Releasing Tuesday, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, one of the most controversial games in the long-running franchise. It's a rare move by game makers Square-Enix; aside from a few spinoffs, they've traditionally introduced brand new worlds and characters in each new Final Fantasy release rather than pump out sequels.
So why now? Because while the last game was a sales monster, it was a polarizing experience for gamers. Many decried it as being too linear, featuring what amounted to a 25-hour tutorial before finally blossoming. And while it scored decently overall, Square-Enix couldn't shake the criticism.
Instead, they decided to face it head on -- and according to critics, they've mostly succeeded in fixing what was wrong with the original, though with a current Metacritic rating of a solid but unspectacular 81, it's not exactly the must-have fantasy disgruntled fans had hoped for.
But at least it isn't linear.
"Final Fantasy XIII-2 showers you with choice and branching paths," says IGN's Ryan Clements in an 8/10 review, adding that "the battle system functions faster and includes several new features like tameable monster allies." The trouble? All those tweaks come at the cost of the unfocused storytelling.
"Final Fantasy XIII-2 makes costly sacrifices to its narrative in order to achieve mechanical advancements," he notes, though he also calls it a "better game."
Game Informer largely agrees, with writer Joe Juba calling it a "highly polished and more streamlined gameplay experience" while wishing it was "integrated with a story that isn't laughable and borderline insulting." They reward it an 8/10 as well.
To Joystiq, however, just fixing stuff doesn't necessarily make for a good game.
"At times, it feels like the development team just went down a laundry list and added everything that fans believed Final Fantasy XIII lacked," writes reviewer Jason Schreier. "Non-linear dungeons? Check. Sidequests? Check. NPCs and towns? Check, check. In other words, the whole game seems like one big apology." The result? An unapologetic 3/5, though he adds that it at least "takes one hesitant step forward" from Final Fantasy XIII.
So should you walk alongside it? That seems to depend on how much you loved/loathed the first game, as the sequel is clearly a different beast. Maybe an over-the-top trailer will sway you one way or the other: