There’s a lot to love about what Square Enix has shown us so far in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Many fans complained about the linearity of the first one, as well as the fact that there were no towns (in a Final Fantasy game? Sacrilege!). Fans didn’t like the Paradigm Shift system and thought the Eidolons were pointless. I tend to disagree with much of what’s been said – I love Paradigm Shifting, and enjoyed the story and the aesthetic of Final Fantasy XIII. Much of what made the first game strong is still there, but there are a lot of new features that may reignite faith in what some consider to be a hackneyed franchise.
Platforms: PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix, Tri-Ace
Genre: RPG Sequels to Look Forward to
Release Date: January 31, 2012
ESRB Rating: Teen
The demo begins in Episode 2 in a place called Bresha, with a monologue by Lightning in the background as you’re introduced to the scenery – and to some new characters. You already know Lightning’s sister, Serah, but she’s joined by a male character named Noel and a Moogle (appropriately referred to as “Mog”). The three time travel into Cocoon using a gate, and almost immediately get attacked by a giant hand. Noel tries to protect Serah, who then busts out an amazing bow and shows that she doesn’t necessarily need to be protected. The characters are thrown into battle and, in typical XIII style, you’re given your first tutorial.
I felt right at home in the Paradigm Shift tutorial. It’s mostly just a quick overview of what you already know if you’ve played the first game – how the ATB gauge works, what the Auto-Battle option does, and the basics of Paradigm Shifting. Right now, the only ones you have available are Double Trouble (two Commandos), Slash & Burn (Commando and Ravager), War & Peace (Commando and Medic), and Twin Shields (double Sentinel). Paradigm Shifting works seamlessly now as well, without the quick little cinematic of each character shifting into their role. The tutorial ends with the words, “Now on to victory!” And that’s exactly where I went.
I was slipping into my comfort zone and playing the battle out when suddenly there was something brand new: a Cinematic Action, which was basically part cinema scene and part Quick Time Event. There were two in a row, and getting them right first moves your characters out of the way in time and stops them from being smashed, and then the next one staggers the enemy, which blew me away. Finishing a Cinematic Action perfectly also nets you an extra item at the end of the battle. Staggering still works the same as it did in XIII – there’s a bar that goes up as you attack an enemy, and once you get it to that enemy’s stagger level, they become easier to deal damage to. Commandos keep the level stable, while Ravagers make the bar go up more quickly. Once you stagger the enemy, you can use different offensive methods to see what brings their health down the quickest, and take them out.
Once I got to a certain point in the battle, soldiers in aerial vehicles began to attack it as well. “Paradox effect confirmed. Targeting Atlas,” one of them said. You then go through another Cinematic Action and attack Atlas from the air. After the battle is done, you get a similar screen as you did in XIII, with stats and a score and rating and Crystogen Points (CP), but now you also get Gil (that’s money in the Final Fantasy world, for the five of you who don’t know), which used to be something that was in limited quantity in the first game. I’m pleased to see this change in the sequel, as having a limited amount of Gil was always frustrating to me, and very un-Final Fantasy-like.
The new goal for Serah and Noel is to find a way to defeat the giant, Atlas. Noel is your leader, which you can change in the options, but I decided to run around with him for a while and see how I liked this new character. As I walked around, I was able to interact with some of the NPCs and speak with them. If they had an ellipsis above their head in a speech bubble, I could go up and initiate conversation with them, learning more about the surroundings and what was going on in the story. Characters without the indicator would still talk, and I could hear them as I passed by. You can discover more about the story this way, like the fact that where you are now, the Bresha Ruins, is where people escaped to after the purge that happened in XIII. Someone also mentions that people now rely on the Academy, the people researching here, now that the Fal’cie are gone.
It took me a little while to realize that Serah and Noel are time travelling. I went into the menu and read about the characters and the story so far in my Datalog, which brought me up to speed with some of what was going on. Noel is from the future and is trying to help Serah, who is looking for Lightning, who has disappeared. Serah believes she is still alive and wants to find her. Serah and Snow can’t be together, though that isn’t explained in the information given so far. And there’s a new character, Alyssa, who is a teenager in the research party and communicates with Serah and Noel via a radio during the demo. There was also information on Time Gates, which can be accessed by Artefacts. Paradoxes are being caused around these gates, and that’s how Atlas came to be on this timeline, though Noel thinks the rest of his body is on another timeline.
I continued on to another area, called “Bresha Ruins 005 AF: Echoes of the Past.” Serah asked why Noel offered to stop the giant, to which Noel replied that they couldn’t let Atlas shut the place down, as that would stop the researchers. I got an item from one of the floating balls (the same as in XIII), and then suddenly we were attacked by monsters that popped up out of the ground – Cait Sith and Zwerg Scandroid.
After the battle, the monsters turned into crystal, and I unlocked a “Paradigm Pack.” Mog explained to Serah and Noel that they could have certain monsters fight side-by-side with them. They said they had seen Lightning fighting with monsters in battle, and Mog said, “You can do it too, Kupo!” New functions are added to the menu through this – you can now add monsters to your Party Paradigm, switching up your Paradigms in amazing ways. Putting Cait Sith in the mix effectively adds a Medic, changing the Paradigms to Tireless Charge, Diversity (my personal favorite from XIII), Discretion, and Consolidation. I took the time here to add in more Paradigms to my list as well, experimenting with the new options I had available.