Final Fantasy XIII split fans and critics down the middle, while many loved the change in direction for the series some hated it just as much. Reviewers were scoring the game at around 8 or 9 out of 10, praising the combat system and the production of the game while fans were upset by the lack of freedom and the slog to get through the first third of the game. Die hard fans of Final Fantasy will never like change, and yes from the days of FFVII -IX which was a personal favourite time for me, the game has changed and advanced a lot, but it wouldn’t it be somewhat foolish for a company to bring out thirteen or so games that were near exactly the same.
As a long term fan of the Final Fantasy games I can see just how much they have changed over the years bringing in all kinds of new aspects and abilities for each new game and revisiting and improving the parts we know and love. Square Enix has promised that Final Fantasy XIII-2 will be an huge improvement on its predecessor and it’s clear to see that they are determined to make some major developments, so much so that it has all become a little overwhelming. But just what have they changed for the new game and will it be for the better? Decide for yourselves after reading my hands on impressions from the demo and all the inside facts.
It’s been three years since Lightning and co saved Cocoon from colliding with Pulse. Serah, now living in Gran Pulse, is looking for her sister who unknown to anyone has entered a new world, Valhalla, when she fell to the base of the crystal pillar supporting Cocoon. Time gates have begun showing up in New Bodham and further afield and it is said that by passing through one of these gates, one can eventually arrive in Valhalla.
The setting and story for XIII-2 is looking to be a lot darker and more mysterious and can be seen from the sneak peak of trailers and screenshots that have been released. In my opinion XIII was a bit over the top cute and almost kooky in places and made for some rather odd character interactions. Usually Square Enix manage to translate the Japanese humour and characters well but something just didn’t seem to fit. Having the story go to a darker and more mysterious place seems like a good direction and from the short amount of story that I saw in the demo the tone has definitely changed.
Time travel has been done countless times before in many different games and now it’s here for the first time in a Final Fantasy game. You are given the option to travel forward and backward in time to change events that have passed and that are yet to come and the outcomes can change the course of the game. The key word of many people who complained about the previous games shortfalls was linearity, it was too enclosed and straightforward. This addition looks to be opening the game up for more variability and exploration and hopefully the whole time travel experience can be done in a unique and interesting way.
Passing from sister to sister the main character of XIII-2 is now Serah Farron a character who was never actually controllable in the first game and only really seen during cut scenes. She is set on finding her sister Lightning who unknown to her has entered a new world, Valhalla. Everyone else believes Lightning to be dead and Serah will have a hard time convincing them otherwise.
New to the adventure is Noel Kreiss who has time travelled seven hundred years from the future to change the fate of the human race of which, in his time, he was the only survivor. He claims to have met Lightning and to have knowledge about time travel.
Snow Villiers and Hope Estheim both make a return looking somewhat different and more mature than when we last saw them and Lightning, the main character from the previous game will also be playable for short periods of the story.
The ever lovable, or depending on how you see it, incredibly annoying Moogles have returned to the world of Final Fantasy bringing with them new combat and treasure finding abilities.
The FFXIII ATB (Active Time Battle) combat system for me was probably the strongest point in the game. It allowed for a fast paced battle against numerous foes and using the Paradigm shift system, fast changes between a team that could cause a large amount of damage and a team that could tank and heal to recover from multiple attacks. The combat system is largely untouched for XIII-2 but some changes have been made. The inclusion of cinematic battle sequences during major boss fights is one such change. These cinematic battles allow you to deal larger amounts of damage than usual and even buff your team providing you can hit a series of buttons in quick succession that appear on the screen. From first hand play I can say that this looks as if it will be a great inclusion to the combat sequences. The cinematic sequences kept me interested, even in the longer battles and increased the pace and excitement.
Moogles have brought with them a new system for entering combat called the Mog Clock. Monsters won’t be seen walking around the map anymore and instead you will have a moogle companion with you at all times that will alert you of nearby foes only. When one does appear the Mog clock will begin to count down and depending on how long it takes you to initiate combat you could be aided or hindered. If you are quick to attack, you may receive combat buffs and the enemy will be immobilised allowing you a preemptive strike. If you take a little time and the enemy notices you, the battle will start as normal with no buffs to your team. If the Mog Clock runs out of time, the enemy will be fully aware and alert and should you fail the encounter you will be unable to retry.
Players can now tame monsters they encounter throughout the game and call on them to fight during normal game play, taking the place of XIII’s Eidolons. Each monster will have different attacks and abilities and can even heal you so choosing the right one for each encounter and situation could make a lot of difference to progression through the storyline.
It is now possible for your characters to become wounded during battle, meaning the maximum available health for that character has been reduced and cannot be healed past with normal spells or potions but instead with special ‘wound potions’. Enemies with these certain attacks and abilities and considered very dangerous. Fortunately some abilities that you gain in your Crystarium will have the same affect on enemies and can be used just as much to your own advantage.
Previously Final Fantasy games have not included difficulties and have set all players along the same route meaning that if you get stuck you just need to try again and again or go back and level up your skills before progressing further. However if you are finding it hard going, for the first time Square Enix have included a difficulty setting allowing you to make things a bit easier and hopefully progress that little bit smoother through the game.
One thing that I really enjoy about Final Fantasy games are the deep levels of stat and combat customisations that you can experiment with. Being able to focus your character on a certain aspect whether it be damage, healing, tanking or a mixture of all of them and being able to freely choose stats to upgrade and advance is what really makes each persons playthrough of the game unique. This was somewhat lacking in XIII and the usual wealth of options were narrowed.
Luckily for us Square Enix have brought in Tri-Ace, a Japanese developer who are well known for giving their games action packed battle and deep and interesting skill systems. The result is the improved Crystarium system used for adding stats and learning new combat abilities, which will take the shape of the chosen characters weapon. This time around there will be no cap on how far you can advance the Crystarium at any point in the story and you will be able to access all of the main roles for every character right from the start. Instead of being tiered the Crystarium is now advanced in levels and at the end of each of these levels you are given a choice of things to advance, whether it be increasing you accessory capacity, adding an additional attack slot during battle or enhancing a characters role (ie medic, commando etc) allowing new abilities to be learnt. Tamed monsters will also have their own Crystarium allowing you to further improve combat efficiency.
From what I saw of the Crystarium in the demo it seemed a little confusing as to exactly what stats you were levelling up and how exactly it all worked. Compared to XIII it did seem more in depth though and the choice of advancements every time you levelled your Crystarium was a very nice touch.
Entirely new to Final Fantasy is the Live Trigger System. This is much like Bioware’s conversation wheel in that it allows you to choose different directions to take the conversation, each with different outcomes. These decisions can shape the story and multiple endings to the game are possible depending on your actions.
Graphics and Interface
The interface is largely untouched from the previous game with the same layout and only slight changes and updates for some of the new abilities, these all fit in seamlessly though and overall it has a very polished and easy to use feel. The graphics, as always with Final Fantasy games, are beautiful and move seamlessly between mini cutscenes and live controllable action. No major story based cutscenes were included in the demo which is a shame as this is where the graphics usually excel above and beyond what is expected. I’m sure any doubts on this part will soon be put to rest as soon as the full game is out.
While the demo is very short, it’s clear to see that Square Enix have taken in a lot of what people have been saying they want from a Final Fantasy game and brought it into XIII-2. They have also taken the time to include some aspects that have never before been seen in the Final Fantasy series. Exploration, customisation, great story lines, beautiful cutscenes and exciting battles are the things that make me keep coming back to every new Final Fantasy game and it sure looks like they are all present here. If everything pays off this looks as if it could be one of the best Final Fantasy games yet.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 will be released on PS3 and Xbox 360 on February 3rd around Europe.