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Review: Final Fantasy XIII-2 - Page 2

GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

Historia Crux
This is the closest thing to an overworld in XIII-2
Of course, the biggest improvement upon XIII is the more open game world. Though there still isn't a classic overworld, there is a time map called the "Historia Crux" that allows you to jump between various time periods, locations, and alternate timelines, practically at will. Each location is relatively small, but most of them are repeated throughout different ages, allowing you to witness all the changes that time can bring to them. There are also, thankfully, a handful of towns, but you still don't have inns or specialty shops, as all the shopping is now done through an enigmatic traveling half-chocobo woman who somehow manages to be everywhere you go. Also, once you have unlocked a new "gate," you can go back and forth while preserving where you were and what you were doing in each (kind of like several different saved games, although changes to your party and experience will travel with you always). This gives you an astonishing amount of freedom, and allows for a handful of fun puzzles that require you to leap across time, though they're never quite as clever as Ocarina of Time or Chrono Trigger.

Indeed, if it weren't for the crystarium, I'd argue that this is the single greatest gameplay set-up of any core Final Fantasy title. Fans of the old-school, turn-based system will of course disagree, and fans of the micromanaging gambit system from XII are right to be skeptical, but the paradigm system is the most exciting and ultimately rewarding combat system Final Fantasy has ever offered. It is absolutely perfected here, and I have a hard time believing that I could ever go back to the old ways of picking and choosing every single action for every character as battles drag on. Add to that the more open and free Historia Crux in place of an overworld map, and you have a game that is easy to tackle in whatever order you choose.

There are also a handful of quicktime event cutscenes and dialogue trees, but these seem tacked on to keep pace with modern gaming conventions. The quicktime events are all very easy--though I must admit it can be cool to fail them deliberately and see what happens--and the dialogue trees don't offer you different choices the way they would in other games, as there is always one right answer and three wrong ones. I give the designers credit for exploring how these gimmicks can be put into the Final Fantasy formula, but they don't add much to the final product.

[Gameplay: 9.5 - Gone is the linearity of its predecessor, and the awesome paradigm system is improved in every way, but leveling up is still unforgivably lacking in depth.]



PRESENTATION AND SOLO GAME SCORE

Cocoon
The scenery is still epic
There is one way in which XIII is still superior to XIII-2, and that is in its presentation. XIII-2 still has better production values than most other games, but it falls short of the franchise's high standards. The cutscenes are still beautiful, but the game is mired by frame-rate issues and texture pop-ins that have never been a problem for Final Fantasy games of the past. There are also too many arbitrary invisible walls and glitchy character models. Final Fantasy games are supposed to be utterly spotless, but XIII-2 feels a little on the rushed side.

The music, on the other hand, is up to the task. The soundtrack is suprisingly diverse, going from folkish town music one minute to a hard death metal chocobo theme when you jump on the back of a certain type of wild chocobo. This playfulness works to give the game a great deal of variety, but it doesn't sacrifice the softer melodies and familiar flourishes that define Final Fantasy. There is no one theme that is truly as memorable as some of Final Fantasy's greatest hits, but there also aren't any uncomfortable clunkers that you dread hearing. (One thing I do dread hearing, however, is Mog the Moogle putting "kupo" at the end of every sentence. It's almost as grating on the nerves as Navi from Ocarina of Time, kupo.)

As for the solo game score, I will repeat what I said in my review of XIII; you shouldn't even have to ask. Of course this game is a perfect solo game experience. You can pop online to get some DLC (which I am told elaborate on what our heroes from XIII are doing throughout XIII-2), but there are no online leaderboards or ridiculous multiplayer distractions to worry about.

[Presentation: 9.5 - Though superior to most games on the market, Final Fantasy XIII-2 doesn't quite hold to the franchise's immaculate record.]
[Solo Game Score: 10.0 - Duh.]



CONCLUSIONS

Mog throwing
Stop saying Kupo!
It's a shame that more Final Fantasy fans are never going to play Final Fantasy XIII-2, because it is a superior game that deserves a place among Final Fantasy's best. Those who decried XIII for being too linear, too self-important, too encyclopedic, and having poor antagonists should rejoice that XIII-2 suffers from none of those problems. Unfortunately, it seems they gave up on XIII-2 before it was even released, and their refusal to even give it a fair hearing is disappointing, though probably not surprising.

I like the returning characters and universe from XIII, but I think it would have been far wiser for Square Enix to abandon them in favor of a new game. Had they taken all the ideas on display in XIII-2 and put them into a brand new endeavor, it would easily have gotten more traction and more attention. As it is, though, they have stubbornly doomed themselves with lackluster sales--at least here in North America, where XIII hate is strongest--and seem intent on doing it again, as evidenced by the announcement of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII-3.

Still, if XIII-3 manages to improve upon XIII-2 the way XIII-2 improves upon XIII, you can consider me an enthusiastic fanboy who can't wait. I will continue to argue that XIII isn't as bad as its reputation suggests, but it certainly has its drawbacks. XIII-2, on the other hand, is an incredible game, far better than its predecessor in almost every way and proof positive that Square Enix still has some tricks up its sleeve.





FINAL TALLY
STORY: 9.5
GAMEPLAY: 9.5
PRESENTATION: 9.5
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10

TOTAL SCORE: 9.6

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is simply the best Final Fantasy game of the post-Sakaguchi era.



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-e. magill 11/27/2012



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