trapped within. It’s revealed that after the end of FF XIII, Lighting went to join Fang and Vanille in the gigantic crystal column suspending Cocoon above Pulse. This, apparently, is her gateway -to -Valhalla.
The action picks up after a mysterious purple figure forlornly lays a lifeless body to rest in the dark waters of Valhalla’s ocean shore. Lightning’s previously anonymous rival, Caius, summons a swath of enraged monsters from thin air. The creatures clash with an army of minions summoned by Lightning, who stands atop a balcony overseeing the battle. The stoic, armored heroine points her sword in the direction of the battle as her and Caius exchange threats.
The Crystarium System in FF XIII-2 works in a similar was as it did the previous game. Players unlock new skills on a linear path by spending points earned in battle. Instead of having a different Crystarium path for each class, characters advance along one lengthy line of nodes. Each node requires a class focus, and players can customize their characters’ core statistics and skills by selecting which class to drop into each.
Eventually the opposing factions’ leaders meet each other face-to-face on the beach and cross swords. The dual escalates as Lightning mounts her mechanical steed, Odin, and Caius transforms into the terrible Bahamut through some sort of witchery. The two battle along the beach in the first gameplay segment. After casting enough lightning strikes and magic spells, Lightning depletes Bahamut’s HP bar. She gives chase up the side of a ruined building. The battle shifts into a series of gripping quick-time events. Flicks of the analog sticks and button presses cause Lightning to dodge the beast’s mega flare and other devastating attacks, while other prompts allow her to select a melee or magic attack. The furious fight concludes with Lightning burying Caius, in his human form, under a pile -of -rubble.
Suddenly Lightning notices a familiar figure falling from the heavens. Noel, the new male hero shown searching for Lightning in previous coverage, plummets towards the sand below. Lightning recognizes him from a vision. We learn that Noel comes from an apocalyptic future 700 years from now, and that he is the only one who can save humanity. Lightning gives Noel a gift to give to her sister Serah, and sends him through a huge wormhole alongside a -massive -meteorite.
The Historia Crux is more than a gateway between sections in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Responding to fans’ criticism that FF XIII was too linear, Square-Enix is allowing players to replay cleared locations in FFXIII-2. This opens up the doors for diverting paths and unique playthroughs where two players won’t necessarily experience the same events or interact with the same characters.
The story shifts to Serah, who is sound asleep in her beachside home on New Bodhum. A time ripple emerges while she rests, potentially a side effect from Noel’s journey back to her time. She awakens to find her clothing has miraculously changed. Before she has much time to think, the shouts of NORA soldiers – the freedom fighters from the first game – alert Serah to an incoming monster attack. Noel suddenly appears, introduces himself to Serah as her guardian, and presents her with Lightning’s gift: a purple crossbow. The two are thrust into battle. Serah quickly develops a knack for holding her own in battle. After the last creature is slain, Lightning’s gift surprises Serah by transforming into a Moogle named Mog. Serah recognizes the pom-pommed critter from her dreams, and the two become fast friends.
Noel believes meteorite may of some use, so the trio travels along New Bodhum’s beautiful tropical beach towards the impact zone. At one point a gigantic glowing monstrosity tears through space-time, and the party must beat it back. Rectifying paradoxical anomalies like this mini-boss wins the player an artefact [sic] that is used to travel through time. Being launched into these unexpected, large-scale battles keeps things interesting – enemies can come from any point in time, which means you never know what -to -expect.
They discover a large yellow bird just as they find the meteorite. Riding this creature makes backtracking through New Bodhum to chat with other NPCs and clean up any side missions a breeze. Continuing on towards the meteorite, Noel taps into his unique power to harness the artefact and morph the humongous rock into a time gate. These time gates allow the team access to the Historia Crux, a hub players use to travel between the many locations of FFXIII-2.
Serah’s friends and members of NORA are understandably skeptical of Noel’s ability to travel through time. It turns out claiming you’re from the future doesn’t score you a lot of trusted friends right away. After much convincing, the protective members of NORA allow Noel to escort Serah on a quest to find her sister.
Snow and Hope Return
FFXIII-2 allows players to experience branching storylines thanks to the Historia Crux. During my time with the game I ran into an older version of Hope, but I also learned that if I had done things differently I could have encountered an aged, haggard Snow instead.
After the party tackles a mechanized behemoth in the Bresha Ruins, as detailed in issue 219 of Game Informer, they find themselves near Yaschas Massif. This ruined Gran Pulse city is the heart of the time distortion rocking the world of FF XIII-2. Serah and Noel must travel through the city via a dark mountain valley while sticking to moving spotlights. Wandering too far from the illuminated sanctuary attracts monsters to their location. Emerging from the shadowy mountain pass intact, Serah encounters a familiar face: Hope. The whiny pest from FF XIII is now several years older and far less awful. Hope is leading a team of researchers trying to uncover the history of Yaschas Massif. A clairvoyant named Yeul has allegedly envisioned the fall of the city. Noel uses one of Hope’s research tools, called the Oracle Drive, to experience a vision of his own. He sees Lightning and Valhalla, and learns the truth about the enigmatic world. From Valhalla, Lightning can see all of history. Unfortunately, that’s where my time with Final Fantasy XIII-2 ends.
If you’re confused by Final Fantasy XIII-2’s story, you’re not alone. I read every datalog and followed each cutscene in Final Fantasy XIII and paid attention to every twist and turn during my lengthy time with this sequel. Though the inclusion of time travel and alternate timelines makes for a perplexing plot, it didn’t detract from the fun I had progressing along my characters’ Crystarium paths, experimenting with new monster allies, and exploring the vast and beautiful worlds. This sequel delivers satisfying battles and memorable moments early on, and these early acts are already superior to FF XIII’s plodding introduction. If the final product can keep up this pace while tying together the befuddling story, we may have the next great Final Fantasy on our hands.
[This preview originally appeared in issue 224 of Game Informer]