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Final Fantasy XIII-2: Hands On Preview

The Final Fantasy brand has been suffering of late and it has seemed for a while that no amount of phoenix downs could save it.  Final Fantasy XII was critiqued for deviating too far from the series’ roots, Final Fantasy XIII was criticized for its nearly nonsensical storyline and extreme linearity, and Final Fantasy XIV was so colossally bad that Square-Enix just started charging its customers the proposed monthly fee to play for a game that was released well over a year ago. 

Amidst its struggles however, the upcoming Final Fantasy XIII-2 shines brighter than the brightest crystal for some, while others regard it with cautious optimism and still others brace for the worst.  Whether you liked the original, didn’t play it, or hated it, luckily FF13-2 will do enough to try and placate all three of the aforementioned groups.


As with all titles in the franchise, expect to see some gorgeous graphics.  Beautiful environments, character models, and special effects were some of the few aspects of the first game that were rock solid, and 13-2 will be no different.  A couple of characters from Final Fantasy XIII will sport new, cooler looks, Hope included (in addition to Snow).  The setting promises to drastically shift due to the new Historia Crux time-travel system, which will also alleviate the claustrophobic feeling derived from the linearity of the first game.  From what we know thus far though, expect to see many similar environments while you’re exploring the wilds of Gran Pulse or the ordered locales of Cocoon.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 will also sport a host of new gameplay features, some of which work better than others.  The newly released demo on both Playstation Network and Xbox Live does a fantastic job on focusing on these new additions, so feel free to check them out ahead of time if you’d like.  In an effort to modernize the series, quick time events have been added.  Dubbed “Cinematic Action,” the wonderfully detailed cut scenes of previous Final Fantasies have been done away with in favor of in-engine interactive events which force the player to enter a series of button commands for the action to continue.  Another version of cinematic action exists in the game’s battle system, in which the player can trigger the “Feral Link” abilities of their chosen monster companions (players will have the opportunity to recruit monsters to their team as they defeat them in battle; this leads to more diverse paradigm combinations and adds another layer to the already magnificent battle system of the first game).  Thus far, cinematic action works pretty well in terms of keeping the player involved rather than idle.


Tied in to cinematic action is the new “Live Trigger” system, which allows the player some options when having conversations with NPCs.  Although the game’s director Motomu Toriyama claims that live trigger isn’t meant to influence the path of the game as much as it is to enjoy conversation, there was a live trigger event at the end of the demo that gave you the option to either simply fight the boss or attempt to take control of him instead.  This absolutely changed the path of the game, and I hope that more of these triggers are present in the finished product.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 brings back another aspect of the series that was largely missing from 13, mini-games.  The “Temporal Rift” system will allow players to solve puzzles in between dimensions that will lead to them resolving a paradox in the real world.  While not featured in the demo, these temporal rifts promise to add even more to the gameplay.


Finally, the last gameplay addition is the “Mog Clock,” in which your moogle companion, appropriately named Mog, will give you a chance to get a leg up on your attackers.  Unlike the first game, enemies no longer appear randomly throughout the world.  The encounter rate is instead similar to random encounters, but with an added twist; the player has a chance before every encounter to either improve or decrease their chances of survival.  When a monster spawns near you, Mog will alert you, giving you an opportunity to score a pre-emptive strike or perhaps become the victim of a back attack.  Mog will also be able to find hidden treasure for you.  I just hope that she doesn’t talk too much, because her voice can be pretty irritating.

*Story spoilers ahead for those who haven’t finished the first game*

In terms of the story, the player will control Lightning’s sister and perpetual damsel in distress Serah, along with a new companion named Noel (pictured above).  It’s not clear where Noel came from, but by the looks of him it’s possible he could be related to the previously martyred Fang.  The duo, along with their monster companions, will focus on finding Lightning, as she has disappeared into another dimension after she and her group defeated the fal’Cie at the end of the first game.  There is a new antagonist as well called Caius Ballad (he is the figure opposite Lightning in the game’s title art), who is said to be Lightning’s equal in every way, shape, and form.

Final Fantasy XIII-2
will release in North America on January 31st (there is a collector’s edition available as well for $79.99 compared to $59.99 for the standard edition).  To put it in perspective, the Japanese magazine Famitsu, which rarely dishes out its coveted perfect score, gave the game a 40/40.  Let’s hope that American audiences feel the same and Final Fantasy XIII-2 gets Square-Enix back on track to making great games again.


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