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For the last several console generations, Square Enix’s franchise of Final Fantasy has built itself into a household name with any classic titles and a dedicated fan base. Accompanying a huge downturn in the franchise’s credibility in recent years is its latest entry of Final Fantasy 13-2, an interesting if not ultimately underwhelming addition to a once great series. While still having enough content and clever features to keep you playing, its scrambled narrative and dull character line-up will have you asking more of this awkward and underdeveloped title.
Set several years after the fall of Coccoon and the defeat of Orphan, Final Fantasy 13’s cast of characters have parted ways and met a variety of fates. Hope has become an archeologist, Sazh has departed to raise his son, Fang and Vanille remain trapped in the crystal holding Cocoon aloft in the sky, and our main hero of Lightning has vanished to the dimension of Valhalla as its new goddess, leaving behind her sister, Serah Farron, alone and in search of answers to her sister’s disappearance. As Serah’s estranged fiance Snow has left to search in vain for Lightning, Serah has settled in the wilderness of Gran Pulse with Cocoon’s inhabitants. Upon meeting time-traveler Noel Kreiss and a Moogle called Mog, she also encounters Caius, a fellow time-traveler bent on corrupting time to save his beloved, Yeul. The three join forces to locate Lightning and stop Caius’s plot across the universe’s timelines.
One of 13-2's most positive notes its its gorgeous graphics and presents bold new locations dripping with care to detail and imaginative locales. Like its predecessor of 13, the game takes you to a variety of stunning locales. From glittering metropolises to tropical paradises to fancy casinos, the game is still beautiful to look regardless of its sloppy story. Character models are as top-notch and you will at least admire such subtle touches as the characters’ freely moving hair and good lip-synching.
Areas are further more interactive than in 13 and boast an enormous amount of goodies and secret locations to explore post-game. The areas are less linear and allow you to wander back and forth between levels more freely and make better use of shops, people, and activities along the way to spend time with. Every nook and cranny seems to yield something new and players will be encouraged to make use of their scavenger hunter skills for some many hours of exploration.
From the very onset, 13-2’s plot is a jumbled mess that's both amusing and pointless to the game experience. After it opens with a spectacular tutorial battle between Lightning and Caius over Valhalla’s skies, the bold energy and flair that began the game is quickly lost as it switches gears to Serah and Noel’s mundane journey of solving time paradoxes and reaching Valhalla to find Lightning. From there it proceeds to squander its story with pointless babble about time-travel paradoxes, emo rants, and cheesy dialogue. With no clear explanation of the game’s time travel or world, you’ll simply be fighting monsters and getting from point A to point B without much of a clue about what's going on and perhaps better for it anyhow.
Final Fantasy 13-2 is just as handicapped by its lackluster protagonists as well. Neither Serah nor Noel come beyond the scope of jerks or whiners while Mog is reduced to nagging players about mission objectives and spouting out his painfully frequent “Kupo” line with nearly every sentence. Lightning and the rest of 13’s old cast are limited to a few brief cameos and while most of them prove genuinely more engaging, none of them are particularly allowed to contribute to the plot. With all of his flash and drama, Kaius, meanwhile, ends up being just another figure with a big sword and aside from a potentially deep origin, I never thought of him as a team player to 13-2's cast. I ordinarily wouldn't pay nearly as much attention to such short-comings to many other series, but as 13-2 holds the famed Final Fantasy name, I consciously expected more from it and couldn't help but feel disappointed in the wasted potential of its story.
The most disappointing is 13-2's attempts at choice-making. In the manner of Mass Effect 3, 13-2 plays host to a variety of different game endings depending on how you play throughout the story. Unfortunately, none of these succeed in feeling like satisfying endings and players are seemingly not given the true freedom to choose them through interesting means.
Contrary to its story-telling abilities, 13-2’s strong suit is its core gameplay that's head over heels better than many other JRPGS of recent memory. Combat is smooth, quick, and engaging, allowing you a variety of options in battle to exploit enemy’s weaknesses and experiment with different attacks. There seem to be as many paradigms to choose from as last time in the series and boss fights are not nearly as long and grueling as they were for Lightning’s gang in 13. The option to capture and recruit in-game monsters Pokemon style for battle partners is both clever and effective in fights and introduces an appreciated amount of changes to the system.
The worst gameplay feature by far are the game’s new mini-games. Accompanying the time-paradox story-line are clock puzzles used to solve paradoxes scattered across the 13-2‘s worlds, requiring players to strike a series of numbers on an inter-dimensional clock-face in certain orders.These are terribly confusing and as frustrating as they are, players will probably want to rely on on-line guides most of the time.he most unforgiving, however, are the casino slot-machine mini-games that, like their dreaded real-world counterparts, merely demand your hard-earned coins to hit the jackpot. They are impossibly pricy and countless hours will be needed to ever hit the money-load, if you do, however, excellent weapons and other goodies from the casino store are your reward. Other mini-games include aligning constellation symbols and entering captured chocobos in casino races. All of these are particularly annoying for gamers set on finishing the game to 100% and aren’t very fun, but usually performed better with fewer frustrations.
Though frustrations abound, 13-2 provides a fair amount of technological improvements over its predecessor with loads of content. If you enjoy nice graphics and gameplay without paying attention to plot or characters, I would cautiously recommend Final Fantasy 13-2. To dedicated Final Fantasy fans, I would say that the franchise's historic attractions of story-telling and characters are simply not there and as much as 13-2 tries, it usually fails to recapture old charm. I admittedly still enjoyed many of 13-2's JRPG game mechanics and if you need to play an average game on a rainy day, 13-2 suffices. I still retain some amount of hope for the game’s upcoming sequel of Final Fantasy 13: Lightning Returns, but overall, I believe that Final Fantasy has seen better days.
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