Hands On With the Final Fantasy XIII-2 Demo

Final Fantasy fans rejoice as XIII-2 is almost upon us!  In honor of the upcoming release date, Square Enix gave us a chance to play the game in demo form.  This short look at the sequel to my personal favorite Final Fantasy is a perfect chance for players on the fence about the title to try before they buy.  Let’s take an in-depth look at it; for those who wish to go into the game blind on release, turn away now as there will be spoilers.

The demo throws players right into the game at an undisclosed point in the story.  Our heroes, Serah (who players will remember as Lightning’s sister from the original) and Noel, have jumped through a time gate, arriving at a period before the fall of Cocoon.  The two are greeted by a massive hand, which is attached to an invisible giant’s body – enter the demo’s first fight.  At first glance, battle seems to remain unchanged, keeping the Paradigm Shift system from the original, which has players switching combat roles on the fly.

A short bit into the battle however, players are introduced to a new mechanic: Cinematic Action.  These sequences are scripted scenes within fights that players must interact with.  For example: in this first encounter, the hand attempts to crush Noel.  Players must hit a direction on the left stick in order to dodge it.  From here, he jumps on top of the monster, running up its arms.  Players need to use the stick a few more times to avoid danger, and press certain buttons to deliver blows.  These commands will be displayed on screen, so watch carefully and be ready!

After the battle is won, a window appears on-screen to explain the story thus far.  This is only a brief explanation of the events happening at this location, not a full plot summary.  Upon closing the window, players are transported to a nearby town.  From here, it’s obvious how much Square Enix has been listening to fans as both the town and attached combat area are fully explorable.  Gone are the days of a single well-crafted hallway with a few small branches; this has been replaced by areas with multiple routes to take.

From here on in the demo, players are searching through ruins outside of town for the giant they fought earlier, now fully-formed into the monster Atlas.  This section focuses mainly on exploration and combat.  Battles are now started at random, with enemies appearing from time to time out of thin air.  Players may either run or engage them, and if they act soon enough they can get the jump on their foe.  This is where players will notice the game’s subtle changes and improvements.

The first can be spotted right away from the battle menu.  Players now have the option to change who the combat leader is at any point in time, instead of having to swap out between fights.  This also means that when the leader loses all their health, the battle is no longer over, like in the original game.  Should your current character fall, the other becomes playable and the fight can be continued.  This also means that only two main characters can be used in combat at once.  So, who will fill the third slot…?

Monsters, that’s who!  When monsters are defeated, there is a chance they will drop a crystal, which symbolizes that the specific creature can now be used as a party member.  Each being has a single role that they play, and up to three can be shifted in and out during battle.  It seems as though Serah and Noel are permanently part of the battle team and are not interchangeable.  If this is the case, some players may be upset by this as it breaks the usual Final Fantasy tradition of swappable characters. Either way it’s too soon to tell; we’ll have to wait for the full release.

Upon finally finding Atlas, players are presented a choice: take on the massive creature or find a strange device that is thought to control him.  Being a careful player, I decided to try my luck with the device.  After a few battles while exploring a sewer-like area, I found it.  Our heroes attempt to activate it, but get sucked into a time rift of sorts.  Here, players must solve a series of puzzles in order to escape.  In this case, I was tasked with collecting crystals on a randomly-shaped grid, then head to the exit.  The trick, however, is that after leaving a square, that piece disappears.  After a few minutes of brain activity, I had it solved and was able to leave the rift.

My reward: Atlas had been greatly weakened.  I then left to battle him, where he had only a sixteenth of his original health.  After a short (and considerably easier) fight, I had him beat.  This is where the demo came to a close and played a short promotional trailer.

All things considered, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is looking like a great improvement on an already terrific game.  While many changes players will notice may seem small, they go a very long way in enhancing the foundations of the previous title.  The game releases in North America on January 31 and in Europe on February 3.  Keep your eyes peeled for a full review after launch.

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January 22, 2012 - 8:30 am