Recently, I and several others from the Final Fantasy community were invited to preview Square Enix’s upcoming game. We were provided with three hours to play the game, and while I only made it through part of the Bresha Ruins, I was left impressed.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an impressive game, there’s no doubt about it. After the fan’s outcry about how much they disliked the original game, you can tell Square Enix took it to heart. Nearly everything is improved – the crystarium system has been revamped, the story is far from linear, you can manually jump for the first time in Final Fantasy history, random encounters have returned (in a sense), and more.
To begin the three hours, we were treated with an excellent opening to the game – the scene of Lightning and Caius fighting. Between real-time cut scenes, cinematic actions (quick time events), and battles between Lightning and Chaos Bahamut, you feel like you are being sucked into the game. The entire sequence plays out constantly – there’s almost no break in the action.
After the excellent cinematics of the opening parts, we are brought to New Bodhum, where a meteorite is crashing in the distance. Serah has been granted her new outfit during this scene, and you are quickly in control to investigate what is happening outside after a quick introduction to the jumping system.
The action picks right back up as you are introduced to your first battles with paradigms – and with two people, Serah and Noel. The paradigm system has received a welcome change in Final Fantasy XIII-2. Should you choose to switch your paradigms around, it is now instantaneous, a very welcome change from the original game.
Soon after, you are on your way to go investigate this meteorite. As you head out, you are introduced to yet another element – the mog clock, or in other words, random encounters with a twist. On the mog clock you will see three segments – green, yellow, and red. Depending on where you initiate the encounter, you will receive various bonuses for the battle. Should you start the battle in the green segment, you will receive a buff and the enemy will be set to near stagger. However, should you start the battle when it hits red, the enemy will get the upper hand with a buff, and you will be unable to retry the battle!
Another section added to the game (and changed from the initial one) is that originally, your mini-map, as well as your full map, will only build as you proceed through an area. This felt very similar to Final Fantasy IV DS in many ways to me… Well, except for one. You will eventually find (or be handed) the map to the area, which will fully fill out the rest of the map. However, going back to the Final Fantasy IV DS feel here, there is a “Explored %” showed, which tells you how much of a particular map you have actually filled in.
Eventually you are brought to a boss fight. This boss fight in particular is quite simple, but as you proceed onwards (well, I can only attest up until chapter 2 of the game), you will have added elements of difficulty. You will eventually need to defend against getting wounded, and even in this particular battle, use Defenders just to defend yourself from taking a large beating. After winning certain fights you will receive “Fragments.” These will come in handy later in your adventures.
When you arrive at the meteorite site, Noel eventually explains that this is a time gate, and that he’s from 700 years in the future. He goes into explaining about “artefacts” – objects that don’t belong in that period in time, and are the key for unlocking the gates. For the artefact in particular I had found, there were quite a bit of cut scenes and story added into this period. These cut scenes explain some of backstory from the events that had occurred before the start of the game.
Another excellent element added into XIII-2 is the Live Trigger system. With live triggers, you essentially get to choose your reply to a certain statement or question. These also come with rewards – depending on what choices you make within these live triggers you will either get a great reward or a not so great one. As an example, after my first set of live triggers were said and done, I received a monster adornment reward. After I had completed my second set of live triggers, I simply received a potion. This in itself adds quite a bit of experimentation (and replay) value to the game: those who want to try and receive the best rewards can experiment among different choices to see what they receive in the end.
Live triggers aren’t just prompted via the forced storyline, though. As you proceed through, it may be wise to explore the terrain, or even speak with your companion (Serah or Noel, depending on who you are controlling at the time). Doing so may prompt you with some optional live trigger events.
As the opening scenes come to an end, you will find yourself within Historia Crux. Historia Crux, in a sense, is one of the solutions to the complaints of Final Fantasy XIII’s linearity. As you unlock gates and proceed through the timeline, you will open up more and more optional time periods and storyline segments. While not all are required to finish the game, they will add onto the story as a whole, and perhaps provide you with a different ending should you choose to complete them all. At first, however, you will only be able to choose one area after leaving New Bodhum – Bresha Ruins.
Bresha Ruins, as you will soon find out, plays host to a very obvious artefact – Atlas. Bresh Ruins also plays host to many other things that may keep you distracted for a good amount of time. People in the area, should you speak with them, may ask you to complete a side quest for them. You are also introduced to Chocolina here – a character it seems may or may not play a very important role for you in the future.
Chocolina is your shop of Final Fantasy XIII-2. She’s a woman dressed as a red chocobo, and can be found in many areas. She will sell you items (including Wound Potions, which will heal your wounds in battle), upgrade weapons for you (should you provide the correct components and gil amount), and enhance accessories.
Accessories in Final Fantasy XIII-2 have received a large change from XIII. In XIII, you were free to equip any combination of accessories you wish, so long as you had them in your inventory. In XIII-2, however, you will be limited to a maximum “cost.” Should the combination you want to equip exceed this cost, you will be unable to equip any accessories that would cause an overage. You will be able to upgrade your accessory “cost” limit through the crystarium board.
Bresha Ruins also introduces monster allies to you. One of your first, if not your first, true battle in the area will be against a Cait Sith and a Zwerg Scandroid. After the battle you will receive a crystal, and the two will join your party. Once in your party you can edit your paradigms to include them, and if you wish, rename them and adorn them with accessories. They will also be able to gain crystogen points.
As you proceed through the world of Final Fantasy XIII-2 you will find more gates like the one in New Bodhum. As previously mentioned, you will need artefacts to unlock these. However, sometimes a “special” artefact won’t be enough. If you encounter any crystal looking gates, you will need a “Wild Artefact,” which are available in many locations and times – these will be consumed on use though. Special artefacts are used with gates that “shine like the sun” – the gate in New Bodhum had been one such example. If you see a gate that is scorched, this means Noel and Serah have used this one recently, and can be used to access Historia Crux.
The start menu will allow you to access Historia Crux and save the game. Note, though, that these two options will not be available at certain times. Saving will also be done automatically as you progress through the game. If an auto-save is occurring, you will see a yellow circle in the top left corner of the screen. When you load the game, you will be able to choose from the Historia Crux there.
Within the normal menu, you can change your party leader (once the game says you can), access the crystarium, edit your paradigms, change your equipment, and more – pretty much, everything you could do within Final Fantasy XIII. You can now view a preview of how your character will look in party in the status and equipment sections.
The crystarium system has been changed quite a bit. Instead of “tiers” that you unlock as you progress through the game, you have a fully complete board that is shaped like the characters weapon. You will now “level up” your roles via crystogen points. As you progress through the board, you will gain certain bonuses and abilities based off the role you will leveling. Eventually you will be able to choose a specific bonus you wish to receive – what the bonus is will depend on the role, however. Besides some role-specific bonuses, you can sometimes choose to unlock a bonus role or increase your ATB gauge.
For those wondering the difference between Easy Mode and Normal Mode, it’s simple – well it seems simple enough. Easy Mode will make the enemies easier to defeat, however you will receive less stars and potentially no rare item rewards. Normal Mode will make enemies more difficult to defeat, though you will be rewarded with more stars and rare items. Pretty much, should you run into an enemy or boss you can’t defeat, you can simply change the game over to easy mode and defeat it much more simply than if you remained on normal mode.
In the end, I was left wanting more. I was left wanting to find out what would happen in the end of the Bresha Ruins, as I was unable to finish this area during the time allotted (I’m an explorer, so I was off exploring various things, checking things out, examining scenes and battles). Overall though, the three hours spent with Final Fantasy XIII-2 left a very good taste in my mouth, and definitely made the wait until January 31, 2012 that much longer. Despite having personally loved Final Fantasy XIII and pretty much everything about it (enough to complete it 100% twice), Final Fantasy XIII-2 has me way more excited than XIII ever did.
From those three hours, I could definitely tell one thing: Square Enix had listened to the fans complaints, and have made a simply amazing game.