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                            Fantasy XIII-2
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS3
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Final Fantasy XIII-2
By Mike "Wheels" Apps

Final Fantasy XIII was a very divisive game to say the least. With a long history the Final Fantasy series has produced many different kinds of games, so naturally everyone wants something a bit different. Personally, I've always embraced the diversity the series provides and have found a way to enjoy every entry, even the strange Final Fantasy VIII. So I guess it's no surprise that I was one of the few that actually enjoyed the new weird entry in the series despite its early pacing issues and strict linearity. The story may have had some issues, but the cast was filled with enjoyable characters. The battle system just hit home with me, and when news broke of a sequel with that same system, I was overjoyed.

That evaporated pretty quickly once I finally got to sit down with the sequel. Sure the same battle system was front and center, and some familiar faces showed up, but it was pretty clear right from the start that something was severely off about the game. Final Fantasy XIII certainly had its story issues, but this sequel somehow managed to throw the majority of the story from the original out in favor of something even more absurd involving time travel and paradoxes. Couple that with a primary cast of two annoying characters utterly lacking the charm of the original cast, and you have a recipe for a mess of a story. This is without even getting into the fact that despite the game featuring lots of Lightning advertising, she's barely present.

Now, the story issues can easily be forgiven if the game itself is fun. After all, it does have that same great battle system to enjoy. It even has a monster collecting element, which is used to fill up the third party slot. The problem is the complete lack of any kind of good balance to the game. There are some tough bosses but for the most part the majority of the game is way too easy and simple. Final Fantasy XIII's battle system stays engaging by requiring lost of paradigm changes to keep the player on his/her toes. Final Fantasy XIII-2's battles are mostly too simple and easy for this, making most fights completely unengaged. The last area of the game greatly ramps the difficulty up, but goes a bit too far, and even if it hadn't is too little too late. Making this more frustrating is a new status ailment that reduces characters' max health, which could have been used to make many fun and challenging boss fights. The most baffling thing of all, however, is the fact that the game contains an easy mode.

The new elements to the sequel, namely using a non-linear approach and more areas with NPCs, don't prove to add anything to the experience. NPCs had little to say, and getting to choose where to go next isn't very rewarding when every area includes a ridiculous story and/or boring combat. This isn't to say that this change couldn't be a good one from the first game, rather that nothing was properly balanced to work with such a game structure. There is some cool DLC where you can fight multiple characters from Final Fantasy XIII and the series in general and get them as monster companions. Too bad these require the player to be at a high level. Even the simple joy of getting to fight Ultros is denied unless the player slogs through the entire game.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 should have been an easy shoe-in for a game that I love. The elements are there such as the core of a great battle system, an amazing soundtrack, nice visuals, and lots of content to explore. The balance and terrible story just drag it down into a complete and utter disaster of a game. Even Final Fantasy XIII's slower chapters had more enjoyable moments than this game as a whole. Why the developers decided to throw out so much of what made the original game work is a mystery. It's a testament to how much was wrong with this that Lightning Returns came as a vast improvement. At least it has wonderful music?

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