The predictable and highly anticipated sequel to the blockbuster Final Fantasy XIII, is close to release. Only a couple of days ago did Square Enix release a prerelease demo for XIII-2, so I decided to kill some hours and have a try at it.
The new game comes out with a mountain of goodies depending on what edition you buy, if you pre-ordered the game and where you are in the world. These range from: a four disc soundtrack, a concept art collection, a one-disc soundtrack, six postcards, replica large-print art of Lightning, a t-shirt, lithograph cards, a novella, and the game itself.
The game (since its release in Japan) has also come with a DLC schedule, including a Colosseum which will let players battle through certain enemies and possible some colosseum-exclusive ones, more monster allies to fight by your side and more outfits for the main characters. From other news reports, it is likely to be a monthly release of content.
The demo itself starts out of context. Playing as Noel and Serah you arrive in Bresha ruins in 002 AF (after the fall of Cocoon), when a giant ghostly arm attacks the two. It has the similar mechanics and menu system as XIII, but now adds in Quick Time Events, named Cinematic Action, for certain boss fights. Pass these during a fight and you’ll gain a bonus. Pass all of them in one boss fight and you’ll loot a special item. I’ve almost never liked the inclusion of QTE’s particularly when used like this, but it doesn’t seem clunky or unintuitive. Though it means that I can’t just sit back and enjoy the over-the-top graphical presentation with a not-so-great-story.
After that fight, the two set out to explore Bresha Ruins and meet a woman by the name of Chocolina who wears garments that could only be fashioned by those who work for Victoria’s Secret. She is your travelling item store, and fixes the irrelevance of the last game of having many different stores and replaces it with one grossly annoying character who will sell everything. Of course, as you progress her stock grows but for the moment you are just limited to a few normal items. She will later sell upgrades, weapons, accessories, and level-up material for monsters; she can also craft some special items once you have the money and the materials
accessories and items work slightly differently this time around. Each accessory has an equip cost, the accessory will take up that amount of “space” the character can utilise. In the demo this is limited to a single item, but it can be upgraded to accommodate more later via levelling up.
Missions also make a return here too but are more varied this time rather than searching out a target and killing it. One of the missions in the demo asks you to find two items to bring back to an NPC. This is where Mog, Serah’s Moogle, comes in handy. Mog can find hidden items, obstacles and other things around the levels. This is a bit pointless as there seems to be no reason to have that ability to find hidden items while travelling rather than just putting items there to find. But the mission design is nice and varied and not as overly numbing as the previous game was.
While Noel and Serah are the two playable characters throughout the game, they can capture monsters after battles (randomly) and use them to fight alongside of them. A single monster has only one role between the standard six. Commando, a basic role that makes the character attack creatures for damage; Ravager, a role that is designed to increase the damage multiplier on enemies; Medic, a healer; Synergist, a role that provides offensive and defensive buffs; Saboteur, one that hits enemies with debuffs and debiliation abilities; and Sentinel, a tank that will take most of the incoming damage. Battle mechanics are similar to the game before, but have a few changes.
The most noticeable is ‘wounded damage’. When an ally is hit by an enemy in a battle with wounded damage, their maximum HP will drop for that battle and can’t be healed. While normal damage still exists, wounded damage is an advancement for your enemies, so long-winded battles now result in the enemies favor rather than your own.
Secondly is the lack of technical points or TP. These were used in the first game for all-round specials, such as gaining information on the enemy, a massive earthquake and most prominently the ability to summon your summon. While most of these are replaced in other parts of the game, summons don’t seem to be anywhere. Which is odd for a Final Fantasy game.
The next feature is how battles are initiated. Unlike XIII where the creature ran around in the wild and were easy to spot, here they can pop from almost anywhere. In these cases a timer will appear, make contact with an enemy while it’s in the green zone or hit and you’ll start the battle with a bonus akin to the “preemptive strike” from the last game. Make contact in yellow and a battle on even ground will happen. You can flee when you encounter enemies like this, but failing to do so will cause a forced battle which cannot be ‘retried-out-of’ and the battle will start with a slight penalty to you. I found this feature to be more annoying than useful, as enemies would pop up at a time that inconveniences me and the only way out of it was to stop whatever I was doing and fight head on.
Finally, along with the Cinematic Action sequences for certain fights includes minor differences to the datalog, but most notably are the disappearances of the elements Water and Earth. The game doesn’t seem as heavily reliant on that element any more, meaning that it is much less battle strategy and much more action oriented.
Levelling up now function differently to. Crystarium Points are experience points collected after winning battles and used to level up characters, this time Noel and Serah have one single Crystarium tree each rather than one for each role. You spend points on levelling up each role however you feel like it, as each role reaches certain levels you gain new abilities for the role, and as you spend more CP overall your tree will expand. When it does, further upgrades will cost more CP but you get a choice from a couple of bonuses such as making a current role better, learning a new role, increasing accessory capacity or increasing ATB (mobility and speed in battle). Levelling up captured beasts function a little differently, you can use items looted or bought from Chocolina to level them up. The item you use affects how they grow and like the humans, the higher levels unlock better abilities and increase to attributes.
These changes make a noticeable difference from the ridiculous amount of grinding experience and money that you had to do from the first game. But, to my liking, most of it is just flashy nonsense that’s stolen from Pokémon.
There is a break from normal adventuring. “Temporal Rifts” are logic-based puzzles you will get from time to time which you must solve (although there is an option to retire) to continue on. The ending trailer also showed an arcade like place with slot machines and VII favorite, Chocobo Racing.
The graphics are similar to XIII but at times seem unnecessary, blurry and confusing. There isn’t much to be said about it though, most of the game takes place within menus which stand out clearly. The same can’t be said for the sound. With most of the composers and musicians from the previous game having departed, Square seemed to have left the composition in the hands of people who can’t seem to create the right atmosphere at the right time. Most of the sounds were bland and annoying, and for a fleeting moment I thought I was playing one of the newer Sonic the Hedgehog games.
The story is my biggest concern. XIII was a story driven game, or a game driven story which ever way you look at it. And while most of it was drawn out, it was still interesting enough to watch cutscenes to see if anything happened. Granted, a demo that drops you in the middle of nowhere won’t give an anyone an objective view of the actual story, but it’s not nice to see that everything is so muddled up. There are a lot of elements introduced if you are paying attention that don’t make sense in the context of the first game, one time going to the point of contradicting what actually happened in the first one. Or was that purposeful? I couldn’t tell, and it wasn’t long that I lost my will to care and just kept skipping the cutscenes.
I have been following this game for sometime though and what was disappointing was the inclusion of “several endings”. Apart from Catherine, I can’t think of a single source that has ever used this plot device well. And for a game centred around one story? Several endings just seem pointless.
Overall, after looking back, I think I could have better spent the hour earning minimum wage. Unlike most demos though, it wasn’t unbearable or uncomfortable to play through. For most people, it will fix a number of things from XIII, but apart from the endless amount of work you had to put in, I couldn’t see what needed to be fixed this much to make this game. It is a mediocre game that, despite my prejudice hoping that this would be awful since the demo shown at Eurogamer was awful, was enjoyable enough to make me interested enough to write about it.
For those of you who prefer information in a visual format, I’ve cut together ten minutes of new features from the hour-long demo. It is available on Xbox Live now for free. The retail game hits stores in North America in January 31st and PAL regions on February 2nd.