Final Fantasy XIII-2 welcomed me at a hotel in Manhattan to a familiar location: Bresha Ruins. Starting off with new character Noel Kriess–a time traveler from the future–and returning character Serah Farron–both of whom make up the game’s duo protagonists–I entered the site to a battle and Paradox: a giant beast called Atlas.
But before we get into that, let’s rewind.
Following the events of Final Fantasy XIII, Serah returns to her home village, which its tenant were rebuilding, but is forced to flee after monsters attack. Noel arrives during the ambush to save her, and tells her he knows of her sister Lightning’s whereabouts. That’s where the story performs a twist, when compared to the first game. Where in Final Fantasy XIII we saw Lightning trying to save her sister Serah, in Final Fantasy XIII-2 we see Serah trying to save her sister Lightning. With Serah’s rescue comes the start of a new journey, one that traverses through a series of Gates: portals that move through different locations and times.
Accompanying Serah and Noel is Mog, a cute, floating Moogle whose cheeks I’d like to squeeze. Even though, he’s not just there for looks. Mog comes with special abilities. In fact, Serah’s bow/sword weapon (above) is actually Mog transformed. Mog can also detect Paradoxes, or weird happenings in the area (things may go missing, etc.), give Serah and Noel an advantage when starting a battle, and be tossed to pick up otherwise unreachable items.
Okay. Let’s jump back.
Noel and Serah enter Bresha Ruins through a Gate, immediately thrown into battle following their entry. A preliminary fight against Atlas, quick-time events come into effect. New for Final Fantasy XIII-2, properly performing these button reactions will give players a better chance of winning the battle, and stamps a “Perfect Cinematic Action” bonus on top of your out-of-five-star battle ranking. Quick-time events like these aren’t as constant in standard battles. As this was a cinematic battle, or part of the storyline, scenes were specifically created to utilize quick-time actions. During regular fights, however, the only use of quick-time events will be when your monster party member uses their ‘Feral Link’ ability. Similar to Final Fantasy XIII‘s ‘Gestalt’ mode, it sees the monster send out a bunch of special attacks at the enemy. The Feral Link gauge is refilled by different methods for each monster. Flanbanero’s refills pretty quickly, for example, as his requirements are chain-based attacks. Another monster, however, may refill its gauge by healing Noel and Serah.
Speaking of monsters: in battle, monsters join the fight as allies. Final Fantasy XIII-2 adds a Pokemon-esque monster system, allowing players to capture and utilize monsters as a third party member for extra support. There are over 150 monsters to capture (gotta catch ’em all!). Each monster has only a single paradigm, in comparison to Noel and Serah’s multiple paradigms. When you switch paradigms, your current monster will switch out with the monster assigned to the new set. To capture monsters, you’ll need to obtain their crystal, earned by meeting certain conditions during a battle. These conditions aren’t outlined however, and are more random than set. More clarification on that end will most likely come later on, I was told. You’ll also be able to nickname your monsters and equip accessories to them. Think grizzly Behemoth with pink bow on its head. Stylin’! You’ll level up your monsters, too.
Following the fight, which doesn’t kill off Atlas quite yet, I entered the Bresha Ruins, which has become more of a dig site in the sequel, and walk around its newfound establishment. Non-playable characters (NPCs) are seen roaming about the town, some running for shelter from the rainy weather. They’ll react to other situations, as well. If a monster attacks, for example, the soldiers will engage in battle while the civilians run and hide.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 encourages exploration. Checking the map screen, I was presented with a large, non-linear playing field, only eight percent of the entire area map uncovered so far. To help explore, players can now jump–anytime they want! A small addition, but a nice one. Considering it’s a basic human ability, it’s good to have.
“This is actually more of a simpler map in the game. Some of the maps are bigger, and there’s a lot more passageways,” a Square Enix rep told me. “You can get lost really easily.”
Progressing forward, Mog uncovered a Paradox, leading us to an Artefact. Artefacts are used to open Gates. You’ll need a certain Artefact to open a certain Gate. At this point, I was told I could completely ditch this mission, put it off for later, and go explore, or move forward. Considering the town so nicely asked us to fight off Atlas, I moved forward.
Walking through the rainy environment, I came across a stop: a Live Trigger. Throughout the game, you’ll come across situations prompting you to make a decision, or how to respond to a situation. In this case, Alyssa, a scientist at Bresha Ruins, alerts Noel and Serah of a device she’s just discovered that she thinks will affect Atlas’ strength if activated. Your decisions: ask Alyssa for more information, ask Mog for more insight, ignore it and go for the battle head on, or search for the device. Your decision doesn’t affect the outcome of the segment, but it affects how you go about getting there. I chose the device path, as I was told you’ll most likely die if you go into the battle head on if you’re not of a high-enough level.
Taking the device path, which I wouldn’t have experienced if I simply went into the fight straight on (replayability value! You always have the ability to come back and replay a scenario, too), I find the gadget and, on the brink of activation, am dragged into a ‘Temporal Void’ by Atlas, who obviously doesn’t want us having anything to do with it. The Temporal Void is another form of a Paradox. Paradoxes can be monsters, some sort of thing that shouldn’t be happening, situations where things go missing, etc. In this case, it’s a room, one where players must solve a series of puzzles to progress. In this puzzle, you must walk through a set of floor panels, collecting all the crystals along the way, without backtracking. They’re pretty simple, for the most part. There are several Temporal Voids throughout the game, each with different types of puzzles. Where this one was more of a pathfinder, others will involve jumping, matching, connecting colors, etc.
Following the puzzle, the activation of the device, and a bit more traversing, I entered the final battle with Atlas. Staggering the beast, his arm lowered and was open to attack. Thanks to the device being activated, the battle was much easier than it would’ve been without. Hitting him with one final blow, the battle was won and the demo ended.
In battle, when your party leader dies, the battle does not end. This was a common complaint in Final Fantasy XIII. Instead, your party leader will switch to the still-alive human character, where you’ll have a chance to heal the fainted. However, if both Serah and Noel die and only a monster remains, the battle will end. A monster cannot be a party leader, so it’s suggested you Phoenix Down as soon as a human dies.
Our session with Final Fantasy XIII-2 has definitely shown the game as an improvement over the first game. Whether the game as a whole will remain true is yet to be discovered. Since E3, we’ve only been shown Bresha Ruins, so my mind can only wonder what other types of areas and features Square are keeping mum on.