E3 2011: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Preview – Learning From the Mistakes of the Past
Written Wednesday, June 29, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
I’m going to come right out and say it. I enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII. Sure, I may be in the minority, but for me, it did a lot of things right. I can however sit here and say it did a lot of things wrong as well. Final Fantasy XIII-2 presents an opportunity for Square Enix to make amends and rebuild some bridges for fans of the franchise by fixing a few of the elements that they thought the Japanese developer had missed the mark on. Listening to fan and critic feedback, Square Enix is looking to deliver that iconic Final Fantasy experience with Final Fantasy XIII-2, or in layman’s terms, delivering the game that Final Fantasy XIII should have been. Yes, there will be the odd Final Fantasy XIII spoiler, so beware.
Like Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a direct sequel to the Final Fantasy that came before it. Final Fantasy XIII-2 picks up five years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII, with survivors looking to rebuild Gran Pulse and the original’s hero, Lightning, presumed dead by many. Her sister, Serah, who played a small part in XIII, will become one of the main protagonists in XIII-2 and when New Bodhum is invaded by monsters, her and Noel - who rescues Serah - take off on a journey to discover what happened to the original game’s hero. With both new and returning characters, new and old players alike should be able to slip into the story, regardless of whether they finished XIII or not.
Our gameplay demo throws us into the thick of the action as Serah and Noel face off against a large hand called Paradox Alpha. Serah is the magic user of the pair, who can craft a magic bow or sword, depending on the distance of the enemy that she is attacking, while Noel is a melee specialist, who dual wields two swords in combat. While the paradigm system from XIII is intact, Square Enix has taken other steps to make the battles more epic in scale and this is mostly down to what the dev is calling “cinematic action sequences.” They sound fancy and yes, they look really fancy, but in essence, they’re just dramatic Quick Time Event cutscenes that reward or punish the player on whether they’re successful or not. The main thing is, they look super pretty and although they’re not groundbreaking, they do break up the constant paradigm shifting heavy battles, which is always a plus.
Listening directly to player feedback, Square Enix has reintroduced towns to the franchise, with us catching a glimpse at one with NPCs galore littering its grounds. With everything from friendly NPCs who make comments and NPCs with speech bubbles above their heads, offering multiple dialogue options, all the way to secret hidden content, several branching paths and other optional content, players are encouraged to explore these regions and have been included to offer player choice and give players a more complex experience than in Final Fantasy XIII. Players can even jump in XIII-2 and Square Enix has even included rain and other weather effects to keep things fresh.
Moving out of the town and onto a path to track down a demon beast called Atlas, we catch our first glimpse at the “Mog Clock” – a new tool that'll change how players take on the game’s enemies. Rather than seeing all the enemies roaming on the map in XIII-2, enemies will only appear when a player is close and when they appear, a timer appears. The quicker the player reacts and initiates contact, the more likely they are to gain the upper hand going into the battle. Attack when it’s green and you’ll receive a reward, but attack when it’s red and you’ll be dealt a blow and suffer a penalty going into the battle. Time is of the essence. Thankfully if you don’t want to fight every goddamn creature though, you’ll find NPCs battling and ultimately slowing down the odd creature who could otherwise become fixated on you.
At the end of one of the random battles, the Square Enix rep on hand pointed out that when defeating a creature in battle, they’ll turn into crystals. These monsters are then added to your inventory and will become the third playable character; in this instance, Flabanero and Warhorn joined the ranks of Serah and Noel. Quite how we feel about that at present, we’re not sure. Do Square Enix expect us to bond with a characterless creature? What is this? Pokémon!?
The mantra of player choice spills over into the field as well, with live events (small cutscenes that you can choose to watch or ignore), choosing whether to unlock and seek out a treasure chest that’s located by your accompanying Moogle and Alyssa giving hints about possible treasures over the intercom, all there to distract the player and give them more things to do off the beaten path.
Square Enix has also introduced live trigger choices as well in various instances, where players will be given an option via a dialogue tree on how to tackle the situation. In this instance, Serah and Noel have the chance to fight Atlas directly or they can attempt to try and manipulate a device to weaken him. Opting for the latter, obviously, the pair are then sucked into a temporal rift created by Atlas – a gap between realities – where they must solve a series of puzzles to escape. Thankfully though, by solving the puzzle the player resolves the anomaly which affects the reality that they were born into – in this case, it weakened Atlas to the point where his hit point gauge was at halfway. 58 seconds later and Atlas is toast and we move onto the final sequence of the demo.
The final sequence sees us take the perspective of Lightning, who is incidentally riding on Eidolon Odin, her white horse kitted to the roof in armour. In a place that Square Enix isn’t ready to talk about yet, with Lightning now much stronger than she was in XIII, she faces off in a far bigger battle than Final Fantasy XIII players and beyond won’t be used to – actually fighting against a Chaos Bahamut, which she attacks from horseback. In a short fight sequence, it’s clear that Square has taken extra steps to improve the cinematography and ramp up the cinematic experience tenfold. Speaking of cinematic, what better way to end the demo than with a cinematic action sequence, where Lighting finds herself running up the side of a building, dodging the advances of Bahamut before banishing that SOB back to where he came from.
So, if there’s anything that you take out of this preview, it should be this: Square Enix has listened. Whether they’ve listened enough though, only time will tell, but if you just factor in the inclusion of towns, the cinematic action sequences that break up the sometimes mundane paradigm switching combat and the more varied and less linear field experiences, those were easily three of the biggest complaints from the original. It’s a good first showing for Final Fantasy XIII-2, that’s for sure, now let’s hope that Square Enix builds upon these foundations and deliver fans of the franchise the game that they wanted in the first place.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is scheduled for an early 2012 release in North America and Europe.