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Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PlayStation 3) review


"Why didn’t Square just make Lightning a pop singer and call it a day?"



The second attempt to append the ‘-2’ to a Final Fantasy title launches in a fashion even more ridiculous than what fans may remember of Square’s first stab at the idea. Instead of Final Fantasy X-2’s summoner turned pop star, however, Final Fantasy XIII-2 sings to a more serious opening tune. A spectacular sequence of CGI and admirably done interactive action scenes – tightly woven around composer Masashi Hamauzu’s yearning violin and orchestra – reacquaints players with Lightning, the heroine of their previous adventure. But she’s a different Lightning, a woman now adorned with plate armor, a shield, and a cloak of feathers draping at her side – a divine soldier of sorts. It would seem her ending was not the happy one everyone had witnessed before the credits rolled. Instead she faces a new foe, a purple haired man (to rival her pink) who expresses a grim wish for destruction, clashing swords on the outskirts of the universe.

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Cinematic action sequences offer intense and potentially branching outcomes in a handful of the game's more epic encounters.


Awakened by visions of this supernatural confrontation, Serah -- Lightning’s younger sister and Snow’s fiancé, should players recall -- finds her quiet coastal village suddenly under siege by monsters from another time period. A new friend appears amongst the confusion, a young man by the name of Noel Kreiss. He carries a warning from an apocalyptic future that he himself is all too familiar with, and a plea for help from Lightning in trying to save it. As they speak, the timeline of the world is turning onto itself, creating paradoxes (contradictions) in various time periods. A series of time gates also appear, devices Serah and Noel must use to steer the world away from destruction.

The two characters have surprisingly approachable personalities, are well voiced, and keep the player on track with a story full of silly pseudoscience terminology. Sometimes the game feels like it’s dumbing down its own plot a bit too heavily in this regard, spelling out and repeating concepts several times over (an excellent drinking game). Most of the cutscenes then, do end up being elementary back and forth conversations between Serah and Noel, lacking much action until the ending segments. It still proceeds at an interesting pace, taking a well mannered approach by allowing players to select occasional dialogue choices to pursue information that puzzles them.

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An older Hope proves to be a central cameo in XIII-2, and he earns the role.


The sappy nature of Final Fantasy is all still there, of course, the best and the worst of it. Serah is quite sincere in a warm way, and Noel’s cheesy, Tom Cruise like aura can easily bring out the occasional smirk. But unfortunately, eyes will surely roll to the ceiling whenever Lightning speaks, often having to chime in with a solemn monologue at the end of each scene, narrating from the beyond in some awful kind of poetry. It’s an overdone pep talk of not giving up hope, leaving the past behind, and moving forward that the game won’t stop repeating; even in the vocals of some poppy music tracks for certain environments.

Fielding the message much more gracefully is the universe itself, with XIII-2 reserving a respectable piece of its predecessor’s beautiful presentation. The game begins in the beachside town of New Bodhum, a place that warmly conveys the efforts of mankind to recreate the lives and memories they had within Cocoon, all while adapting to hardships of the real world. The image of Cocoon held up by Vanille and Fang’s crystal pillar in the night sky makes an excellent visual backdrop here, a reminder of the past, and a valuable lesson to the future. What follows is one of Square’s most open-ended entries to the Final Fantasy franchise, a game lovingly built to give players unprecedented access to a world they had only scraped the surface of before.

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Few areas live up to the visual bar raised by XIII, but the astonishing city of Academia stands above all the rest.


Serah and Noel will quickly leave the New Bodhum of the year 3 AF, and revisit locales of the game’s predecessor, many of them fully re-imagined and changed by the flow of time. The experiences therein are both nostalgic and wholesome, a memoir and playground for those returning. Players will swing vine to vine through the Sunleth Waterscape, return to the Archelyte Steppe when it was first inhabited by nomadic hunters, and revisit areas that still carry the emotional weight from the events of XIII – with frequent nods to its original soundtrack. And there are new areas to see as well, some dark and apocalyptic, others teeming with life and civilization. In one such optimistic timeline is the existence Academia, a sprawling futuristic city that has to be Final Fantasy XIII-2’s crowning artistic achievement for its expansiveness and absurd attention to detail.

Clumsily exiting each time gate, Serah and Noel casually wipe the dirt off their knees before setting out to solve the paradox of each area – finding what doesn’t belong. But sometimes there are missing items that should belong, and thus the premise for XIII-2’s grand easter egg hunt is set. Serah’s magical sidekick, Mog, is the key to finding these items of interest; devices or treasure phased out of the current timeline. They are recognizable by their skirting level of transparent camouflage, lining the nooks and crannies of all environments. It’s a shameless addiction, where coming across hidden treasure often by accident is always a welcome surprise, and motivation to keep the eyes squinted. Mog will light up with a pinkish glow if he senses anything nearby, and he’ll also leap into Serah’s arms as a nifty bow-sword when enemies suddenly appear. Random encounters are back.

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Noel gives Mog a good toss to some hard to reach treasure. Hearing the little guy cry never gets old.


Yes, back and exceptionally executed, offering a simple solution to the frustrating instant battle screens that have sometimes haunted RPGs of the past. Enemies are instead seen before being engaged, surrounding Serah and Noel but giving them ample time to weigh options. A timer appears, and this prompts an opportunity to enter the battle screen with a pre-emptive strike, and also one to simply keep running until the aggressors are left behind. The first strike opportunity proves invaluable, as achieving the 5 star battle performance rating actually has meaning in XIII-2, yielding higher drop rates for both normal and rare loot to players who perform well in combat. And now that players can both see and run away from most enemies, it makes seeking and capturing ones not already owned a painless affair.

Monster hunting is one of the biggest new pulls to the XIII universe, and XIII-2’s most rewarding aspect. Practically anything encountered in the game -- from tiny gooey flan creatures, to a menacing behemoth, to a giant cactuar creature – is useable as a 3rd wheel to Serah and Noel’s battle party. Obtaining one is as simple as defeating it and hoping it goes into inventory, but finding personal favorites and rarities is where the fun lies; each monster specializing under a certain role players of XIII will be most familiar with. A creature’s primary use may also be as fodder for infusion, essentially letting one monster consume another for its abilities – a powerful tool for those who delve more deeply. Lastly, each creature also has its own unique feral link ability, a powerful skill that can turn the tide of tight battles, reminiscent of the character overdrives of Final Fantasy X

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A shallow but harmless throwback to Final Fantasy VII, captured chocbos can be raced for useful prizes


And so the combat is of the same handsome design of its predecessor’s, and with monsters simply being a stand-in for a 3rd human member, it's easy to get right back on track with it. The combat is again structured around building the gauge bars above enemies until they Stagger, creating an exciting opportunity to deal maximum damage. With reactionary precision, players are to change their party between offensive paradigms to build the gauges, while mitigating damage from real-time attacks by switching to a more defensive approach. Keeping the offense alive and the party healthy is a potentially intense affair players of Final Fantasy XIII need not be reminded of, nor of its visual splendor. XIII-2 also manages to fix the slumping endurance encounters of the past with quicker battles and a faster introduction to the fully working system. But it also introduces new problems, carrying itself through a painfully easy plot line.

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The new paradigm tuning allows players to slightly manipulate the A.I. more to their liking.


This arises from the fact that Final Fantasy XIII-2 is extremely fragile with its open approach to progression. The Crystarium does indeed return as a model to pour experience points into, and perhaps its new interpretation will initially feel more rewarding than XIII’s. But It is all too abusable this time around, and while farming a powerful party panders to the enjoyment of certain RPG gamers, it shouldn’t be so simple to achieve by complete accident.

Exorbitant amounts of experience points simply roll in, especially if a player -- even for a moment -- gives into the temptation of additional monster hunting and sidequests. The Crsyatirum then offers paths for characters to take at each level – a choice to open up a tree for another role (i.e. Sentinel), to add another attack to the time gauge, or to expand accessory capacity – but experienced RPG players will logically step back and see right through the charade. Expanding to more roles early on is flatly unintelligent given that monsters collected can fill the gaps for a missing Saboteur, Synergist, etc… Focusing on 1-2 roles before harnessing all 6 will instead lead to a powerful group early on, and why pursue the increased accessory capacity when the crucial ones don’t appear until the game’s final portions?

Still, taking an alternate time gate at several points of the game can – unbeknownst to the player – lead to a path where enemies suddenly begin scrubbing health bars clean. But the challenge spikes are much less apparent compared to the sudden prolonged lulls in difficulty for much of the game’s core 25 hours. If approached with the logical mentality as described above – especially if having found a monster who’s Crystarium peaks early to powerful levels – the game presents an inclination to sit on offensive paradigms with Ravagers and Commandos for much of its entirety. This is where XIII had an emotionally charged narrative to accompany its drier battle segments, a distraction XIII-2 pursues with unimpressive results.

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The saving grace of many of the game's easier battles is their brevity, as compared to the more drawn out affairs of Final Fantasy XIII.


Bosses in between the confrontations with the game’s purple haired antagonist, Caius, pose no relevance to the characters by comparison. A giant paradoxical colossus lashes out of thin air; half of its body trapped in another dimension. The paradox of another time period somehow lies in the jaws of a dragon. These enemies are often of impressive scale, but they have no words to say, no questions to raise, and the music accompanying them is equally less than sincere. Whether met with a powerful Crystarium and steamrolled over, or met with a weaker party and challenged considerably – players will find these central encounters quite forgettable.

Caius alone leads XIII-2 to an ending with a string of impressive scenes, demanding fights, and powerful lines of dialogue – but somewhere along the way the game completely forgot to develop his character, or did it so dimly it was difficult to appreciate. His motivations seem tied to Yuehl, a soft spoken doll-like girl that no really ever gets to know. And while most will point to XIII-2’s cliffhanger ending as reason for this ultimately disappointing campaign -- raising more questions than it answers -- it’s the fact the game ends based upon such a ridiculous guise of motives that no one can possibly relate to it. There is no message this time around, nothing to walk away with.

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Caius and Yuehl are of paramount significance to the events in XIII-2, but lend no emotional punch.


The ending to Final Fantasy XIII contained a contradiction; it broke the rules. But it rang true to the game’s overarching theme of the infinite strength of the human spirit, with characters that declared they would contradict all the rules -- a touching note to end on. Final Fantasy XIII-2 then desperately jumps through fanatical loops in trying to dismantle the respectable conclusion of another game, and to a point of near hilarity. Savvy followers may even have questions of smaller magnitude, such as why everyone is suddenly capable of using magic. Well they just can, says the game’s datalog. Why didn’t Square just make Lightning a pop singer and call it a day?

But it’s naïve to say it all ends there, and unfair to claim that Final Fantasy XIII-2 isn’t for the fans. It’s not even half complete when the credits roll, and a plethora of content still waits untapped. It’s a monster collector’s favorite hunting spot, a trailblazer’s backpack of spoils, and a completionist’s paradise. Cameos and salutes to older games abound, challenges to truly test those thirsty for battle await, and powerful skills and items lie in hiding – this is a gamer’s game, and it’s damn well appreciated.

Rating: 8/10

holdthephone's avatar
Community review by holdthephone (February 08, 2012)

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Feedback

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zippdementia posted February 09, 2012:

Wow. Someone has something nice to say about FFXIII-2. Which, by the by, is the clunkiest title I've ever heard for a game.
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zippdementia posted February 09, 2012:

You know, it sounds like this game has a pretty great concept that seems wasted on a poor original game. I try to think about time traveling in some of the better Final Fantasies, such as IV or VI, or (perhaps controversely) VII. How could would it have been to witness the chaining of Zeromous, Kefka before his fall, the fall of the Cetza?

Your review is well written and your choice of images was well made. I still can't get behind a sequel to a game I felt absolutely no emotion for and it sounds like you needed to have felt something, or liked the original, to like this one. Which is too bad because sometimes, in video games, the sequel can save the game that came before it (Devil May Cry 3 springs to mind).
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Roto13 posted February 09, 2012:

Wow. Someone has something nice to say about FFXIII-2. Which, by the by, is the clunkiest title I've ever heard for a game.

You clearly haven't heard of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, or Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, or Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (pronounced Dissidia Duodecim Final Fantasy), or Final Fantasy Theatrhythm, or basically anything else from the Square half of Square-Enix lately.
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holdthephone posted February 09, 2012:

@zipp

Good points, and I'm glad my review was able to get that across. People who were fond of XIII will certainly get the most enjoyment out of the sequel, and the new design is by no means a signal that others should suddenly hop back on board.
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Gildartz posted February 09, 2012:

Is Tom Chick fired?

He gave a 4/10... what an idiot..
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SleazyBastard posted February 09, 2012:

He has his own gig at Quarters To Three. Very unfortunate really, since he seems to always get review copies, and review them immediately, in contrast to lazy bastards here who have to wait for the 'right, conducive mindset' before going into 'reviewing mode' .
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Suskie posted February 09, 2012:

I'll be giving it a lower score than Tom Chick did.

Good review, Holdthephone. As much as I disagree with it :)
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holdthephone posted February 09, 2012:

Haha, one can ever expect to reach a middle ground when it comes to Final Fantasy =]

Looking forward to it!
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espiga posted February 09, 2012:

Wow. Someone has something nice to say about FFXIII-2. Which, by the by, is the clunkiest title I've ever heard for a game.

You've clearly never heard of Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 10, 2012:

Is Tom Chick fired?

He was never full time staff, he was a freelancer. Also, idiot? Really? Because he gave it a score you don't agree with?
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zippdementia posted February 10, 2012:

No need for concern, Joe. You've just met RunningFree, our resident troll!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 10, 2012:

I know RunningFree. I was addressing the other bowl of cheese puffs.
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zippdementia posted February 11, 2012:

Oh geez, you're right. Sorry. I can't tell these !@#$! cheese puffs from one another.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 11, 2012:

I know, right?
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jerec posted February 11, 2012:

Enough is enough, I've had it with these motherfucking cheese puffs on this motherfucking site.
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joseph_valencia posted February 11, 2012:

Strap yourselves in. I'm gonna open a fucking port.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 11, 2012:

You're tearing me apart, cheese puffs!
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zippdementia posted February 12, 2012:

I've been rereading this review after hitting up Suskie's a couple of times and I wanted to make... I don't even know if it's a suggestion, but it's just something I realized when reading this one again.

The writing here is really good. The opening, though, throws me off because you start on a negative note. You talk about how ridiculous the opening is. Then you immediately call the opening bad-ass. My mind doesn't make the switch with you.

You do the same thing a lot throughout the review. A couple paragraphs down you say how approachable the characters are... and then immediately say the plot has been dumbed down and that Lightning makes people's eyes roll into their head.

For me, your strong writing would've made a better point if you had used it to stick to a stronger stance, or at least to more directly establish what your stance on the game was going to be before launching into your criticisms. Had you begun the review saying how much pleasure you got out of FFXIII-2 and how you thought it was a huge improvement on FFXIII, I would've been more prepared to identify your evidence for these points when they appeared in the review.

As it is, I feel a little lost, not knowing exactly what your point is (I'm still surprised, based on your review's content, by your final score). It's losing myself in some fantastic writing, so I can't complain too much. Maybe it's something to think about for future pieces that are tackling a balanced opinion like this.
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holdthephone posted February 12, 2012:

Thanks zipp, really wanted some feedback here and most of the comments so far have been less than relevant.

I suppose the structure is kind of like a roller coaster. The mood was intentionally souring towards the later segments of the review though. As a message to fans of the previous game, I wanted to make sure the disappointment within the narrative got across as the biggest failing, and something to be rightly offended over. If earlier the game was spending time with two enjoyable characters on an interestingly moved narrative,exploring some great environments, and collecting goodies, than the conclusion was to put emotions (and oh do they run deep with Final Fantasy) in check and put the positives back in perspective.

If the stance was confusing however, it is probably the fault of the two paragraphs surrounding the monster hunting and the game's battle system. Those were pretty dry recap segments, and didn't convey all of their enjoyments, or explain why the system works so well in the post-game. And maybe the ripping into Lightning was much too personal -- it probably doesn't phase most players, I guess it's just me being selfish.

On a funnier note, I didn't mean for my use of the term "ridiculous" to imply anything negative about the game in the first line, but maybe a change is in order if that's what it sounded like. This could also perhaps be related to the reader's opinions on X-2, as some enjoyed it for its leap from reality, while others became pretty militant about it. XIII-2 has a far fetched premise, but up until the point where it implodes at the end, I give it the respect it earned for itself in the earlier segments.

Was simply trying to poke fun at it =]

@zig: pretty much nailed what I was thinking, lol
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zigfried posted February 12, 2012:

The opening, though, throws me off because you start on a negative note. You talk about how ridiculous the opening is. Then you immediately call the opening bad-ass

Here's the thing though -- FFXIII-2's opening *is* both ridiculous and bad-ass. It is beyond absurd, but wears a straight face while depicting an INSANE battle between two supreme warriors. It would immediately turn comical if the writers were just to wink, but Square never winks.

It comes down to this:
1) some people will think it's badass because it's so ridiculous, or
2) some people won't think it's badass... because it's so ridiculous

It's a natural progression of what we saw starting with FF7. That game was ridiculous, too, but had its charm.

//Zig
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zippdementia posted February 12, 2012:

Here's the thing though -- FFXIII-2's opening *is* both ridiculous and bad-ass. It is beyond absurd, but wears a straight face while depicting an INSANE battle between two supreme warriors. It would immediately turn comical if the writers were just to wink, but Square never winks.

Well put! I wish a little more of this had seeped into the opening paragraph here. This is my response to the review; good to see there are differing responses. I wish we'd get to see more feedback, too! I have been sad to see Hold's thread devolve into a discussion of cheese puffs, especially when he took the time to write something that's actually worth reading and responding to.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 14, 2012:

Sorry for the belated comment, htp. This is a wonderful review that describes the ridiculousness without itself becoming ridiculous. I've also been dragging my feet on playing FFXIII, as I've had it since release and still haven't opened it. This might have given my ass the.kicking it need so I can do so.

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