While 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII was undeniably a visual treat, it sacrificed many of the series’ hallmarks – exploration, populated towns full of interactive characters, side quests – in favour of a non-stop linear adventure with a battle system so automated, the game near enough played itself. As a result, news of a direct sequel was rapturously received by few.
Defying all odds though, the numerically incongruous ‘Thirteen-Two’ doesn’t just improve upon its immediate predecessor, it stakes ground as one of the best Final Fantasies in years. With the stern Lightning mysteriously absent following the end of XIII, hero duties instead fall to her sister Serah, elevated from plot device to leading lady. Joined by time traveller Noel, the pair take a page out of fan-favourite RPG Chrono Trigger’s book, dropping into different eras in search of the missing heroine and changing the course of history as they go. Completing missions in one timepoint opens more, and players are free to jump between them to discover the game’s many secrets.
While Serah and Noel are eminently more likeable than any of XIII’s grating cast – which alone would almost be enough improvement – their journey brings back all the elements so abjectly missed. Despite the core game engine and many environments being re-used, simply having them populated makes them feel new and alive. Combat remains much the same, a mix of pre-assigned roles, though the ability to switch the active party member is a vast improvement. The introduction of recruitable monsters as ersatz battle party members also adds a welcome element of strategy.
In many ways, XIII-2 feels like a mumbled apology, an acknowledgement that the mark was thoroughly missed previously and that the developers have actually listened to and acted on complaints. For everything Final Fantasy XIII got wrong, XIII-2 gets perfectly, brilliantly right – a shining example of how good Japanese RPGs can still be.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen