It hasn’t been too long since Final Fantasy XIII, but a sequel is well in the works for a release next year. It’ll be released in December in Japan and Q1 in North America and Europe. For many, this news is unsettling, as XIII wasn’t the critical success that most gamers felt could be expected from this pivotal JRPG series. Even so, Square-Enix claims that this title will “exceed [XIII] in every aspect.”
Final Fantasy XIII-2 seems to play largely like the last title, but boasts a few tweaks. Players will find themselves playing as other characters this time around, such as Lightning’s sister, Serah, and her friend Noel. Though the main protaganist is still Lightning, allowing for more development of a well-received character. Other characters are said to return, but they’ll return in ways that are “unexpected” and with different personalities.
The story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is said to be darker this time around, as Cocoon has fallen, and Lightning is still trying to find her place in life. She is also posed against a mysterious man who is an equal to her strength in a yin-yang kind of implication. Not too much else is known about the story, but it’s said to continue the mythology of the last title, focusing on the goddess Etro.
The E3 demo reintroduces Serah, along with Noel and their moogle companion. Noel has never been to Cocoon before and makes note that monsters are much stronger there. Before they are able to take in their surroundings, they are attacked by a giant, mechanical-like creature called Atlas. Atlas is mostly ethereal, except for his giant hand.
Serah and Noel take to attacking the hand, as it’s the only thing that they can actually make contact with. Yet, it is very powerful and knocks them around quite a bit. It’s then that the battle starts for the player.
The battle play is largely the same from the previous; however, there is a new mechanic called Cinematic Actions. These are essentially quick-time events that happen during orchestrated battles. Succeeding at these cinematics means an opportunity for increased damage, while failing results in a devastating attack to the player’s party members.
After the battle ends, Atlas retreats for the time being. The Gaurdian Corp allows Serah and Noel to try and stop Atlas. It’s here that “random battles” start appearing.
Yet another new mechanic is introduced. Monsters can now pop out of nowhere into the hub world, but if the player is able to real-time attack them quickly enough, they’ll start the battle with bonuses; such as faster attacks, first-strike and monsters to fight by the player’s side.
In XIII-2, the player may tame monsters and have them perform special attacks that are reminiscent of gestalt attacks from the previous title. Also, tamed monsters can be swapped based on their paradigm — whether one monster is better suited as a caster and another a brute, etc.
After some battling, the E3 demo took a turn into the puzzle category when Serah and her companions found themselves in another dimension. In this dimension, the player must get from one end of the room to the other, collecting every single crystal along the way. The puzzle aspect takes the form of not being able to stand on the same tile twice.
Once the puzzle are completed, Serah, her moogle friend and Noel find themselves at a machine that makes Atlas vulnerable to attack. Staggering makes a return, and once Serah and gang stagger Atlas, he is easily defeated.
At this point, the gameplay looks largely the same, and it’s clearly impossible to say whether or not the pacing will be any better. The tweaks as of yet are more subtle, but perhaps they can change things up enough to allow players to give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a shot. The development team said even before the release of the previous title that they had more story to tell and more gameplay features to integrate, so this may be their golden opportunity to get it right. In the meantime, keep your ears to the ground, and your eyes on Vagary.TV.
Tune in tomorrow for a posting of an interview with the Final Fantasty XIII-2 dev team!