Final Fantasy XIII-2 began development as soon as Final Fantasy XIII was released so it didn’t really matter whether fans wanted a sequel or not.
First of all, this game looks aesthetically beautiful. As always, the graphics of the Final Fantasy are at an ineffable level of amazing. Before I get into the demo, I should delve a little into the backstory of the game. The game takes place about two-three years after the events of XIII. The residents of Cocoon have been hard at work creating a living on the fierce lands of Gran Pulse. Lightning has gone missing; she has been gone so long that most people in the world presume that she is dead. Serah, however, believes otherwise. Serah and NORA have been eking out a living in a city called New Bodhum on Gran Pulse. Suddenly, the town gets attacked (You can’t have an RPG without your hometown getting owned in the beginning of the game) by monsters. During the fracas, a man named Noel saves Serah and makes a move on her. (Square Enix are sure good at coming up with great male names) Noel is a man with no with no past and fights so that everyone has a future. I have no idea what Snow is up to when there’s this random guy getting at his girl.
The demo starts off with newbie Noel and the mawkish Serah jumping through a portal. In front of them is giant who is causing trouble to the locals. The only part of him that is visible is his arm. In XIII-2, all the paradigms are the same. Thus, paradigm shifting is back in action for XIII-2. During the battle, the giant whose name is Atlas, rears up and attempts to deliver a haymaker but you’re given the option to press the left control stick to dodge it. These are called cinematic live trigger events; it’s a fancy way of saying quick time events. XIII-2 will now have feature QTE’s in boss battles. The only time you’ll see a QTE in a normal battle is through your monsters (which I’ll get to).
After the battle, Noel and Serah find themselves in a town. Yes, you heard that right! There are towns in XIII-2. Are you surprised and shocked?! Yes, XIII-2 will be incorporating a handful of towns and cities. Also, get this: there are NPC’s in this town. Yeah, I know, that’s quite a portentous feature to this game, or any other RPG for that matter. This game is already looking to make up for all the foibles of XIII.
Oh, something I forgot to mention is that there’s a moogle that follows you around. The moogle transforms into Serah’s weapon which is a bow that can transform into a sword. Noel rushes into battle with dual swords which can combine into one sword. Another feature of the moogle is the ability to find treasure. Yes, put on those pirate hats; it’s time to find some booty (and I’m not referring to Serah’s meretricious outfit). By holding down the R1 button, the moogle will reveal hidden treasure chests. You can tell that there’s a hidden treasure chest because you’ll see blurred outline surrounding it which is very much the same blur you see when you use stealth in a Metal Gear Solid game or use stealth units in StarCraft.
You wanna know what else is neat about this game?! You can manually jump. Personally, I find this feature cool because you can’t manually jump in any of the Final Fantasies.
After exploring, I ventured into the dungeon area to see what I could do about Atlas (he wasn’t defeated in the first encounter). When you fight monsters, they have a chance of dropping a monster crystal. Once obtained, that monster joins your party. Each monster only has one paradigm. For instance, the Flan is your ravager partner. If you paradigm shift into Cerberus, the Flan will be switched out with the Feral Behemoth who is your commando monster. Each monster has a Feral Link bar. This bar will fill as the monster attacks and receives damage. Once full, press the square button to unleash the monsters’ special ability. I burst in resplendent laughter as I noticed that the Flan’s special move was a reference to Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. Square Enix has stated that there are over 150 monsters to capture… Well… With a statement like that… I suppose I just…. GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!
Anyway, dungeons are no longer mere straight lines. They actually have different routes and ways to navigate them. Dungeon exploring has returned once again to its rightful place in the Final Fantasy series. The way encounters work in XIII-2 is through the moogle time meter. Monsters no longer roam around aimlessly on the field. Instead, they pop out of nowhere. When this happens, you’ll see a recondite clock at the bottom of the screen. This clock will go from green to yellow to red as time passes by. When the clock is green, hit the X button to attack the enemy and you’ll get a pre-emptive strike and possibly other buffs such as haste and protect. If you engage the enemy when the clock is yellow, you will enter into a normal battle. If the enemy engages you when the clock is red, you will be at a disadvantage. It is possible to run from the enemies that pop out, but sometimes they catch up to you and fight you when the clock is red. In the demo, it is extremely easy to get the preemptive strike on enemies.
During the dungeon exploration, a conversation regarding Atlas will happen in which you’re given a conversation choice. This is called a live trigger. Supposedly, these live triggers can affect the game. This particular live trigger in the demo doesn’t seem to affect anything though. This WRPG staple has reared its blithe head in XIII-2. Conversation choices were non-existent in XIII so this should definitely be a welcome edition.
At this point in the demo, you can take on Atlas head-on, which will result in you getting one-shotted. This may earn the ire of several people trying out this game, but I think this instant death sends a clear message: XIII-2 is no longer the linear game that XIII was. You actually have to explore a different part of a dungeon and find an ancient control device in an attempt to control Atlas. Once you reach this device, you get sucked into a butthole (aka some weird portal). In this portal, you must solve a relatively easy puzzle. I absolutely love this addition to XIII-2. I feel that most RPG’s nowadays just feature dungeons where all you do is fight through enemies and fight the boss at the end. I want to see some of the dungeon innovation that was in the original Wild Arms to be incorporated in these modern RPG’s.
After completing the puzzles, you can now take on Atlas. Once Atlas is defeated, the demo ends. Oh, something else I forgot to mention is the music has a hip-hop feel to it. It’s very redolent of Shoji Meguro’s work (music composer of Persona 3 and 4). Overall, FF XIII-2 is shaping up to be everything that XIII was not.
My only real issue is the story of XIII-2. Square Enix is just as good as Disney in terms of telling stories through sequels and prequels. Already, this game is featuring some space-time-warp dimension aspect. Lightning is in a place where time no longer exists; and Lightning notices that the future for Gran Pulse is no longer certain. Noel also feels the same way about the uncertain future. The dungeon in the demo has several paradox portals so we are most likely going to see some time-bending-paradox-portal-extra dimensional-holy horse nuts-what the eff is going on-type of plot lines… Which can get convoluted very quickly. Other than that, everything else about the game looks pretty solid.
This game is set to release in January of 2012 for PS3 and Xbox 360.