Review by Mimeblade
Final Fantasy meets Chrono Trigger meets Ghost in the Shell!?
As a joke, I will rank aspects of this game out of 13, and compare them with 13 as well!
I don't mean to boast but this game is gorgeous. Whether it's the FMVs or just sitting on a beach dock watching the breeze blow through Noel's hair, or just seeing the veins in his muscles, or the frozen pillar of Coccoon itself...you get a big sense of wonder at the beauty in this game. Oh sure, it seems commonplace compared to XIII, but if you notice the pace of this game...it's a lot slower compared to XIII's "hurry up go somewhere" pressure to complete. I won't spoil the locations...but there's lots of details you don't want to miss, even if you feel surrounded by enemies, the game lets you go at your own pace and take in the scenery.
Sound FX are pretty much the same. Voices are good as always (some may even be recognizable if you watch anime!) A lot of people might feel estranged by the music tunes since there's a lot more vocals in the music this time around. But, if you're a fan of Origa (like me) from Ghost in the Shell, you'll eventually enjoy the music. It has a very Kingdom Hearts-esque feel to lots of the areas, which match the time zones more or less, even going so far as to re-use music from XIII. Even more, there's some really good tunes this time around that might even rival those of the original XIII! Be sure to check out the OST if you can.
Battle System: 13/13
It takes a bit of getting used to the battle system's 3rd leg (including a monster unit), but once you get a good Deck built, everything flows easily and naturally, playing off Noel and Serah's strengths. There are a few situations where you might bite off more than you can chew, but a little backtracking and grinding in the right places might help you along the way. Also, no more extensive farming for Gil (which was a headache in XIII)! The Crystarium no longer locks you out but instead makes you choose your roles and stick to them as closely as possible, or at least choose the most effective roles. The system itself is reminiscent of Gau's monster abilities from FFVI but is a lot more unique to tinker with. And while some people might have gripes about Quick Time Events (QTEs), this game gives you fair warning of what to look for, and unless you're out of practice, you probably won't miss. Getting used to the monster's Feral Links will definitely help you in that area though.
Quest Layout/Area Design: 13/13
This game actually lets you get lost! Which is a good thing! Lots of things to do and look for and hunt down, even puzzles to solve! And although there's lots of places that might actually be tough if you venture too far in, pacing yourself a little like said earlier will help. And more importantly: THERE'S PEOPLE! Yes, the often forgotten element from XIII has returned. Villages, Towns, Cities, and even an eager shop merchant willing to personally talk to YOU! It brings back the charm previous FF games had, to be sure. Once you start seriously branching out into the various nooks and crannies of the Historia Crux, you unlock mysteries tied to other mysteries spanning whole eras that you'll have to solve.
I think, if you're a casual FF fan, you might get confused easily by all the branching and decision-making you'll be doing in this game. But that's part and parcel to enjoying the story as someone actually IN the story! Having multiple endings just adds to the fun. Hardcore fans might be aiming for a more integrated experience or gunning for that perfect ending or speed run, and while that's there, it's best to enjoy the game's plot for what it's for...understanding the quest before you and fulfilling those burning questions you might have about Serah or maybe Lightning, or even Noel and Caius for that matter! There's plenty of easter-eggs and rpg tropes for the hardcore fans to point at and either say "Ah! I remember that!" or laugh about.
Extras/Fun Factor: 13/13
While it's not quite the same as Gold Saucer, this game has quite the package of extras to go through in Serendipity. Also, just a warning, but if you plan on getting DLC characters from the Colleseum, be sure you're strong enough to take them down. They will NOT go down without a fight, so you definitely get a strong challenge there! Using Mog to find hidden items is a quest all it's own, besides! And to top it all off, as of writing this, I hear Lightning's sidestory is coming out soon, which makes it even more worth it to get this game's content. For costumes, I highly recommend the N7 Armor from Mass Effect, not only does it make Noel and Serah look like legit Time Travellers, it's a nice matching set!
It's been a long time since I played an FF that wasn't aggravating or dull for one reason or another, but this game actually nails it for me. Rocking battle music, easy travelling music, while diverse and to others maybe off-putting, it's just the frosting to a very complex cake. In the previous FF, to me personally, I was literally falling asleep at the controls because of how linear and mind-numbingly dull it was to grind and just press X over and over while waiting forever for a item upgrade to come along...and while you can STILL kinda mash X in this game...the game itself urges you to plan out your battle strategy more, and even treats the random encounter system with more respect instead of abusing the same groups of enemies over and over hoping they'll respawn. And even if it feels way to easy to get strong and overwhelm bosses in certain areas, or too easy to ambush every monster you see...the game sets you up for some unique fights that you might not be prepared for...I recommended not using a Strategy Guide on your first run, just to understand what I'm talking about.
The best part is, there's so many places to go and visit, you won't want to focus on any one place for too long, just to change scenery. Even better, the game gives you a nice view of the locations you go to even in areas populated by people and chocobos, so you can just put the controller down and take in the sights in front of you! It's that sense of populated busy-ness that made Final Fantasy XII as good as it was.
This game has everything most casual and hardcore Final Fantasy fans are itching for. A good quest, solid battles, lots of places to go and visit, good (albeit fragmented) story, and overall the freedom to further customize their characters in however many ways they wish. Even if you don't decide to get DLC content, this game is so packed full of things to do, by the time you even hit the extras, you'll get the feeling you were preparing yourself for them up to that moment considering how challenging some are.
I recommend playing the Demo on PSN and deciding for yourself. If you can't decide by that, then just get the game...you probably won't regret it.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (US, 01/31/12)
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