As reluctant as I am to post a review to the sequel of one of the most critically bashed RPG's of the new age, I couldn't help myself...
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is Square Enix's attempt to right their wrongs (so to speak) and give the fans the Final Fantasy game they deserve. Will it live up to our expectations, or will it suffer the same miserable verbal beat-down as its predecessor? I am here to offer my whole-hearted opinion on the game, and I hope you enjoy the review!
WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!GRAPHICS/VISUALS
The visuals in XIII-2 are some of the best you will see on the 360. Similarities between it and the previous installation are uncanny, making it easier to familiarize yourself with the story and characters. The vast landscapes of locations like Valhalla and Yaschas Massif are incredibly beautiful and infinite. I experienced no graphical glitches or stalls throughout the entire 30 hour experience. The characters are crisp and detailed, right down to each and every hair follicle. Many of us who remember the amazing cutscenes from the first game will be happily rewarded in this iteration as well. Many of those breaks resembled that of a movie, and I often found myself even more captivated in the story, just because those scenes looked so damn good.STORY
Whew, where to begin. As many of us know, the story in Final Fantasy XIII was not well received. In that game, the way the history and story were created was reminiscent of Xenogears. I remember when that game came out, the stories of how the creators would just sit around and come up with whole worlds of information about the background of the game. Only Xenogears was presented better. I HATE having to read extra info in-game about the story, but I often found myself getting confused if I didn't.
On a lighter note, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was much easier to understand. The game picks up right where the original left off, Vanille and Fang are encased inside the crystal holding up Cocoon, and Lightning has been trapped in an alternate reality in Valhalla, altering her presence in the real world. To everyone in the present time, Lightning was also trapped in the crystal, well everyone except her sister Serah. (confusing right?) Hope is a soon to be director of research and such while Sazh is happy and with his son.
Serah meets Noel, a human from the future who meets Lightning and is asked by her to travel back in time and correct the past, ultimately fixing the future.
At first, you might have no freaking clue as to what is going in the game, but the story is wonderfully paced, allowing even the most distracted gamer to grasp the plot by the middle of the tale. I never had to pause and look through the datalogs like I did in XIII. Once Noel finds Serah and explains himself, the two embark on a long and demanding journey through space and time to correct the history timeline. Using the two playable characters and additional monster party members I'll talk about later, the gamer will travel continuously back and forth in time to correct the errors that were made to fix the future and free Lightning. I found myself getting attached to the story of Noel and where he came from, and the relationship between he and Serah is great.
One complaint I have is the ending. If there's anything I hate more than a cliffhanger, is the need to purchase extra content to complete the story. Square Enix has crossed the official "line" with me on that. For this reason, I may never see the actual ending, that is unless I watch it on youtube.
I have heard that when you complete the game to 100%, you are able to access an "extended ending" but I haven't gotten that far yet.GAMEPLAY
If you have played XIII, you'll be right at home in XIII-2. The battle system draws from the roots of traditional turned-based RPGs, but incorporates a unique "paradigm" ability which allows each member of your party to act as a certain class, ranging from physical/magic to stat boosting/hindering abilities and healing. What makes the battle system different from the original game is that instead of a third party member, you can acquire "monster crystals" from the enemies you defeat in battle and in turn use them to battle by your side as the third party member, reminding me of titles like Enchanted Arms. I really enjoyed this new aspect of the game, and thought it refined the battle system perfectly. The crystarium system is even enhanced, making it easier to understand the roles of each character and monster.
One of the other refreshing bits of XIII-2 is the furthered ability to free roam. To me, RPG's are defined by the amount of things you can do, and to stray away from the "on-rails" aspect of many games out there. XIII-2 allows you to jump backward/forward in time to visit the same familiar locations at different points in the future. Doing this can further enhance your experience by letting you complete various sidequests at your own pace, collecting fragment crystals as you go. The game's fragment crystals offer a unique way to track your game progress, as they are awarded for completing a variety of story-related or non story-related missions. When a certain amount or type of these crystals is obtained, one can unlock new abilities from a mystic to use in the game. Along with the improved free-roaming in the game, the player can also race chocobos, gamble and test themselves in quizzes. The amount of things you can accomplish in XIII-2 is crazy.AUDIO
Before someone gets angry for such the low score, hear me out. The music, when it was there, was very nostalgic and reminded me of XIII. Even some of the battle music towards the end of the game was exactly the same. However, at random points in the game, the sound would cut out entirely or exhibit loud chirping noises. I don't know if this is a common problem or not, but it absolutely annoyed the hell out of me. The sound effects and voice acting are still top-notch, drawing from the same actors in Nier (Grimwiore Weiss= Caius Ballad)
However, the music at the end of the game (those who've played it know exactly what I'm talking about), absolutely ruined it for me. Whoever had the amazing idea of recruiting the singer for these tracks should be shot. Even my wife was staring at the television wondering what the hell was going on. REPLAYABILITY/ACHIEVEMENTS
One of the aspects I enjoy more about XIII-2 than its former installment is the amount of missions and miscellaneous things you can complete post-game. Heck, there are even some things you unlock after the main storyline is finished. That being said, the replayability is there, offering upwards of 50 extra hours of gameplay. Collecting all the fragments and viewing other paradox endings is quite rewarding and enjoyable.
The achievements are also somewhat similar to those in XIII, you have the obvious story-related cheevos, and those for beating key boss battles with a 5 star rating. For those of you who aren't looking to complete this, watch out if you have OCD about odd valued achievements (12 point, 14 point etc.). This game has about 6-8 of these achievements, but they can all be obtained with little extra effort. I was at a little over 500 gamerscore when I finished, with only 10 achievements left. Expect around 55-60 hours for all 31.OVERALL
All in all, FF XIII-2 is better than the prequel in many ways, and is a more refined and enjoyable game. I rarely found myself frustrated or confused in the story, and I am confident that most fans of the series will find it far superior as well. I remember originally it was rumored to be a three part series, so I'm still anxious for more!
Time to complete: 50-60 hours
Favorite Achievement: "Giant's Fist
Hardest Achievement: "Anomalous