The lights are on
I have been playing this game for about the past month, with the Japanese version of the game. My only other review for GI has also been for FF, the previous FFXIII. I recently passed XIII-2, so I thought I'd put in my two-bits on this game. Just quickly, overall this game is short. Much shorter than XIII. Even at my slower-than-usual grinding pace, I passed it under 50 hours. For me that's pretty fast. If someone burns through the game, you could probably do it in less than 30. I'm currently going through again and trying to get 100% on everything. On XIII I put well over 70 hours in (again at a slower pace), and played well past 100 hours for 100% clear. But anyway, back to business. I usually don't put a lot of the usual background story and what-not for my reviews and just get down to business, so here I go.
I really enjoyed FFXIII and was anxiously awaiting to see how Square-Enix followed up with what was, in my opinion, the second best FF I've played in the entire series. I will always hold FFVI as my personal favorite and say that is always the greatest FF ever made. However, I really was hoping for SE to build upon some great characters and story from XIII in XIII-2, and overall I enjoyed the game but what it gave in some areas it severely came up short in others. Here we go with the breakdown.
Story: Like I always say, with RPG's this is absolutely the heart of the game. With no interesting story even the best-looking, greatest-gameplaying, most-bada$$-characters are nothing but pieces of a puzzle that won't fit together. For me, XIII-2 is somewhat of a disappointment for me in this respect. Where XIII gave me an engaging story that made me want to continue and learn more about Cocoon and the characters, XIII-2 is far too reliant on its time traveling, time paradox formula to continue along the game. The fact that they introduce very little in terms of actual new areas (the game basically recycles areas from XIII with some slight variations from time traveling) and with every other past XIII character making only bit cameo appearances, XIII-2, for me, loses a lot of its luster by limiting the entire game by only allowing two (Sera and Noel) characters with an option for a third monster member for all battles. I know this aspect typically falls under gameplay as well, but the fact that the entire story can basically revolve around just these people is constricting. Sure, Lightning is there, but she is almost never seen, just occasionally heard (I'll get back to Lightning later...). 8.5/10
Graphics: Another huge miss in my opinion for this game. Although there is dialog galore with the introduction of more "interactive" NPC's, the graphics took a big hit it seems for me. It's kind of hard to explain in writing, but when I go back and play XIII, the character design is much more "solid" and far more realistic. In XIII-2, when I talk to NPC's you can notice they seem "flat" and almost "pasty" color in some cases. Also, and far more glaring for me, there is almost no additional CG animation cutscenes through the whole game (just an intro, one with Lightning towards the end and the actual ending). On XIII I would be treated to probably the best CG graphics I've seen, for example, the raceway cutscene when your group returns to the Eden Capital (sorry, again I have the JPN version, so I don't know if they call it something else). But basically The fact that the game has the scenery and visuals to provide beautiful CG, it is never utilized in the game. Although a lot of the regular in-game graphics are beautiful and there were some times where I initially thought, "Oh, a CG cutscene", I was quickly brought back with in-game graphics. 8.75/10
Gameplay: Always important in RPG's. As XIII introduced the Optima system (and in XIII-2 they changed to the western "Paradigm" name), the fights are still fast and can be hectic. They bring back all the same roles (Attacker, Blaster, Defender, Jammer, Enhancer and Healer) and again role placement is key. However, as I mentioned earlier, the restriction of Sera and Noel as your only two characters really limits the gameplay in my opinion. I was hesitant when I saw the whole "monster-ally" system and my fears were somewhat realized when I played further with them. At first, my allies were almost making the battles seem far too easy and they would end up "breaking" and killing the enemies before I even input one command. However as the enemies became larger and harder, I started to see the restrictions of a monster ally. I always find myself trying to juggle a good mix of monsters because, unlike a third character, each monster only has one role. So in XIII where I could keep a good mixture of characters with a specific role (Lightning as a mix attacker/blaster, Vanilla as a healer/blaster, Fang as an attacker/jammer, Snow as an attacker/defender, etc.) I now have to choose specific monsters for that role in an all important third character and I always find myself running short on growth materials to keep them up to my level. For example, I usually like to grind a bit more than the typical player, so I tend to level up a bit more before going on. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that I always find enough material to keep up my monsters and this can be a hindrance later on when I am fairly strong with 3-4000 HP and my monsters are still struggling with 2000. This isn't always the case, but again it's the fact that they don't give you another character to play to keep up with and that for me is an unfortunate part of this game as well. Also, a big omission for me was the disappearance of the all important Summon. I was really disappointed, especially after seeing the introduction of Lightning summoning to her beautiful hearts content, to see absolutely zero Summons in the game. They do have an Synchro drive, but it's hardly a replacement for the awesome Summon animations on XIII. Although I guess some people didn't like them, I personally sat through and watched every single one of my awesome Odin summons from Lightning, haha. Sorry for the long description, I digress. In the end, the fact that they didn't do anything TOO drastic with the ATB system is a plus, but again, some lost opportunity to introduce something new. 9/10
Music: In my opinion the weakest OST I've seen in a FF game in a while. Although Hamauzu returns there were far too many strange rock/pop songs and they seemed to recycle the songs from XIII. I also have the OST for XIII-2 and listening to songs outside of the game setting I hear moments of brilliance in many of the songs, but it's hard to say that it's on the same 'epic' level of XIII. But in the end, it's FF music and if you're into big scores, you'll like it. 8.75/10
Now back to Lightning...
Characters: Not really a traditional category, but I always like to scale the characters, especially in a sequel. If you haven't already, check out my review of FFXIII and I'll just say quickly again that I absolutely LOVE Lightning. Without a doubt, the greatest protagonist in any game I've ever played in the 25+ years I've been a gamer. She's strong, bada$$, doesn't talk a lot, doesn't have an annoying voice (at least in the JPN versions) and when s*it needs to get done, she gets it done. And this is where FFXIII-2 absolutely failed me BIG TIME. ONE SCENE FOR LIGHTNING...wow, when I saw the early trailers and gameplay and what not I was worried that Lightning wasn't going to be playable at all, but I saw her riding Odin, shooting lightning at Bahamut and doing some all-around ass-kicking, so I thought, "Oh, no problem. There's my favorite lady right there. As long as I can be her, I'm set and this is gonna be yet another great FF game." But come play time...HUH, THAT'S IT?!?! I cannot overstate my disappointment in this. So instead of giving me back the beautiful Lightning, I have Sera (which I knew was going to be the main character) and Noel (meh, for a new guy). But also, the fact that every one of the other characters (minus Hope) was pushed as a bit role was very disappointing. Instead I get MORE Hope and there may as well have been NO FANG because I saw her for all three seconds (yet another wasted character, she was awesome too). Not exactly a winning combination. Oh well... Overall: 7.5/10, Lightning herself: 10/10, but the fact that there was no other Lightning in the game: 0/10.
Now, with DLC coming out there is always chance of things to change and there is, atleast stated, a Coliseum DLC where you fight Lightning for her to be either an Ally or (hopefully) an actual playable character, though I highly doubt the latter.
Lastly, I'd like to address one of the things SE did to address that was a "problem" with XIII.
"Linear play" - I could understand this argument from other gamers, however I had absolutely no problems with XIII's straightforward play. Again, in my previous review, I said that I actually appreciated the fact that SE DIDN'T introduce side-missions or branching stories til later because I always felt that distracted from the main story. And because XIII had a great story, I always found myself wanting to progress to see more of the game. With XIII-2's more open world and extra missions, it added some depth, but again I didn't need to see such addition and even then, it didn't add but a few hours of gameplay that seemed more like "Oh I can grab this side-mission and get this Fragment on the way" kind of a feeling.
Anyway, that's my review. Sorry, I just noticed I kept writing "Sera", but that's the sound for Japanese, I know it's spelled "Serah." Also, they keys for the gates are called "Ooparts", kind of funny but I guess they're called something else. Also, I noticed I couldn't see my previous review, so hopefully what I said makes some sense, considering there's no previous review to reference :)
Well, sorry for the long-winded writing style. I always feel like I need to give some perspective on a game that I invest so much time in and, even though I know this game will probably be panned by many, I really did enjoy it. I hope that this gives some others an idea of what to expect from this game, especially compared to XIII. Overall, expect a good game, don't expect an excellent Final Fantasy though.
Update: I just read on the Famitsu site that there will be a Lightning and Amoda DLC available 2/7 for the Japanese game, not sure for NA version. Gonna be grabbing this for sure. Any Lightning is better than none.
Awesome Review... !!!