Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Xbox 360 & PS3) Preview
When Square-Enix announced that Final Fantasy XIII would be the first regular game in the series to be multi-platform it shocked everyone. Sony lost a huge exclusive and Microsoft was now able to add another third party title to their vast library. The game came out and the majority of fans loved the battle system, but hated the linear nature of the game. I guess people forgot that Final Fantasy has not really been free roaming since FF IX. FF X and FF XII both had maps broken down into smaller sections that told you where to go. The two previous games just had more room for you to explore than XIII did. Regardless, “the powers that be” at Square-Enix felt that there was more story left to tell about XIII. So, in order to further the storytelling and solve the issues people had with the first game, they quickly announced FF XIII-2. This game will be the second Final Fantasy title to get a direct sequel in video game form. Square-Enix may not have to do much to defeat FF X-2 in that category, but it does have to change quite a lot to make a sequel to XIII seem like a good decision. The game comes out very soon and since a lengthy demo was released last week, it is about time for a preview of Final Fantasy XIII-2.
* I am going to follow the demo as the main basis for this preview just in case anyone gets confused about what I am doing here. If you have not downloaded the demo and do not want the story of it spoiled for you, this is your one and only warning. Anything that is not covered in the flow of the demo, I will talk about wherever I feel it fits into the preview*
END SPOILER ALERT
The story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes place three years after the original game ended. In this adventure you control Lightning’s little sister, Serah, and her companion, Noel. They continue to battle the Cie´th while trying to find out what happened to Lightning after she suddenly disappeared. In XIII-2 you will also be time traveling through the use of the “Historia Crux” which serves as a main hub for your travels. In the “Historia Crux,” players can travel to different lands and complete other missions that have great effect on what happens in the game. Player decision is a major emphasis in XIII-2, as what you do in these areas may determine the ending you get when the game reaches its finale.
The first game seems like such a distant memory when Lightning was the main character
The demo starts with Lightning doing a voiceover about Serah, as we see Cocoon in the distance. We are then quickly introduced to Serah, Noel, and Mog (yes, the Moogles are back) as they are getting ready to do battle with the recently awakened arm of Atlas. The Active Time Battle Paradigm Shift system has returned intact, except for three new additions. Players can now decide to focus all of their forces on one enemy or widen it to all enemies. During this tutorial fight, players will also witness another key addition to boss battles. At certain points players will be asked to press buttons or flick joysticks to perform cinematic actions.
I am not the biggest fan of QTE stuff, but the addition of “cinematic actions” actually adds a distinct feeling to boss battles that make them different from random ones. It makes players feel like they just did something epic that could turn the tide of the fight, instead of just standing there round after round until you defeat the big monster. Since the QTE´s vary, you really do not know what face button it will ask you to press. So, it is quite possible for you to mess up and not get a leg up on the battle. In the full game, certain battles will even give you opportunities to choose between different types of attacks depending on which button is pressed. So, it offers up a little bit more variety than just your average “hit this button to make this happen” QTE deal. The game might even ask you to continually press the Y button like at the end of the fight with the Atlas arm. Then it will continue into a scene with army helicopters shooting missiles at the huge creature as it takes massive amounts of damage. If you pressed the correct buttons during the cinematic action you will see points show up on screen as the missiles hit Atlas. The damage will be reflected in the final battle of the demo that I will get to later on in this preview.
As long as they are not overwhelming, QTE´s might provide something different to a FF adventure
After the fight is over you are given a static screen that introduces you to the XIII-2 demo proper. You are then dropped into what looks like an army base with plenty of talkative non-playable characters around the environment. In the demo, you have to continue to press A to obtain more information out of the NPC´s until they repeat a line; letting you know the NPC has nothing else to say. However, the full game promises multiple choices for players in the dialogue department, similar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance or the Mass Effect series.
This is certainly something I could get used to in future JRPG´s
Final Fantasy fans that hated the linear nature of the original game will be happy to know that is no longer an issue in XIII-2. There is plenty of room to explore in this army base and even more room when you go through the ruins. If you play around with the face buttons you will discover that there is now a jump button. By pressing B, players can now do their best Sora from Kingdom Hearts impression as you bounce around the environment. The auto-jump rings are still in the game though if you want to act like jumping does not exist. The base also has a few items to grab and Chocolina´s shop to find too. XIII-2 returns shopping to an old Final Fantasy trademark instead of doing everything at the save point like in the first game. Chocolina is not only a trader extraordinaire but she can also help players craft new weapons and items. Of course like any good shop owner she has to charge you a fee for making the new items as well.
Here is your shopkeeper for the game: Chocolina
The demo does not let you try the crafting aspect of the game, but it does show you a new way to find items using Mog. Mog´s antenna will light up when a hidden artefact for a time gate or hidden item is nearby. All you do is press RB and after a small scene, the item becomes visible for the player to capture.
Moogles are not just cute stuffed animals, they are very useful magical beings
On a side note: If you attempt to buy any armor from the shop you will notice that there is now an associated “COST” with armor that is equipped to a character. In the menu, each character will have a COST next to them that tells players their equipment must equal that number. This adds a little bit of strategy to buying equipment for characters, as you can no longer just load up on the newest thing that becomes available. “COST” can be leveled up by progressing in the returning “Crystarium” or by completing certain missions in the game.
It is now time to get to the meat of the demo by entering the “Bresha Ruins.” The ruins allow players to really see how much more open this game is than the original, as there are multiple tunnels and branching paths to explore that lead to everything from items to soldiers that want you to go on a few missions for them. One soldier will ask you to find two lost medicine capsules for him, while the other will ask you to defeat a big Ci´eth monster that lies deeper in the ruins. As players progress through the ruins they will also notice that for the first time since FF X that enemies are no longer on the map. Instead, they appear randomly around the party and the player must decide to fight or run. Mog´s clock activates when monsters appear that allow the player to perhaps land preemptive strikes by swinging their weapons while the clock is in the green zone. If you let the clock run into the red zone, however, you will be forced to restart the game from the last save point instead of from the previous battle if you die. I really like that the regular monster battles went back to truly being random. Even though having them on the map was more realistic, this makes players be on their guard at all times. Players have to be ready to react to a monster appearing on screen at any time and cannot escape battle as easily either.
You might want some help with this big guy
After their first random battle, players may notice my favorite new addition to the battle system. A scene occurs quickly after the first fight that shows Mog talking to Serah. Mog informs Serah that you now have control over your enemies and can add them to your party. XIII-2 introduces the “Party Paradigm Pack” to the Final Fantasy series with great effect. Almost all the monsters you defeat in the game can become part of your party, but only three at a time can be placed into your custom paradigm as a third character that is on the field with you. Each monster is given a role just like the two main characters. So, you can have a commando beast or a medic Cait Sith assist you in battle and help make all those paradigm combinations players created in the first game.
Thankfully we do not have to catch em´all in this game
The monsters also have their own limit breaks called Feral Links that are activated with the same QTE button combos used for the cinematic actions. This is almost like Final Fantasy meshing with Pokémon in a sense because you have a bunch of monsters that you control and level up. Through the Crystarium you can introduce the monsters to new attacks, boosts and role abilities. Players can also give their monsters nicknames or even adorn their monsters with glasses, hats, or special items. The monsters can also be infused with other monsters of the same role, and any learned abilities will be transferred to the new monster.
I thought this new addition brought a refreshing concept to the battle system because it allows you to have an ever-changing third party member that the player controls. I love that every monster has its own unique limit break and role that adds to the paradigms. Every monster has a different strength; weakness and level cap that make players have to keep shuffling them in and out. So, it adds to the strategy of the battles as well, because even though you have control of which monster is on the field, you do not have control over their attacks. I can only imagine how much more deep the possibilities for the monsters are in the full game.
The Crystarium has also changed a bit from the original game because it gives you freedom from the outset. Serah and Noel both have the same four roles from the beginning of the game, instead of having three preset roles for each character and then introducing the other roles halfway through. In the original game, they waited so long to give every character access to the other roles, that by the time we got to use them it was sort of worthless to attempt to build up any of the new roles at all. The Crystarium is also broken up into smaller sections this time around, instead of being this sprawling behemoth that never seemed to end. The Crystarium still uses CP to move through the circle and gain abilities though. However, now you are rewarded for clearing sections of the Crystarium with role boosts, ATB gauge increases, or access to the other two roles available in the game (Synergist and Saboteur.) So, now you can get access to all six roles rather quickly this time around which is great.
Unlike the previous game where you only gained role levels once you completed a ring for that role, in XIII-2 levels do something much different. Every time you advance one peg on the circle that role gains a level, which gives you some kind of generic boost along with it. Moves you can use in battle are now learned at certain levels similar to older final fantasy adventures, instead of making them something characters learn because you reached that part of the grid. Fans that liked the huge strategy involved in the Crystarium might be upset to know it has been somewhat dumbed down. You just go through the pegs in order, instead of choosing which direction of attributes you want to give the characters. It is a more streamlined approach that focuses more on giving you the freedom to choose which roles you want to develop, instead of just being stuck in pre-selected jobs. I kinda like the switch to the more traditional way of leveling up instead of reaching certain points on an overly long grid.
That is what happens most of the time when you gain a level in the Crystarium in XIII-2
Towards the end of the demo you finally find the rest of Atlas and you must decide how to defeat him. Players can either go battle him straight up or try to find his power source and take it out. If you choose the latter, players must complete puzzles called anomalies to get to touch the power source. The anomalies add a nice change of pace to the game by slowing it down and making players think a little bit. In the demo, every time you move to another tile the one before it disappears. You must complete all four stages by collecting the crystals in a certain order and then touching the goal. By choosing this direction you get to face Atlas with 3/4 of his health taken away as well. The full game promises many more variations to these puzzles. After defeating Atlas the game shows you a scene of Lighting riding Odin as she goes to confront a nemesis from the original game. Then a short trailer plays showing you what to expect from the full game.
The demo then ends after the short trailer, leaving us with a tease of what is to come in a few weeks.
No matter how much new stuff they add, you will still be doing this most of the game
So, it looks like we have some wonderful things awaiting us on Jan. 31 when the game comes out for the Xbox 360 and PS3. It seems that the folks at Square-Enix have listened to the fan feedback and taken it to heart to make sure they included everything the fans wanted. The best thing may be the freedom of choice given to players and the removal of the linear gameplay. If the rest of the game is as great as this demo was, then I do not think we have anything to worry about with FF XIII-2. If anything, Final Fantasy XIII-2 may wind up being a flash to the future of the entire franchise.