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E3 2011: Final Fantasy XIII-2 – More exploration, more choices, more Moogles

Square-Enix looks to have taken fan feedback from Final Fantasy XIII to heart, because FFXIII-2 looks like it's ditching the linear tube in favor of more exploration, more interactive environments and even adds branching paths you can take depending on the choices you make. Our Moogle-filled demo felt like a promising mix of what worked well in XIII paired with more traditional JRPG sensibilities.



Backstory

Our demo began with two characters, Serah and Noel. The central conflict of FFXIII revolved around Serah (or rather, Lightning's quest to save her), but we didn't actually get to know her very well during the course of the game. Now the tables have turned and Serah is searching for Lightning, who is rumored to be dead but Serah believes is just mysteriously missing. She's joined by brand-new character Noel, a man who looks like the offspring of Fang from FFXIII and Sora from Kingdom Hearts, and the two of them team up to fight the monsters that have suddenly appeared in their town.

It's all still hazy at this point, but it looks like Lightning is alive in some kind of other realm that's not easily accessible from the "real" world. As we saw in the teaser trailer, she's decked out in beautifully intricate armor, indicating her honored role in saving Cocoon and Pulse in FFXIII, so it looks like wherever she is she's doing quite well at least in some respect. Nevertheless, while the people of Pulse/Cocoon set about rebuilding their lives (XIII-2 begins three years after the end of XIII), Serah and Noel go in search of Lightning, seeking answers to the reason behind her disappearance along the way.  

 


A focus on exploration

After a mini-boss battle where Serah and Noel fight the arm of a gigantic monster (a fal'Cie, perhaps?), they explore a nearby area that shows off a much less linear, and more interactive environment than most of the locations in FFXIII. The map layout of the area looked more like a traditional JRPG town, with various areas and alleys to explore, including tons of NPCs that will actually talk to you this time around. For fans of flavor dialogue, this detail alone is a pretty big deal.

As you wander, certain areas will trigger cinemas so that your surroundings feel more alive and dynamic, like when you turn a corner and see a giant pillar crumble and fall as you walk by. You also have an adorable Moogle (kupo!) that tags along with your party, and he indicates when certain areas contain secrets for you to find, like hidden treasure chests. And in an odd, but somehow fitting addition, you can now jump to explore ledges and the like (those circle prompts that initiate jumping sequences still exist, but there's also a jump button you can use outside of those situations).

We only really saw one explorable area in our demo, so it's hard to say if all the environments will be this detailed in XIII-2, but it definitely looks like it's taking a step in the right direction. We're also told that the majority of the locations in XIII-2 will be new, so although you will be revisiting some familiar locales, you don't have to worry about XIII-2 reusing the same old places we already saw in XIII. 


Choices, choices

After Serah and Noel explored the area a bit, the hulking monster called Atlas (the owner of the hand they fought off before) reappeared, and a woman named Alyssa radioed them to alert the duo that they had two options for dealing with the massive mechanical beast. They could just rush in and try to attack Atlas head on, or they could take their chances trying to operate a mysterious machine located within the town that may or may not be the device that controls him. After consulting Alyssa for advice (who is she, by the way? We don't know yet!), we decided to take a gamble on the machine, which ended up halving his HP for the battle that ensued.

 

The battle system

The battle system from XIII remains intact in XIII-2 (read this for an explanation of FFXIII's battles if you're unfamiliar), but with two major additions. Quick time events, called Cinematic Actions within the game, occur at various points during battle – Square-Enix says they're striving to integrate a cinematic feel with all aspects of the gameplay, and interspersing QTEs definitely adds visual interest. After the typical "press A repeatedly" or "waggle the analog stick" prompts, you'll either be penalized with a loss of HP or rewarded with a powerful attack on the enemy depending on whether or not you were successful.

In an interesting first for Final Fantasy, Cinematic Actions also occur within cutscenes, and depending on success or failure the scene will play out differently. It's unclear at this point whether or not this will actually affect the path of the story (let's be real – it probably won't) but we're told that the differences are significant enough that completionists will purposely want to play through both success and failure options (by intentionally failing out of the Cinematic Action) to see all possible outcomes.


Monster collection

The second, and possibly most significant addition to the battles is the ability to recruit defeated monsters to fight in your party. After battle, certain foes will drop a crystal that you can collect to add that monster to a roster of monsters that you can assign to various roles in battle. Each type of monster has a set role, which you'll be familiar with if you played FFXIII – for example, the Flan we recruited filled the Ravager role, meaning it's an expert in black magic. Each creature also has a Feral Link gauge, which allows you to unleash a powerful special attack when the gauge fills.

When we heard that XIII-2 contained a monster collection aspect, we were immediately skeptical and worried that it would be too tedious or gimmicky, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Choosing which monsters you want to battle with your party is easy and painless, and you set them to your party similarly to how you created Paradigm decks in FFXIII. It looks like the monster position basically functions like an extra party member slot for each Paradigm you create (again, go here for more on the Paradigm system).


Remaining questions

Our demo ended with an intensely cinematic battle between Lightning and Chaos Bahamut, with Lightning riding horse-form Odin at a strong gallop while Bahamut attacked from the sky. So we know that wherever our former protagonist is, she's still alive and kicking. We're still left wondering about the identity of the mysterious man we saw sparring with Lightning in the first teaser trailer, as no new information was given about him. We also got a glimpse of a starry sky area called The Void Beyond – Temporal Rift, where you solve tile puzzles to progress, but we're not sure how that area fits into the story. And in the E3 trailer we see some of Snow's old crew, but where is Snow? We're looking forward to seeing more of Final Fantasy XIII-2 and answering these questions as we get closer to its early 2012 release window.

Jun 10, 2011

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20 comments

  • lovinmyps3 - July 12, 2011 5:08 a.m.

    I loved XIII. Really looking forward to this. I'm interested to know where the rest of the party from XIII is, like Sazh. And [SPOILERS] are Fang and Vanille still trapped in crystal?
  • eliguy83 - June 13, 2011 2:29 p.m.

    Looks awesome. Did anyone else find that Noel's voice sounds like Tidus's?
  • grayguwapo - June 13, 2011 3:17 a.m.

    WOW! Just WOW! I agree at this point that this game seem to have placed the good elements of FFXIII and added what we liked about in the FF series which is exploration... this is looking great and I'm wanting to see more of it! It's also good that they kept the battle system as the Paradigm deck is really great in my opinion, there's enough challenge and customization when creating a deck for you team... another great aspect of this game I think is the monster collection... see, that's the other thing about FF games and most JRPG's, collecting, finding, and collecting some more till you complete everything... looks like I'll be spending another hundred hours or two with this game... I also like the fact that Serah is a playable character and that we also get to know her story... and lastly, it's good to see how visuals stayed the same or may even be better... I watched the trailer of this downloaded from PSN through our HD LED TV and I was just astonished! I recommend you download the trailer instead so you can watch it in HD so you can see how beautiful it looks... That (fal'Cie?) hand was just glistening... all in all, it does seem to be stepping up and rising above it's predecessor and it's also shaping up to be a sequel in the FF series that is worthy to be called a great part II... as an FF fan, here's hoping...
  • Mazed - June 12, 2011 1:10 p.m.

    Not too sure about the QTEs, but I guess we'll see. FFXIII wasn't my favorite Final Fantasy, but I did enjoy it, and the battle system was a giant part of that; it's good to see it's returning. As for monster-recruiting: Please, please, please let us be able to tame Adamantoises. Somehow! I'm giving this Noel kid the benefit of the doubt because he looks like Fang, who was awesome. As for Serah, I'm curious how her relationship with Snow will pan out, but if he's still around and they're still together, that will make for a refreshing first: A happily married woman as the protagonist! I can't think of any other video game that has that, so it's an angle I really hope they play, for novelty's sake if nothing else.
  • paganpoet - June 11, 2011 11 p.m.

    If they bring back Hope, I just want them to give him a haircut. They should start a blog called lesbianswholooklikehope.com
  • Phanttas - June 11, 2011 11:17 a.m.

    I can't say I'm looking forward to having quicktime events, but other than that I'm really excited to hear more information about this.
  • quincytheodore - June 11, 2011 7:27 a.m.

    I posted this on a forum once. - Serah cheating on Snow, which is maybe a good thing. Many don't like Snow. Too much hero crap. - Lightning on higher level means she won't be in party, at least at early stage or maybe the first 20 hours. Or she could be in side arc, like Laguna in VIII.. Not a good thing. It's a waste of good char. - Noel looks a bit Riku from KH. He might not be bad, but I prefer Lightning - Serah. They already have established platonic relationship and will be more naturally intimate. Although new protagonist can be used as representation of players. - I want the new Lightning (in armor and also her Odin) to be Serah's Eidolons. It's her projection of Lightning (knight in shining armor) and she might not be protector this time, but more like a guide for her. So, she can move on without Lightning, it will make a dramatic farewell too. This fits the Void Beyond, it's Serah's conscious. Something like Dive from Ar Tonelico, without the dirty bits. In the end, they reveal that real Lightning is indeed dead. But that's just me. :) - On the fence about monster collection. It adds to longevity, but they have to make it deep. Something like Persona or Devil Summoner gameplay. It has to affect the gameplay, not just cosmetic. - They will use "What are they doing now" style from X-2. So the original cast will return. I don't know if they will make the party or not, the chances are they won't. I personally like RPG, but I'll admit Mass Effect 3 & Skyrim are looking better than this. Will still try this though.
  • Robusken - June 11, 2011 4:38 a.m.

    Serah...is unbelievably skinny. Thats still gonna bother me I know that. Other then that the game looks like Its coming out fantastically, maybe you switch roles between Serah and Lightning?
  • ranzatsu - June 11, 2011 3:25 a.m.

    Apparently, Serah's not yet married....and I personally think Noel's a better choice than Snow. He's such a douche. Looks so awesome, but yeah, I want more Lightning than Serah. She was useless in the first game.
  • 510BrotherPanda - June 11, 2011 3 a.m.

    The monster-collecting aspect sounds like Pokemon and/or Dragon Quest Monsters. Carolyn is probably going to be REALLY busy with this when it comes out...
  • bigwill1221 - June 11, 2011 12:17 a.m.

    I would like to know what happened to the rest of the characters that was in FF 13... what is Snow dead?
  • Clovin64 - June 10, 2011 11:53 p.m.

    can't wait for this, but I hope Lightning plays a bigger role in the game than some sort of support role. I never really liked Serah much in FFXIII. I'm not really convinced about the QTE's or monster catching yet. Also, where's Sazh dammit? He's da best.
  • xombiesarelove - June 10, 2011 11:09 p.m.

    Pretty psyched about this. I wonder if Fang or Vanille will show up in some form.
  • dphoenix192 - June 10, 2011 11:07 p.m.

    Also, I just learned that you dont even need to spell the captcha correctly anymore.
  • n00b - June 10, 2011 11:06 p.m.

    hope we get to play with lightning, she was one of the only good characters and is Sarah cheating on snow? isn't she supposed to be married?
  • dphoenix192 - June 10, 2011 11:05 p.m.

    Damn, so I guess I'll have to finish FFXII now to find out how any of this makes sense.
  • Ilyere - June 10, 2011 10:23 p.m.

    I love how it's coming out so far. I just hope that the major characters from the first one are returning...
  • EnragedTortoise1 - June 10, 2011 10:14 p.m.

    Vundeful. Looks like all the FF13 fans are coming out of the shadows.
  • robertpopovic - June 10, 2011 9:42 p.m.

    Somehow I'm reminded of Dragonquest 5 with the monsterhunting.
  • SolarPoweredShitMachine - June 10, 2011 9:41 p.m.

    Looks amazing. Can't wait for it to come out (hopefully it won't take over 100 hours for me to platinum unlike FFXIII :/ )

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