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Joystick: “Final Fantasy XIII-2” great, but not “Final Fantasy” great

Final Fantasy XIII-2

4/5

Rated T: 360, PS3

—The world of “Final Fantasy XIII” is back, with many improvements

—Square borrows from a lot of great games in this shorter RPG.

—The game’s music, pacing and plot trip up the experience at times, thought the battle system, interactivity and design make up for it.

 

To me, Final Fantasy games are a meditative experience, like enjoying wine. Final Fantasy is a long-honored brand with more than 25 years’ experience in bringing excellent titles to the table and making fans savor each experience. Square Enix has its good years and bad with the series, but almost always consistently puts out quality games. Yet with each passing year, the franchise finds itself struggling to appease players’ fickle sensibilities. “Final Fantasy XIII-2” is no different. It’s an excellent RPG, but it doesn’t meet up to the franchise’s expectations.

Continuing from where “Final Fantasy XIII” left off, the game opens with mysterious circumstances. Lightning, the protagonist from XIII, has disappeared from the world, yet no one except for her sister Serah remembers how Lightning survived XIII’s cataclysmic finale. Serah sets out to find her sister with a young hunter who claims to be from the future.

Square staff took a lot of fan consideration to heart when they made this game. The battle system is more robust, the environments feel a little more lively, and the towns (yes, towns) are astonishing. The graphics sparkle, the CGI leaves you filled with awe, and there’s seemingly plenty to do. Square even cross-pollinated a few ideas from some of their previous games, like “Star Ocean’s” approach to enemy encounters and Chrono Trigger’s time warps. They even incorporated “Pokemon” elements into battles, adding another dimension to battle strategy. Fans of the series will be pleased with the minor improvements as well, including an auto-save feature and Quick-Time Events in some boss battles.

XIII-2 comes up short in a lot ways, however. The game’s supposedly non-linear design doesn’t allow for much flexibility during the first playthrough, and some of XIII’s music will turn gamers sour. I’m sorry, but there was no need for a crazy Chocobo-inspired death metal tune such as the one in this game, though I must say I didn’t mind the infamous Lake Bresha rap or the screamo-metal boss theme. Yet the composers felt the need to put vocals on as many songs as possible in this game, probably betting the songs would market better with a younger audience. Square’s music department missed the memo this time around that says sweeping Final Fantasy soundtracks should evoke strong emotional responses.

Yet these are minor complaints. XIII-2 improves upon its solidly-built predecessor in many ways, though the plot is shorter than normal. The game feels a bit too rushed and disconnected at points, though there are plenty of stirring moments as befitting a Final Fantasy game which should draw new players in. I can already tell XIII-2 won’t please some of the long-time fans, however. For all its strengths, XIII-2 doesn’t measure up to the classic Final Fantasy experiences and won’t be the game that brings back wayward fans. Final Fantasy is by no means withering, but it’s long given that Square Enix needs to do more in the face of steep Western RPG innovation. XIII-2 is a step in the right direction, and though it may not be vintage, it’s still a delightful title.