Review by Xyphas
"Lightning doesnt strike twice, but solid gameplay and content makes up for it."
*This review is Spoiler Free*
Final Fantasy--a single phrase that strikes so much emotion and memories in the fans of role playing games everywhere. It is as if every entry of Final Fantasy main stream titles change the way the world views Japanese role playing games, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 is no different. In many ways, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an apology letter for the controversial Final Fantasy XIII that released in the US back in 2010. Square Enix has listened to the fan base and completely changed the design of the game. The question is: is this as good as the older Final Fantasy games? The short answer to that is no. Final Fantasy XIII-2, like its predecessor, is a bad Final Fantasy game, but as a stand alone RPG, its one of the best released this generation.
Its hard to gauge my enjoyment of Final Fantasy XIII-2's story. For the most part it involves a lot of time travel and continues the story directly after Final Fantasy XIII. The original game was about finding Lightning's sister Serah and saving her from the doomed fate of L'Cie. This time the roles are flipped and you control of Serah, who awakens in her peace village only to find strange things happening to the world. Serah finds noone remembers the "happy ending" from Final Fantasy XIII, almost as if her sister was erased from time completely. Serah eventually meets up with, Noel, a boy from the future who claims to be the last person left in the world. Together, they begin searching through time to find Serah's sister Lightning and save the future of the world.
Part of the problem, is that Final Fantasy XIII has a really deep lore and world, so players who skipped the original or just didnt finish it, may be scratching their heads the first few hours. The game begins with arguably the best intro sequence in the entire Final Fantasy sequence( Final Fantasy VIII fans beware) and sets a new cinematic feel to the game. Sadly, the story falls on its face past the interesting opening hours. Without spoiling anything, it does get better towards the end, and a lot of things are clarified. However, the ending will leave you puzzled and perhaps enraged. When I completed Final Fantasy XIII-2, I thought I did something wrong or got a bad ending, and the infamous words "too be continued" shows on the screen. This leads to my biggest gripe with Final Fantasy XIII-2's story.
It leads you into thinking all the story will be fleshed out towards the end, but the game just doesnt do that. It leaves you with arguably the worst cliffhanger in gaming history and doesnt do some of the plot development much justice. Square Enix doesnt hide the fact that they want to add DLC to the game, and it clearly shows. The story has a ton of potential, but for me, is worse than the original and just doesnt feel complete.
The game adds conversational choices to cut scenes. These dont really change the world or characters like say Mass Effect, and for me doesnt really add anything to the game because of it. They sort of feel like the game is trying to make sure you are paying attention, which is good because I did almost fall asleep on a couple occasions.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is at its best when its fleshing out its characters, and the villian in this game is one of the best in the entire series( freakishly powerful too). So the story isnt all bad and does have some epic moments.
Thankfully, in between the slightly depressing narrative, Final Fantasy XIII-2 emerges as one of the most technically impressive entries in the entire Final Fantasy series. For one, the game is no longer linear and I actually found myself lost on multiple occasions. This is due large in part to the Historia Crux system. This plays out similar to a Super Mario games "worlds", each of the areas in FF XIII-2 are different time periods, in which the players can select from a large map. Each Time Periods you can collect "fragments" which allow you to access other gates to different times or other special goodies. There is ALOT to do here, and its not long before the player realizes how much content is in this game. I finished the main story with about 40/160 total fragments. Its easy to lose hours tracking down these fragments as most are obtained in different ways.
The Battle system has also received an upgrade from the original and it is an absolute blast to play. The first immediate difference is the inclusion of party monsters. This game can be considered the Pokemon of the Final Fantasy series. You see a cool monster you want? All you have to do it catch it. Though it is a shame the actual monster cannot be controlled, there is a great degree of customization options you can give them; you can even level them up and equip various accessories.
However, don't let the absence of the third human party member bring you down, because Final Fantasy XIII-2 got rid of the party leader death, so the game is over when both Noel and Serah fall in battle. You can freely switch between the two characters and shift paradigms. Paradigms are different roles that set various behaviors for your team. Being able to freely switch between paradigms and characters brings a nice fluid feel to combat. The game has a ton more control than the original, making some fights feel more like playing the older entries.
I should probably note, there are no summons in Final Fantasy XIII-2( One in particular can be tamed as a monster) and the TP from the original game has been removed entirely. Replacing TP, is the ability to preform Feral links. These are special moves executed by the monsters that have a large degree of effects. By pressing the correct buttons and timing, you can boost the effectiveness in Feral Links and gain an advantage in battle.
The game uses QTE's now, in battles. Surprisingly, it works well here and really make you feel like you are in these cinematic battles. Failed prompts never lead to game overs, though you can take damage or gain disadvantages by missing them. You can also gain items by getting perfect presses on these sequences.
The games leveling system has also received an upgrade from the originals Crystarium. Here you can level up classes by earning "CP". You gain CP by defeating monsters and completing quest among all other things. Once you have enough CP, you can level your characters in each of the six roles of the game. Unlike the original game, there are no level caps in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Meaning you can beef up your characters to your hearts content.
However, the games leveling system brings my only gripe with Final Fantasy XIII-2: its significantly easier than the original. In fact, a lot of battles can now be completed without switching paradigms at all. To be fair, the difficulty of the last dungeon is on par with the original, but a majority of the game is cake walk in comparison. Its hardly a deal breaker however, considering there are plenty of challenges that are harder than the last boss. Just dont expect most of the challenge to come from the main story arc.
I can go on and on about the gameplay of FF XIII-2 because its just that great and alone worth the purchase.
Final Fantasy XIII-2's soundtrack consist of classic instrumental themes similar to the original game and various vocal tracks that give the game a Japanese pop feel. For every good track, there is another that will make you want to rip your ears out of the side of your ears; its often hit and miss. If a track isnt great, then its terrible. If its not terrible , then its great. I should probably note, a lot of tracks are reused from the original, but they were the good ones and you wont mind hearing them again. Yet, it still doesnt sound like the typical Final Fantasy soundtrack.
The Voice Acting on the other hand is just outstanding. This could be largely due to the dialogue being more streamlined and less cheesy than the original game. Also, you wont have to read a single piece of text while playing this game. It is fully voiced. Every cut scene and NPC will have voice acting, and for the most part, they are great.
Can we have the classic fanfare back Square?
Its slightly worse than the original, but still looks better than most RPGs out there. The environments are also way more varied( time travel helps with this of course) and some of the scenery in this game is the best I have seen in any RPG to date. Long story short, it defiantly feels like a Triple-A title. Unlike Final Fantasy X-2, no environments are reused, though in familiar settings, each time period makes them feel new and fresh again.
The amount of CG has been reduced however, and this is a staple of the Final Fantasy series to have these CG. In its defense, the regular models are spectacular, and thats a relief as many times as you will see them throughout the game, and the CG that are in the game, are mind boggling. Arguably better than the ones in the original game.
I beat Final Fantasy XIII-2 in 22 hours, but easily doubled that in the post game and have a ton of fragments left over to find. In a strange way, the post game is better than the main game and this is another indication on how great the content is in this game. I never played to many rpgs where I wanted to do just everything, catch all the monsters, and explore all the secrets. FF XIII-2 has quality content, an improved battle system and gameplay that will carry you through the stories worse moments. With a barrage of secret endings and a wealth of DLC being planned by Square, this game could keep you busy until the next Final Fantasy game comes out. Though if you just play for the main game, you mind as well rent it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/10/12
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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