Last week I talked about some of the thought process that could possibly be involved in why SquareEnix creates sequels to their games. They don’t just come about them on a whim or create sequels to every one of their games as a standard practice, like many Western developers do. It’s likely so carefully thought out that it’s scary. So, now that they decide to make a sequel, what is it going to be? Will it fix the issues that many people thought plagued the first title? Will it please all the doubters? We’ll have to wait for its release to know for sure, but Final Fantasy XIII-2 isn’t taking thing sitting down.
It has been worked from the ground up to basically be one gigantic answer to all the players feedback, criticism, concerns and praise. It kept what was good from FFXIII and changed what many people felt were unnecessary departures from previous franchise titles. Let’s take a look at what has change and some new additions, and try to get a comprehensive view of where this particular sequel is going.
Linearity and exploration: One of the biggest issues many people had with FFXIII was that the level design was too linear and the motivation and space to explore was very limited. This, I’m happy to say, has been rectified in FFXIII-2. There are many branching paths with treasure and side quests to discover, which means many choices to make when it comes to how you progress through the game.
You aren’t immediately ushered to the next story point, you actually have the choice to hang around a bit, explore, do side quests and just generally enjoy the game. The sequel seems to follow a model that isn’t unlike previous Final Fantasy titles – a story segment gets you to a town, which can be your “base of operations” to explore the nearby environment and take part in side questing before you move on to the next story segment and quest hub.
While I never was hugely against the vast linear landscapes of the previous title, I have to say, this is a breath of fresh air which returns the franchise back to some of its most basic and enjoyable roots.
Towns, NPCs and side quests: As I mentioned, the side questing is now spread out, instead of largely confined to one area or one segment of the game. You’ll be able to interact with NPCs and take part in side quests throughout the vast majority of the game. What’s also of note is that NPCs each have their own individual AI, reacting to you, the environment and the story in a more interactive way. One example given in a recent Dengeki PlayStation Magazine was that, when it begins raining, NPCs will move out of the open and gather under canopies and inside buildings.
This leads me to another point – there are now towns! Everyone, including myself, thought the lack of towns in FFXIII just felt wrong. Apparently the developers have heard those pleas and are bringing that fairly standard aspect of RPGs back into the picture here. Towns will once again be in the game and be hubs of information gathering and side questing. The only real question now is – can I still break in to people’s houses and steal their most treasured belongings without any consequences? After all, it’s for the sake of saving the world!
Choose your own dialog in conversations: I’m not going to go out and say that Final Fantasy is going all Mass Effect on us, but this iteration does include a wealth of interactive conversation trees. What’s unknown at the time is if your choices in conversations determine different events, or if it just affects the dialog in that particular conversation. Either way it’s kind of nice, because it at least lets you get to do something during conversations and, over the course of more than one play-through, see the way different things play out.
This also will add to the illusion of non-linearity, when the player actually gets to choose, at the very least, the direction a particular conversation is going to go. There aren’t any crazy relationship systems, or good/evil sliders in Final Fantasy XIII-2, but hey, this is Final Fantasy, even the best of the best had nothing like that, so we really shouldn’t be expecting a whole lot when it comes to these choices. Let’s not Westernize the franchise too much, eh?
The moogles are back: Moogles were surprisingly absent for the most part from Final Fantasy XIII, but now they’re back in a big way. There’s a moogle that follows your characters around in-game and actually helps you with game-related points of interest. It will highlight an area where a treasure is found, among other things, as well as give you a little countdown clock, so to speak, when initiating battles.
This Mog Clock acts as sort of a preemptive strike/ambush system that we’ve seen many times in other RPGs. This time around the developers have actually opted to bring back the random battles of the past, although now with a twist (of lime, preferably). (Note: See our video interview with SquareEnix at E3 2011 for more.) Each time an enemy hops out, you’ll have the chance, and a certain amount of time, to initiate the battle to your advantage. The longer you take to initiate combat, the less chance you have of having an advantage. If you take too long, the enemy may be able to one-up you and you’ll be ambushed.
This whole concept seems to add another more interesting dimension to the whole random battle idea, which is needed if they’re going to drag that mechanic out of the burning depths from whence it was previously banished (and for good reason).
Quick time events: During many cut scenes and battles, the tried and true quick-time event will pop up, requiring you to hit certain buttons in a certain way within a certain amount of time to pull off successfully. This is interesting, not because they are QTEs, but because they are QTEs in a Final Fantasy title. They’re fairly rare in the RPG genre to start with, and have never been seen in SquareEnix’s flagship franchise. This may liven things up a bit.
Many people think they’re old news now, but throw them into an RPG setting where it’s just one more thing to keep the player on their toes, invested in what’s going on on-screen and engaged with the game at all times, and it can’t be a bad thing.
Auto-Saving: JRPGs seem to be, for the most part, still stuck in the days of static save points. I ranted about this a while ago and, while I don’t typically mind them if used correctly, getting rid of them altogether in favor of the more Western auto-saving is a definite step in the right direction.
Battles: While the paradigm system largely stays the same for good reason – it was freaking awesome – there have been some changes and additions to the battle formula, most notably, I think, you have beasts that can join you in battle. While it appears you have a smaller pool of “main characters” to pick from, considering we’ve only seen Serah and Noel, along with a monster companion, in all the hands-on, video and screens that have been available so far, this may not be the case. At the same time, it may be that this is Serah and Noel’s story, and they are the main characters.
Regardless of what ultimately is the case as far as party makeup, you can tame monster companions to fill in the role gaps that you need to make the various paradigms work efficiently.
In addition to that, as I alluded to earlier, weather not only affects the way NPC AI works, but also affects you and your enemy in battle. To what extent, we really don’t know, but it’s an extra something to be aware of. I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of this, as I’m coming off the heels of playing Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, and wasn’t a terribly huge fan of the moon phase system in that game. It just adds a level of complexity that really doesn’t add anything to the game, or battles specifically, aside from an extra annoyance.
What we don’t know: There are a few things that we don’t know, and some of them are likely to be closely guarded secrets. Most of those secrets will pertain to the story – where the game will take place, what the game revolves around, what characters will be available (both new and cameos from the first game), etc. I’m a little worried that the story will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, being overly convoluted and just not packing a big enough emotional punch.
However, we do know that, while the data library will still exist, instead of relying on it for much of the background information in the game, you can use NPCs instead. Because there will be towns and other areas of NPC interaction like previous Final Fantasy titles, you’ll be able to gain much information by just talking to them, as is usual in the genre.
We know Lightning is missing, but we don’t know what she’s doing or her ultimate involvement in this story. We will eventually get her as a playable character, so I see things going like this: The first half of the game will be Serah and Noel searching for lighting, then some big revelation will happen when they finally find her and everyone teams up to go save the world or some such cliché nonsense like that.
Final Fantasy XIII itself was pretty difficult, even with some regular enemy fights and certainly with some bosses. We do know that there will be multiple difficulty levels this time around, but we aren’t sure how those difficulties will stack up to each other. If “Easy” is as difficult as the first game, we certainly have our work cut out for us.
Finally, and partially in jest, exactly how many discs will the Xbox 360 version be? Final Fantasy XIII-2 is reported to be just as long as the previous title, so we’re looking at about 40 hours for the main story, not to mention the wealth of side quests and such. Have they been able to compress things even more and keep the same quality, or will things still be spread out over three discs?
With all this information swirling around out there, I’m certainly excited myself about playing this follow up to Final Fantasy XIII. Even if the original game wasn’t the most well-received and given the fact that I still had my own issues with it, I’m still more than willing to give the sequel a shot and see how things are wrapped up, especially with all the improvements and additions we’re looking at. Only time will tell if they rectify matters and add up to make this sequel the more “traditional” Final Fantasy experience that fans have been wanting since the “let down” that was Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is set to come out before the end of the year in Japan, and early 2012 in North America, and you bet we’ll be covering it in depth here on DualShockers, so stay tuned!