|System: Xbox 360, PS3*|
|Dev: Square Enix|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: January 31, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Drug Reference, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Simulated Gambling, Violence|
To be totally honest, it's rather disappointing that you only ever get two real characters to play around with. Other important story characters will join you over the course of the game, but they will only be guest combatants. You'll either gain control of them for a few short cinematic battles or not be able to control them at all. It's a good thing that the monster raising system is so very deep to make up for it. You can use the items and loot you find in battle to power up and evolve your monsters. Crafty usage of the monster raising system can pretty much break the game, giving you overpowered behemoths (sometimes literally) very early on.
However, it never feels like you didn't earn this power, and the game never gets too easy to the extent of getting boring. It's almost as if the game is asking you to break it. A couple short trips along the time stream will bring you to areas where enemies vastly out-level you, and a couple completed battles will skyrocket you through the Crystarium level-up tree. There are no imposed story blockades in the Crystarium this time around, so feel free to become as powerful as you like. Gil flows like water after a couple battles, allowing you to purchase the best items and accessories from the shop. The crafting system from XIII has been taken out, so money alone goes a long way.
So many other systems make this game great. Quick time events occur mid battle, and succeeding can buff your party, debuff the enemy, or even change what happens in the story. Multiple choice dialogue options also affect how the story plays out. Puzzle-like minigames take place in time-rifts, reminiscent of Final Fantasy X's cloister of trials. Enemy encounters occur through a genius combination of the random battle and on-map enemy system that allows you to plan to run or avoid enemies even though they can ambush you at any moment. For the first time ever there is an auto-save feature and you can save anywhere without a save point. There are even multiple endings to discover at multiple points in the game. There's just so much to do here it's hard to ever get tired of the game, and upcoming DLC will just increase that replay value.
However, one question keeps bugging me. Why is this Final Fantasy XIII-2? The story has almost nothing to do with Final Fantasy XIII outside of the original forced retcon. The Fal'Cie and L'Cie take a major backseat, and recurring characters almost feel like they were merely put in for the sake of fan service. The story isn't bad; it's just shoehorned into an inappropriate setting for the sake of being a sequel. This game could have honestly been made with a totally fresh cast of characters and marketed as Final Fantasy XV and might have been more appealing.
Story gripes aside, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is just hands-down better than Final Fantasy XIII. It has more replay value, a more compelling battle system, an open world, an innovative exploration premise, and much more. If Final Fantasy XIII's laundry list of flaws turned you off to the Final Fantasy franchise, then Final Fantasy XIII-2 will get you back in. If you are a Final Fantasy fan or even a JRPG fan in general, you should probably check this game out.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: January 31, 2012