E3 2011: Final Fantasy XIII-2 Preview
Final Fantasy XIII was a flawed game. It was undoubtedly one of the least-beaten RPGs of 2010. Did you beat it? Be honest. If you did beat it, were you satisfied?
Don’t get me wrong: Final Fantasy XIII was a gorgeous game with beautiful music, and was ocassionally a joy to play, but its brutal linearity, lack of variety and inaccessible story made it a difficult game to embrace. I say that as a long-time Final Fantasy fan, and it pains me to say it.
Square-Enix must have heard a lot of people say all that stuff, because they’re clearly trying to improve the most hated aspects of Final Fantasy XIII in XIII-2.
The demonstration I saw first introduced Noel, a new male character described as “very energetic and enthusiastic.” The only really concrete thing we know about him is he has an interest in Sera (Lightning’s younger sister), who he teams up with near the Bresha Ruins. The two are attacked by a boss known as Atlas, an ephemeral giant that wants them dead for some reason.
During the boss fight, it’s clear that the combat in XIII-2 is mostly unchanged. You have the Paradigm system, there’s still Auto Battle, all that stuff is there. Battle feels mostly the same. I did notice that when you switch Paradigms, it happens in real time without that awkward close-up-on-every-character transition from XIII. Thank. God.
Battles do have one sizable addition, in the form of QTEs–or “Cinematic Action” as Square Enix is branding it. It’s the same thing though. At certain points in the battle, you’ll see a button prompt on the screen. Mash the correct button, and you’ll unleash an extended, devastating attack animation, worth thousands of hit points. These look cool, sure. I just hope they won’t regularly win boss fights for you. Where’s the fun in winning a Final Fantasy boss fight with a QTE?
Once Atlas is down (for now), Noel and Sera make their way into an excavation village to gather information on Atlas’ whereabouts. Here we’re shown a clear, welcome improvement over XIII: the village is large, explorable and has actual NPCs to talk to. This is a big one. XIII was down right clastrophobic in its linearity, but that’s not the case here: NPCs each have something interesting to say about the story, there are secret passage ways with hidden items–the whole RPG village thing is there.
I asked Adrian Arnese of Square Enix if this “more explorable” philosophy would extend to the entire game, and not just this one village.
“Overall, there’s a definite notion of giving more for the player to explore,” he said. “There’s definitely more choice for the player…That theme will continue throughout the rest of the game. The goal is to improve on the original game in every way.”
Noel and Sera eventually make their way into the Bresha Ruins to search for Atlas, and we’re introduced to a new combat feature called the “Mog Clock.” It takes its name after Mog, your friendly shape-shifting Moogle who accompanies you in XIII-2. Here’s how it works: when you approach an enemy on the map, the Mog Clock appears on the ground, and starts counting down from green, to yellow and finally to red. If you attack an enemy while its green, you’ll enter the battle with buffs and advantages. Yellow gives you a normal battle. Red, though, bestows advantages on the enemy.
Again, like the QTEs, I’m concerned that this is making the game too easy. You can pretty much enter every battle green if you just run straight at enemies. Why include this? There could be more intricate uses for the Mog Clock that we weren’t shown, of course.
While enemies are usually meant to be defeated in Final Fantasy games, in XIII-2 they can also be collected (gotta catch ‘em all!). When you defeat enemies, you’ll ocasionally collect a crystal for that enemy, enabling you to bring it into battle as an ally. In the demo, we were shown how a Flam can be collected and brought into battle. In addition to their regular abilities, each monster has an especially powerful Feral Link ability, which they can unleash after charging the Feral Link meter. This seems pretty awesome, actually, especially if it leads to ridiculous side-quests to collect insanely powerful monsters. I dig it.
After fighting through a few battles, Noel and Sera come to a mysterious machine in the ruins. It appears the machine could be used to fight Atlas, but its use is up to the player. You’re given an almost Mass Effect-style dialog wheel, with several choices, one per button: Y – What does Mog think? B – Live in the moment! X – What does Alyssa think, and so on. There are, apparently, slightly different outcomes depending on the choices you make. In the demo, we chose to take Alyssa’s advice and activate the device, which slowed down Atlas significantly.
After Atlas was defeated, we switched over to the PlayStation 3 version of the game (we were seeing the Xbox 360 version) to take a look at some Lightning game play (she’s alive!). Lightning is sporting some sexier, more elite armor. She’s clearly moved up in the world, having gained power and notoriety after playing an integral role in saving the world in XIII. For whatever reason, she’s riding Odin in horse form, and she’s battling the Chaos version of Bahamut. The whole scene looks kind of bad-ass actually, with the whole boss battle taking place at high speed on horseback. They’re trying to bring a more cinematic element to boss battles, which definitely comes through here. After this boss battle, the demo ended.
If you were disappointed by Final Fantasy XIII, you should be encouraged. XIII-2 is definitely making an effort to fix all that stuff, and it seems to be working. Some of the new mechanics don’t seem like such strong fits, but Square-Enix definitely has my attention. They’re on the right track, and they have still have some time to get it right before the game launches on Xbox 360 and PS3 in early 2012.