Review by Raganork
"Oh how the mighty have fallen"
With Squeenix's second entry in the Final Fantasy 13 series, they tried to right all the wrongs with the first game. Gone are the narrow corridors, more side-quests have been added, and more towns have been introduced to rejuvenate that old-school Final Fantasy feeling. But, in return, almost every other aspect of the game suffered, making for one of the worst Final Fantasy games ever made.
Disclaimer: I assume you played the first Final Fantasy 13 game, so I won't explain stuff like "paradigms" in this review.
I suppose I should start out by listing the positives of the game.
The first thing you'll notice are the fantastic visuals the game offers. Yes, the game looks almost exactly the same as the original Final Fantasy 13 game, but that's not a bad thing. The textures are smooth and detailed, and the particle effects shown during fights are phenomenal. The animations are also top-notch, as is the lip-synching, which is pretty amazing considering the fact that this game was made in Japan.
The gameplay has also seen a slight overhaul to add more variety to the game. The combat system remains the same from the previous game, but with a few twists added.
You now have a random chance to recruit monsters after each battle, which you can add to your team. Each monster has a specific paradigm assigned to them, which you can use to create different sets of paradigms to use in battles. You can also level up these monsters to improve their stats and abilities, or you can fuse monsters together to make stronger monsters. But aside from the addition of the monster-recruitment system, the combat remains largely the same.
Getting five stars in battles actually has meaning this time around. Five-starring fights increases your item-drop-rate, and can even let you gain unique items during boss fights.
Levels now have open areas to explore, with multiple paths to take to reach your destination. Some paths lead to hidden treasures, some lead to dead ends, and some lead to time gates (more on that later). You can also explore previous levels you've been to, a feature that was missing from the first Final Fantasy 13 game.
Side-quests are also plentiful in this game. Each area has numerous side-quests to tackle, some of which yield unique rewards. There are also some minigames, like Chocobo Racing, to partake in.
The voice acting is also top-notch. All the characters that returned from the previous game have the same, excellent voice actors, and the new main characters also have strong voice actors. Supporting characters and random people that litter the towns also sport some pretty good voices. I can't remember a single bad performance from the entire game (sans the moogle).
You also have a moogle companion following you around this time. He can reveal hidden treasures and can open treasures located in unreachable locations. He also serves as a bit of fanservice for series veterans. His voice is annoying, but it grows on you.
Unfortunately, here is where the game takes a nose dive into mediocrity, particularly in the story-telling department.
If you thought the first game had a confusing story, prepare to be blown away by the complexity of XIII-2's story. This game revolves around time travel, and how time travelling causes paradoxes to occur in different areas during different time periods. Forget the fact that time travel leaves stories prone to plot holes the size of planets, because if you try to make any sense of this game's story, you'll just be giving yourself a headache.
The game's protagonists, Serah and newcomer "Noel Kreiss," are on a mission to rescue Lightning. To get to her, they must travel to different time periods via "time gates," which only open if you have the corresponding "artefact" that belongs to that gate. Once they enter a time gate, they travel to a random location in time, where they must then find more time gates to go through until they eventually reach Lightning, who is fighting in a place called "Valhalla". To get these artefacts, they must solve numerous "paradoxes" that are polluting various time periods.
The game throws all this information at you within the first two hours, and it only gets more confusing from there. Almost instantly, you're left wondering, "Where is Valhalla? Who is Etro? Why is Lightning fighting a guy named Caius? Why did Serah's clothes randomly change when she found Noel? Who is Yuel? What does 03AF mean?" and so on.
There are also cut-scenes galore; in fact, I'd say the game is divided into roughly 50% cutscenes, 40% combat, and 10% micromanagement/wandering around. Also, be prepared to hear the word "paradox" at least five times in each cut-scene.
Again, if you want to learn more about these foreign terms, you have to read the datalog. I had to read the datalog to learn what things like "Valhalla" and "Etro" were, because the game takes way too long to explain these vital plot-points to you.
The way you initiate combat in this game is rather odd. There are semi-random encounters in this game. The best way I can explain this is that you randomly run into enemies, but you can run away before initiating the battle if you can escape the monsters' vicinity within a certain time frame.
Before you initiate the battle, you can attack the monsters to get a preemptive strike. This grants you haste for about a minute at the start of the battle, making battle even easier. And you WILL get preemptive strikes all of the time because they are so easy to get. But you cannot get back-attacked or ambushed like previous games in the series because that would make the game slightly more difficult, and that's not what they were going for.
There are also points where you can make choices during certain conversations to get different dialogue responses. This doesn't really add much to the game's plot, but it is an interesting mechanic that makes you more involved in conversations.
Here is where Squeenix made some questionable decisions that further ruined the experience.
For one, the game is incredibly short. It is the shortest mainline Final Fantasy game out there, taking around only 18 hours to beat. I didn't skip any cut-scenes, I did a few side-quests, and I even got lost a few times, and I still beat the game in less than 20 hours. Granted, there is a ton of post game content to complete, but the core adventure is really short compared to previous games in the series.
The game is also very, VERY easy. First of all, there are two difficulties: an easy mode and a normal mode. I have no idea why there is an easy mode at all, because normal mode is already incredibly easy. All told, I only died four times on normal mode, and all those deaths were within the first five hours of the game. I did not grind at all, and I didn't even equip more than one accessory at a time, but the game just seemed to get easier and easier as it progressed. Before I knew it, I was beating bosses in just 2 minutes. I didn't even realize I was fighting bosses half of the time because they were so damn easy.
The game also has quick-time-events now (sigh). During certain boss fights, you have to follow the on-screen queues to execute finishing attacks, which can help you five-star the battle. These QTE's add nothing to the gameplay and are not even difficult to execute. So why are they even there?
A lot of the environments are also reused from the first Final Fantasy XIII. The game just shuffles around some textures here and there and BAM! You got yourself a new level. Only some environments are truly unique, like Academia and the Augustus Tower.
The soundtrack for this game is also terrible. Most boss fights are accompanied with deathmetal music. Where are the epic orchestral scores that the series is known for? The only memorable song is the battle theme, but that's only because you hear it during every random encounter. Some songs are even rehashed from the first game, but that's understandable considering this is a direct sequel.
There are also numerous points in the game where you're assigned busy work. There is one point where you're tasked with collecting five different items scattered throughout the world to progress the story, which takes up an hour and a half. There's another point where you have do an hour-long mission just to get past a security terminal. This artificial padding is just annoying, and take into account that this busy work is included within the 20ish hour adventure.
Perhaps the most inexcusable flaw the game has is the ending. For the last few hours of the game, things start making more sense, battles start getting slightly more difficult (slightly), and things start getting intense. And then you see the ending and wow. This game has one of the worst endings in video game history. I won't spoil it for you, but man it's so bad. It makes the entire journey feel pointless.
All in all, I was very disappointed by this game. The gameplay was improved, but the game became incredibly easy. The areas are more explorable, but the story was relegated to the back-burner. Voice acting is top notch, but the musical score is forgettable.
For every positive point this game has, there is a negative, and then some. In the end, I was left wanting more. I wanted to learn more about the story without reading pages and pages of text in the datalogs. I wanted to fight powerful storyline bosses, not just optional bosses.
The game is just so disappointing, and I'd say the series deserves better, but this series has been on a decline for years, and believe it or not, the sequel to XIII-2 is even worse than this.
There is a lot to do in this game, and some of the characters and lore are interesting, but the story is so poorly told that it's so difficult to care about what's going on. If you liked the previous game, then you're going to want to see what happened to the characters after that game ended. But if you were hoping that this would be the next best Final Fantasy game, then look away. Look FAR away, because you will be disappointed.
VERDICT: Do not play
Reviewer's Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Originally Posted: 03/05/12, Updated 04/06/15
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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