of the sequel is up. It's due out on March 2, 2012.
If we were given ten hours with which to preview Final Fantasy XIII we would be presenting you with four pages covering a tutorial. That’s not even a joke. It’s barely an exaggeration.
But being given ten hours to play Final Fantasy XIII-2, one of those super-rare direct sequels Square Enix sometimes does, means we are covering… well, a Final Fantasy game. It turns out when we all complained, somebody did indeed listen.
An extended opening sequence sets the scene and introduces players to the Cinematic Action element of the game (QTEs to you and me). It’s Final Fantasy as we would all expect – overblown, dramatic, beautiful and just a bit confusing.
Soon enough, it’s over – effectively your tutorial is done – and players are dropped into a… no… this can’t be right, can it? A town? With people to talk to? And cats to chase? And water to wade in?
Shouldn’t we be getting constantly pressed on and not allowed to take on side quests or simply saunter about for another 24 hours of playing time, just like Final Fantasy XIII?
But we already said – Square Enix listened. You’ll be visiting towns, talking to NPCs, not constantly pressed on into the next area. You’ll be able to take on side quests almost immediately, and you’ll be able to talk to actual shopkeepers rather than a floating save-ball of doom. Even Hope – at least in the time we met him – was less annoying than in Final Fantasy XIII.
What do we mean by ‘the time we met him’? Well, this is a Final Fantasy that takes its cues from Chrono Trigger (and Cross, of course), dallying with the whole concept of time travel, whizzing around and changing the course of events, dicking about with fate and generally meaning you get to experience a story over hundreds of years, rather than just a few days/weeks.
Far from being just a secondary, storytelling element or a cheap gimmick, the time-travel system – incorporated into what is being called Historia Crux (otherwise known as ‘a menu’) – has the potential to make Final Fantasy XIII-2 very interesting indeed. As well as very confusing.
Players can take different routes through the game, through different ‘episodes’ set in different places and times. Depending on choices made in each episode, routes taken through the game will be different and a selection of different endings are available.
And the word ‘different’ is used a lot. You’re free to choose to replay entire episodes from the beginning, or simply revisit them as and when you see the need – tried (and failed) to fight a giant flan? Travel to another time, end the paradox that causes said flan to be super-sized, return to the original theatre of combat and face off against the newly weakened (and smaller) flan.
Naturally that’s just a single example, and the choices of routes that can be taken – and the encouragement to replay episodes to pick up new and hidden items – makes for an experience that could well be very deep, if not just ruddy well time-consuming.
The additions thrown into the Final Fantasy XIII-2 pile don’t all smack of genius or delicious design decisions, and nowhere is this more evident than with the Live Trigger dialogue system.
Think something like Mass Effect, or any adventure game where you’re allowed the choice of how to respond to something. Then take those responses and make them both sporadically implemented and so they have very little effect on how the story plays out. Then you’ve got Live Trigger.
It’s easy to see why it’s been brought in – it gives players the illusion that they’re having more of an impact on what happens in the game, but the illusion is soon shattered when you’re forced to choose all four dialogue options, or when your chosen option makes nothing at all change.
We already know these elements don’t impact the multiple endings of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and the rewards you receive – at least from what we played – were uninteresting at best.
It’s one of the areas where, for all it’s good to see Square Enix listening and bringing in changes to let players feel more in control, it ends up being utterly pointless.
Maybe it will become more important as the game progresses – maybe Square Enix will decide it should be have more impact on what actually goes down in the game. But right now, it’s a hollow, empty addition.
But, quite genuinely, that’s one of the only real negatives we could think of relating to the new additions to Final Fantasy XIII-2. Historia Crux works, the quick-time events make the usual chore of watching boss battle cut-scenes that bit more interesting and generally speaking it seems as though listening to criticisms of Final Fantasy XIII might well pay off in the end.
But that’s not to say there aren’t still issues with what’s been brought over from last time – though this is more down to deliberate design and personal choice rather than outright badness.
Yes, for what we have here is still very much a JRPG, and JRPGs have a very particular style about them. Final Fantasy XIII-2, for all its attempts at mass appeal, is no different.
Haircuts, androgyny, clumsy dialogue (“I’m grateful you remember me” just sounds stupid), stiff animations and all the other non-game-breaking faults that you will either ignore or rant about endlessly return for another run. But is that something to really complain about? Probably not. But it’s fair to highlight the fact.
It’s quite interesting to see the differences between the direct sequels of the Final Fantasy world. While Final Fantasy X-2 was a camp, J-pop infused sideshow that, while a decent game, didn’t have a huge impact, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is looking to be a sequel’s sequel.
Less a throwaway addition, more how traditional sequels work and – strangely – actually seeming like more of a ‘true’ Final Fantasy game than that it is working as a sequel for.
It still won’t appeal to everyone, but Final Fantasy XIII-2 has every chance of bringing back some lapsed fans who deserted a series they might have thought lost its way somewhat. Just as long as Vanille is in it as little as possible.