I’m a huge gamer; and by huge, I mean to say that I have over 1,500 games in my collection at home. I’ve played pretty much any genre out there, on pretty much every system out there. Among all of the different games throughout the years, one series will always hold the greatest place in my heart and that series is Final Fantasy. I won’t deny I am a huge fan of the series, but by no means am I blind to the faults of many of the series’ games. I believe XIII is just as linear as X, I believe X-2 was the worst of the series, and Dirge of Cerberus wasn’t far behind. I play both the grind-fest Final Fantasy XI, and the hot mess known as Final Fantasy XIV. I also have to say XIII was my fourth favorite game from the series, and despite the linearity, it delivered on most of my expectations for a Final Fantasy title. This weekend, I had the opportunity to play the Final Fantasy XIII-2 demo, and now that you know where I’m coming from as a Final Fantasy fan, you’ll know how much weight my words carry for better or worse.
When XIII-2 was first announced, I was giddy as a school girl just as I am with every Final Fantasy title announced (Except for maybe Crystal Bearers for the Wii.) As time went on, and I saw more and more of the game from various trailers, I began to get worried. I didn’t like Serah’s costume. I didn’t like Noel or the fact Serah was hanging around him when she’s supposed to be engaged to Snow. I certainly did not like the lack of most of the characters I had come to love through XIII, and my thoughts kept returning to X-2. I began to convince myself this game was going to be nothing but a waste of time and money, and I knew that I was so hooked I’d probably wind up buying it any way. Thankfully, the demo cleared away many of my doubts and I now anxiously await the new title!
In every aspect that I could discern from this demo, XIII-2 is markedly better. When I started playing the demo, I was informed that this takes place roughly at the beginning of Chapter 2, so it was indeed early in the game. If FF XIII is any mark to compare this to, this would translate to roughly 1 – 1 ½ hours into the game. The battle system appears to be largely the same as it was in FF XIII. It’s still using both the ATB system and the Paradigm meaning there will be literally zero learning curve for those of you who played through XIII. The one thing that did change battle wise is the inclusion of events mid-battle that adds to the cinematic feel the Final Fantasy series tries to deliver with their titles. If you’ve played Heavenly Sword or God of War, you more than likely know how this goes – some event happens in the battle and a button combination appears on screen. Press the buttons at the right time, and you succeed! If you press the wrong button, or miss your shot you’ll “fail”. Note that failing doesn’t result in a game over or anything like that. Rather, you might be subject to an attack from the boss, or an alternate cutscene may happen. I was assured that while there may be some rewards for successfully completing one of these cinematics, they will generally be minor and not have a large effect on your game.
Another addition to the battle system is the inclusion of monster team mates. Randomly after a battle you have a chance of acquiring the ability to summon one of these creatures, of which there will be more than 150 to choose from (As hard as it is, I would ask you to refrain from making any Pokémon comments.) Each of these monsters can be set to each of the different paradigms so, for example, if you switch to Commando you’ll get a Behemoth, whereas you’ll have a Flan for your Ravager. Each monster also has its own unique “Feral Link” ability which is something like a Limit Break. I hesitate to compare it to such because even though it is a very powerful attack, it isn’t very hard to charge up and get access to. I would guesstimate the rate to be somewhere between 1 – 2 fights.
One thing a lot of fans complained about, and Square added with this sequel are towns. Personally, I didn’t really care whether the game had towns or not, and I was thankful that XIII did not in fact have towns since I thought it went against everything the story was trying to portray. As, I believe, it makes more sense this time around, it can be forgiven. A nice addition to being able to talk to random NPCs about how they like swords, or welcoming you to their city is that all of these lines of dialogue are fully voiced! Apparently, there will be Japanese language tracks on the disk in addition to the English which will be nice for those obsessive fans that want to hear things in Japanese because they claim the awesome work the English voice cast did is inferior or doesn’t portray the same feelings as its original version. For me, I am more than happy to listen to the stellar voice acting in a language I can understand so that’s a non-issue.
It was painfully obvious, maybe just a little too obvious that the development team purposefully went out of their way to make FF XIII-2 more open this time around. In the demo there were multiple paths you could take to get to your ultimate destination and plenty of side paths with hidden treasures. Enemy encounters still occur while you are roaming around, but now you have more control over whether you get a surprise attack, or get surprised. In addition, sometimes you can run enemies by NPCs who will attempt to hold the monsters off for you so that you can escape. It’s the little things, and the polish that they put into this game that’s really showing they care. Even the demo, which takes place in Bresha isn’t just copy/paste straight from FF XIII. While it looks very similar, and it’s believable that the action is taking place there, it has its own unique look and feel from having been occupied the past three years.
With everything that has been announced, and everything that I’ve seen, I am really excited for this game. If you haven’t seen our interview with Square Enix Brand Manager Parker Sapp, I highly encourage you to go watch it now. There’s a lot of great insight there for Final Fantasy fans, and what they can expect of the upcoming title. Unfortunately, the one thing that can’t be answered through the demo or an interview is also the most important: Is the story good? Be sure to check back with us in January when we can give you the answer and whether this title has broken Square’s curse with bad sequels, or if you can count it among the likes of X-2, Dirge of Cerberus, and Revenant Wings.