TGS 2011: Final Fantasy XIII-2 hands-on preview

It's the first day of TGS, and one of our first stops was to check out Square Enix's hands-on demo of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Recent screens showing off the sequel's totally new time- and space-bending overmap have gotten us excited for its decidedly non-linear approach, and while the demo didn't go into time travel too much, we still saw a surprising amount of new features in FXIII-2.

Our demo began at the start of the second episode, with Serah and Noel (pronounced like "knoll," by the way) floating through a time gate into an area of Cocoon called the Bresha Ruins. Immediately, our party of two was confronted with the giant disembodied arm of Atlas, which engaged us in a mini-boss battle.

Our favorite aspect of XIII was the battle system, so while Atlas was slapping us around with his godlike hand we were glad to see that the Paradigm Shift system remains unchanged in XIII-2. That's not to say the battles don't offer anything new though. As soon as we got Atlas's health down enough, we were introduced to one of the big additions to FFXIII-2 – cinematic actions, which is really just a fancy term for quick time events. These are exactly what you'd expect – during cinematic action cutscenes, you follow the button prompts on screen to successfully execute attacks and blocks within the cutscene.

Above: The E3 trailer shows a glimpse of Atlas in action

After dealing with said giant hand, we proceeded to enter the Bresha Ruins proper, where a handful of NPCs wandered around, eager to chat with us about Atlas and give us some sweet, sweet flavor text. It turns out that Atlas's unwanted arrival has something to do with a temporal anomaly, and he must be vanquished to set the timeline back on track. Before setting off on the main quest though, we explored the area a bit and found some NPCs offering sidequests too. For fans who felt like FFXIII was lacking in exploration, it seems like XIII-2 is really trying to make up for that.

Venturing into the monster-infested area of the ruins, we were then introduced to the other big addition to battles in XIII-2 – monster collection. Defeated foes will occasionally turn into a crystal that you can grab to add that beast to your menagerie. Then, you can add beasts to your party paradigms, so that select monsters fight alongside you as party members in their respective designated roles. Each monster also has a special attack that you can unleash when its gauge fills, which will be stronger depending on if you successfully execute a mini-cinematic action sequence. During our brief playtime, we fought alongside Chocobo, Cait Sith and Flanbanero.

As we neared Altas's lair, Noel and Serah discovered a mysterious ancient machine that may or may not control Atlas, and thus were suddenly confronted with a choice. Do they take a chance turning the machine on, in the hope of using it to control or weaken their foe, or do they leave it alone in the fear its activation might make it stronger? At this juncture, we saw another few feature of XIII-2, called a live trigger. Live triggers allow you to actually role-play a bit by choosing among four options which way you want the conversation to go. We decided to show caution here by asking for Mog's advice before eventually deciding to take our chances with the machine.

Suddenly, Noel and Serah were transported to a zero-gee starry spacescape called The Void Beyond, a temporal rift where we had to solve three tile puzzles before being sent back to the real world. Each tile could only be stepped on once before it disappeared, and we had to collect three crystals from the field and make it to the exit without getting trapped (you can retry anytime you get stuck, so it's not a huge deal). The puzzles we solved here were fairly simple, but it's a format that could obviously get much more complex and difficult as the game progresses. After solving all three puzzles, the machine switched on,draining Atlas of power and health, leaving us with a much easier task.

Our demo came to a close after the boss battle with Atlas, fading out after a splashy cinematic action where Serah located and stabbed his giant crystal weak spot. While the demo felt short, it left us wanting to see more of what we hope is a mix of what we loved about FFXIII coupled with a more traditional RPG approach. With Final Fantasy XIII-2 set to release in Japan at the end of this year, look for more details in the coming months.

Sep 15, 2011

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