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Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review

For fans of interactive adventures, the concept is ubiquitous: a stalwart band of protagonists unites to save the world from an imminent extinction. Beyond serving as Final Fantasy XIII-2’s broad impetus, this familiar fable also serves as the game’s meta-narrative. Following critics’ conjecture of the demise of the JRPG, and the wave of condemnations leveled at XIII’s largely linear trek, many will be carefully scrutinizing Square-Enix and tri-Ace’s collaboration as a harbinger of the genre’s healthiness. Yet, with an extensive catalog of player concessions, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is strong enough to temporary safeguard the resiliency of the world’s most popular role-playing franchise. Fortunately, the title achieves more than just state of the industry commentary; its thirty-five hour expedition will delight role-playing enthusiasts of all experience levels.

Set three years after the events of its predecessor, XIII-2 begins as returning resolute heroine Lightning functioning as a sentry at a shrine to the goddess, Etro. Her safeguarding abilities are soon tested by Caius, who summons a band of beasts, damaging sections of Valhalla in the process. As the adversaries clash, support comes in the form of an enigmatic time traveller named Noel Kreiss- who plummets into the battle from the sky above. Instead of asking for direct assistance in the confrontation, Lightning tasks Kreiss to help find her sister, Serah. While XIII-2 maintains the franchise’s nebulous banter and oft-baffling motivations (compounded here by discussions of the ‘space-time continuum’ and time traveling paradoxes), the title does break a few tenets.

Forsaking the traditional well-populated adventuring party, XIII-2 focuses on the duo of Noel and Sereh along with the tag-along domesticated monster. Reducing the quantity of playable characters was an inspired choice, allowing the title to concentrate on each hero’s motivation and cultivate a satisfying relationship between the two leads. This rapport is further advanced by the game’s Live Trigger system, which provides branching dialog options at key intersections. Although these conversational choices don’t radically affect the trajectory of the game, they help to break up the monotony of pre-canned discourse.

Time travel in gaming can often be contentious mechanic; for every Chrono Trigger or Radiant Historia there’s a half-dozen games which use the concept as a crutch to offset tedium. By permitting players to leap back and forth through the title’s timeline, not only does XIII-2 sidestep the claustrophobic confinements of its predecessor, but the game uses this device to add poignancy to the plotline. Witnessing courage ushered into regions where hopelessness persisted or prohibiting the growth of a previously insurmountable evil is a story stratagem ripe with wonder. Luckily, XIII-2 rarely misses an opportunity to deliver a sense of earnest fulfillment. Choice is also furthered by the game’s maps, which give players access to nooks concealing treasures, shop keeps, chocobo racing, gambling, and numerous side missions. Completionists will appreciate the feedback with exhibits the explored percentage of every location and that the completion of the game doesn’t terminate the questing.

Even XIII’s staunchest critics would have to admit that the game’s battle system was proficient at conveying conflict- with the sequel several shrewd changes have been made. Amassing monsters seizes much of the allure which has driven the Pokémon franchise to unremitting success. Here, the collection is augmented by the enticement of gathering materials, modifying, and strengthening your beastly battalion. Combat has been thoughtfully quickened; paradigm shift are no longer accompanied by a protracted animation sequence while enemies no longer exhibit the extended telegraphing before unleashing a devastating attack, keeping players on their toes. Occasionally, fights are punctuated by the sporadic QTE, intended to keep the player engaged. With shrewder AI combat on the default setting isn’t as difficult as XIII’s skirmishes, saving for a leap in difficulty during the game’s final dungeon.

Visually, Final Fantasy XIII-2’s pixel-perfect cinematics dazzle with implausible perfection, flaunting every blemish-free pore and strand of perpetually breeze-swept hair. Once the game switches to its in-game engine, disappoint is inevitable. Like most franchise entries, framerate flutters emerge as the game’s summons growing increasingly preposterous. Although a bit of asset recycling was expected, the title keeps things fresh with elemental effects. Sonically, the game’s musical palette is refreshingly diverse, offering everything from subdued orchestral washes to energizing battle hymns. The soundtrack’s only stumbling point occurs when the game tries to articulate dread through awkward synth/metal fusions.  The title’s English-only voice-over is competent when the main heroes converse, but lesser NPC’s occasional reveal amateurishness.

Despite all these enhancements, XIII-2 isn’t without a handful of unmistakable shortcomings. Gamers expecting a rationalization of the game’s time travel device will be disappointed to know that no narrative support is provided. Even more discouraging in the game’s finale- most plot strands don’t offer a sense of closure, rendering the game as little more than a set-up for an obligatory sequel. At least it’s an enjoyable journey while it lasts.

While fixing many of XIII’s well-publicized flaws, Final Fantasy XIII-2 inevitably spawns a few new faults. Mercifully, none of these missteps prohibit the title from being a consistently enjoyable title throughout its thirty-five hour core playtime nor its additional twenty hours of supplemental side quests. As one of the highest profile JRPGs, XIII-2 demonstrations that the genre still retains relevance, and more importantly- that a developer who genuinely heeds criticism shall persevere through this often turbulent era.


A copy of Final Fantasy XIII-2 for the PS3 was provided by the publisher for review.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert ‘DesertEagle’ Allen is Tech-Gaming’s resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

57 comments

  1. FIRST!

    hot shit, a review before release? Where you you get your chocobo-meth from Deagle?

  2. Pretty epic review. You actually expect me to read all of this?

    (Just kidding. Read it all. Excellent write-up)

  3. Suprise, surprise!

    Deagle like a JRPG and even trys to defend the games!

    I’m kidding. I want to play this. The FF games are the one JRPG that I never miss.

  4. Do I need to finish XIII for this to make sense?

    • If you’re looking for ANY FF game to make sense, this isn’t the series you should be playing. Maybe Gears of War.

    • Serah was barely in the first game. Read a FAQ to catch up and you’ll be fine.

    • I tried the demo for XIII-2 and I had zero idea what was going on, who they were talking about, where they were, and so-forth.

      • Did you play XIII or just play XIII-2?

        I played through most of XIII and picked up what was going on pretty easy. Could be because I read some previews, though.

        • I’ve only played the demo for XIII-2 (and maybe the demo for XIII, if it even had a demo. Can’t remember). What little I know about the XIII series is from IGN’s review preview text and a piece or two from Dissidia Duodecim.

          *BlueSwim kicks his own rear end for passing on XIII when it was $10 at GameStop*

          • $5 at Best Buy this week. No excuses, Blue!

          • I saw your post early this afternoon, but it was gone from Best Buy’s site. 🙁

            I appreciate you telling me, though! ^_^

          • Yep, you had to move fast on that one.

            Thanks for the review, Deagle. Glad to see you’re still enjoying JRPGs. One question: how much of the score XIII-2 is getting is based on improvements rather than the experience of the game? I ask because every review is giving it a B/80/8 out of 10 but griping about the game.

  5. “rendering the game as little more than a set-up for an obligatory sequel”

    The Empire Strikes Back says “hi!”

  6. I can’t remember the last JRPG where I didn’t have to hold my nose because of some stupid character, mechanic, etc.

    Probably the PS1 days. People are right, the JRPG is going to join the shooter soon.

  7. the best part of XIII was Lightning. I just want to make sure she is playable in this one.

  8. Is before Jim Sterling gives the game a 2/10 and all the attention gets focused on trolling and defending.

  9. Deagle, I read Jeremy Parish’s review and yours. Both well written. Where he says the game doesn’t come together (but doesn’t really say why) you told me exactly what’s wrong (and more importantly right) with the game.

    They should hire you at 1Up.com

  10. Honestly, I’ll probably be skipping this XIII’s characters and zany plot aren’t my thing.

    But thanks for the review.

  11. Glad to hear Squenix delivered with this one. Picking my copy up on Tuesday. Huzzah!

  12. Not planning on buying this at launch, but I know Deagle is credible on his JRPG knowledge.

  13. I’m downloading the demo right now. Only thing I liked about XIII was the battles. I hope the characters in this one grab my attention.

  14. Thanks. You confirmed my thoughts that I really want this game. Good review.

  15. 3/5 from Joystiq. I guess all their talent really did leave.

  16. I wouldn’t consider Bitmob a good source on the death of JRPGs, they’re just a fancy forum where anyone can post their opinion. As for Kotaku, they’ll post that the industry itself is dying, if it get a page view.

    • Writing about the death of anything is just trollin’ unless a studio has been shuttered or there’s a body.

  17. DQ hasn’t sold more copies than FF?

  18. Everyone pisses all over XIII now, but the truth is the game was pretty good a had the best battle system in any next-gen JRPG.

  19. TRUTH: The first 3D AutoCAD model I ever made was of a Cactaur wearing SCUBA gear.

  20. Good review. Keep posting them before release and I’ll keep visiting.

  21. I feel a little better about my preorder now.

  22. Can you specify what reviews are sent by email by platform?

  23. So 55+ hours if you look for everything? At a little over $1 an hour, I’ll be getting this.

    Funny you say you liked the time-traveling. Other sites said it wasn’t that fun or rewarding.

  24. I’ll be skipping this one. I don’t mind some RPG’s but FF’s stories don’t make sense and their characters are way out here.

  25. Got a callfrom GS saying it would’ve in Tuesday before noon. I show up at 2:30 an guess what? They lied! They wouldn’t even help pay for gas.

  26. DEAGLE, i’m curious what you thought about the gamasutra FFXIII-2 rant. Give us your take.

    • I saw that too. I didn’t quite know what Nutt was complaining about.

    • There’s no doubt that Nutt’s a great writer, but I think he missed his mark with this editorial.

      While the last three Star Wars films had numerous shortcomings, as sci-fi films there are no worse than average. The Phantom Menace imagined Jedi as intergalactic samurai, preserving justice with fling of the saber. While Attack of the Clones is harder to justify beyond seeing Yoda as a sinewy fighter, I’ll risk any geek cred by saying that I was touched by Anakin’s transformation into Vader in the last film. Yet, the problem with these movies isn’t so much the corny dialog (which is nearly ubiquitous in the sci-fi genre) or Lucas’ frequent reliance on a saber duel to perk up the momentum, it’s that these three films are unavoidably compared to the first three Star Wars films.

      Herein lies the problem with Nutt’s critique. The original films were hardly visionary. Much has been written about Lucas’ drawing inspiration from both Kurosawa’s 1958 film the Hidden Fortress as well as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero of a Thousand Faces. Repackaging familiar tropes in a space setting could hardly be called ‘visionary’. At much as they connected with audiences, the original films relied on the familiar good guy/bad guy clichés which we’ve been obsessed with since the Iliad. The prequel films, flaws included, at least tried to transcend these formulas by showing arc and shades of gray instead of the usual oppositional characters.

      In much the same way, Final Fantasy XIII-‘s 2 time traveling mechanics allow a similar amount of post-modernist expression. Abandoning the claustrophobic linear progression of the prequel, the game endows players with to be smaller stories in a way that other mediums would have trouble conveying. While that may not be a faultless example of vision, it is a technique that capitalizes on gaming’s potential. Now, can we all stop using the first three Star Wars films as metaphor for a missed opportunity? That’s becoming a particularly tiresome platitude.

      • I think when you criticize “vision” you sure as shit better define the term with games that do show it.

      • All good points, but you’re defending the prequels more than FFXIII-2. I guess that’s the problem with both articles, they spend more time talking about Star Wars than the game they are actually focusing on.

        Oh you game writers!

  27. Both prequels and FF look gorgeous, have awful dialog, have sound, characters you don’t give a shit about and are ultimately disposable.

    Nutt 1, Deagle O.

    • 95% of games, music, movies lack “vision”. Why is FF worthy of picking on?

      • It’s one of the worst offenders. I think both Des and Christian Nutt just missed an important point- the notion of creating something for fan service.

        FF games are the extreme case. They are designed to appeal to a very specific JRPG demographic. The prequels were panned because of a lack of it. Lucas had this great mythology, but didn’t really deliver what people wanted and expected. Too approaches and two wrong ways of accomplishing entertainment.

  28. Deagle and Christian both brought up good points. After playing XIII-2 for about eight hours, I can say it is not “visionary”, but at the same time the games time-traveling allows you to muck with the FF storyline. That’s unprecedented.

    Funniest thing is that Des is sticking his neck out for the prequels, but can’t even get behind the second movie.

  29. Bought it even though I said I wasn’t going to.

    I really like it. The time travel thing really helps the game out. It doesn’t feel like XIII at all. Still, I can’t figure out whats going on with the story. Anyone else having this problem?

  30. Now that’s what I call a review. I agree with Desert Eagle – Final Fantasy XIII-2’s is definitely a B+ or maybe a B.
    http://www.gamercube.com

  31. Fantastic article, you got LIKE from Lithuania!