Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Demo Impressions

Final Fantasy XIII was released a couple years ago to a rather mixed reception from fans and critics. Though its Metascore in the low 80s was solid by most standards, it fell far below where main numbered entries in the Final Fantasy series have typically found themselves, and fans were divided on a game that felt more like an action game than an RPG.

I liked Final Fantasy XIII, and though I wouldn't have called its completely linear approach and dramatic scaling back of many RPG elements like NPC interaction and town exploration a worthy direction for the series to head in, for what it was, I thought it was enjoyable. A sequel was the last thing on my mind when the end credits rolled, however, so I wasn't sure what to originally think once the sequel was rumored and then, eventually, announced.

But now we have a demo, a pretty expansive one too, and after having sunk my teeth into it, it's clear that Final Fantasy XIII-2 aims to be a very different game from its predecessor, one that's making obvious steps to address many of the original's shortcomings.

First thing's first, though. If you aren't familiar with Final Fantasy XIII's combat system, this demo might throw you for a loop. Though it attempts to explain it to you with a small tutorial, people new to the game will definitely not know the difference between a Commando and a Ravager, or what the Crystarium is, or anything like that. So for those of you new to the FF13 saga, I'd recommend waiting for the actual game to release before diving in, otherwise I'm sure you'll be fairly lost.

For the rest of us, though, FFXIII-2's demo provides a nice look at the game. After a pretty straightforward boss fight, you're put right into the middle of a big ruin in the midst of a heavy downfall. You can wander around this area and, yes, talk to NPCs and even visit an item salesperson! You can hang around the populated area for a while or venture into the ruins, where you'll encounter battles on your way to defeat the big bad guy whose making life tough for those in the area.

This is a pretty big area. FF13-2 incorporates a system similar to that found in the Star Ocean series, where the map has a "Percentage Explored" indicator letting you know how much of the area you've walked through, though unlike Star Ocean, areas you haven't been yet still appear on your map, albeit in a darkened form. Once you venture into the ruins, you can still see people hanging around, a few of which you can choose to talk to. Some will even give you sidequests you can elect to take on, and these award you with CP to upgrade your characters.

It's just Noel (new character) and Serah this time around, but you can actually switch your controlled character in battle now, and the 3rd slot is taken up by a monster who you can level up in the Crystarium as well. I wasn't so sure about this feature at first, but in this demo, it seemed to work pretty well. Besides some cinematic actions and a few new status ailments, the battle system feels similar to FF13, though, maybe because this is likely early in the game, it felt to me a little slower-paced.

Interestingly, enemies no longer wander the field. Instead, they'll randomly drop right near you as you explore, sort of like a random battle, but once they drop, you have the option to fight them or run away, or even accomplish a preemptive strike. While I personally preferred the roaming enemies from 13, this is a pretty good way to handle random encounters.

At one point in the demo, you're offered the choice to either face the boss head-on, or to instead look for a machine to maybe disable it. You get the option of choosing who to "discuss" this with, and then you get to make your choice. Though the choice is rather obvious in this case, hopefully other decisions like this in the game itself will prove to be a bit more of a gray area, since it has the potential to be a very cool feature.

As far as other aspects of the demo goes, you have a fully-rotating camera now, though I can tell it'll take some time to get used to. Naturally, with the environments offering you a bit more free-roaming, FF13's perfect sense of "pacing" isn't there. FF13 knew, for example, exactly how many battles would take place between cutscenes, and it paced itself well accordingly. This game doesn't have that advantage, so it doesn't quite feel as exciting as FF13 did, though of course, for many fans, that'll be just fine. The music, though, kind of disappointed me. While I was surprised by the quality of some of it, a lot of the music (especially the boss theme) comes across as generic "futuristic noice," something FF13's soundtrack did a great job at avoiding. 2 FF13 tracks do appear in the demo, and their quality over the rest of the soundtrack's pretty noticeable.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun with this demo. It has Chocobo-riding item salespeople, lots of NPC interaction, sidequests to take on, a big area to explore, a can-be-tough boss to fight, and even a talking moogle. The chemistry between Noel and Serah seems good, too, based on what I've seen. The "time traveling" aspects of the game were almost entirely absent from the demo, so I have no idea how that'll work, though I hope it's not too confusing. I'm definitely eager to play more, and can't wait for the game's release in late January.

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