"Lightning Returns: FF XIII," "The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2," "Fable Anniversary" [GAMES ROUNDUP]

Reviews by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an authorblogger and Twitterer. Publishers provided review copies.

Not only is there nothing ‘final’ about the Final Fantasy series, with its trillions of sequels and spin-offs, there’s nothing even final about individual games in the series. Final Fantasy XIII gets its second sequel, Lightning Returns, this week, supposedly bringing some finality to this sub-chapter of the JRPG aristocracy. There are some other big-hitters as well, including the second episode of the stunning adventure series The Wolf Among Us, an HD revamp of the Xbox classic Fable and an oddball Capcom side-scrolling platformer Dustforce.


(PS3, 360, Vita, $10, Everyone 10+)

A squad of four janitors inside a dank palace moonlight as double-jumping, wall-climbing ninjas who battle dirt and stains in a way that would impress Mr. Clean himself. As an intimidating, large-font timer tracks your progress, you defy gravity by crawling, Spider-Man like, on upside-down and vertical surfaces. Clouds of dust come to life to thwart your progress, forcing you to adjust your angles in mid-air and plot out your plan of attack in advance.

Brain-bending level design can be a bit intimidating at first, but the more time you spend with them, the more their secrets begin to unravel and seem approachable. The retro art style, which would have been a solid fit in the Super NES/Genesis era, charms and mesmerizes. Tight controls make the tough but fair levels seem manageable.

Fable Anniversary

(360, $40, Mature)

The 2004 Xbox action-adventure places you in the shoes of a world-changing protagonist whose choices shape not only the fate of the world, but his appearance. Act like a virtuous hero and your character is iron-jawed and dashing. Go around punching innocents and frying farm animals and you grow horns and ugly, intimidating scars. The classic, beloved by a devoted subset of gamers, not only gets upgraded visuals, but refined gameplay that phases out some of the deal-breaking drudgery from the original.

The expansion, subtitled The Lost Chapters, is also included, and the game’s Xbox SmartGlass app makes navigating the game easier, with maps, location tracking, character bios and comparison screenshots from the original release. Even though Fable still pales in comparison to its follow-ups — especially Fable II — the game looks and plays so well that it’s impossible to play the Xbox 360 upgrade without fantasizing how amazing it would be on the Xbox One. Hopefully it won’t take until the 15th anniversary to answer such prayers.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

(360, PS3, $60, Teen)

I won’t even pretend to comprehend the swirl of backstories, frontstories and sidestories that have swirled around the mini-series since the release of the 2010 original, so I will condense the premise like this. You play as Lightning, the pink-haired, immortal goddess-like being who starred in the first game and vanished from the second. She has 13 hours to save the world, also filled with immortals, racing a timer to determine necessary side quests, complete them and strengthen herself to become the realm’s salvation.

Combat is rarely the main draw in Final Fantasy games, but the fast-paced, hands-on battle system kept me hooked far more than the long-winded, overly complex story managed. You alternate outfits to determine your capabilities, making battles a head game as well as a study in angles, attack patterns and defense maneuvers. Overall, the open-world direction this threequel goes is a hard right turn from Final Fantasy XIII-2, which itself was a jolt after the restrictive, linear original. While Lightning herself is a bit too aloof and lifeless to charm her way into your fan fiction, her latest game is the strongest overall package in the trilogy.

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 — Bouncing Back

(360, PS3, $5, Mature)

The pace slows in the follow-up to the riveting first episode of the Telltale Games adventure, based on the Fables comic series. Instead of pushing the plot forward rapidly, the momentum eases back to relax and study it characters, all of whom are hard-edged versions of storybook icons living lives of murder and mayhem, hidden among regular people  in 1980s New York.

As fiery, hardscrabble detective Bigby — who represents the Big Bad Wolf —  you bust heads and get yourself in over your head while taking it upon yourself to solve crimes, right wrongs and deliver your own brand of justice. Decisions you made in the previous chapter carry over into this one, allowing you to feel as though you’re carving out your own tale. While I appreciated this second episode for the tactical retreat it felt like, I’m hoping for more forward momentum from the next go-round.

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