Used to being led about by the nose in Final Fantasy XIII? Final Fantasy XIII-2 is here, and it's nowhere near as clear-cut as the game it's making up for. Perhaps a little spoiler-free getting-started guidance is in order?
Just let me slip into my Moogle suit. Ahhh, much better.
Being not quite as straightforward a game as it's predecessor, there are certain aspects of Final Fantasy XIII-2 that might not be readily apparent during the early portions of the game, Kupo. I'm here to help you avoid screwing up where I screwed up, and maybe squeeze a little more enjoyment out of the game in the process. Ready for action, Kupo?
1) Search Every Corner of Every Map
The linear nature of Final Fantasy XIII may have lulled some of you into a false sense of exploration security. It's hard to hide secret items and encounters when the player is on a set path from A to B. That's not the case at all with Final Fantasy XIII-2. Secrets and treasures are scattered to the four corners of the maps, required plenty of patient exploring to uncover everything scattered about each individual era. There are times when a single footstep can be all that's keeping you from encountering a rare creature, and as addictive as the game's monster collection aspect is, that just won't do.
Besides, you never know when you'll run into a non-player character that rewards you for every map you've explored to 100 percent completion. Wouldn't it be nice to earn a huge reward from the get-go rather than having to backtrack across the ages?
2) Pay Attention to Your Moogle
More than just a pretty amusing face, your adorable transforming companion Mog has a built-in treasure finder atop his fuzzy little head. When it starts glowing and he starts a-kupoing, it's time to pay attention to where he's looking. You don't have to keep him in view at all times; just make sure you've got the volume up and the audio cues will do the work. With his ability to detect out-of-phase objects not readily visible to the human eye, you're going to have to let Mog make you his bitch if you want to collect all the goodies Final Fantasy XIII-2 has to offer.
3) Swap Out Your Paradigms
Final Fantasy XIII=2's Paradigm system lets you create up to six combinations of combat roles to switch between during any given battle. You might have a group of three Medics for emergency healing, a couple of magic-wielding Ravagers protected by a Sentinel, or the wonderful buff / debuff / healing team of Synergist / Saboteur / Medic. What's important to remember here is that while you can only have six active Paradigms at a time, there's nothing stopping you from constantly swapping and tweaking those six in between battles.
If you enter a new area and find yourself taking more damage or getting defeated more often than usual, switch up your tactics. A triple group of Sentinels is useless in normal random encounters, but priceless when a big boss whips out its ridiculously overpowered area damage attack. Speaking of which...
4) Don't Be Afraid to Die
Like Final Fantasy XIII, death in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is no big thing. You don't have to worry about regressing to the previous save point; if you are defeated you can just continue from just before the fight began. In the case of boss fights you'll be taken back to the main menu, where you can mix up your Paradigms before jumping back into the fray.
There is one exception to the retry option, however...
5) Watch the Mog Clock
When an enemy comes into range the game's Mog Clock kicks in, giving you a certain amount of time to either strike or run into the enemy before the clock runs out. Striking the enemy gives you a first attack, which is always handy. Running into the enemy means you've got to wait for your Active Time Battle gauge to fill before attacking.
Should the clock run out before either of these situations occur, however, you're thrust into battle with the retry option locked, meaning if you die, it's back to the last save. This made for some incredibly tense battles during my game, and I don't recommend letting it happen too often, especially in a new area with unfamiliar foes.
6) Teach Your Monsters Well
If you heed my advice and search every corner of every map you should wind up with an impressive collection of creatures that can be added to your party. Rather than gaining levels via Crystarium Points earned in battle like Noel and Serah do, monsters advance via special items that can either be gained in battle or purchased from the game's fine-feathered vendor.
These items come in different flavors, each enhancing different statistics, so it's important to pay attention to what you're feeding your creatures. Sure, dumping Mana item after Mana item down the gullet of your Commando creature will increase its level, but what does a Commando need with that much Mana? Feed it Strength items and you'll wind up with a much more effective party monster. It might take longer, but it'll pay off in the end.
7) Master the Art of Monster Cannibalism
You can only have three monsters in your party at any given time, so why bother leveling the spares? All the better to eat them with, my dears. You may never plan on using your Cait Sith as a healer once you get the Green Chocobo in your party, but what your Cait Sith lacks in looks it makes up for in delicious specs appeal. By feeding leveled-up creatures to your core group you transfer powers, enhance statistics, and create a better critter overall.
It takes a great deal of patience, sure, but think of how impressed the people on the Final Fantasy forums will be when you whip out your fully-powered Gigantaur. Rawr.
8) Relentlessly Hunt Down Every Last Fragment
Towards the beginning of the game these fragment things you keep coming across seem pretty useless. They are not. They will eventually grant you super powers. I am not kidding. I've finished the game and I'm still trying to find them all, and I won't stop, you hear me!?
9) Turn Down the Music
10) Save the Day and Have a Damn Good Time Doing It
Hopefully you're now better prepared to face the perils of time travel and save the various days that need saving in the latest chapter in the Final Fantasy saga, and if not, at least I got to wear my Moogle suit. Also, kupo.