Final Fantasy XIII was a polarizing videogame. Some players loved the game for its gorgeous graphics, great soundtrack, fantastic battle system, and strong voice acting. Other players hated the game for its strict linearity, confusing story, and uneven pace. Square Enix hopes Final Fantasy XIII-2 will address the complaints of FFXIII while maintaining the features that made it popular. I got to catch a demo of the game at E3 2011 and play an early level. If the brief portion I played and saw is representative of the final product then FFXIII-2 will end up being the game that everyone wanted the original to be.
In terms of story, not much has been revealed. The game takes place a few years after FFXIII ended and Lightning, the protagonist in the first game, has disappeared. The game’s trailer implies that she has been displaced to an alternate dimension and only her sister Serah believes she’s still alive. In my hands-on time, I controlled Serah and newcomer Noel. Serah appears to be the main character — at least in the early going — and it was implied that other FFXIII characters will join the party.
The biggest change to the game is that it’s more open than the original. I’m not talking about Elder Scrolls-like or anything, but there’s definitely some exploring to do. The levels I was shown had hidden paths and alternative branches. You’ll have the opportunity to explore levels instead of just marching down a straight line. I’m very interested to see how far the dev team will take this aspect of the game as the strict linearity was the biggest complaint of the original.
Adding general cuteness and aiding your exploration is a new moogle companion. Moogles are awesome and I’m happy that one will be accompanying me in FFXIII-2. In addition to making cute sounds, the moogle will reveal some hidden objects and use his powers so that you can nab them. It seems like he rips the fabric of space, perhaps revealing the dimension where Lightning is stranded…but that’s just conjecture.
FFXIII’s excellent battle system is back, with a few changes. As with the original, you’ll have to change your team’s behavior during the course of the fight (damagers, healers, buffers, etc.). After you defeat certain monsters, they’ll join your party. Different monsters will appear by your side, depending on what role you’re using and each monster has their own special ability.
Battles now have short quick time events. Some QTEs I saw were just simple finishing moves. Others had gameplay consequences. For example, some QTEs will buff up your party if successful and cause your party to take damage if failed. I didn’t see enough of these to see if they really add to the gameplay, but it appears to be part of a larger trend of quick time events infiltrating all sorts of games.
During my demo, I saw a brief portion of the game featuring Lightning that was not playable on the show floor. She engaged in a cool fight while riding her Odin eidolon. Horsey fights looked like a nice change of pace from standard melee. They felt faster and seemed to implement quick time events better. Plus, Lightning just feels more bad-ass than her dainty sister and her boy toy companion.
I’m psyched for FFXIII-2. Keep in mind that I really liked the original game. It builds on a strong base and expands the world of FFXIII. Gamers that were disappointed in the original should keep their eyes on this game. It appears that Square Enix will address some of the complaints that turned off longtime RPG fans. If the devs add a mode that lets you torture wussy boy Hope Estheim then everyone will be happy!