Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review (Xbox360)

It's not often a developer will release a fully-fledged sequel in order to right their wrongs, but in the case of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Square Enix have set out to do just that. Many veterans of the series had a problem with XIII, namely its linearity and simplified battle system, two elements that combined together to make a title that didn't quite have the edge of many Final Fantasy releases. With a little hard work and dedication, Square Enix have taken a step in the right direction with XIII-2, although the series still has some glaring problems.

While the last game placed you in the role of Lightning, this time round her sister is the main attraction. Serah isn't as rough and ready as her sibling, and exchanges a tough female exterior for a typically sweet and angelic Japanese image. Set three years after the events of XIII, the game opens with an intriguing battle between Lightning and evil-insurgent Caius. The cutscene is beautifully produced, and underlines the main narrative well. Lightning is stuck in Valhalla, battling against Caius outside the concept of time. Serah aims to hunt down her sister, who many presume to be long gone. After a strange dream and various unique memories, Serah realises that her sister is still alive and can be reached, thus starting a journey that stretches across the boundaries of time.

Chocobo's return, and they're as gorgeous as ever

This premise may seem over-complicated, but in reality, it's not particularly challenging. Square Enix do an excellent job of slowly ushering in new gameplay elements, mainly centred around the battle system. Early on you are told to utilise paradigms, which should be seen as mini-strategies that can be switched within a second. Aggressive tactics will force your party to attack a single enemy or to spread damage across the board, while defensive stances offer helpful shielded protection and the chance to reassess your approach if it isn't working. Expect to shift between paradigms regularly, especially in the early stages where it's vital to experiment. Working out what works against each opponent decreases the difficulty of the game massively, and sometimes, perhaps too far. The classic Active Time Battle meter returns, as Square Enix ensure newcomers won't have a problem settling down with the much-tested formula.

A handful of encounters during the game place you in cinematic action. While this may sound exciting on the surface, all this amounts to are out-of-place quick-time-events. Each QTE happens so quickly that you'll likely stop taking notice of what's happening on screen in order to hammer X a few times. Failing a QTE does have damaging effects however, as coming up short can mean you'll be at a disadvantage for the rest of the fight. Hit the nail on the head, and expect to deal out extra damage or receive an improvement to your statistics for the remainder of the head-to-head.

you see this woman, prepare to be annoyed...

Arguably the most interesting addition to the battle system is the ability to capture monsters. Sure, this sounds like a Pokemon rip-off, but in reality it's extremely helpful and rewarding. After beating a monster, there's a chance they will turn into a crystal. Once this happens they can be captured and assigned to your paradigms. Three monsters can be used during battle, often providing your squad with vital extra power. Over 150 monsters can be captured throughout the game, allowing great scope for personal combinations that suit your style of play.

Away from the battle system, XIII-2's story progression is also unique to the series. Serah is able to travel across time, visiting and revisiting different eras whenever it's desired. Square Enix use the Historia Crux as the main way to escape the linearity of the predecessor, allowing you the chance to explore various time-lines at any point of the game. Once they've been unlocked, Serah can visit old locations in a different time period or try somewhere new. It's not particularly revolutionary, but is an improvement over XIII's bland corridor design. There's also greater interactivity to each setting, allowing you to complete simple side-quests, engage in random battles or even have the Moogle hunt out key items.

Serah may squeal and shriek, but she packs some serious firepower

As with many Final Fantasy titles, expect to spend a lot of time wading through pretentious dialogue. Lines are delivered well for the most part; Serah and leading male Noel are acceptable, if undeveloped characters. The soundtrack is a mixed bag, as the emphasis on fast-paced electro-rock isn't the most appealing or original. If you've seen the abysmal advert on television recently, you'll know the tone Square Enix are going for. There's certainly a graphical appeal to the game, as the entire product flaunts dazzling good looks that most RPG's fail to capture. It's obvious the developers have spent a fair amount of time ironing out the kinks from XIII, and for the most part, they've done a splendid job.

It's fair to say Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an appealing return for the much-adhered franchise. It offers some truly unique and intriguing gameplay elements that will invite newcomers whilst challenging series aficionados. This is extremely important after the failings of XIII, as it shows Square Enix are prepared to keep building on the RPG formula they shaped. Serah's adventure is an entertaining and dynamic one, signalling that Final Fantasy is moving in the right direction once again.

Top Gaming Moment: Capturing monsters is huge fun.

Platform Played: Xbox 360