It?s strange to think that, with all the love for the classic PlayStation One games, Square Enix seems intent on trying to modernise the Final Fantasy series.
It?s last attempt, Final Fantasy XIII
, was respectable but fell short of the mark in many areas - primarily in how it didn?t feel like an RPG at all. Now, just a year later, it?s trying again with a direct sequel in Final Fantasy XIII-2
- and it may actually have a chance of winning fans back over.
Things kick off in the futuristic world of Valhalla - a somewhat post-apocalyptic city that seems to be the Final Fantasy
equivalent of an urban limbo. Lightning, thought to be dead by her sister Serah, is in constant battle with Caius - a nasty-looking chap who?s fancy-boy looks and visual kei fashion is lifted right out of the A-Z of Final Fantasy
After some introductory battle scenes that gently guide you into the mechanics of the Paradigm Shift system and Quick Time Events (or Cinematic Actions as they?re called in the game), Lightning is left to make a last stand for the sake of humanity, the world and everything else.
Serah, who is left in another time and dimension rebuilding civilisation with Cocoon survivors, is apparently the only hope for Lightning and the safety of the universe. Enter Noel Kreiss, a mysterious kid who teams up with Serah to help get reunited with her sister. And time appears to be of the essence - former resistance group NORA witness a strange meteorite that?s impacted near Cocoon, which Noel and Serah discover is causing timelines between hundreds of years to bleed into one another.
Yes, it reminds me of Back to the Future as well. You know the bit where Doc Emmett Brown is explaining alternate realities to Marty McFly in the second film. This is kind of what?s happening in Final Fantasy XIII-2
, with Noel and Serah having to hop between historical moments and dimensions via Stargate-esque portals to reach the Historia Crux.
This void is essentially your new world map, offering a straightforward timeline with branching paths to alternate realities and worlds. Beating a boss in a stage will unlock one of several gates that will progress the storyline, but if you explore the maps enough to complete various tasks and collect historical ?artefacts? to repair various timelines, you can access a number of alternative gates that will lead you to a different story path. Once in the Historia Crux menu, you can even close gates to certain worlds to rewind time there, so that you can repeat certain events and have another chance to trigger secret paths.
This is just one of the major ways in which Square Enix have tried to tweak the original Final Fantasy XIII
formula on the back of fan feedback. Another is in the worlds and dungeons themselves, which are designed with a lot more imagination and offer branching pathways and hidden treasures. It?s no longer a corridor-based affair, thank the heavens.
Battling enemies in XIII-2
is a very similar affair to its predecessor, however. This is a promising thing, given that I quite enjoyed the Paradigm Shift system - it allowed for the same mindless automatic battling that you could achieve in past Final Fantasy
games by spamming the X button, but maintains a strategy in Paradigms that allow you to get creative with team attacks.
Square Enix hasn?t changed too much to the combat here in that regard. What it has done is add some new features to shake things up a bit. Monsters fought on the field can be captured automatically and added to your own team. Each creature has its own set Paradigm style that you can use to cover any cracks in your strategy. Cait Siths are Medics, for example, while Zwerg Scandroids are Ravagers that can cast spells in your stead.
You can manually set each creature to any Paradigm that you have customised in the menu, but to save us all from a massive headache the game also auto-assigns monsters based on their skillset. So if you just want to get stuck into battling with your badass creatures, you certainly can. Better yet, each monster you collect can be leveled up using the Crystarium - although rather than using experience points, you use monster materials that are collected around the dungeons you explore.
These little critters even have a Limit Break style system called Feral Link. When active in battle, a little bar gets filled up following attacks or taking damage. Once it?s filled up, you can expend all that energy to dish out a tasty attack. You need to be ready for a QTE sequence to successfully pull it off though.