It sounds like it should be a pretty minor jump, I mean it’s only a single sequel and only a couple years apart… but it’s not. Square made some pretty dramatic changes, and since I didn’t really want my review to read as a ‘well here’s what they did to change things’ post… I decided to actually make a ‘Here’s what they did to change things’ post.
Final Fantasy XIII was a fantastic game in my eyes. But that opinion was far from unanimous – a lot of people held major criticisms for it. Many of these criticisms came from people unfamiliar with the Japanese RPG, but not all of them. A large segment of Final Fantasy gamers were sorely and bitterly disappointed with Final Fantasy XIII for ditching many of the series’ key assets. From the fact that the story was deathly serious from start to finish, to the fact that many saw it as feeling too linear, complaints were many and very loudly spoken. Well, they listened. Square-Enix heard those complaints and decided to try to address every single one in Final Fantasy XIII-2, and in most cases ended up relatively successful.
The story has a much lighter approach to it, including things like sheep wrangling and a much more positive tone to the way your characters are treated help to improve upon the serious tones without making the game frivolous. They’ve also added a number of sidestories and sidequests to help reduce linearity in the game, starting almost right from the beginning. They also made the tutorial section much shorter, making the game a bit more difficult to grasp but also reducing the time before you get full access to the game’s systems dramatically. In Final Fantasy XIII you spent hours before you even had more than just basic combat, and then you spent more hours before having any real control – totalling over 35 hours before the game actually opened up fully. In XIII-2, the tutorial’s about 30 minutes long, and the game gives you prettymuch full control within 2 hours. A huge difference, and in many ways a good one. However, the downside to this is that XIII’s ’35 hour tutorial’ was used for story. The characters had personalities, motivations, loves and hates, and everything else you expect from a character. You got a sense of how this weird world of Coccoon was built, how tenuous the society was… in XIII-2 you get none of that until about 20 hours in. And then it’s all crammed into about 5 hours of gametime meaning that it doesn’t work as well as it did in XIII where they had 25-35 hours of it. Even the annoying characters like Hope and Snow were interesting in XIII. Unfortunately, Hope lost that ‘interesting’ aspect to him in XIII-2.
They took major steps to simplify both the item system and the crysarium. These changes are huge negatives in my mind, as I loved the complexity both offered to XIII, but they didn’t turn out badly. In XIII you had dozens of weapons and the ability to upgrade them and all sorts of different stats on them. You could also equip multiple accessories allowing you to get special ‘bonus stats’. And it didn’t matter what accessories you equipped in the slot, your next accessory slot was just as much an accessory slot even if you used an awesome one in the last slot. In XIII-2, there’re only a few weapons and they’re mostly sold directly from the store or using common items to make. As to accessories, in stead of slots you have an accessory point allotment, and each accessory takes up points depending on how good it is, meaning that good accessories couldn’t be combined with most other accessories which meant a lot less combinations happening, and a lot less interesting uses of gameplay mechanics. The change to the crysarium is less drastic. They just streamlined it, removing the separate crysariums for each role. The streamlining is a pretty good thing, but they also removed transparency. You no longer know what stats you’ll gain when you points into a certain role until you actually put them there – so you can’t really plan ahead. You just know when you’ll get a new ability. It’s not as annoying, but it’s still removing depth and complexity from it while adding nothing in their place.
As to combat, the changes are almost entirely positive. The biggest changes are also very small changes, oddly enough. First and foremost, they made the time to change paradigms much lower – meaning you can react a lot better. Amazing change, made the already awesome battle system even better. The second change is the ability to change party leaders – which is a good quality of life change that makes the game a little less unforgiving and gives a bit better control.
The biggest other change is the monster system – they replaced the third party member with a slot for you to put monsters you’ve tamed, bringing them into battle to compliment your paradigms.
All told, I’d say if you were to compare XIII to XIII-2, XIII had a much better story with better characters, while XIII-2 is more open with a better combat system. Hope this helps clear things up, and coupled with my review, give people who did play XIII a sense of where XIII-2 sits and whether it’s worth their time.
Written by: Sean