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Video game sequels bring fantasy action

By Marc Saltzman, Gannett
Final Fantasy XIII, the latest in the 20-year franchise, allows mid-combat strategy changes.
Final Fantasy XIII, the latest in the 20-year franchise, allows mid-combat strategy changes.
  • Latest in "Final Fantasy," "God of War" franchises deliver action for gamers
  • Final Fantasy XIII adds the option to change characters' actions in the middle of battle
  • "God of War III" scale is epic, but be mindful of "mature rating"
  • Each will appeal more to its own crowd -- more roleplaying in FF, over-the-top action in "God of War"

Talk about March Madness: Two high-profile video game sequels have launched within a week of one another, in a month that's typically quiet for new releases.

Final Fantasy XIII and God of War III are now available -- both both delivering an epic story, huge fantasy worlds and enough action to last you well into the spring.

And yes, they both have roman numerals in their name, too, oddly enough.

Which one to buy if you're on a budget? Tough call.

Role-playing game [RPG] fans might gravitate to the latest in the 20-year Final Fantasy franchise, while those who prefer over-the-top combat against enormous mythological creatures should opt for the third official game in the Mature-rated God of War series.

Here's a closer look at each recommended title.

Final Fantasy XIII (Square Enix; for Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3; rated "Teen"; $59.99; 4 stars out of 5)

If you can get past the irony of a 13th Final Fantasy game, Square Enix's latest adventure delivers a deep single-player experience for RPG fans.

The story mostly revolves around Cocoon, once a utopian moon but now the target of the hostile fal'Cie from the Pulse underworld.

You'll play as a party of young rebels, each with their own personality, skills and unique tie to the story.

As with past games in the series, the battle system is mostly turn-based -- therefore you'll queue combat decisions, such as sword slashing or spell casting, and then watch as they play out against the enemies.

But now you have the option to make adjustments in real time during battles, be it adding new attacks or changing party member roles between medic, commando and saboteur, for instance.

You can also summon creatures called Eidolons (first introduced in Final Fantasy IX ), which appear with dramatic fanfare, ready to do your bidding.

As with most RPGs, characters progress with experience, therefore you can spend your earned points toward learning new attacks and spells ? required for taking down the bigger baddies.

The game's production values are extraordinary -- from the high-definition graphics and cinematic cut-scene sequences (a Final Fantasy hallmark) to the musical score comprised of an orchestrated soundtrack and theme song, "My Hands," performed by pop star Leona Lewis.

Despite the fact the game is quite linear, especially during the first half of the adventure, Final Fantasy XIII is an engaging tale that plays out like an interactive movie.

God of War III (Sony Computer Entertainment; for Sony PlayStation 3; rated "Mature"; $59.99; 4.5 stars out of 5)

If visceral action is more your thing, Sony's God of War III is bigger and badder than its predecessors, set once again in the realm of brutal Greek mythology and starring the ex-Spartan warrior, Kratos.

With his wrist-mounted blades and new weapons -- a fiery bow, magic and combo attacks -- this fallen god and son of Zeus must seek revenge against those who have betrayed him in a 3D world four times larger than the last game.

You'll face off against mythological creatures such as Cyclops, Minotaurs, Centaurs and Cerberus.

In fact, the sense of scale is absolutely incredible, beginning with Kratos running down the arm of Gaia, an enormous earthlike Titan god, as she climbs up Mount Olympus.

You'll battle a horned beast with gigantic claws while hanging onto Gaia, even upside-down. Major boss battles are back, too, and become increasingly tough as you inch toward the epic confrontation at the end of the game.

Take heed to the game's "Mature" rating, though, as Kratos has a penchant for beheading and disembowelment, plus the game features some nudity and sexual inferences, as well.

As with the other God of War games, the controls are tight and responsive, graphics are outstanding, and you can unlock behind-the-scenes content on the disc.

Whether you're new to the franchise or a longtime fan, God of War III is an extraordinarily fun and gratifying (but gory) sequel.