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Scotty_ffgamer
11-26-2013, 04:07 AM
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As the sequel to a game which was widely criticized as being one of the worst games in the series, Final Fantasy XIII-2 had a lot working against it. Some of the main issues people had with the first game were the extreme linearity, the lack of a strong central antagonist, and only allowing partial control of the battle mechanics for many hours of the game. Despite the heavy criticisms hurled at the first game, Square Enix still pushed ahead with making a sequel, promising a more open experience that would fix the issues people had with the first game. Did they succeed in not only creating a better game than XIII, but also creating a game that can stand with the best of the series? Let's find out.



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A More Open Experience

After the game opens and you first gain control of Serah, it becomes clear that Square Enix took the first criticisms to heart. The areas you travel to throughout the game are a lot more open with branching paths, NPCs to interact with, hidden treasures to find, and optional bosses to face. It's still not quite on the same level of the older games in the series; there is not an overworld map that you can travel. Some may be disappointed in this fact, but I never found myself wishing the world was more open.


Not only are the areas improved, but the gameplay itself feels a lot more open throughout the game. The battle system is largely the same as the first game. Your characters can switch to different roles mid-battle through the use of the paradigm shift mechanic. Just like in the first game, your strategy is more focused on setting up effective paradigm decks and knowing when to switch between roles to quickly beat your foes. Unlike the first game, you have access to all of the roles within the first one or two hours of the game.


There are some small tweaks that make the battle system more enjoyable this time around as well. You are still only in control of one character at a time in battle. However, should you feel the need, you can switch between Serah and Noel at anytime in battle. Also, if the character you are controlling dies, you'll automatically switch to the other human character rather than get an automatic game over. You will get a game over if both Noel and Serah die, though.


Another change is that this game brings a return to random battles. Sort of. Unlike the first game, monsters aren't just roaming the areas you are traveling; rather, an enemy will just randomly materialize before you. When this happens, a timer starts up during which you can try to sneak away before the enemy notices you or strike the enemy for a preemptive strike. Should the timer go off, you'll be thrown into the battle without the ability to retry should you die, forcing you to restart from your last save. If you hate random battles, this will probably be a bit of a turn off for you.



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Gotta Catch 'em All!


As you probably guessed while reading the previous paragraphs, Noel and Serah are the only two human characters in your party. The third party slot is filled with a monster. You see, as you defeat monsters in battle, there is a chance that they will turn into a crystal. With that crystal, the monster can then be summoned as your third party member. Each monster only has one role (such as Commando, Ravager, Medic, etc.); however, you can take three monsters with you into battle at a given time, allowing you continual flexibility in creating your paradigm decks.


Some may find it disappointing that your third party member slot is relegated to a simple monster, especially when XIII had such a strong, varied cast. That being said, I found capturing monsters to be quite addicting, and it made battles more enjoyable. Battling wasn't just a grind to level up my characters, but it was also a chance to capture new monsters with differing roles, abilities, and stats. Capturing and training monsters has a lot more depth than it first appears. For instance, each monster has its own Crystarium. You can even have one monster consume another in order to gain some of their abilities and strengths. If that's not enough, you can also add accessories to your monsters to change their appearance. This only creates a cosmetic change, but it is a fun addition for people who wish to personalize their monsters.



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The Crystal Calls!


As mentioned, the Crystarium does make a return in this game, however, it is much more streamlined than in the first game. Each character only has one Crystarium which holds the shape of your weapon. Leveling from one node to the next is very similar to the first game. As you only have one Crystarium, you must choose which role you want to level up with each node. The size of the node denotes how much of a stat increase you'll get or if you'll gain a new ability. Due to this, you have to be smart about when you choose to level up a specific role if there are certain stats you wish to get as high as possible. Due to the ease of the game, the way you level up won't really impact the battles very much outside of the DLC Coliseum battles.


The game also has a small variety of side quests. Many of the side quests exist in the form of fighting certain monsters or finding specific items/people. They don't shake things up too much from the first game, but it is nice to actually interact with NPCs to receive these quests. Aside from these more traditional quests, you also have a casino called Serendipity where you could waste some time betting on slot machines and Chocobo races. Unfortunately, with comparisons being made to VII's Golden Saucer before the game came out, the casino is a bit of a disappointment. You can only really do those two things without buying DLC, and I didn't find them particularly fun. Unless you want to collect everything in the game, the casino games are optional, though.



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Now featuring puzzles


Another little addition to help break the monotony of constant battling are puzzles known as Temporal Rifts. Each rift contains one of three kinds of puzzles: Tile Trial, Crystal Bonds, and The Hands of Time. In the Tile Trial, you are walking along platforms that disappear after you step off of them, trying to collect every crystal in the area. Crystal Bonds is essentially a connect the dot game in which you are trying to connect crystals of like color with each other before they change colors on you. The Hands of Time is the hardest which consists of a circle of numbers and clock hands. You start off by picking one of the numbers (let's say 3), and it will make the clock hands move 3 in either direction. The number you picked disappears, and you then must pick one of the numbers that the clock hands are pointing towards. The point is to make all the numbers disappear, but if both hands land on a blank spot, you'll have to start over. Unfortunately the numbers change every time you reset, and you often have a time limit. If you aren't good at these kinds of puzzles, it can be extremely frustrating without looking up solutions online. I personally found each of them to be a nice change of pace from the rest of the game.


Now on to the story. This is where the game starts to fall apart. The gist is that shortly after the events of the first game, Lightning has disappeared from the world. Noel, a boy from the future, appears before Serah and claims that Lightning sent him on a mission to find her. Together, Serah and Noel find themselves traveling through time in their search for Lightning. As is generally the case in Final Fantasy games, a crazy haired, giant sword wielding threat appears by the name of Caius, and the focus of Serah and Noel becomes trying to save the world.



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Fear my giant sword

The time travel plays into opening up the world, allowing you to travel between time periods and locations throughout the game. You can even reset each time period/location so that you can return to the beginning of the story in that area to make different choices or to simply relive some of your favorite scenes in the game. You can even gain different endings after you first beat the game through some of these different choices. Even with all of the work they put into opening the world, the story seemed to lose focus. XIII-2's rules regarding time travel often at times make little sense, causing the story to become pretty messy.


There is still a lot to like in the surprisingly dark story, but you must really suspend your disbelief to see the good in the story. For instance, Serah and Noel make for an interesting main cast. Caius is also a very strong antagonist, one of the best in the series. Despite how nonsensical the story can get, the motivations of these characters are believable and empathetic. The world and locations are all beautiful and interesting, and traveling to the same location in different time periods is enjoyable just to see how the area has changed. Unfortunately, these things are not enough to save the nonsensical plot for most people, and the whole experience is hindered by an unsatisfying conclusion that leaves the story feeling incomplete.


I also have to give special mention to the music. XIII-2's soundtrack is vocal heavy, a first for the franchise. Aside from a couple of annoying pieces, the music was all very beautiful and kind of haunting. Each track was very fitting of the mood they tried to portray. All in all, this soundtrack stands as one of the best in the entire franchise.


Concluding Thoughts
If there is one word I can use to describe Final Fantasy XIII-2, it's fun. I've clocked in around 70 hours so far, and I still haven't done everything there is to do in the game. Even after completing the story, I found myself going back and trying to find the alternate “paradox” endings and trying to collect some of the rarer monsters. After initially beating the original XIII, I wanted nothing more to do with it. In that sense, Square Enix succeeded in creating a game that far exceeded it's predecessor. The only thing holding it back from being one of the best of the series is the weak plot. I'd say this game is definitely worth a buy unless you really hate the world and battle system of Final Fantasy XIII. Even then, I would say it's worth a try. It might surprise you as much as it surprised me.

Mirage
11-26-2013, 10:20 AM
tl;dr: Game is really fun to play, but the story is dumb.

Sounds like my opinion as well. I hated the story immensely, but it is still one of the very few games that I have actually platinumed.

Loony BoB
11-26-2013, 02:12 PM
Great review. :up: I agree with pretty much everything.

Scotty_ffgamer
11-26-2013, 06:31 PM
Strangely enough, I actually still enjoy the story quite a bit despite recognizing that it's not very good as a whole. It was easy for me to look past the many flaws in it and enjoy the good parts of the story. I think there are some pretty interesting things to be found in the story and characters that I may write about someday.

Anyways, I may do a short write up of the DLC soon just because.

Lone Wolf Leonhart
11-26-2013, 11:34 PM
In preparation for Lightning Returns in a few months I'm going to play through this game again. Glad to read this review right before I start to get me hyped up again.