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ZeitgeistReview On February - 14 - 2012

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First and foremost I’d like to apologize that it took me this long to get my review of Final Fantasy XIII-2 out, especially considering that it’s going to push back my reviews of several other games. But if there is one thing you should have picked up by now, it’s that I love RPGs and I like to take my time to complete and enjoy them prior to my review. Being such a huge fan of Final Fantasy XIII, I was very excited to get to dive into this bad-boy, knowing that Square-Enix essentially did a fan-service by attempting to remedy most or all of the major complaints about the previous title by the long-time fans of the series. Well I’m here to let you know that they did a hell of a job at it!

While I greatly liked the way that Final Fantasy XIII was presented, many long-time fans of the series didn’t like how linear the game was, how the paradigm combat system drastically changed how battles went down, and how there weren’t any towns to explore and side quests to participate in. Now there is a great balance between linear zones, wide-open areas, challenging dungeons and several very-alive towns scattered throughout the game-world. Oh yea, Moogles are back too.

Note that if you haven’t yet completed the previous game and still plan to, you might want to stop watching now as I’ll be touching on some of the events that took place to lead into the new game. The story takes place 3 years following the ending of Final Fantasy XIII. Something has happened and the entire world thinks that Lightning actually sacrificed herself to become part of the crystal that prevented Cocoon from crashing into pulse down below. Serah remembers the events as they actually happened but everyone just tells her that she is dreaming.

The game opens with Lightning in a mysterious world sporting sexy new armor. A mysterious man is seen carrying a dead girl to the water when he is stricken with rage and attacks Lightning. During the epic battle, a young man by the name of Noel Kreiss appears through a portal. Lightning tells the man that he needs to find Serah and help her restore things to the way they were before. While the plot itself seems kind of simple, we actually find that the story deals with time travel and paradoxes and is in fact quite complex. Essentially, the timeline has been modified, so Serah, Noel, and their new friend Mog must travel through time back and forward several hundred years to attempt to resolve a series of paradoxes and return things to normal.

All of the characters from the previous game return this time around but you don’t ever get to control them, which is a disappointment. I guess the fact that you only get to control Serah and Noel the entire game seems an odd design decision – Final Fantasy to me has always been about a wide cast of characters – so why reduce the party to two controllable characters?

Both Serah and Noel however have the ability to learn all 6 of the roles from the previous game while each learns a series of different spells in each. Serah was blessed by the Goddess Etro, which allows her to tame monsters from the beginning of the game. The monsters that you tame essentially act as your third party member and actually add quite a bit of variety to your party makeup. Each monster falls into one of the game’s six roles and can level up and even have adornments tacked onto them to make them look ridiculous. You can have up to three monsters at a time in your party that can be swapped out on the fly, essentially giving you access to a wide variety of paradigms, as you did in XIII. Monsters gain different spells and abilities as they level up, and they can be infused into other monsters to combine their powers into a stronger monster. The “monster mini-game” is very addictive and min-maxers will have a field day trying to design the most efficient monsters for their parties.

About halfway through the game the story starts to make sense and actually starts to get pretty good but I never got into it like I did with XIII. Paradoxes, time travel and altering space-time to see how the future and past are going to change is quite interesting, but I didn’t get the same feelings I had while participating in the purge with a large cast of characters. I think the worst part though is that the ending is terrible. To try to refrain from dropping spoilers, the game doesn’t give you closure. At this time, Square hasn’t announced if there will be a XIII-3 but they have announced a series of DLC that will continue the story. This is a huge slap in the face to me and it actually pisses me off. If I’m going to pay $60 for a game, I at least deserve to see the story to the end. Don’t lure me to buy DLC just to see the end of the fucking game. That may have come off as hostile, but it really made me mad how the game ended.

The story has a single canon ending but also has a series of paradox endings that primarily can be unlocked once you complete the main storyline. Unfortunately these don’t have to do with the canon ending so even if you unlock all of them, you never get the closure you deserve. It took me 42 hours to complete the game on the normal difficulty setting, netting me 140 of the 160 fragments, which are essentially markers to tell how close you are to 100% completion. It’s important to note however that the amount of time it took me to complete the game with the majority of it’s side quests and content was with heavy assistance from the official strategy guide. Without the guide, I’m willing to bet I would have spent at least double that time hunting things down and trying to figure out where to go.

See, to address the linear nature of the previous game, Serah and Noel are able to travel through the Historia Crux, which is a time travel device that lets you decide which zones you want to travel to, which year to appear in, and even unlock and explore alternate timeline versions of these zones. Some side-quests span multiple zones, multiple times and multiple dimensions. Combining this with the strategies involved with monster infusion, the hidden side quests and all of the hidden gear, to me, the strategy guide seems imperative to any gamer seriously considering going for 100% completion.

As to be expected, the game’s art direction is visually stunning. There are even some neat stylistic ways that new chapters are introduced. The voice acting is top-notch and from start to finish the game has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever experienced. The graphics are on par with the previous game and the pre-rendered cinematics are absolutely beautiful; unfortunately there aren’t very many of them. Final Fantasy XIII was loaded with high quality cut-scenes to the point that the game took up 3 DVDs on the 360 – XIII-2 only takes up 1 for this reason. There are still plenty of game-engine rendered cut-scenes that look great, but nothing can really compete with the quality of pre-rendered scenes we know that Square-Enix can deliver.

Combat this time around has returned to the classic days of random battles. When monsters appear on the map, a new Moogle Clock feature begins to count down giving you a number of different ways to initiate the fight or run away entirely. The set of paradigms that you pre-define are imperative to your success in battle but now the auto-attack feature that many gamers loathed from XIII rarely chooses the most efficient set of abilities to use. This means that if you want to get the five-star ratings after battles, which increases the likelihood that you’ll tame new monsters, you’ll need to both manage your paradigms to issue generic orders to your party, as well as quickly and in real-time, determine which spells you want to use. This kept me on my toes and I absolutely loved the battles for this reason.

The Crystarium has been modified a bit in that there is no longer a set way to build your characters. Since Serah and Noel can learn abilities from all of the roles, how you spend your points will determine which stats get boosted, be it strength, magic or health. Monsters also benefit from strategic placement of points while they level up.

There are no longer save points scattered throughout the world. You can save the game at any point in time, and your progress and state are actually saved in every single zone and time period. You can return to the Historia Crux whenever you like and even travel to a new zone without having to worry about losing progress in the zone you’re currently in. There is also a new crazy bitch named Chocolina who will sell and upgrade your gear in each zone. She is unfortunately the only vendor in the game but the items she sells vary depending on where you encounter her. Weapons and Accessories can be upgraded here, but there is much less emphasis placed on it in XIII-2 as there was in XIII. Something else that bothered me was that there are only one or two models for the weapons for Serah and Noel. When you get a new weapon, you’re only getting a new skin. If there were only two characters in the game, I would have thought that Square could have at least created some freaking new models for each of the weapons you purchased.

To mix things up, during boss fights, occasionally you’re participate in Live Action Sequences which are simple QuickTime events mixed into cut-scenes to make the battles appear more epic. I was hesitant about these at first because I despise QuickTime events, but I actually loved how they were implemented. They were scarce and when I finally did run into one, it was genuinely fun to participate in. There are also a series of puzzle sequences to mix up the game-play that were actually pretty challenging at times. Finally, a new zone called Serendipity was added that has fun games like slot machines and chocobo races that can yield some great prizes but are really just big time sinks. I didn’t spend a lot of time here, but I’m willing to bet some of you out there will love it.

There is so much more that I could say about Final Fantasy XIII-2 but I have to cut it out. This review already is twice as long as I’m normally used to writing. Lots of changes were made to the game to appeal to the long-time fans of the Final Fantasy series who were upset with how XIII was designed and I feel that these changes alone are enough to merit the purchase of the game to those gamers. Overall, I really enjoyed playing through this title but I personally wasn’t as blown away as I was with the first one. I didn’t find XIII-2 as challenging as XIII and I found the story to be less interesting; not to mention the shitty way that the game ended. I think Square has made some good progress here. If they could combine the things I liked about both games, I think they’d have a masterpiece on our hands.


Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Square-Enix
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
Price: $59.99
Release Date: January 31, 2012

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