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Final Fantasy XIII-2 Preview

Perhaps the second time is the charm.

It’s been a bit of a rough road for the Final Fantasy series in the past few years. There was a four year gap between Final Fantasy XII and XIII due to a protracted development cycle, and we’re still waiting to get our hands on its companion game, Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

XIII met with some disappointment (read: rage) from long-time fans of the beloved RPG. FF XIV, which is Square Enix’s second MMORPG, had a famously poor launch, causing the development team to be axed and the game remade almost from the ground up. So in the wake of all that bad news, here comes Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII-2, which is not only the first FF game to get a direct sequel since 2002’s X-2, but also is an apology letter of a sort. At least, that’s what Square Enix is hoping for. Fans may be apprehensive, but from what we’ve seen, this may be the game that you wanted back in March of 2010.

Taking place 3 years after the events of XIII, the sequel puts you in control of Serah, Lightning’s younger sister, and the impetus for the main quest the last time around. Serah is looking for Lightning, who has somehow disappeared, with the initial trailer showing her whisked away by unknown forces. Serah is joined by a new character named Noel, who is a time traveler from a future where the mostly industrial world of Cocoon has crash landed into the lush wilderness of Gran Pulse, turning it into a wasteland. The two adventurers set off on a journey through time and dimensions to not only find Lightning, but try and stop the calamity that has occurred in Noel’s time. And who knows? You might just run into future versions of the cast of XIII. Does that include the crystallized Fang and Vanille? You’ll just have to play and see.

Unlike Final Fantasy X-2 which featured a combat system completely different from its predecessor, XIII-2 actually keeps most of the original title’s battle system intact. This is a wise move, considering that the battle system was one of the only features of FF XIII that didn’t seem to draw the universal ire of long-time Final Fantasy fans. You’ll still have a segmented ATB gauge that can be set up with various attacks. While you can freely input these commands manually, the battles in XIII-2 are so fast-paced that your best course of action is to select the auto battle command. This frees you up to monitor the flow of battle and utilize the returning Paradigm Shifts to your advantage. For those that don’t know, Paradigm Shifts let you change the job classes of your party at will. The key to success is knowing when to attack, when to buff and debuff, and take time to go defensive. Yes, the battle system returns mostly intact, and FF XIII veterans should feel right at home. But what of that third character slot? The game revolves around 2 characters, after all.

That leads us to the major change in XIII-2: monster allies! No, no, you can leave the Pokemon comparisons at the door. This has much more in common with some of the Dragon Quest games, or Demi Kids if you want to get really obscure. As you defeat monsters, some of them will join up with your party and can be summoned at will.

Unlike the signature summons of the Final Fantasy series, these monsters will join the frontlines like a normal party member, and each one fulfills one of the Paradigms from XIII (Commando, Ravager, Medic, Synergist, Sentinel, and Saboteur). These allies can be leveled up, upgraded, and even adorned with cosmetic gear.

In addition to your monstrous pals, Cinematic Actions add some Quick Time elements to bigger battles. While that may make some players groan, it’s worth mentioning that contextual button presses have made appearances in Final Fantasy games since FF VIII. These Cinematic Actions won’t cause you to die if you fail, but may put you at an advantage if you succeed. At this point, it’s difficult to see how prevalent these events are. The occasional QTE in a boss battle could be pretty awesome, but if they pop up in average battles the thrill will certainly wear off during a 60 hour quest.

While many elements of Final Fantasy XIII were divisive, like the story and characters, the universal complaint about that game was the poor level design, lack of exploration, and overall linearity. Fans can rejoice, as the areas in XIII-2 feature plenty of places to explore and get lost in, and introduce a shocking concept to the Cocoon and Pulse universe: towns! Yes, friends, there are people in FF XIII-2, and they appear in places other than cutscenes. They have homes and businesses that you can shop from. You know, like an RPG with the name Final Fantasy on the box. It's a highly appealing element that should get players excited to revisit this world.

While Cocoon and Pulse may not elicit the warm and fuzzy memories of Besaid, Ivalice, or Vana’diel, there were certainly interesting things to find in XIII. Getting the chance to explore more of these areas should be a treat for those that were able to find the good in that game. And for the mini game lovers out there, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s an area that brings memories of the Golden Saucer from FF VII to mind. Fancy a wager on some chocobo racing?

For my part, I enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, but I can easily say that it resides towards the bottom of my series ranking. It’s the first game in the franchise that I’d rate below a 4 since Final Fantasy II, but I loved the battle system and the characters. A game that lets me revisit Cocoon, Pulse, and the original cast is something I find myself more and more eager for. The addition of towns, side quests, and other diversions from the “run forward, fight monsters, watch cutscene” formula of XIII will go a long way to winning back my enthusiasm for the Final Fantasy franchise. Look forward to it when it comes out on January 31.


 

Comments

Vic Roman Staff Alumnus

12/20/2011 at 03:57 PM

I'm excited for this game, pretty much with the same reasoning that is highlighted in the article. The battle system was awesome, but having more freedom than straight-line corridors is a welcome change to form. I miss the wandering aspect of past FF titles.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/20/2011 at 05:07 PM

I would bet $100 that the guy opposing Lightning is voiced by the same actor who played Grimoire Weiss in Nier. I'd recognize that voice anywhere.

(Nier trailer) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsWZ27odqRQ

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/20/2011 at 08:39 PM

@Vic: Likewise. I still love FF. I might rope you in to appearing on PixlTalk when XIII-2 comes out. I think you and I are the only fans at the moment.

@Angelo: I skipped Nier. I keep hearing great things, though.

Vic Roman Staff Alumnus

01/24/2012 at 05:30 PM

I'd for sure be up for PixlTalk when 13-2 comes out. I can talk FF games all day (minus 11 and 14, never played them)

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/24/2012 at 09:23 PM

We're doing an All Japan episode next week, and I think Matt M. is going to be on that one. But I want to do an all FF show, so I'll keep that in mind!

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

12/20/2011 at 09:46 PM

I also loved the battle system, although I did read plenty of complaints about that too. "You just watch it happen!" I thought it was a slick way to stay involved, keep things frenetic, and required a good amount of planning to get a successful set of paradigms in your queue.

I'm pretty pumped for this! I made sure to order the version that comes bundled with the soundtrack since I still pine for XIII's soundtrack, but do not like its steep price.

Mike Wall Staff Alumnus

12/20/2011 at 10:13 PM

Nice article Julian, I think you actually made me want to go back FF 13. I may come to curse you in the near future for this, but nicely done sir.

Jason Ross Senior Editor

12/24/2011 at 01:20 PM

For those already sold on the game, Newegg sent me an email today saying if you preordered it, they offered it for 47.99. That's pretty cheap, I think.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/24/2011 at 01:35 PM

@Mike: Tell ya what, if you do that and feel the need to curse me, you can come on PixlTalk crew 2 and we can have a nice, (mostly) civil debate over it.

@Jason: Pfft! It's a Final Fantasy game, and I'm me. Preordered the collector's edition as soon as it was announced. Crazy? Probably. Regrets? Maybe. Is it something I need to do? Absolutely.

Jason Ross Senior Editor

12/24/2011 at 03:11 PM

Hey, I'm just pointing out a pretty good deal for people who like to make early purchases. Cut me some slack!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

12/24/2011 at 04:37 PM

Oh yeah, it's a great deal. I'm just insane. Don't mind me.

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