Final Fantasy XIII-2 Demo Impressions

Final Fantasy XIII is the biggest disappointment for me on the PS3.

There I said it. I’ve played every single game in the series since FFVII (with the exception of FFXI) and it’s been a great experience each time, though some experience aren’t as great as others. Take Final Fantasy XIII, an entry that in my opinion strayed away from some of the core things that I enjoyed about Final Fantasy. I could go on, but I’ll sum up with this: it felt less like a video game, and more like a movie. I did eventually beat it, but it was bittersweet. I traded it to Amazon the next day, and that was that. FFXIII is the first FF game that I ever got rid off, and didn’t 100% complete.

When I heard about Final Fantasy XIII-2, I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes. I thought it was a lost cause and that there was no doubt it was going to be terrible. Of course, I volunteered to cover it. I thought it might be fun to write a ranting review and declare that we have the second terrible Final Fantasy game in a row, to proclaim that the franchise was slowly dying before our very eyes, and that Square Enix was going to die. I would also say that we should expect suicides across the globe to rise, and a lot fewer weird cosplays at conventions.

However, Square Enix decided to release this demo. Now I think I may have been a little overzealous in my thinking.

Above: Now THAT is a War Horse!

Releasing a demo was a smart move on their part. After FFXIII, I doubt people were really itching to jump back into this world. We begin with our two protagonists Noel and Serah (Lightning’s sister from the first game) exiting a time portal. This leads immediately into boss fight with an arm. Sound boring? Yes, but you’d be wrong. First, the arm in question belongs to Atlas, a monster familiar to all FF fans. Second, the composers deserve a raise because I loved the boss music. In fact, I loved the music in general.

Combat is still the same, Paradigm Shifts and all. I’m fine with this, as I think the combat system was one of FFXIII’s strengths. Familiar with the system, I switched to one Commando and one Ravager and attacked Atlas to bring him down. Interestingly, it then switches to a cinematic, complete with quick time events for characters to evade attack. It then returned to fighting until it was time for another QTE that guided Noel to an attack that, if successful, staggers Atlas allowing for huge damage bonuses. I changed to double Commando to do enough damage to finish off the monster. When I accomplish this, it triggers a scene where multiple aircraft fighters surround him. After completing the scene, the aircrafts bombard Atlas with laser fire and cripple him. Completing the cinema scenes perfectly gives you a bonus of an extra item.

I really enjoyed that fight. While Jurassic Park showed me how QTEs can ruin a game, FFXIII-2 seems to walk the line between gameplay and cinematic, and from what I’ve seen it does this wonderfully and effectively. Square Enix seems hell-bent on showing us fantastic scenes. While in FFXIII it made it feel more like a movie, the QTEs do a great job of reminding you you’re playing a game. The bonus for doing it well is cool, too.

Above: This is Noel, new character to the series. Don't get used to the armor, its replaced later by arm strings.

After this we get to explore the area surrounding where the battle took place. You read that right, you get roam around, find hidden items, talk to NPCs, gain access to an underground area to explore, and visit a shop. You know, stuff you usually did in Final Fantasy before XIII. This means that real, actual towns might be back! At the very least it’s nice that not every place you go to in this one will be a warzone.

So I entered the “Dungeon” portion of this world and this is where I really got happy. I’m a level grinder by nature, and FFXIII was a pain to level in. FFXIII-2 fixes a lot of issues I had. You now get a decent amount of gil after battle, which means that you can shop more often now. Plus you get a bit more experience for leveling, which makes it a little less of a chore. There are a lot of levels to go up, but it’s still nice to have those feelings of accomplishment more often.

As for the best part of combat, remember how it was game over if your party leader died? Thank the man upstairs, because Square got the memo that we hated that. Now if your leader dies, the other hero takes over. This made the combat a lot less frustrating and made me enjoy this game so much more.

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Serah is actually pretty good in a fight. Where she got all of this extensive combat training in FFXIII, I don't know.

The big new feature I want to talk about, however, is Monster Catching. In what has to be the most genius move in the franchise’s history, you can capture a monster and have them fight for you. Getting a monster is a lot like winning an item. You win enough fights; you’ll eventually get one as a spoil of battle. From here, you can insert the monster into your party, even level him up and teach him new abilities. You even then take these abilities and infuse them with another monster (at the cost of his life). Monsters will specialize in a single job class, and you can have up to 3 ready in Paradigms.

I really loved this new feature. This demo could have been wrapped up in less than an hour, but it took two and a half because I was too busy leveling and capturing monsters. I honestly can’t wait to start collecting monsters in a game that’s not going to forget everything I did once I finish it (sigh).

There’s one more thing that I wanted to discuss. At one point, my character was given four ways to handle a situation. I only played through this once, so I can’t comment for sure, but it appears that FF is pulling a Mass Effect by giving us choices that could effect the world and our playthrough. That would be a huge first in the franchise, but once again this is speculation.

Okay Square Enix, you did it. I don’t take back anything I ever said about FFXIII — that game is terrible. However, you made me excited to play a sequel to it! Will it live up to my new expectations or did I have it right the first time? Stay tuned.