After all the polemic sorrounding FFXIII, I’m uneasy about giving my opinion so early in the game. It’s like entering a mine field to reach your objective. Still, even after 20h there is a lot to tell about Final Fantasy XIII-2.
The most important thing is the way you progress in the game. SquareEnix heard the concerns loud and clear. It’s easier to see than to say, but you now travel in time a bit like in Chrono Trigger, and thus you have a central menu from where you can jump in various locations at different times. From one world/time, you can unlock one or more other locations/eras by opening gates. The point is that you’re not just completing one level and going to the others : you’ll have to get back to places you’ve already been to in order to solution your present situation. The world is so open that you can even land in hostile environments full of monsters way above your level, it makes the progression particularly intense, because when you unlock a new gate, you can never know what lies ahead.
The levels themselves are filled with mysteries, surprises and pretty unconventional gameplay for a Final Fantasy. Yasha mountains for example, is pitch black and you can come across overpowered Behemoths anytime, forcing you to rush to lighted areas. In the Archelyte Plain, you can access a device that allows you to change the climatic conditions, which changes the ecosystem of this world. Mini-games are also back in the most striking manner. True, slot machines remain very similar to any one-armed bandit, but the 20-page tutorial of the Chocobo races let you imagine something even greater than FFVII.
Some new things appear, such as the Live Trigger and puzzles. Those have little importance until some point, when they suddenly become critical to your success. Cinematic Actions (QTE in short) feel just fine : not too fast nor to slow, they fit perfectly in the flow of battle, even though they’re announced too early. The monster system is also rich and properly made, but I don’t like it that much. It seems a little off when you think of Final Fantasy as a whole and it will definitely NEVER make up for the lack of original (or even existing) characters.
Graphically speaking, it far surpasses everything I’ve seen so far (except for Battlefield 3 on PC, but it’s not the same hardware). Backgrounds and characters reached a degree of realism never seen before, wheather and lights effects are unrivaled. My eyes are filled with pleasure at every second. The Original Score is very good as well, but quite heterogeneous : beautiful melodies and dark themes, but also atrocities like the Hard Metal Chocobo (!).
With its Chrono Trigger-inspired orientation, a solid battle system and off-the-chart graphics, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is already a game to be reckoned with. Add to this that FFXIII-2 brings back most of what FFXIII lacked, like mini-games and this part of mystery that characterize the series, and you have a exceptional JRPG. The only disappointing point being the lack of playable characters, which according to this video, will unfortunately stay.