Graphics:
8.8
Gameplay:
8.3
Sound:
8.6
Control:
8.2
Replay Value:
8.5
Overall Rating:
8.5
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
Square Enix
Developer:
Square Enix
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
RPG


Historically, all true Final Fantasy installments have been entirely new; i.e., a whole new world, new story, new characters, and even new gameplay mechanics. From Materia to Junctions to the Sphere Grid to Licenses and Gambits and everything in between, each has been magnificent in its own right. But Square Enix broke the mold with Final Fantasy X-2 , which turned out great in my opinion, but many say wasn’t up to franchise standards. So what to expect from the latest sequel attempt…? Well, I'll do my best to explain.

As you might expect, production values are once again sky-high, as players will enjoy meticulously crafted CGI sequences and quite a few well-envisioned set pieces. Too many of the environments are too dark for my taste, but that’s my lone complaint. I actually like the character design more than I did in FFXIII, as there’s a bit more inspiration and innovation in that vein (look at Alyssa, for instance), and the special effects and in-game visuals are pretty damn good. Essentially, it’s beautiful without being overwhelmingly amazing.

The sound will be a mixed bag, depending on your personal preferences. While we do receive some of those patented music pieces – classically composed, sweeping, majestic, epic – Square Enix tossed in a harder hitting variety of mainstream tracks. There’s some heavy rock and pop-y type themes here and there, and some may not like the amped-up battle music. The effects are just as good as always, and the voice acting seems a little better; Noel and Serah are quite good, and Lightning, Hope, and other returning characters do their jobs well.

I won’t spend a great deal of time detailing the specific upgrades, alterations and tweaks, as I assembled such highlights in a recent write-up . Please refer to that as a supplement to this review.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 finds the protagonist of FFXIII, Lightning, locked in an over-the-top battle with a blue-haired bad guy, who we learn is Caius. Lightning, referred to now as the “Warrior Goddess,” is somehow in Valhalla, and she tasks Noel, a surprise time traveler, with finding Serah. As FFXIII players will remember, Serah was Lightning’s sister and Snow’s fiancé. As such, Serah and Noel team up to solve the mystery surrounding Lightning and the strange time paradoxes that crop up everywhere.

During the first few hours, the game does a good job of recapping FFXIII events in a way that doesn’t seem tiresome or boring. You’ll also notice that you have more freedom right off the bat; you can run around the settlement of New Bodham, talking to NPCs and going off to fight some enemies, if you so choose. This freedom permeates the entire adventure, which is definitely a good thing because once you reach the Historia Flux, you can select any open time available. This means jumping back and forth between various sections in the game is not only admissible, but encouraged.

As I stated in the rundown linked above, the developers did indeed make plenty of desired changes, and that includes the aforementioned freedom and open-endedness, as well as the combat. With the Mog Clock (strike an enemy just after it appears and gain the upper hand), Cinematic Actions (button prompts during certain boss sequences and Feral Links), restricted and thereby more strategic Accessory equipping system, and streamlined Crystarium, there’s a lot to like. Did I mention they sped up the Paradigm Shift, too? The first switch is no longer intrusive.

The addition of Monsters is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a compelling, in-depth mechanic that urges you to capture every monster and select your favorites for use in battle. You can level them up via Crystarium (special items are needed) and even “Infuse” them; in other words, one monster absorbs another and becomes inherently stronger. On the other hand, as a monster is always your third party member in battle and it’s only Noel and Serah throughout, you’re robbed of the RPG joy of choosing your party. Really, that's sort of a staple.

Yes, of course you can always change your monster, but that’s not really the same thing. You don’t necessarily feel any personal connection to any monster in your party and besides, since when do we have a Final Fantasy that doesn’t have more than two human characters to choose from? It just bugs me. That being said, given all the improvements with the battle system, this is a greatly refined mechanic when compared to the one in FFXIII, and that shouldn’t be glossed over.

Even so, we’re still looking at what should be deemed “RPG Lite” in terms of gameplay. Despite all the added depth, regardless of all the micromanagement that is indeed in this game, combat still allows you to hit Auto Battle with the X button and win the majority of random encounters. As I’ve said before, this means you can win a fight in a so-called RPG without ever actually looking at the abilities you chose to use, and that’s just wrong in my eyes. Am I the only one?

But I would like to stress that despite my hesitancy to label this an RPG, it’s still fun. Due to the battle tweaks – game isn’t over if the leader falls, the ability to change the leader in combat, faster Paradigm Shifts, etc. – this feels like a more solid, reliable system. And it’s true that boss fights and other tough encounters will force you to be strategic in your ability selection; you really need to take advantage of your other classes, like Synergist, Saboteur, Sentinel and Medic.

The biggest problem involves the story, which unfortunately isn’t very good at all. There was a time when we played Final Fantasy for an amazing story and memorable characters, but in their admittedly valiant attempts to listen to their fans, they made the gameplay better but forgot about the story. It’s there and it’s kind of heartwarming at times (what with Serah trying to get to her sister), and there are intriguing time-related elements. But it’s also convoluted and uninvolving overall.

After a while, I realized I was playing for the sake of playing, and not for the plot and characters. That’s a first for me in this series. It gave me mixed emotions: I really liked the combat and overall gameplay flow, what with the great freedom and added depth via side quests and a dozen other upgrades. It’s what kept me playing and I definitely enjoyed myself. But the whole time, I’m sitting there thinking— “Damnit…I’m only not supposed to care about the story in a game like Skyrim .” So I’m having a blast…and not giving a fig about the plot.

I still have mixed feelings about that. As for the control elements, it’s not perfect. The camera can still be an issue in cramped areas and the addition of jumping (Circle button) often seems superfluous, as the blue jump spots are still in existence, and you can’t jump to places that are out of reach for other reasons. It’s also annoying that in tighter areas, enemies appear very close – if not on top of you – and therefore, you’re thrust into battle without having a chance to strike them first. But really, these aren’t major concerns.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 improves on the formula of FFXIII in just about every way possible. And yet, we lose a little more of what makes Final Fantasy a story-driven role-playing game. It’s amazing that this happens given all the great features and gameplay elements that should’ve been included in FFXIII. I’m actually thinking that if you combine this sequel and its predecessor, take the strengths of each, and abandon the weaknesses, you’d finally get a 9+ game.

Lastly, there’s one phenomenon I mentioned when FFXIII arrived, and it’s once again relevant here— Had this game been called anything else; had it been a separate IP that wasn’t in the Final Fantasy universe, I absolutely guarantee that review scores, on the average, would be at least a half-point higher, if not a full point. You drop a game like this into a critic’s hands without decades of landmark greatness and the expectations that go along with a legendary franchise, and I promise the scores would be higher. Take it with a grain of salt, if you wish.

Personally, I tried not to fall prey to this widespread effect, and simply gave this game the score I think it deserves…visions of what FF used to be notwithstanding. 😉

The Good: Super high production values. Some good music and decent voice acting. Overhauled combat mechanic is undeniably better. Freedom aspects make the adventure more immersive. Noel and Serah are good characters. Nicely designed areas. Varied gameplay mechanics add diversity.

The Bad: Some of the new music will grate. Story is definitely lacking. A Monster as a permanent third party member doesn’t feel right. Control isn’t completely stable.

The Ugly: “I think Square Enix is trying…I really do…but…”

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LimitedVertigo
LimitedVertigo
9 years ago

I've been really looking forward to this review from you. I ended up going ahead and preordered the collectors edition again since I'm a sucker still for FF and I can't do without the soundtrack even if it has more vocals (ugh).

Nas Is Like
Nas Is Like
9 years ago

Vocals in a FF soundtrack, smh…

It's all about those instrumentals baby!

hellish_devil
hellish_devil
9 years ago

FFX's Suteki da Ne (Isn't It Wonderful?) is great and has vocals. Well, it was Uematsu's work, that's why it is great.


Last edited by hellish_devil on 1/30/2012 11:13:59 PM

RaYz89
RaYz89
9 years ago

The amazing in-game Melodies of Life has a vocal – well just "la, la, la, la…" and its also Uematsu work~

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

There's a variety. I like some of the heavier stuff, but I imagine the purists might not.

Either way, I'm having fun and I think it's a great game.

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

Suteki da ne is a great song and well written, but on my Distant Worlds album, they put in the English lyrics. And it destroys it. Just ruins it. I love that song, but I always change the track when it comes on. I've heard the Japanese, too, and while better, it still is teh suck. It has a lot going on in the instrumental version, and I feel the vocals take more away than they add.

The j-pop craze hasn't been good, in my opinion. The ONLY song with English lyrics I liked in a game were the two in Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. "Sanctuary" and "Simple and Clean" were pretty decent (would have been better with a more talented singer). (Although, Simple and Clean is so incredibly NOT applicable to the KH story it's laughable…)


Last edited by Underdog15 on 1/31/2012 9:16:02 AM

Neo_Aeon666
Neo_Aeon666
9 years ago

Ben, I have been playing since this afternoon. It really is a great game. Only 5 hours on it but I really love the way you can change paradigme so fast just before a monster attacks. Really have to analyse whats going on. Brings back alot more strategy and alot less frustration over getting hit while changing in XIII XD. Yes it is fast paced but in a way it is getting closer to what I felt while playing a final fantasy… Exept that I have to think faster.


Last edited by Neo_Aeon666 on 1/31/2012 9:12:54 PM

Oxvial
Oxvial
9 years ago

Didn't like the combat on XIII and the demo of XIII-2 didn't convince me, this game doesn't have something that I could enjoy.

RaYz89
RaYz89
9 years ago

Quite a good review score from you Ben~ I've pre-ordered the Japanese language version with english subtitles – not going to miss a chance to try my first ever FF game in its original language, gonna take a while for it to arrive from Hong Kong though~

I do hope people wont start complaining about auto-battle again like FF13 because its optional – go to menu set the default action to "ability" instead of "auto battle" if people dont want to use it, I only use auto-battle for level grinding~

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
9 years ago

Since when did they put English subtitles in their games? Finding an original Japanese game with English subtitles is like finding hen's teeth…

ZenChichiri
ZenChichiri
9 years ago

They sometimes offer it with the Asian version, available to the Asian countries outside of Japan. It is rather rare though to have them translate it from Japanese with English subtitles though, but it does happen on occasion.

Pandacastro
Pandacastro
9 years ago

Whatever happen with the questions?

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

They've continued to ignore me after saying I could submit the questions. That's all I know.

bigrailer19
bigrailer19
9 years ago

I don't know if the questions were submitted, but maybe they can't, or would rather not answer them? I say that only knowing this community, and the types of questions that may have been asked! But then again maybe they were less candid questions.

BikerSaint
BikerSaint
9 years ago

Ha, SE probably fears the responses they'll get here for all their boneheaded backasswardness this gen.

BigBoss4ever
BigBoss4ever
9 years ago

I will say, take the good from Lost Odyssey (turn based battle system + beautiful dream script + deep music + ancient mystic world) + FF13/13-2's character, CGI and traditional chocobo and moogle and side quests and towns, this might be a winning formula for a true JRPG.


Last edited by BigBoss4ever on 1/31/2012 12:04:18 AM

Vivi_Gamer
Vivi_Gamer
9 years ago

I liked Lost Odyssey, But it was very very cheesy through out… Still it was a great RPG one I would have loved to have on the PS3.

Palpatations911
Palpatations911
9 years ago

When someone tells me it's a "JRPG" im basically being told "Of lesser quality".

I'll give it to them on Hardware, but Japan is falling off the map in terms of game development.

I'll buy another Final Fantasy when Blizzard, Bethesda, or SCEA Santa Monica get ahold of the rights to it.

bigrailer19
bigrailer19
9 years ago

I dont think giving Bethesda the rights (it would never happen anyways) would make FF what it has always been, which is what the fans want, mind you! I love Bethesdas games (Skyrim is simply amazing) but they create the polar opposite of what FF is, or rather was! FF is indeed getting "westernized" but that's not what the long time fans want!

Beamboom
Beamboom
9 years ago

You know, its an interesting thought experiment – if nothing else – to ask what would be the result if a western developer created a jrpg (as opposed to the other way around) – the western company provided the technical framework with a Japanese experienced creative director.

Would be darn cool to see the result of that!

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

it's one thing to argue about the state of jRPG's, but it's another to try to say Japanese dev's are falling off the map. Some of the best games this gen have come from Japan.

Beamboom
Beamboom
9 years ago

@Underdog: In fairness I believe he's talking about the jrpgs here, not all devs. They do know how to make fast paced action games.

… I think? Right off the bat I were unable to come up with any Japanese favourites this gen other than Katamari Forever of course. You think of that racing sim?

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

Among other things like Nier, Deus Ex, and Metal Gear Solid 4. There's also Skyward Sword, DMC, and more. There's lots more, too. I can add more to the list, if you like. These are just off the top of my head without research.


Last edited by Underdog15 on 1/31/2012 10:10:05 AM

ZenChichiri
ZenChichiri
9 years ago

Deus Ex and DMC are just published by a Japanese company though. I do however agree that some of my favourites are from Japan this gen, including Valkyria Chronicles, Catherine, Bayonetta, Vanquish, Resonance of Fate, and Dark/Demon's Souls.

Beamboom
Beamboom
9 years ago

Yes Deus Ex were French afaik. Great game too, except for those dead stupid boss fights. Fail of the decade.


Last edited by Beamboom on 2/1/2012 5:24:37 AM

ZenChichiri
ZenChichiri
9 years ago

It's too bad the story isn't there but I'll enjoy it for what it is. I can't turn my head away from an RPG with as high production value as this. There still is hope for Square yet, but we'll have to see what their next move is.

Beamboom
Beamboom
9 years ago

I think it looks like they are onto something here. It takes more than one title to turn a trend, but on behalf of jrpgs in general and FF in particular I'm cautiously optimistic now. I actually felt a sting of curiosity while reading the review.

But the "had it not had been FF it would have scored higher" reasoning I disagree with. On the contrary, my logic tells me it's the other way around. All experience shows that a well established, respected brands pulls review scores *up*, not down.

I believe we experienced the exact same with GTA 4: Had that game not been a GTA released after the iconic GTA3-family (3/vc/sa) it would have ended up with a lower meta rating. It would still be a high metascore (obviously), but 97%? gtfo. That was a "Brand Bonus" in effect.


Last edited by Beamboom on 1/31/2012 2:28:38 AM

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

Beamboom: Absolutely not. The rampant hate FF suffers from, and the fact that this franchise is NOTHING what it used to be, has absolutely infected review scores. All critics hold FF to a certain standard, which is why I promise you the scores would be significantly higher if this were a new IP.

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

Past FF's before 13 meta around 90-92%. FFXIII was 82 and this one is currently 78. For one reason or another, Beamboom, critics consider it 10 marks worse than the rest of the franchise.

Beamboom
Beamboom
9 years ago

Weird.
I gotta add that FF13 is one of very few games over the years who I personally found to have a heavily overrated metascore. I usually agree with the metas (that's how average I am… 😀 ) but FF13 being 80+ made no sense to me whatsoever.

Oh well, I'm not supposed to understand *everything*.

godsdream
godsdream
9 years ago

Disappointed because the game is good?? I really don't understand some things in present days…


Last edited by godsdream on 1/31/2012 3:01:56 AM

Excelsior1
Excelsior1
9 years ago

Ha! I must admit that's the first time I've heard somebody say they were dissapoited a game did not get a terrible review score.

Beamboom
Beamboom
9 years ago

I think I see a faint blip on my irony-radar here…

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

😮

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

This, right here. See, Beamboom? Most, including reviewers, WANTED this to fail.

Palpatations911
Palpatations911
9 years ago

Too bad you can't practice girl power and put a dress on to get new powers like in FFX-2. lol

Perhaps I overlooked the absurdity of JRPG' in the past, but that was definitely my cue to never buy another one of these types of games.

I must be the only one who thinks they're corny as hell on this site, but then again, I always thought japanese culture was pretty corny to begin with.

Beamboom
Beamboom
9 years ago

I don't buy this, it must be meant as a joke?
Why would anyone *want* something to fail? Well, other than COD that is, that hate is pretty undisguised but that's usually how the king of any hill is treated so that's different.

ffrevenge, enlighten us please: Was it a joke?


Last edited by Beamboom on 2/1/2012 5:19:44 AM

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

Final Fantasy was king of it's hill at one point in time. So I suppose it wouldn't be totally absurd to have some form of emotion follow it everywhere, Beam.

___________
___________
9 years ago

2 steps forward 5 steps back is what im getting from the reviews.
combats better then XIII but its still not a proper FF.
but then the story and characters are nowhere near as interesting or capturing.
i say 5 steps back because the story and characters are what FF is known for.
you go to FF exactly for that, not for combat.
just as you would a shooter for its combat, not its story.
in other words a FF with a poor story, is pointless!

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
9 years ago

OM, I am in 100% agreement with you. To me this review reads like a review of Cross Edge, which is a game with an interesting combat system but zero story. Granted this has better production values, but still, it's a combat system with little in the way of characters and story, and yet it pulls down a very good score? Whatever.

It seems that you play it to 'play' with the combat system, not to follow the story or complete it. How can you complete a game that has no conclusion?

ZenChichiri
ZenChichiri
9 years ago

Ask people that play MMOs, as they do it all the time.


Last edited by ZenChichiri on 1/31/2012 1:16:20 PM

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

@Zen
This is true. But for story lovers, most MMO's have various stories that can be started and completed.

FFXI, if you were good enough, had a couple of decent stories and conclusions.

godsdream
godsdream
9 years ago

Based in these review, I might get this game. The big difference is that with every FF since 7 I got all of them on day 1, and with this one I'm going to wait for it to drop at least to $30. I'm disappointed because the story is one of the main things about FF, and this one is still lacking.

Sorry SE but you still have much to improve to embrace again your old standards and make it up for all of us.


Last edited by godsdream on 1/31/2012 3:06:09 AM

Vivi_Gamer
Vivi_Gamer
9 years ago

Thanks for your review Ben, one thing that comforts me is that you said Noel and Serah were interesting characters. One of my biggest concerns was that Serah especially was just not lead material. I played the Demo and took an instant liking to Noel so that ontop of this reassuring.

The 2 human party does not bother me if they are characters I like, once I could choose my party I always kept Fang, Lighting and Hope in XIII-1. I am really looking forward to the monster system. To have a classic FF monster like a Tonberry, chocobo or Malboro (I so hope we get one!) in your party does make it up for me. It was one of the funnest gameplay elements in the demo for me. I look at games like FF6 which has a massive cast and feel it's just too much so I don't reckon it'll bother me.

I still don't like the Mog Clock, I preffered FFXIII's system with the eneimes on the map then transition, instead of enemies just poping up out of the blue nearby then transition. Just have then on the map or not, not this mess inbetween.

So did you find the open enviroments interesting overall? I played the demo and found myself having a quick nose around the Atlas quarantine site, but quickly moved on. I wasn't really interested int talking to everyone unlike in previous FF's.

The complaints on the story are worrying, what I loved ab out XIII was how the characters were but back into the foreground and we got story updates every 20 minutes. I hope the focus on gameplay doesn't escape to much from this, I hated the Temporal Rifts, which just seemed an excuse to slap a puzzle element into the game.

I have heard good things about the music else where, replaying XIII I realise how good the score actually is. I'm sure there will be a few gems in there I'll love.

I'll be sneaking into town before a lecture friday morning to get this along with my pre-order bonus stuff can't wait. After replaying XIII at the moment, I still feel it is one of the best gaming experiences this gen has offered I hope XIII-2 will deliver the same quality.

CrusaderForever
CrusaderForever
9 years ago

Interesting!! In XIII my party was Lightning, Fang and Hope as well. I liked hope because Lightning really took him under her wing to protect him. So I went with that and wow hope really transformed! This was a great review and I am really looking forward to playing XIII-2 after KoAR.

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

Hope was the best Ravager (statistically). Had the strongest magic stat. So he's not a bad choice for a party.

Vivi_Gamer
Vivi_Gamer
9 years ago

I agree, many seem to complain about Hope moaning all the time, but I thought he was a create character, the conflict in Palumpolum with Snow had me in tears. I also liked Lightinings mentor-ish care for him.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

Light, Fang and Hope was so obviously the best all-around party. 🙂

CrusaderForever
CrusaderForever
9 years ago

That's cool, I just chose my party based on the story. I had no idea they were different as far as Hope being the best Ravager.

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

I agree, Ben.

However, for some tougher fights, I used Vanille instead for her Death spell and because she had weapons that made saboteur much more effective. I guess that makes her a situational player, to use a sports reference. Hope is the regular starter, though. lol

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