Square-Enix’s Word to your Moogle Tour ended at New York Comic Con this weekend, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance to try out the sequel to 2009’s Final Fantasy XIII. The playable demo available–the same one gamers first saw at E3, is apparently a dated version of the final product we can expect on January 31st. XIII-2 hopes to flesh out the story of the original game, while addressing issues players had with it’s predecessor. The game opens with Serah, Lightning’s younger sister and our new protagonist, Noel battling a monstrous Titan named Atlas. After an intense, but brief bout with him, which utilizes the Paradigm system again, the party winds up in a city, inhabited with quite a few townsfolk and NPCs. One of my personal largest complaints with XIII was the lack of city exploration that gives the game a more humanistic feel, so it was nice to see that our feedback was addressed.
While wandering through the city, one of the first things I noticed was the addition of a Moogle sidekick for the party; which were also conspicuously [mostly] absent in the game’s predecessor, despite being a staple of the series. Moogles are the party’s handy little comrades and will help you get through hidden obstacles to find treasure, while offering tips occasionally as well. I also learned that the game would have quite a bit in common Square-Enix legend, Chrono Trigger, in that it would time travel would be a prominent story element, along with multiple endings depending on the decisions you made throughout the game. Some of these choices are dialogue options you’ll have to make when in a situation; these will usually determine your approach to enemies or conversations with other characters. As mentioned above, time travel is a huge plot element in XIII-2. And it’s implemented quite nicely, with the new addition of mini-games as well. (Something else that was a staple in many Final Fantasy games.) At one point during the demo, Noel and Serah fall into a time flux of sorts, and must solve a puzzle to escape and move on. In short, this was an overhead mini-game in which entailed disappearing floor tiles as you moved across them. The objective was to collect all of the crystals on the way to the finish line, in the correct sequence so you wouldn’t cut yourself off from the goal. I was informed there would be a large variety of mini-games available to the player too, most of which would be available to play at any time during a point in the story, much like the Gold Saucer in Final Fantasy VII.
While fighting my way through the city, I was able to recruit monsters to assist me in battle; Apparently hundreds of different monsters can join you, each with their own job for the Paradigm. You’ll know you’ve gained a new monster when a small crystal appears at the end of a fight; you can then add any monster in your arsenal to your party to suit your needs, each with its own unique abilities. Random encounters have also been brought back, though only to an extent. Enemies will spawn randomly, however you have a set amount of time via the Mog Clock to either engage enemies for a pre-emptive strike or escape the encounter entirely. It’s also possible to gain the aid of NPCs, like soldiers in the area to assist you as well.
When it was finally time to face Atlas again, who had begun to attack the city, I was faced with a choice; Attack him head on, or look for another method of defeating him. I went with the latter, and decided explore a bit to activate a device that would weaken him; apparently the game will be enveloped in choices like this that will impact the outcome of the story and characters, while setting you along a branching path for your ending. While fighting Atlas, I also noticed another new feature in combat; Staggering an enemy will not only weaken them for additional damage, but also trigger a “Cinematic Action” sequence. These are similar to quick time events in games like God of War, but more forgiving and strategic in nature. You can trigger one at the correct time to disable one of Atlas’ hands, which cause the most damage to the party. Paradigm shifting will also be more strategic now as well; rather than changing at one point to meet your needs, players will have to watch the enemy and shift accordingly to its actions. Such as, when Atlas is about to smash the party with his fist, it’s important to switch to a more defensive Paradigm to minimize damage taken.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is shaping up beautifully; Many issues gamers had with XIII are being addressed, while fans of the previous installment will get a more fleshed out story and expanded universe to enjoy, with a host of new characters and diverse game play experience as well. FFXIII-2 will be released in December for Japan, and in January stateside. Be sure to check back for our review of the game!