Eurogamer Expo 2011: Final Fantasy XIII-2
If there was one thing about the 2011 Eurogamer Expo that people did not expect, it was probably the amount of posters advertising Final Fantasy XIII-2. Coming in at around twenty-five posters of about three variants, overkill doesn’t quite cut it. Spread onto ticket barriers, plastered on billboards – Noel and Serah’s perfect faces lined the Earl’s Court tube station exit, giving no other game a chance to breathe. It seemed Square Enix did not want Expo attendees to forget that FFXIII-2 was playable across the weekend.
It must be particularly hard for JRPG developers showcasing their games in public exhibitions. Even Western RPGs suffer on the show floor, as many people will skip the Mass Effect 3s and Skyrims because they’d prefer to wait for release. Gamers pour hours into these games, and the protagonist often becomes an extension of their own self. And this is setting aside the fact the stories of these games are integral to the experience, something that is hard to get across in a ten minute demo.
FFXIII-2 chose fairly well with its content, however it is likely that people who hadn’t played FFXIII would have been utterly dumbfounded by the whole thing, without the luxury of a forty hour tutorial like in the first game.
The demo begins in Cocoon, the urban metropolis situated directly below the wild landof Pulse. A towering mechanical giant named Atlas comes to life, and we have our first battle of the day. It seemed to be an early part of the game due to the fact that both Noel and Serah’s abilities were severely limited. With just three moves to his name, the first few battles you encounter in the game are largely dull affairs, with high spamming of the A button to auto-attack a regular occurrence. During this battle with Atlas, we see our first new feature – cinematic actions. Code-word for QTE, these actions activate during cutscenes mid-battle and are typically very well animated and shot. Bash the right buttons, and you’ll be rewarded by dealing higher damage.
After the battle you skip to a new part of the game, where you are able to explore Lake Bresha, now a rain-drenched concrete jungle of ruined rock faces and excavation sites, underground tunnels and temporary machinery. It doesn’t seem as linear as the first game’s opening areas, but a clear A to B path still exists. On your way to a town you’re introduced to another new feature by way of the random battle system. Instead of seeing your foes roam the environment, they will suddenly appear nearby, where you can engage the foe or run away. A so-called Mog Clock appears at the bottom of your screen, and you’re granted bonuses based on how fast you enter battle. If you strike fast you can start the fight in a pre-emptive state. If you stall or miss then they will get the advantage on you. Getting rid of roaming enemies in real time made the game feel less like an MMO and more like a classic Final Fantasy RPG, but this doesn’t make it a good decision, as it loses some of the charm and scale a land filled with walking monsters ensures.
After a certain battle with three particular enemies, a crystal appears in their place, and you are told they are tamed, ready to fight by your side. Acting as a third character, they pack a hefty punch, especially when angered enough to use their overdrive-like attack.
Exploring the ruined settlement, you can talk to many of the locals and activate side-quests. Towns are back, no doubt thanks to feedback received by moaning fans hateful of change. Later on, you get the choice between fighting a rejuvenated Atlas again, or triggering a device to help weaken him. This choice is mere illusion however. Should you choose to face Atlas, you’ll receive a swift pummelling, and little chance of victory.
Activating this device has you solving a puzzle in an alternate universe. Platforms are mapped in front of you, and upon standing on them, they disappear. On certain platforms there are gems you must collect before reaching the target at the end. Many a time you’ll find yourself stuck on a single platform, as you box yourself into a corner of the screen. It’s unfortunately short-lived, but the puzzle shows potential if used again.
Completing the puzzle then weakens Atlas in the real world, and you’re able to take him on with much more of a chance. The fight that ensues is simple enough, but the Paradigm system of switching classes is imperative in your victory, as you juggle between black magic, melee combat and healing.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 has got a lot of new features to carve a much deeper experience. It looked and sounded great, but it’s clear to see, not least from its lack of popularity compared to other titles on show, that this game will be unable to convert naysayers of the first game, or of JRPGs in general. For fans of the original XIII, it’s unlikely they will be disappointed by this offering, and will surely enjoy the new stories and situations that exist in the wonderful world of Gran Pulse.