Review by Sapphire_Fate
"The Best Final Fantasy Since IX"
While many people decided that FF was dying after the release of XIII, the developers decided to take many chances and change the formula up quite a bit. With FFXIII-2, they limited your controlled party to two members, introduced a very eclectic soundtrack, and introduced time travel and with it a lot of nonlinearity. Did it work? My god yes. This is the best product Square has made since FFIX, almost twelve years ago.
FFXIII was one of the best-looking games ever made, and still is, and XIII-2 continues that trend by sacrificing some graphical quality for much better art direction. Areas now undergo changes as you visit them in different eras. Vile Peaks, for example, is covered in snow in 200AF, but isn't in other eras. Academia changes from a red and black futuristic visual splendor to solid blues and more earthy colors when enemies are no longer around.
Academia on its own is a highlight of the game, as it is arguably one of the best-looking locales Square Enix has ever devised. Now that areas are populated with NPCs, places feel real despite monster-riddled areas being reduced to random encounters rather than being seen on the map. I, personally, welcome the change of including people walking around over monsters. XIII-2 is a gorgeous game with stunning art direction.
While the battle system has remained unchanged, you can now tune Paradigms to change the AI to either attack singular foes or cover a wide area, or act as normal. This makes Paradigms such as Cerberus and Tri-Disaster even more incredible because you can make all three Commandos attack a sole together, or make all three Ravagers bombard an area with AoE spells.
Monsters now replace your third party member, and take many cues from Shin Megami Tensei including the ability to infuse abilities and characteristics between monsters, strengthening them to incredible levels depending on how much you have grown the monster you're infusing. The system is surprisingly deep with more and more monster setups being revealed all the time for ultimate, mega-powerful monsters.
Enemies appear via the Mog Clock, which now makes their encounters somewhat random, although a few enemies do appear on the map from time to time. I believe this was a necessity for the added detail put into the environments as well as the addition of NPCs, who sometimes stall enemies so you can go in for a pre-emptive strike... or to help you run so you won't get ambushed.
Its main detractor is that the game is way, way easier than XIII. However, with the addition of the Historia Crux and sidequests, you can now visit different areas any time you want, and linearity has gone out the window. For all these additions, I cannot judge the game too harshly for its lowered difficulty.
Eclectic, varied, and gorgeous. With the addition of vocals and a smorgasbord of different genres, the soundtrack is easily the most impressive effort by Square Enix... ever. Three different composers, all with an ear for complex instrumentation and inventive composition, have concocted the most complex and creative soundtrack in the series. You'll hear jazz, electronica, rock, orchestral, classical, blues, downtempo, trance, house, among many others, on top of some beautiful vocals. Even joke tracks such as Crazy Chocobo fit well because they are hilarious and only show up when you ride the insane blue-and-red chocobo.
Easily the best OST in the series.
The most controversial part of this game is its story. Due to the time travel nature and the inclusion of paradoxes, people have felt that the story is incoherent. However, the datalogs from XIII and the ones in XIII-2, as well as the story revealed by acquired Fragments. We follow Serah and newcomer Noel, from a destroyed time and the last of his kind, as they travel through time and space to find and save Lightning, before Caius, the overseer from Valhalla (a place where time stands still), erases her and everything else from existence.
Despite having a cliffhanger ending, it's incredibly bold and the dialogue flows very naturally in the game. If you pay close attention, the pieces fall into place, including how XIII-2 explains the first game's bizarre deus ex machina ending. You'll particularly enjoy Noel, who is one of the best male protagonists the series has had. He speaks his mind, he's tortured by what has happened to everything he's ever known, and he doesn't fall prey to the heroism syndrome once.
It's a pretty good story overall, and I would buy XIII-3 in a heartbeat.
XIII-2 succeeds where the first game failed, and adds a lot of improvements that make it one of the finest Final Fantasy games to date. It's a beautiful, involving experience from start to finish.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/14/12
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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