Hands-On Preview: Final Fantasy XIII-2

I’m not sure if you’ve been able to tell from my prior E3 coverage, but during my time at the show I wandered toward games that had no lines, it was a surprise to me that one of those games was FFXIII-2. So I tried it out with the help of a friendly Square-Enix presenter. To clarify before I start, I’ve never played FFXIII, but I was the only one of the staff to my knowledge to play the demo, however, so please bear with my impressions as ignorant of the product as I might be.

To begin with, a giant hand is attacking a city. Graphically the cut scenes were impressive looking, though the in game graphics were about average to above average with some interesting looking art design. There were two characters I had control of, Noel and Serah, and they were followed around by a Moogle. I was pleased to see the Moogle looked like the small bear with bat wings style instead of the rabbit with large ears style. Shortly after gaining control, the game put me into battle with the giant floating hand.

As someone who did not play FFXIII, the battle system initially confused me. There were four different paradigms that I could choose from, Commander, Ravager, Medic and Sentinel. The presenter told me that the paradigm shifts were important to guide my characters through later battles and essentially decided what AI patterns they would follow. Since it was an early battle in the game I wouldn’t need to paradigm shift. The battle wasn’t completely hands off though, at moments I was thrown into Quick Time Events, which mostly involved mashing a button. The battle wasn’t going my way and then an airship came out of nowhere and blasted the hand and the odd transparent body connect to it. It looked like all it did was piss him off, but it made him leave the area.

To pause for a second, what happened to the battle system for FF games? I felt like the game was literally playing itself a lot of the time. The QTE seemed to pop up in battle as though the game wanted to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep. Even then I’m still not sure if the QTE really made much of a difference. I didn’t even mind the battle system of FFXII, it still felt like you were in control of what was going on. Here it seems like you take a backseat to the action. As a fan of action RPGs, I just don’t understand this.

Then I wandered around through the city because the game thought that I should go after Atlas, the guy attached to the hand. Personally I thought that was sort of dumb, I mean his one hand was presenting me problems, why not leave the rest of him to the airships? But heroes must continue on, so I wandered around some sewers or something for a while. Monsters would occasionally pop up, which started a ‘Mog Clock’ where I could gain an attack advantage if I attacked the enemy within a certain time, as shown on screen by a meter. This was sort of difficult at times because there was no lock on as far as I could tell, and I’d keep hitting past the monster. This is annoying because if you don’t stop the Mog Clock meter in enough time, you begin the fight at a disadvantage. Then there would be a fight. I’d watch and get graded at the end. I changed paradigms every once and awhile, but that only earned me worse grades so I just let the computer do its own thing and kept auto-attacking. That worked for the demo.

Some monsters would drop crystals, and I was told that you could collect these monsters. Sure enough one became the third member of my party. While battling, I did a paradigm shift and the monster would turn into a different monster altogether. The presenter told me that in this way FFXIII-2 was kind of like Pokemon, where you could try to catch a lot of monsters to be a part of your group, so I assume there is some method of changing which creatures are a part of your party. There was a feral strike move that became available, and that led to more QTE, which I started to be grateful for since it meant that I could feel like I was actually participating in what was happening on screen.

Walking around the Moogle also would move around and point out hidden containers. The area I was playing in had multiple paths and areas for those are concerned with the linearity of FFXIII. In fact the presenter had to let me know that I had wandered in the wrong direction and that my goal was in a different area. To be fair though, the mini-map wasn’t that great at showing where you were. So I headed to the goal, which led to a conversation which actually allowed multiple decisions, something that surprised me for a moment. The options were to check out the ruins for an object to hurt Atlas with, wander around, or try to kill him regardless of the fact that you can’t target the transparent parts of him. I think it’s cool they’re adding more dialog options, but I hope they’re not as obvious as this.

Since I had already wandered and I didn’t feel like sending the characters to die, I chose to search the ruins. There was a gnarly crystal looking device that I couldn’t use because I needed to clear a ‘Paradox’. Clearing this required completing a relatively simple mini game where you had to stand on tiles in the right sequence. This made the crystal available to use, which once used weakened Atlus.

Fighting him the second time wasn’t as easy as the first, though. Thanks to using the crystal to weaken him, it wasn’t very difficult either. Through this fight I got to see some of the merits of the paradigm shift system. Changing tactics to make a character be the tank briefly to keep another character from being too damaged while healing mixed things up.

After beating Atlas the demo was over. I still don’t think that battle system is something I could ever personally enjoy, but the fight at the end of the demo was at least interesting and I can see why people might enjoy it. In all of the criticisms I have heard of FFXIII, the lack of QTE or monster collecting wasn’t even in the top 10 complaints, so I’m not sure what fans are going to think of the addition of these two things. The map at least wasn’t linear and the addition of some puzzle mini-games should help people who felt that FFXIII was too linear or repetitive.

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