Review by AllegrettoCain
"A new game for a different generation"
First off, I'd like to say that I'm not grading this game based on its past same-name games. Secondly, I've been a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series for a very long time, and have bought numerous installments of the series, including quite of the spin offs, such as Dirge of Cerberus and Crystal Chronicles; even a few of the remakes, including Final Fantasy IV.
That being said, I have realized quite a few things about playing this game and its predecessor, Final Fantasy XIII. We as a culture have evolved and changed, and there will be one day when we tell our children and their children, "Back in my day, I..." I can tell you right now: old time Final Fantasy fans are going to have a very difficult time accepting this game as a Final Fantasy. I did not. Because I, just like the franchise, have grown. And that's simply a fact that we've got to accept. We're no longer in a generation where longevity is provided through difficult, insurmountable challenges, nor do we have to deal with the cheap one-shot boss whose attacks were almost impossible to avoid. We are no longer in a decade of memorizing every step to solve the Water Dungeon (well, we sort of still are) nor are we in an age where it is necessary to write down codes in order to continue playing.
With the release of this game, something true gamers should realize is that we are taking a step forward, towards new ideas that are meant to be different then a re-hashed version of a 1991 Nintendo video game.
Today, Final Fantasy has become something completely different, and that is a good thing in a lot of ways for people searching for a refreshing experience and a step away from the traditional. Of course, this works as a double-edged sword, because those who loved FF for what it once was will be less than satisfied here.
Let's start with the story. FF XIII-2 picks up right where XIII left off: it has been 3 years since the events of XIII and Serah has been living in New Bodhum with the NORA gang. However, there's one major puzzle piece missing: Lightning. Although she remembers Lightning being with her during the final moments of the previous installment, everybody else, including Snow, believe that she is in the Crystal Pillar. One faithful night, she awakens to find that New Bodhum is under siege by some monsters, and that there was a meteor that crashed off in the distance. As she escapes her home, she is attacked and almost killed, only to be saved by a young man, Noel Kriss, who claims to be a time traveler, and that he has a message for Serah from her older sister. Noel also goes into explaining that he is from a future that is desolate, and he is "the last hunter." With that foundation being established, Serah and Noel take a step into the Historia Crux, an instrument used for time travel, to find Lightning and alter what is to happen.
Overall, the story is decent. There are no huge plot holes, and it's a lot easier to understand than that of Final Fantasy XIII because there are fewer personal stories to get in the way of the overall picture. However, every single problem found in the game, from "Why is this Giant Flan exist?" to "How is this character here?" can basically be blamed on a paradox, an object, be it a person, item or something of that nature, that is in a timeline that it is not meant to be in. That being said, the majority of the game, you're a repairman fixing up time-space so that these paradoxes are eliminated.
Unfortunately, for an RPG, this is not the best story, although it does have its interesting points. I would have liked to make the issues personal, instead of means to reach an end system. By that, I mean you spend all this time repairing things that are wrong in every location you go to, but you don't really have a reason to do so except to "get to Lightning." As a big RPG gamer, I was a little bit less than impressed by this storyline. Oh, and the ending sucked too... Just giving you a head's up.
Story score: 8 / 10
Next, let's talk about a big complaint that came with Final Fantasy XIII: the gameplay. I will admit that the game was very much a one-way street. There were no towns to slow you down, no exploration to be done and no mini-games to at least break up the action every now and again. It isn't until the very end of the game that you even get to see the full expanse of the video game and how vast it COULD have been. This problem was fixed with the installation of the Historia Crux, which allows you to travel to a location, do as much as you feel is necessary there (of course, in order to make a story possible, there are locations that you MUST do in order to unlock more locations), and then move onto the next location. However, the fields aren't just a one-way street to the boss fight. With the new Historia Crux system, you are able to make progress our own to a good extent.
Next, the battle system had some changes made to it. You will no longer be summoning up ridiculous machine-like beasts that turn into motorcycles (Lightning still kept Odin...). Because you will only be playing Noel and Serah, you will be able to change between them at any time in battle, and your third party member that will be one class or another of the six from the first game. Speaking of the classes, both Serah and Noel can follow the flow of all six classes after you unlock them. This adds a big diversity to the party system, because you will be constantly getting new monsters that can grow differently, have different skill sets, and have their own special live-triggers for a special attack. As you progress, you can fuse monsters to grant them with better stats an skills.
The battle system is almost basically the same as the first game, except that during major boss fights, you will now have "cinematic actions" (live-trigger sequences) where you will be able to witness the fight from a different camera angle, and makes the battle a bit more movie-like. It's an exciting and refreshing portion of the game, and its sparse and various use makes it so you're not just mashing away and watching the game as a movie the entire game. Another thing that changed was the encounter system. Like in the first game, you will be able to see where monsters are before you fight them, HOWEVER, they will appear through the "Moogle Clock." Basically, enemies will spawn in an area, and be frozen in place for a few seconds. You can take this time to either flee or gain a preemptive strike, however, if you fail to escape from the enemy, the "retry" button in the pause menu will be locked for this battle. Luckily, the only really difficult parts are of course, during major boss fights. You are not likely to be utterly destroyed by the basic monsters, as they should stand no real chance against your team.
With these little changes to the battle system, I felt like I had more options as far as creating a party goes, and there were parts of the game where I was really compelled to be fast-thinking with spells and items, because there were portions when the battle system chose to not use the optimal battle strategy. Of course, the boss battles especially where very fast-paced and there was never really a dull moment with the Paradigm shifting.
Gameplay score: 10 / 10
Being a large-scale RPG that this is, Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 were known pretty well for their graphics. Again, these graphics were amazing. They took out a lot of the pre-rendered cut scenes that plagued the first game. Although I loved how gorgeous those scenes were, I was dealt one every two minutes for a very, very good portion of the game and it got frustrating having the fields broken up into: clearing these mobs, watching these scenes of self-pity and/or making a moral decision, clearing more mobs, watching more scenes, killing a boss. Rinse and repeat.
Each environment feels fresh in its own way, which is good because many of the areas are reused because you travel to that area in a different period of its existence. This is nice and its exactly what I expected from the game, since everything looked so beautiful in the first game. Again, the character models are very clean, very finished and there's lots of little details. Thanks to the more open-world experience, you are able to absorb and take in all of these elements, just standing there and looking at almost anything. One complaint that I can add here is that quite a few of our monster friends from FF XIII return here to XIII-2, and even though there are a few new monsters, most of them are just models wit different palettes or a helmet instead of a sword or something like that. But I can't complain, as the monsters are well-designed regardless.
Having played the PS3 version, I did not see any clipping problems, or any times when the environments took too long to render. Even though graphics are a part of a video game, I would not say they are essential to the overall game experience.
Graphics score: 10/10
Being in a different age of video games, we expect some amount of voice acting and some really good music to listen to while exploring. The voice acting is really, really solid in this game. Most of the VA from the first games are here for round two, although the new voice actors do a good job and fit their characters.
The soundtrack of this game sounds really good, and there is a good mix of the classical music with violins and flutes and whatnot, in addition to some new metal pieces that are used almost exclusively for boss fights. There were no sound glitches or anything that I was aware of, and all of the syncing worked really well. There isn't really much to say about the sound except that I loved it,
These are the four components that I analyzed about the video game. The replay value of the game is as high as you want it to be, because you can go back to previous areas and "lock" them so that you can live through the story of that area. The game takes only about 25 ~ 30 hours to complete, although there are lots of collectable "Fragments" and 8 "Paradox" endings that you can unlock for the sake of being able to unlock them. So, take your time and enjoy the game, because it is meant to test out different things than those of previous FF installments.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/09/12
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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