Final Fantasy XIII’s totally tubular linearity was a divisive design choice - many fans felt its narrow corridors and lack of exploration took it too far away from some of the key defining characteristics of its genre. The demo we saw of XIII-2 at E3 clearly demonstrated that Square-Enix has heard those complaints loud and clear, and is crafting the sequel to be more inclusive of traditionalists, while still maintaining the strengths of the original.
Instead of focusing on the story or new characters, our demo dove right in to show the features added to XIII-2 that were most conspicuously absent in FFXIII. The first area we saw was something that Final Fantasy fans most vocally missed - a traditional RPG-style town. The demo emphasized the complexity of the town’s layout, with various alleys and areas to explore, hidden treasure to find, and even chatty NPCs you can engage with to provide the flavor dialogue that RPG fans love so much. As you wander around town, we’re told you’ll also trigger various seamless, semi-cinematic events that will make your surroundings seem more alive and engaging. All these qualities come together to give an overall more dynamic feel compared to the beautiful but static environments in most of FFXIII.
Above: We enjoyed the convenience of the online-style shops in FFXIII - will these be replaced with traditional town shops in XIII-2? We’re hoping for both options
Square-Enix is known for its mastery of the fully-animated cutscene, but in our demo we were told that the developer is now striving to interweave that cinematic quality throughout all aspects of the game, blurring the line between gameplay and cutscene, which, if true, seems like a positive progressive step for the genre in general. It’s the kind of modern approach that has the potential to please people who feel the JRPG genre is too stagnant with outdated design (whether that’s a fair assessment is a whole other discussion) without alienating fans of the traditional RPG gameplay flow.
The brief glimpse we got of Serah’s bustling hometown in the demo looked promising - almost too good to be true. But regardless of Final Fantasy XIII-2’s final outcome, we left Square-Enix’s booth with the definite feeling that the minds behind XIII-2 really do want to strike a balance between trying something new and respecting the wishes of the franchise’s traditionally-minded fanbase.