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6/03/2012

REVIEW: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)



It didn’t use to be that common for Final Fantasy games to have direct sequels. In the old times, each one had its own world, characters and even battle system, but since X-2 hit the PS2 back in 2003, Square-Enix has been developing second parts of the games in the franchise, to further expand the experience and the worlds they create for them. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is just that. A game telling the story of what happens immediately after Lightning’s adventure ends.

This time, the main protagonists of the game is Serah, Lightning’s younger sister which is seen several times in the first game and many of the story’s key points focus on her. The game starts exactly at the moment Final Fantasy XIII ends, when Lightning, Snow, Sazh and Hope finally get reunited with Serah and Sazh’s kid. Lightning disappears and the only person who seems to remember her standing on the Pulse field is Serah, while the others believe she became a crystal to hold Cocoon along with Vanille and Fang. Two years later while she’s living in a new city in Pulse named New Bodhum, Serah and Snow’s gang (NORA) get attacked by monsters coming from time paradoxes all over the world and a young warrior named Noel appears before her, saying Lightning sent him from a mysterious place called Valhalla and that she asked him to bring Serah to her. That’s how the adventure starts.

In a way, FFXIII-2 is similar to FFX-2 in which the story feels more personal rather than just saving the world because the characters are heroes and all that. And it also feels similar to X-2 for the non-linearity the game plays with. Final Fantasy XIII-2 revolves completely around time traveling. According to the game, the moment since Cocoon gets saved by Lightning’s gang is called “0 After Fall”, so each year is called 2AF, 100AF, 500AF and so on. It is actually impossible to go from one location to another in the same year since the players move around selecting a location and its year in a timeline called the “Historia Crux” where each sphere represents a location, both new and old and the year they’ll be visiting it in. Example: They can go to Oerba 200AF, Sunleth Waterscape 300AF or Yaschas Massif 010AF, among many others.

The Graphics in the game are incredible and very likely to be the best among the JRPGs in all three consoles. If the original Final Fantasy XIII looked great, XIII-2 is even better. The characters are perfectly created and animated, with hair physics, facial expressions and movements that look excellent and very realistic without affecting the iconic artistic style Final Fantasy is known for. The same can be said about the environments. The game is full of beautiful locations that will surely make everyone walk around endlessly just to take a closer look at things. As usual with the series, there’s a very nice mix of different types of environments, like for example grassy plains, beaches, snowy ruins, cyberpunk cities, stone towers and many others. 

There’s a great management of lightning and shadows in the game, which give the entire visuals an even better feeling. The vast majority of the objects in the game have shadows and their looks are affected depending on how much light is around them. The anti-aliasing, colors, frames-per-second and animations of the game in general are nearly perfect. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is definitely of the best-looking games out there,

In terms of sound, the game has a fantastic soundtrack to accompany players along the way during all the adventure. The songs are really varied and it’s common to find many different kinds for cinematics, exploration of dungeons or other locations, the battles themselves and bosses. The entire soundtrack is made by many talented Japanese composers and it’s worth four CDs (which come included with the Collector’s Edition of the game). But while the music in the game is very good, it doesn’t give the feeling of epicness the one in the original FFXIII had. In fact, a big part of the public claimed that the first game’s music had a style very much like the one Nobuo Uematsu used for the FFVII-X era. Now, XIII-2 does have a great soundtrack but it just doesn’t feel as epic and serious.

The sound effects are awesome and there are literally thousands of them in the entire game. Square-Enix has always been good in creating fantasy worlds not only for the visuals but for mixing soundtrack with the sounds nature, people and monsters would have in those worlds if they were real and the result in Final Fantasy XIII-2 is near-perfect. Many sounds are a little cartoony, like when a character hits an enemy or gets hit himself but that is the style the franchise has always had so it’s not really a negative aspect.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 also features a completely voiced world, with thousands of lines and hundreds of different characters to be heard, including of course all the NPCs in the crowded areas who most of the times say two or three things to Serah and Noel when they walk nearby. The characters that made appearances in FFXIII like Lightning, Snow, Serah and Hope have the same voice actors and the new ones like Caius, Yeul or Alyssa sound very good as well. The only character in the game who sounds a bit awkward is the shopkeeper Chocobocolina, an eccentric girl dressed like a Chocobo who is found in all locations and sells all kinds of stuff. Her voice is really annoying to some and really funny to others so it’ll be normal for most players to have a different opinion on her.

The gameplay is where the game most important things happen. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a JRPG very much like its prequel and most games of the genre. Outside battles, players have the Historia Crux full of locations to choose from and once they do, Serah and Noel will walk, run and jump around them (yes, it’s possible to jump now). Like in FFXIII before it, enemies can be seen in the field and once the characters touch them the battle starts. This time, the mobs will appear out of thin air (using the time paradox excuse) and players will have the opportunity to attack them for a preemptive strike, get attacked for a hindering battle or even run away from them if they don’t feel like fighting.

Most of the times, a very cute Moogle will fly around Noel and Serah and players will be able to use it to get far-away treasure chests, resolve time paradoxes and make rewards appear in some locations when the Moogle senses them. The locations aren’t linear now and it’s easier to get lost so people who complained about Final Fantasy XIII being too linear will find this game being the complete opposite. It’s possible to go anywhere at any time in the game, after unlocking the locations of course.

Another new thing to the series is parts of cinematics where the players will be given four choices to answer or ask a question and depending on their selection, different things will be said. But to be honest, these don’t affect the events of the game in any important way. There are also some brief but impressive looking quick-time-events that usually happened before or after an important boss fight where players will see the button they need to press for something to happen on screen. They can be failed but doing them successfully gives many kinds of rewards.

The battle system is very similar to the previous game with some tweaks and changes here and there. The first and most important change is the fact that Serah and Noel will always be in the game and the third party member will be a monster with a given role and play-style. The protagonists can capture monsters after defeating them in normal battles. There are about 150 different to choose from, each one with a “job” (Commando, Ravager, Medic, etc), behavior and abilities. They can be leveled up using many kinds of items found all over the place. Some of them will raise their strength, others their magic abilities and others will take care of their HP. In a way, FFXIII-2 is similar to Tales of Symphonia 2 where players used Emil and Marta during the entire game and the rest of the party was made of monsters captured by them.

After they capture monsters, the players can “equip” them in groups of three in a “Paradigm Pack” and then create their own Paradigms (combinations of jobs) to change them in the middle of battles according to their needs. That way they’ll be able to call a Commando monster if they need to deal damage or a Medic one if they need to heal. Just like in the original game, Serah and Noel themselves will be able to unlock and level-up all the jobs as well.

But the game is not only made of running around and fighting enemies. Fortunately, the entire adventure is filled with minigames and sidequests to enjoy and complete, both optional and forced to the storyline. For example, there’s a place in the game called Serendipity, which is inspired by the Gold Saucer from Final Fantasy VII and it’s full of minigames to play like Chocobo races, poker and other exclusive card games that remind fans of Tetra Master. Also, all locations have a lot of NPCs who give quests to Noel and Serah. These go from finding a missing person or item to killing a specific enemy somewhere. If they’re done correctly, the protagonists will get “Fragments” as rewards. These are the items needed to unlock new locations and get the achievements and trophies; depending on the console the game is being played. There are 160 Fragments to get and about 150 monsters to catch before the game is 100% completed.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 also takes advantage of the DLC most famous and big games have been using this generation. Players can buy exclusive bosses to be fought in a Coliseum with a chance of capturing them. These monsters go from iconic Final Fantasy enemies like Ultros, Gilgamesh and Typhoon to even Lightning herself. There are also outfits to get for Serah and Noel like a summoner’s tunic or a bikini and even costumes with tributes to other games like Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed.

The biggest and most important DLC for the game are the “campaigns”. There are currently three of them available for about five dollars each, one for Lightning, one of Sazh and another for Snow. Each of them plays differently, with battles, exploration and even gambling in Sazh’s case. And of course, they add a lot to the story and fill many plot holes left in the main adventure seen from Serah’s point of view.

In short, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a beautiful and awesome game and definitely of the best in the catalog of both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It excels at everything, graphics, art style, gameplay, music, voice acting, storyline, etc. It is really recommended to play Final Fantasy XIII beforehand because the entire adventure in the sequel revolves around the events of the first game and if a player doesn’t know them, he/she will feel completely lost and without a clue of what’s happening or what to do. But the game as a whole is a great pack and another proof that Square-Enix is probably the best developer company making JRPGs. 


Pros:
- Excellent graphics, environments and art.
- Tons of monsters to capture and use in-battle.
- Adds and complements a lot of things to the FFXIII world.
- Great soundtrack, sound effects and voice acting.
- Excellent battle system.
- Huge bosses to kill.
- Tons of unlockables, sidequests, minigames and DLC to enjoy.

Cons:
- The story can be really confusing to people who didn’t play FFXIII.
- Chocobocolina is everywhere and she’s the only store in the game.
- Snow and the rest of FFXIII cast barely appear.
- The main story is a little short.


- Graphics and Visuals………...10
- Music and Sound Effects….....9
- Gameplay…………………...10
- Replay Value………………...9

- Overall Score……………….. 9.5 / 10

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