Let’s call them by their Roman numeral names first so the search engines are happy. Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2. Good, now I can write them in the form where I don’t have to constantly double-check how many ‘I’s I’ve used.
Did you enjoy Final Fantasy 13 in general?
If not, then, well, I’m afraid 13-2 isn’t going to make you love the series once more, since it is largely similar to 13.
Unless the only reason you disliked Final Fantasy 13 was the linearity, lack of freedom, or the weapon upgrade system, all of which have been banished in 13-2.
Many of the same irksome qualities exist, like the rather silly morality that exists in these games. There are the same sort of cringe-worthy moments as in 13, like when Snow and Hope are talking about what’s to blame for Hope’s mother’s death. Was it the guards who shot at her destroying the bridge, was it the Sanctum who ordered the attack, the society that allowed and supported the Sanctum when they did so? Was it Hope’s mother herself for bearing arms against her government, although, that may have simply quickened her fate? No, apparently it was Snow who very nearly saved her life and rescued her after she volunteered and fell. Ugh. 13-2 has the same sort of stuff occasionally. If someone forces the blade you’re holding into their chest, that’s clearly you stabbing them. Once more, ugh.
Let’s talk differences though.
Freedom, FF13-2 has it, 13 kinda didn’t. In 13 you can’t even switch party leader until pretty late into the game, and by late, I mean 19 hours into the game. In 13-2, it’s after the opening mission. This freedom extends to the way the levels are put together and even the camera controls. Whilst 13 wrests control of the camera away from you quite frequently, 13-2 rarely grabs the camera from you. 13-2’s areas are wide with lots of little hidden items, optional extras, people to talk to, and sub-quests. 13 on the other hand is legendary for having linear areas that were essentially you walking down a long corridor right up until you hit the Archlyte Steppe area when the game really opens up, alas only briefly (until post-game play). In 13-2, they even use the (unfortunately poorly thought out and arbitrary) time-travel system to make it work like a chapter select – after completing certain objectives you can ‘rewind’ an area to the beginning without losing any pick-ups from said area allowing you to replay it with the advantage of higher levels and hindsight. Even the levelling system in 13 was tightly restricted with each character not being able to level up their respective roles until their crystarium was expanded after certain events. Generally the events that a few extra levels would have really helped with. In 13-2 you can level however you please, unlocking roles whenever you like to. 13 however, did have more characters, and a greater freedom there. In 13-2, I was surprised that your party consists of the two main characters all the way through, whereas 13 had six, although in 13-2, the third character is one of three monsters selected from a list of hundreds.
13-2 however, is shorter and the story has less depth to it, it’s also less compelling (and makes less sense, but does have a clearer villain). So it isn’t all good news.
The worst of it, to me, is that where 13 could be completed fully with no help from any guide, right up until the most difficult of encounters in post-game play, 13-2 has Wild Artefacts. They’re used to open up new areas, some of which are optional, and some of which aren’t. However, you don’t know which are optional and which are needed to progress through the game. So the problem is that using them is always a risky proposition, and whilst there are a finite number of Wild Artefacts available, they can be ridiculously well-hidden, some so well hidden that you have to be extremely thorough or simply look it up (which I ended up doing). It could have been resolved by having better clues as to where to find them rather than the one the game does give you which is, in essence, “not here”. Which is about as useful as the Moogle’s advice for puzzles, “Try thinking outside the box, kupo”. A phrase that haunts my very nightmares, kupo.
Speaking of puzzles, they’re one of my complaints about 13-2. There’s a puzzle called “Hands of Time” in which the player has a circle of numbers, each number represents the distance two hands will move away, in opposite directions from said number. As you activate each number it disappears, causes the hands to move, and then you select a new number that one of the hands points to, which then moves both hands there so they can move that number away from that position. The goal is to get rid of all the numbers, and you lose if neither hand ends up pointing at a number before then. The problem is, whilst the game tells you the rules, it doesn’t really tell you how to do it. I’ve never heard of the game before, and in 13-2, it is also timed and necessary to move on. Whilst I assume there are rules that help to solve them, the game doesn’t bother telling you what they are, so it’s largely a combination of guesswork and arbitrary decisions, rather than how you’d solve a puzzle you’re more familiar with (for example, perhaps the game is easier if you start with a high number, or you should alternate high and low, etc.) Perhaps it’s a game that was popular where the game is made, but yes, I found it to be extremely difficult, and ended up once again resorting to online guides, which should never be necessary during a normal course of gameplay.
In terms of combat, both games are almost the same, but 13-2 has made a few adjustments, firstly, battles in 13-2 are faster and better balanced, never being too difficult, or worse, limiting your level artificially to create challenge. They’re also a little more streamlined, 13-2 does away with summons and techniques, and introduces wounding where an HP bar is reduced over time as well as an opening haste effect for quick resolution of easy battles. The rather frustrating and pointless delay when you switch battle paradigms has been, thankfully, fully removed in 13-2. People will still complain that the game basically plays itself, and they’ll still sound as silly as everyone else who equates gameplay with micromanagement.
In my first look at 13-2 I talked about the graphics and how they aren’t as impressive now since other graphical engines have improved so much, but once I went back to 13 for the comparison I discovered in actuality the graphical quality in 13-2 was quite a large step down. I’m not even talking about 13-2 having far less cutscenes (we’ll get to that in a bit). I’m talking just normal in-game real-time graphics. There is a distinct step down in quality of models and lighting as well as the amount of detail poured into the backdrop. I can only guess at the cause, but I suspect its to do with making the creation of levels faster by cutting a little of the detail. It always felt like in 13 each individual level was designed to use all the available resources at the time and that 13-2’s openness and speed of production is to blame.
We seem to have lost cutscenes on the other hand, purely to ameliorate multi-platform issues and unlike most commentators, I’m not going to pretend uglier real-time cutscenes are somehow better. On the contrary, 13’s frequent cutscenes allowed us the impression that we were controlling the high-detail versions of our characters, since whenever we had a close up, chances are it was a cutscene. Plus I find it very difficult to pretend I don’t enjoy a well-produced and exceptionally good-looking piece of CG for the sake of saying something fashionable.
The music in 13-2 was, I thought, brilliant, although it didn’t suit what was going on in the game quite so well as 13 did, but I suspect that’s a reflection once again, of a more rapid development. There are more vocal tracks which seems to be what they were going for with 13-2. Some of the tracks really stand out, especially the death metal chocobo track (Crazy Chocobo) which has to be heard to be believed, but also some of the lighter sung ones too. I very much approve of this direction, whereas some people want a return to the melody-only tracks of earlier Final Fantasy’s, but I really do think that is just a case of nostalgia, those games only used that type of music because they didn’t have the room for something better. Even then, the (arguably) most memorable tune of older Final Fantasy games was 7’s “One-winged Angel” which isn’t a midi track at all.
So whilst 13-2 solves some vexing Final Fantasy problems it does unfortunately reintroduce a really egregious one too, namely one of the things I’ve been quick to praise 13 for. The ability to finish the main game without a huge amount of difficulty, without having to consult any guides. It is faster, plays better, but the game’s story lacks depth. It is a worthy trade off for a more rapidly released Final Fantasy, although 13-2 felt like a budget release in comparison to 13. That was fine since I paid budget price for it. Aside from a few difficulties, the changes made to 13 in 13-2 are exactly where modern Final Fantasy should be.
I look forward to more, more frequently.