|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Square Enix|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: January 31, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Drug Reference, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Simulated Gambling, Violence|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
At this year's New York Comic Con, Square had a huge booth set up to show off its upcoming games. The most popular was easily Final Fantasy XIII-2, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a brand new demo. So I waited in line for hours at the booth only to find that the NYCC demo was the same exact demo I had already played at E3. In order to quell my gamer rage, the representatives at the Square booth were happy to run down a few new game features for me, even though I wasn't able to play them. Here's what I found out.
First of all, skeptical fans' worst nightmare has come true: The two main characters, Serah and Noel, are actually the only characters you will be primarily controlling over the course of the game. At times, other NPCs will drop in and out of your party—Lightning or Snow, for example—but your main party will nearly always have Serah and Noel in it. In fact, they are the only two characters you will have much control over in terms of leveling, equipment, and character build.
This means that the third party slot will just about always be taken up by a monster, a feature that was first shown at E3. You will be able to gain control of these monsters once you defeat them, and you will be able to raise them to be the perfect fighting machines you want them to be. Yes, it sounds an awful lot like Pokémon all over again. You might remember that another JRPG, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World tried to do something similar—that is, reducing the party size drastically and replacing other members with captured monsters—but it failed pretty miserably. Can Final Fantasy XIII-2 do any better? Let's just say I'm skeptical.
On the upside, this is the only new feature that I was particularly upset about. Everything else feels like a return to Final Fantasies of old, or, even better, the conventions of Chrono Trigger. Case in point, the story is largely based around time travel. As you progress through the game, new destinations on a time map (called the Historia Crux) will open up, and you will be forced to travel back and forth between these time periods, altering the past and future in order to progress the story.
Now, here is the real interesting thing: The Historia Crux is not linear. The timeline branches off into several different areas, several different worlds, and several different alternate histories. In fact, many areas are hundreds and even thousands of years apart. The Historia Crux also keeps track of "Fragments" you have collected, which will have something to do with unlocking other areas and completing the game. In addition, the nonlinear choice system showcased at E3 will also change how time unfolds, unlocking several different endings. I was told that the game was much like Chrono Trigger in that there is a linear story that everyone follows, but by taking different actions throughout the story, you will be able to experience tons of different endings. Might we see a New Game Plus mode so we can see them all easily?
The game takes place (theoretically speaking, as there is a whole lot of time travel going on) merely seconds after Final Fatnasy XIII ends. (Spoilers!) Fang and Vanille sacrifice themselves to hold up Cocoon in a pillar of crystal, and immediately after that a portal to another world opens up, sucks lightning into it for some reason, and erases her from history so that everyone but Serah thinks she is encased in crystal with Fang and Vanille.
Truth be told, I have no idea what was going on in the story after this point, and the booth reps had to be tight-lipped about most of the new content. I guess we'll just have to wait to play it for ourselves.
What I did figure out, however, is that the locations of the game will also be modeled after classic Final Fantasies of the past. For example, there will be a Gold Saucer-like recreation area with mini-games, gambling, and even races with chocobos of different colors. There will be towns with shops, side-quests, puzzles in dungeons, and more. Overall, the team is trying to make Final Fantasy XIII-2 feel like a classic JRPG with current generation technology.
So what do I think of Final Fantasy XIII-2 so far? Frankly, I don't know. I mean, I easily have enough interest to want to buy the game. Nonlinear dungeons, huge overworlds, time travel, the ambitious DLC offerings, lots of social options, cinematic battles, and classic JRPG towns are all selling points for me. However, the monster raising system, the confusing plot that smells a bit too much of fan-fiction, and, to be honest, the ambitious DLC offerings make me skeptical. It's true that the team is addressing many fans' concerns with the design style of FFXIII-2, and that's great, but it might be causing more problems than it is fixing in the long run.
Then again, Square already own our souls—as they have ever since the release of Final Fantasy VII—so we might as well admit that we'll all be playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 anyway. Out of sheer curiosity, if nothing else.
Let's just hope that Square won't disappoint us this time.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
CCC Contributing Writer