It’s not much of a stretch to say Final Fantasy XIII was quite controversial among both the gaming community and Final Fantasy fans in general. However, having been a fan of FFXIII, I can honestly say that I was eager to see what Square Enix had in store for Final Fantasy XIII-2. And, after getting the chance to demo it at this year’s E3, I am happy to report I was not let down.
First off, Square Enix really seems to have paid attention to some of the complaints fans had about FFXIII. Where the original game placed the player in very confined linear path for a large chunk of the game, XIII-2 seems to allow for a bit more open exploration, including wide-open spaces, different paths, and non-cutscene interaction with non-playable characters. These were elements definitely missing from the original game.
But, even with all of that, the question still remains: will XIII-2 go down the ill-fated path of the much-despised Final Fantasy X-2? Thankfully, the answer seems to be no. Unlike X-2, which followed up its melancholy predecessor with a more lighthearted turn, XIII-2 seems to be headed in the opposite direction, offering a somewhat darker follow-up to the already bittersweet tale of the original.
After getting a chance to speak with Square Enix’s Raio Mitsuno, Andrew and I did manage to learn a few details regarding the new gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, not many story details could be discussed aside from what was shown in the trailer and in the demo. From what was shown, however, a few years have passed since the end of Final Fantasy XIII, and the people of Cocoon have begun inhabiting both Gran Pulse and the remains of Cocoon. However, during that time, Lightning has gone missing and is presumed dead.
The demo itself showcased Lightning’s sister, Serah, along with newcomer Noel, who looks suspiciously like a male version of Oerba Yun Fang. Whether this is actually significant to the plot or just a case of the developers reusing an early character design of Fang (who was originally supposed to be a male character) is anyone’s guess.
Other notable demo highlights included Atlas, the demo’s main boss who appears to be teetering on the verge of existence and non-existence, given that in the first encounter with it, its hand is the only thing visible. The rest appears to be transparent, implying some strange reality warping may be going on this time around.
Furthermore, a few other gameplay features were introduced, such as quick time event-like sequences known as Cinematic Action Events. These come into play during battles and transition seamlessly from the standard battle. Also, we witnessed collectable monster crystals, which can be used to summon monsters the player has defeated as the battle party’s third member. Finally, we saw Feral Links, which are special attacks the party’s monster can deliver and the Mog Clock, which appears when a new monster appears on the field and allows the player a time limit with which to gain a preemptive strike on a monster or penalties, depending on how fast it takes for the player to enter battle.
Subsequently, enemies are no longer visible on the field like they were in XIII, but rather spawn on the field from time to time, which is where the Mog Clock mechanic comes into play. In addition, certain situations will require players to make decisions that affect gameplay, such as in the demo, where the player can either choose to face Atlas directly or activate a machine that weakens it. For the purposes of the demo, facing Atlas directly resulted in a one hit kill, but such decisions will come into play in the final version of the game, which goes hand-in-hand with the idea of the game having multiple endings.
After playing the game hands-on, I have to say I’m actually looking forward to what comes next. The Paradigm battle system from the original is back, so that may deter a few detractors from giving XIII-2 a second glance, but personally, the game is shaping up to be a great sequel.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is set for release in early 2012 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.