After putting over 100 hours in to my Final Fantasy XIII save, let's just say that I was pretty excited to get back in to the world of Cocoon with Final Fantasy 13-2. As the jaw droppingly gorgeous demo opened, and I once again stepped back into the fantasy role-playing game, this time as Serah, Lightning's pink-haired sister, I expected something new, something fresh, an addition to the best parts of Final Fantasy 13 and a step away from the worse parts. But from the demo I played, I'm not sure exactly which direction the game is trying to go.
The demo starts with Serah, a Moogle, and a new character named Noel coming through some sort of transdimensional portal into Cocoon. Noel seems to be Serah's new partner in crime, and he looks very similar to Fang from FF13 except he uses two swords instead of a polearm. The Moogle didn't get much of an introduction either, but from what I understood, he's Serah's adorable helper and a way to find treasure chests. Unfortunately, they weren't the only things to come through the portal. A colossal behemoth named Atlas followed them through as well, or at least, some of him did. The semi-transparent giant attacked and threw the kids into the first battle, giving us our first look at FF13-2's combat system.
One of the best and defining features of FF13 is back with the paradigm shifting combat system. Paradigm shifting is a battle system focused on strategy that allows you to decide which role you want your characters to play. For example, you can shift paradigms to make a character heal or deal damage or tank, depending on the situation. For FF13-2, Square Enix has introduced Cinematic Actions. These are the types of actions introduced in games like Kingdom Hearts 2 where a giant "X" pops up on your screen, and if you hit the corresponding "X" button on your controller, you get to watch a crazy-awesome action scene and deal a ton of damage to your foe. It's a neat mechanic and adds to the already action-packed combat system from FF13.
After the fight, we learn that Serah, Moogle, and Noel are now part of an excavation team that's trying to rid Cocoon of Atlas. Or something along those lines. There's no mention of the l'Cie or Fal'Cie from FF13 in the demo, only this main quest, and even that isn't too clear. I'm hoping that the story in 13-2 isn't quite as confusing or convoluted this time around. It was pretty straightforward in the demo that all I had to do was kill this giant.
On the bright side, the game looks and feels exactly like FFXIII, with the same stunning graphics that made me want to stop and look at absolutely everything. Even though I was trapped inside some sort of ruins, the newly introduced weather effects brought another layer of depth to the experience. The splattering of raindrops on my screen was a particularly nice touch.
As I traveled around the ruins looking for Atlas, I noticed that the path to get to him was not linear. One of the major complaints in FF13 was that the game was entirely too direct with no pathing options. I'll agree that this corridor system made the game simplistic and effortless at times, but, for this level at least, there were some options in the ways I could get to my objective.
FF13-2 also introduces the Live Trigger system to add even more options. It works basically as a decision wheel mechanic that has been gaining popularity in many recent games. Depending on which option you go for, new objectives will appear on your map. However, the only two objectives we were offered were along the lines of "go in the ruins and turn on a machine that will limit Atlas' power," or, "go fight Atlas in his currently unkillable state." All of the decisions probably/hopefully won't be like this, but this one at least was less of a decision and more learning that we had to turn on the power source in the ruins.
Another feature that's being presented in FF13-2 is a sort of mini-game system that appears before you fight enemies. Basically, anytime an enemy is near you on the screen, a little compass looking thing will pop up. If the compass is green, and you run into the enemy, you'll get an advantage, like a preemptive strike, which everyone knows is super awesome in Final Fantasy games, because you can attack without having to wait. The problem is that the game controlled very poorly during our demo, so the compass would often turn orange or red before we could navigate to the enemies, leaving us with no advantage, or even putting us in a bad spot. There were a few times where I physically couldn't run into the monster even though I was right next to it, and my compass would go red, leaving me vulnerable and frustrated during the fight.
Once you actually beat the monsters in the FF13-2, they will sometimes drop a crystal. The crystals are related to another new mechanic in 13-2 called Feral Link that will allow the monsters to join your party. Whichever paradigm you shift into during fights will determine which monster will fight with you. Feral Link gives your monster a special Monster Bar, and if that fills, then you can perform a Cinematic Link with it to deal more damage to enemies. Aside from the Beast Master job in Final Fantasy 11, I’m not sure if you've ever been able to team up with the monsters in a Final Fantasy game, so this element seemed very cool to me.
As I navigated through the Bresha Ruins, I noticed there are tons and tons of enemies. There is so much grinding to be had in FF13-2, which, if that's your thing, you're going to love. Every few steps there are enemies waiting to eat you, and we were at such a low level that combat wasn't too fun yet. Hopefully, the game will offer more combat options later on and paradigm shifting will matter, but that wasn't true for this level.
What did ease the pain of the grinding experience was another mini-game. In order to turn off Atlas' power, we had to go into The Void Beyond. This time the mini-game was a puzzle where you had to stand on tiles in a correct order, and every time you stood on a tile, it would disappear. It's a simple puzzle that we've seen in games before, but just the addition of something not so linear as "run here, kill mobs, run here, kill mobs" was a welcome addition. Once I solved all the levels of the puzzle, I was able to turn on the machine that would limit Atlas' power, and go kill him.
This time around, Atlas was ready for me in his true form: a gigantic lava beast that looked similar to Titan from Gran Pulse in Final Fantasy 13. He was absolutely huge, but now that I turned his strength off via the machine, he was very weak. After a few rounds of damage dealing and a cinematic action sequence, he went down with no problem at all. Had we not turned off the power in the ruins, he would have killed the entire party in one swing.
After playing the demo, I feel like Final Fantasy 13-2 is trying to live up to its predecessor in terms of combat and design, and it also wants to incorporate more choice this time around. If Square can successfully pull it off, which I'm not sure they did too much in this demo, then fans of the previous game will be happy. I'm going to keep a positive outlook on 13-2 until I see more of the game, but right now, I'm still a bit on the fence.