Final Fantasy XIII-2: Reviews for the masses

Final Fantasy XIII-2 has been released and consequentially reviewed by the masses, let's see how they fare.
Unfortunately, with times like these it's hard for us to acquire games at the time (if you didn't notice a pattern in our latest news, what were you looking at!), our life, dedication continues to make the next best thing: Rely on the professionals to review the game. So! we got a mash up for you people out there, we will try and put every single reviewer here as an apology for the last news and the change of the blog design (let's just say the last one was riddled with problems).

There was once a time when "Final Fantasy" meant greatness, when seeing Square's brand on a game box meant you were about to play something special. That time has long since passed. In today's gaming landscape, Final Fantasy is more punchline than powerhouse, more quantity than quality. After the mediocre Final Fantasy XIII and the sheer disaster that was Final Fantasy XIV, many fans have lost faith in the RPG titan.

That isn't to say Final Fantasy XIII-2 is as epic an adventure as you may have expected. The story isn't long as far as Japanese role-playing games go—maybe 25 hours for a standard playthrough. There are reasons to linger or return if you're the completionist type, but the length is a consideration for series fans hoping for a Final Fantasy-sized adventure. If those 25 hours were jam-packed with challenging action and dramatic cutscenes, perhaps you wouldn't notice the story's brevity. Alas, a lengthy fetch quest makes the game drag considerably, as does a protracted platforming sequence that causes the pace to chug as you near the conclusion, right when you'd expect the tempo to take off. The cinematics and battles both burst with occasional thrills, but it's as if developer Square Enix decided that unnecessary padding was the proper solution to the problem of Final Fantasy XIII's overly linear progression.

Environments no longer follow a single path. With webs of rooms to explore and treasure chests hidden off the map, Final Fantasy XIII-2 encourages you to take your time and look around. You can access these environments, which dot the timeline, in more than one order. While a general flow from one place to another moves the plot along, the freedom to sidetrack greatly enhances the explorative flavor.
More impressively, you can unlock the ability to close time gates and start the area from scratch, correcting mistakes or just trying something new. This functions as a literal "reset button" mid-game. This sense of freedom, even if you choose to ignore it, helps Final Fantasy XIII-2 feel more like a traditional RPG where discovery dominates the experience.

The combat of FF XIII returns in a familiar yet improved form, resulting in my new favorite battle system in the Final Fantasy series. Fights require a satisfying mix of strategic management and direct control, forcing you to switch your tactics and adapt to changing conditions. Quickly shift to a defensive paradigm when a boss is about to use a powerful attack, or use a buffing/debuffing paradigm to prepare for a long battle. It's a little easier than the last one, but remains fun and fast-paced, without the minor annoyances that got in the way in FF XIII.

The hotchpotch world design - which feels as though a hundred artists went off into separate rooms to work on different places in isolation, before coming together to merge their work into a lumpy whole - is more forgivable here than it was in Final Fantasy 13. The inconsistent art is explained away by the game's structure. However, the world lacks a coherent sense of place, not least because there's no sense of geography; after all, you access different locations from a menu screen.

Official Xbox Magazine
It's easy to see how Square Enix took the feedback from FF XIII and used it to make a better product, but this follow-up still has some lingering issues. Every so often you'll encounter an obnoxious gimmick sequence, such as a giant time-jumping fetch quest, a series of out-of-place logic puzzles, or constantly regenerating and unavoidable Cie'th enemy hordes chasing you throughout a massive maze. Plus, the story falters at times, falling victim to leaps of logic and silliness, and dialogue exchanges often feel like characters are simply talking at each other rather than truly interacting. The trademark Square Enix CG is sparse, with most story sequences rendered in-engine. But perhaps most annoying are the technical issues: framerates drop precipitously when a lot is happening onscreen, and this sequel's few movie sequences frequently suffer from hideously artifacted compression.

The sort of sweeping changes seen in Final Fantasy XIII-2 aren’t the kind that will drag you in, blind and gleeful, regardless of your long-standing genre allegiances.
That’s because the sweeping changes seen in Final Fantasy XIII-2, while pushing the game away from the path taken by FFXIII, does take this second direct sequel of the franchise into what is still well-worn territory.

It's impossible to talk about the triumphs of Final Fantasy XIII-2 without touching on the failures of Final Fantasy XIII. Fortunately this is because in order to fully appreciate how good the second game is one really needs to have experience the first. Final Fantasy XIII was the shadow of an excellent game. Final Fantasy XIII-2 steps into the light, a much more tangible, spectacular, and fully-realized experience. Apology accepted.

Final Fantasy XIII left me of two minds. The satisfaction of managing its frenetic but elegant battle system stood on one side, in stark opposition to its maudlin, convoluted plot and overlong tutorial. To my surprise its sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2, manages the seemingly unlikely feat of furthering the rift between the two. While the combat and adventure structure show improvements that directly address its predecessor's critics, the story manages to spiral deeper into an unintelligible narrative abyss. The result leaves me torn once again.

Final Fantasy XIII was not a "4" for me, but I wouldn't have given it much more credit. The story was, at times, confusing and very hard to follow, the proper nouns it used made my ears hurt, and the summoned, transforming Eidolons were so silly that I was embarrassed for Square Enix and videogames in general. 

Playstation Lifestyle
A story that spends 20 hours causing headaches before turning its ship around, a soundtrack with a severe identity crisis, a jumping mechanic that can’t figure out how it wants to work, monster allies, maps that are no longer shoe strings, beautiful environments with opportunities to explore, an addicting level-up and customization system, time travel, and a heavy metal red Chocobo whose theme music will ask you “Are we in Hell?” This is Final Fantasy XIII-2.

So what's your opinion? Worth it or Trashed? Give us your opinion below, or on Facebook or twitter, all easy to access on the bar we installed below (give it a run!)

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